Largest boatload of asylum seekers so far in 2012 intercepted by navy off Christmas Island

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said HMAS Ararat intercepted a vessel carrying 147 people – including four crew – north of Christmas Island last night.

“The vessel was initially detected by a RAAF maritime patrol aircraft,” Mr Clare said.

The passengers are now en-route to Christmas Island to undergo security, health and identity checks.

It’s the second biggest boatload of passengers to arrive in 12 months, and one of the biggest in the past five years.

The arrival of one of the biggest boatloads of asylum seekers in the past five years has heightened divisions between the Gillard Government and the Federal Opposition, with a solution to stemming the flow of boat arrivals as unlikely as ever.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said only the Malaysia Arrangement, or a similar deterrent, could deliver a safer and more orderly migration program.

“This is yet another boat you can chalk down to (Opposition Leader) Tony Abbott’s negative politics,” Mr Bowen said.

“He is refusing to work with the Government to implement offshore processing and has even said ‘no’ to reopening a processing centre on Nauru, rejecting long-held Liberal policy.

“Mr Abbott clearly prefers to see more boats arrive because he believes it’s in his political interest.”

Mr Clare said boats would continue to come to Australia unless the coalition was willing to work with the Gillard Government to deter asylum seekers from taking dangerous boat journeys.

“If Mr Abbott is serious about stopping the boats he must stop saying no and pass our legislation to allow asylum seekers to be processed offshore in Malaysia and Nauru,” he said.
But the opposition’s immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the government had no policy on border protection.

“Their only policy is to blame Tony Abbott, that’s not a policy, it’s an excuse locked in denial and division,” Mr Morrison told The Daily Telegraph.

Mr Morrison called on the government to restore the former Howard government policies, including offshore processing on Nauru and temporary protection visas.

“So far in 2012 we’ve had almost a thousand people turn up (in boats),” Mr Morrison said.

“That’s around five times more than at this time year. Labor have lost control of our borders and themselves. The government has given up on border protection.”

The latest boat arrivals are en-route to Christmas Island for security, health and identity checks.

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