Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has piled pressure on new Labor leader Anthony Albanese to walk away from Bill Shorten’s refugee medevac bill, warning that more boats would follow a Sri Lankan asylum-seeker vessel that set sail during the election campaign.
Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi strongly supports Minister Dutton’s position having warning during its debate that the bill would result in the restart of the people smuggling trade.
The Australian reports, Mr Dutton said people-smugglers had anticipated a Labor election win and had set out to “test” what they believed would be a Shorten government.
“This is not the only boat, I’m sorry to say. (It’s) not the only venture that people are working on,” Mr Dutton said.
“People-smugglers, as we’ve predicted for a long time, have not gone away. They remain in business. And we need to make sure that we can stare down this threat.”
20 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers were brought to Christmas Island earlier this month after their boat was intercepted in the Indian Ocean off Australia’s northwest coast by aerial patrols.
The asylum-seekers – including at least one baby – left Sri Lanka in the first week of May, soon after the Easter terror attacks on churches and hotels that killed 250 people. They were returned to Colombo on a government charter jet on Wednesday.
Mr Dutton said the “disturbing development” showed Labor’s border protection policies would restart the people-smuggling trade and the Opposition Leader needed to distance himself from Mr Shorten’s “failed policy”, and make it clear he supported the government’s strong position on border protection.
“Mr Albanese also needs to come out and give an assurance that when parliament returns in the first week in July, he will support the government in the abolition of the disastrous medevac bill,” he said.
He said the bill, which allows two doctors to approve the medical evacuation of refugees from Nauru and Manus Island to Australia unless they are a security risk, was a “pull factor” for asylum-seekers.
However, Labor is refusing to help the government repeal the bill.
Mr Albanese yesterday said he did not believe the new law had encouraged people-smuggling.
Mr Dutton said it was clear people-smugglers had been testing Australia’s border laws in the hope of a Labor government.
“There’s no doubt that people-smugglers have been telling innocent men, women and children that are willing to hop on a boat that the circumstances will change if there’s a Labor government,” he said.
As of last week, 40 refugees and asylum-seekers had been medically transferred to the Australian mainland from Manus Island and Nauru since the passage of Labor-backed medevac laws. Refugee activists declared a post-election “medical crisis” in offshore detention facilities.
Doctors on Manus Island and Nauru said they were seeing a surge in patients seeking medical evacuation since the election, up to 11 seeking assistance each day. It’s understood 14 of the 40 now transferred were brought to Australia using the laws.