CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten rejected a newspaper report Thursday saying his center-left Labor Party would lay out a welcome mat for asylum seekers if it wins next month’s national election.
The front-page story in the Daily Telegraph newspaper attacked Labor’s policy, when it was last in power, of giving refugees who arrived by boat permanent visas instead of the three-year visas the conservative government introduced in 2014.
Labor would get rid of the so-called temporary protection visas if it wins the July 2 election, but says that does not mean it easing up on illegal boat arrivals.
Opponents of the temporary visas argue that they leave refugees with uncertain futures and the prospect that they might one day be sent back to their homelands.
The government argues that the temporary visas are an essential part of their deterrent policies that have prevented any asylum seekers from successfully arriving on Australian shores by boat for almost two years.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government has boasted that stopping the traffic of asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and Asia in rickety boats, usually from Indonesian ports, is one of its greatest policy successes since it was elected in September 2013.
Shorten blamed Turnbull’s conservative Liberal Party for the newspaper using an image of a welcome mat to depict Labor’s message to asylum seekers.
“This is the same old Liberal Party trying to reheat their same old lies and fear campaign,” Shorten told reporters.
“Labor, on July 3, will have the same policy about stopping the boats. We will not put the people smugglers back into business,” he said.
Almost daily arrivals of boats carrying thousands of asylum seekers under a former Labor government were a hot-button issue in the 2013 election.
Labor now says it would continue the government’s tough deterrent policies, including using warships to tow back people-smuggling boats or putting asylum seekers in motorized lifeboats and setting them on course for the Indonesian coast.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said Thursday that Labor’s opposition to temporary visas “tells the people smugglers every single thing they need to know about a Labor government on border protection.”
The ruling party has accused Labor of undermining its policies, pointing to criticisms some Labor candidates have made of Australia’s policy of paying the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea to keep Australia-bound asylum seekers in immigration camps.
Labor has promised that, if elected, it would immediately talk to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees about resettling the hundreds of refuges languishing on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Both Labor and the government refuse to resettle them in Australia.
Temporary visa holders also cannot sponsor their families to migrate to Australia or return to Australia if they travel overseas.
The minor Greens party is hoping to win seats with a promise of a more compassionate refugee policy.