Opposition Leader Tony Abbott
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott

Abbott claims Coalition govt would crack down on immigration

ASYLUM seekers who arrive in Australia "the right way" will be the only ones granted permanent visas under a Coalition government.

In a move designed to save about $1.3 billion over the next four years, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his immigration spokesman Scott Morrison revealed on Friday the Coalition would reverse the Federal Government decision to increase Australia's humanitarian intake from 13,750 people a year to 20,000.

The Coalition said it was time the government "lived within its means", with the dramatic surge in asylum seekers arriving by boat putting further stress on an already delicately balanced budget.

Increasing Australia's refugee intake was one of the key recommendations made by the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers.

The Federal Government increased the intake in August to 20,000 in response to the panel's report.

Mr Abbott said while the Coalition would always support a "generous" humanitarian program, the government's increase was made under the "wrong circumstances".

"The increased intake is going to be entirely filled by people arriving illegally by boat," Mr Abbott said.

During tense negotiations in the Parliament in June Mr Abbott had proposed increasing the humanitarian intake to 20,000 in a bid to break a deadlock in the lower house.

Mr Morrison said the Coalition would provide 13,750 visas, but they would not be available to all asylum seekers.
"Not one of those places will go to anyone who comes on a boat to Australia," Mr Morrison said.

"They will go to people who come the right way."

It was another clear sign of the Coalition sharpening its asylum seeker rhetoric.

A day after Mr Abbott said Australia was at risk of a "peaceful invasion" from asylum seekers, he and Mr Morrison were making no apologies for the measures they planned to in government.

They said people granted bridging visas - an almost exact replica of temporary protection visas - would be made to work for their welfare payments.

Under bridging visas, introduced in response to capacity constraints at offshore processing centres, some asylum seekers will stay in Australia while their claims are processed.

They will not be allowed to work, but will receive welfare payments.

"If people come to Australia illegally by boat, if they are going to be supported by the taxpayer they will be expected to work for their dole," Mr Abbott said.

"People who come here will not be able to enjoy life on the Australian taxpayer without giving something back to the community.

"We expect it of Australians and so we should all the more expect it of people who come uninvited to our country."

Asked why he used the world "illegal" to describe people arriving by boat, Mr Abbott was unapologetic.

"Obviously someone who comes to our country not in accordance with our law ... is coming to this country illegally.

"I make no apologies for calling them for what they are - they are people who have arrived illegally in this country and I've got to say, the Australian people are sick of being taken for mugs, taken for a ride by criminals. That's what these people smugglers are."

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the opposition's intention to wind back Australia's refugee intake would "disappoint a lot of people".

"Mr Abbott has said today that the increase sends all the wrong signals to asylum seekers. He just doesn't get it," Mr Bowen said.

"It sends the right signal. It sends the signal that there is another way, that you don't have to get on the boat to get a chance of a better life in Australia ... there is a path."

The Greens accused the major parties of engaging in a "race to the bottom".

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the policies of both parties were designed to win cheap votes, but was particularly critical of the Coalition.

"The Coalition's announcement has pulled back the veil of concern and showed that Mr Abbott has no interest in reducing the number of people embarking on dangerous boat journeys, because reducing Australia's humanitarian intake forces people onto boats," she said.

"The Coalition's immigration policies are just a terrible patchwork of misinformation and demonisation."

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