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Australia to turn up the heat on boat people

  |   June 28, 2013 at 10:02 AM
CANBERRA, Australia, June 28 (UPI) -- Australia's courts and tribunals won't have as much discretion when it comes to deciding if asylum seekers are genuine refugees, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said.

His remarks signal a hardening of the government's attitude toward asylum seekers, including women, children and babies, The Age newspaper reported.

Thousands are languishing in detention centers, mostly offshore, waiting either to be processed by Australian authorities as genuine refugees with a right of abode or be sent back to their home countries -- if that can be determined.

The Age reported Rudd believes about 90 percent of asylum seekers arriving by boat -- many paying people traffickers for their desperate passage -- are considered genuine refugees.

However, Carr said his "impression" was that arrivals of boat people have spiked and most now were "economic migrants."

"They're people seeking an improvement in their economic circumstances and therefore they've got to get into the regular migration stream," Carr said in Jakarta.

"There have been boats where 100 percent of them have been people who are fleeing countries where they're the majority ethnic and religious group," he said.

"I think it's unarguable that if someone is leaving a country and they're part of the majority religious and ethnic group, then they're not being persecuted in the way that the [U.N.] Refugee Convention describes."

Carr also said the government had decided there would be "less discretion" for courts before the recent change of prime ministers.

Carr made his comments in Jakarta ahead of a visit to Indonesia next week by Australia's newly installed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Indonesia will be Rudd's first overseas trip since taking up the reins of government this week in the aftermath of a tumultuous Labor Party leadership vote.

Rudd -- a former prime minister -- defeated Julia Gillard in a contentious 57-45 vote Wednesday after which Gillard said she would leave politics.

Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan, Senate Labor leader Stephen Conroy, Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig and adviser to the prime minister and former Minister of Trade Craig Emerson, also resigned their Cabinet posts, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

The vote was the third leadership contest since Gillard -- who was Rudd's deputy prime minister -- ousted Rudd in a 2010 vote.

After losing the second vote, Rudd said he would not run against Gillard again but later qualified his decision and made his move when he was more sure of backing by a majority of parliamentary Labor members.

Rudd now faces the prospect of a tough time on the stump in the run-up to an election widely expected Sept. 14. However, Rudd told Parliament he won't confirm the date tentatively scheduled by Gillard.

ABC reported the controversial government commitment to carbon emissions pricing for industry and the asylum seeker issue will be priorities for Rudd's new cabinet when it meets for the first time next week.

Earlier this month, Gillard's government was slipping in opinion polls, giving ground to the coalition opposition headed by the main opposition Liberal Party -- the party Rudd defeated in the 2007 federal election.

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