Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is confident he can “stop the boats” entering Australian waters within three months of a coalition government being elected on Saturday.
Decisions would be made by Mr Abbott personally and on a case-by-case basis, based on the advice of naval commanders via a hotline to the prime minister’s office.
Mr Abbott says the previous Howard government successfully turned asylum-seeker boats around on seven occasions, a policy that “virtually stopped” the flow of boats within three months.
“That’s essentially the timeline that John Howard took (and) I think in three-months we will make a big difference,” he told ABC Radio on Monday.
But Mr Abbott couldn’t say how long asylum seekers would be detained in an offshore processing centre at Nauru, which the coalition plans to re-open immediately after the election.
Previous processing delays had been caused by people deliberately destroying personal identification papers. “And in a lot of cases people wouldn’t take no for an answer … they stayed in the hope of getting a different answer,” Mr Abbott said.
“You always want to have these things done as quickly as possible, but you can’t give an absolute guarantee as to how long it would take.” Labor’s campaign spokesman Chris Bowen says Mr Abbott’s hotline plan is a “stunt”.
“You are putting not only the lives of asylum seekers at risk, you’re putting the lives of Australian sailors at risk,” he told ABC Radio. But opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop backed her leader.
“Of course we would take advice from defence and customs people who would assess the situation on the ground,” she told ABC Radio.
“They would give the advice on what could be done, but Tony Abbott would ultimately make the call.”