SYDNEY – Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday claimed his hardline policies to stop boatpeople reaching Australia had been successful, saying "the floodgates are closed, the boats are stopping".
Abbott's vow to smash the people-smuggling trade and halt the surge of boats carrying asylum-seekers to Australian waters was a centrepiece of his election victory in September.
Since assuming office, his government has been implementing its "Stop the Boats" policy, which involves using the military to turn back people-smuggling vessels to key transit country Indonesia and sending anyone who arrives to Papua New Guinea and Nauru for processing and resettlement.
Confirmation or the details of any actual turn-backs have been kept confidential by the government on "operational security" grounds due to the military's involvement, but Abbott insisted the scheme was succeeding.
"While there's still a long way to go I'm pleased to say that the boats are stopping, they are coming at about 10 per cent the rate that was happening under the former government in July," Abbott told reporters.
"Under the former government in July arrivals were at the rate of 50,000 per year. The trickle had become a flow, had become a flood.
"Well I'm pleased to say that the floodgates are closed, the boats are stopping."
At a weekly briefing last Friday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said only two boats had been intercepted in the past week, and only one the week before that, marking a sharp reduction from earlier in the year.
Last week, Australia struck a deal with Malaysia to disrupt the transit of asylum-seekers through the Southeast Asian nation to Indonesia, where they board rickety, overloaded boats heading for Australian waters.
Without providing details, Morrison estimated that more than half of those who reach Australia come through Malaysia.
Abbott would not comment Thursday on reports that a separate agreement had been reached with the Iranian government to repatriate its citizens whose refugee claims are rejected by Australia, but he said Canberra was talking to other countries about stopping boat arrivals.
"We are doing everything we humanely can to stop the boats. We are doing everything we can to work with other countries to ensure that that's happened," he said.
"We are talking to everyone we need to talk to (to ensure) that the message goes out that the people-smugglers and their customers that the game is up, don't try it, because if you try it you will never come to Australia." AFP