Australian government boatpeople policy under fire

Australian government boatpeople policy under fire
Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference in Sydney on September 30, 2013, where he rejected claims that Australian authorities took too long to respond to distress calls from an asylum seeker boat which went down off the coast of Java, killing at least 31 people.

SYDNEY - Australia's Labor opposition on Sunday claimed the government's boatpeople policy was in serious disarray after a high-seas stand-off with Indonesia.

The Tony Abbott-led government went into September elections vowing to turn back asylum-seeker boats to Indonesia, where many depart, when safe to do so.

But Jakarta has received the policy coolly and on Saturday Australia was forced to accept a group of about 60 people who were picked up by an Australian vessel south of Java on Thursday after Indonesia refused to take them.

Reports said it was the third time, dating back to September, that Indonesia had declined to have asylum-seekers returned.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the coalition's boat person policy is absolutely not working," Labor leader Bill Shorten told ABC television, despite the number of boat arrivals slowing dramatically in recent months.

Shorten also blasted the "pattern of secrecy" surrounding the government's asylum policies.

The conservative government has adopted a policy of only commenting on boat arrivals at a weekly briefing unless a serious incident occurs, in contrast to Labor, which informed the media regularly when it was in power.

"They're not answering questions about what's happening," he said.

On Saturday Immigration Minister Scott Morrison insisted the request that Indonesia take the asylum-seekers was consistent with standard practice given the incident took place inside its search and rescue zone and close to its coast.

He claimed that on two recent occasions, Indonesia had agreed to these requests and facilitated an on water transfer.

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