Candidates fight to stop the boats

RICHMOND candidates from the major parties say the boat people issue is not about the numbers, but rather halting people-smuggling and preventing asylum seekers making the journey in the first place.

The boat people issue reared its head once again after the Coalition accused the Labor Government of going soft on the boat people because their numbers have increased since 2007.

Liberal leader Tony Abbott has made a campaign pledge to “stop the boats” and reopen the Nauru processing centre.

Labor has also promised to move to stop the boats before they even leave foreign shores and plans to build a new processing centre, possibly in East Timor.

The Tweed Daily News asked each of Richmond’s nine candidates about the asylum seeker issue, with one specific question: If the (asylum seeker) boats stopped coming, how much lower would Australia’s population growth then be?

The number of refugees Australia accepts is set each year and has remained between 13,000 and 14,200 since 2003. This year the number will be 13,750, regardless of the number of boats that arrive. However, incumbent Richmond MP Justine Elliot, who was the only person to give a specific answer to the question, said when more boats arrived fewer people could be sponsored under our humanitarian program.

Ms Elliot said Labor wanted to act on the real concerns of the Australian public.

“We are determined to set up a regional processing centre to remove the profitability of the trade and the danger of the voyage,” she said.

Each of the candidates admitted the number of people arriving by boats was small.

Nationals representative Alan Hunter said “the point is not about quantity, it is about quality”. He said the debate on Australia’s population was at its pointy end, with stretched services in many areas.

“The impact is enormous if we don’t get to choose who is coming in,” he said.

Liberal candidate Joan van Lieshout said the issue was about ensuring criminal people-smugglers weren’t getting paid to put people on boats unfit for the journey. She said refugees and immigrants should come in the front door.

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