20 Jul 2013

People-smugglers 'will now target NZ'

8:00 pm on 20 July 2013

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse says he has no doubt people-smugglers will target New Zealand now that the Australian government has changed the way it deals with asylum-seekers.

Under a new policy announced on Friday by Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, asylum-seekers who reach Australia by boat will be transferred to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and, if found to be genuine refugees, will be settled in that country - otherwise they'll be sent home or to a third country.

A people-smuggler in Indonesia has told the ABC that the arrangement is a short-term threat to his business but comes as no surprise. He says smugglers might now target countries like New Zealand, Canada or the United States.

Mr Woodhouse says the development shows that a bill passed by Parliament last month to deal with potential mass arrivals of asylum-seekers was justified. Under the new law, any incoming group of more than 30 people can be detained for up to six months.

"There's no doubt in my mind," Mr Woodhouse says, "that people-smugglers - who ply their trade for one reason only, and that's money - will exploit these smuggling victims by telling them either that Australia is still open for business but more likely that New Zealand is a legitimate target."

Neighbouring nations consulted - Carr

Australian foreign minister Bob Carr says Australia's regional neighbours have backed the plan, though he will not say which countries have been consulted.

"I'm struck by the level of support both in the Pacific region and beyond," he says. "They understand that this is something that Australia's got to respond to with new approaches."

The Australian government is running advertisements in newspapers across the country in an attempt to promote the new policy. 'If you come here by boat without a visa," ads say, "you won't be settled in Australia."

Mr Rudd has also released a video with a stern message for people-smugglers. "Your business model is over," he says in it. "People who come by boat now have no prospect of being resettled in Australia. The rules have changed."

The ABC reports the deal is a dramatic reversal of the asylum-seeker policies put in place by Mr Rudd when he first became prime minister in 2007.

Effective, initially, for 12 months, it includes a significant expansion of the Manus Island detention centre to house 3000 people - up from the original capacity of 600. Currently, about 145 people are housed on the island.

Australian immigration minister Tony Burke says two boats that arrived in Australian waters on Friday won't be processed under the new regime but 81 people aboard a boat intercepted near Christmas Island on Saturday morning will have the new rules applied to them.