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Australia reiterates tough asylum boat policy

Sept. 10, 2013 at 6:06 AM   |   Comments

CANBERRA, Australia, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Australia's new government said it will make good on its promise to crack down on asylum seeker boat arrivals and people smugglers.

Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott, who won Sunday's national election, said his hard-line policy against asylum seekers would begin the day his new government is sworn in, The Age newspaper reported.

A major issue in the election was Australia's ongoing struggle with increasing numbers of asylum seekers arriving in un-seaworthy boats -- many of which flounder, drowning their passengers.

The latest boat to be stopped by maritime patrols carried two journalists -- an American and a Dutch citizen.

The journalists, who were among 57 people aboard the vessel stopped Sunday, said they were investigating the stories of the refugees.

The Age quoted Abbott as saying his majority-seat coalition government would "make a difference from Day 1" when it comes to dealing with boat arrivals and those who organize the voyages.

Abbott, who was being interviewed by radio station 2UE, said human smugglers would know their "time was up" now that a coalition government was in power and set to start "Operation Sovereign Borders" to stem the flow of refugees.

Gen. David Hurley, Australia's defense forces chief, will recommend the appointment of a three-star commander to head up the operation, which involves coordinating border protection across more than a dozen government agencies.

"I think the people smugglers now know that things are going to be very, very different in this country and in the seas to our north," Abbott told radio 2UE.

"It wouldn't surprise me if they attempt to test the new government's resolve, but they will certainly find our determination more than equal to theirs."

Abbott, 55, is leader of the conservative Liberal party and will become Australia's 28th prime minister when he is sworn in sometime next week.

Before the election, Labor and the opposition coalition group of the Liberal and National parties each had 72 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives.

It was Labor, with support from the Green Party member of the House and three independents, that had led a minority government.

But Sunday's election resulted in the coalition taking 91 seats while Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Labor Party picked up 57 seats, suffering its worst defeat in 100 years. Rudd has said he will stand down as leader.

American reporter Luke Mogelson and Dutch photojournalist Joel van Houdt were at sea on board the refugee vessel for three days before being rescued, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

They, along with the asylum seekers and two crew, were taken to a detention camp on Australia's Indian Ocean territory Christmas Island for questioning initial processing.

Immigration Department officials confirmed the journalists arrived with valid travel documents and visas, ABC reported.

Christmas Island administrator Jon Stanhope said the two journalists reportedly looked "weary, a bit bedraggled."

They spoke with federal police and once processed were free to go, although there are only several flights a week to mainland Australia.

Van Houdt's girlfriend, Amie Ferris-Rotman, said in an interview with ABC that the two journalists are based in Kabul, Afghanistan, and were on assignment for The New York Times.

Ferris-Rotman, a journalism fellow at Stanford University, said van Houdt is a war photographer and has been embedded with the U.S. Army and the Afghan army.

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