Border security debate renewed after boat intercept

The federal government is warning of an increase in people smuggling activity after an asylum seeker boat was intercepted by Malaysian authorities. 

The Greens party says the government is creating fear ahead of the federal election this year. 

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said the government’s tough stance was a sign that the Coalition’s election campaign is fully underway.

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“No question we’ve got an election coming up which will be fought on fear and division,” Senator Di Natale told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.

“They’ll do what they can to try and heighten the concerns around innocent people seeking asylum, the fact that we’re a multicultural nation with many different cultures.

“They’ll try and divide and conquer the Australian community in an effort to win the next election, that’s what they do.”

Scott Morrison earlier warned the interception of an asylum seeker boat in Malaysia shows people smugglers are already gearing up for Labor to weaken border security.

But Labor has rebuffed the prime minister’s barbs, accusing Mr Morrison of mounting a cheap scare campaign.

A tip-off from the Australian Federal Police resulted in Malaysian authorities intercepting a people-smuggling vessel before it could leave with 34 people on board 10 days ago.

The asylum seekers, including 11 women and seven children, were stopped as they were about to board a boat with the promise they would be taken to either Australia or New Zealand.

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Three members of a people-smuggling syndicate were also arrested in the January 4 operation.

Mr Morrison said the people smuggling threat was “always there and always constant”.

The prime minister accused Labor of attempting to dilute his government’s hardline national security framework dubbed Operation Sovereign Borders.

“There’s thousands of people up in Indonesia – if they get the green light from the Labor Party if they’re elected – who will want to get on boats and test that system,” Mr Morrison told the Seven Network on Monday.

“But under us, under our government, that system has held firm. Operation Sovereign Borders has been a great success and we won’t change any of it.”

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Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was “complete rubbish” to suggest Labor would abandon Operation Sovereign Borders.

“What they do when they say these lies is they are actually encouraging people smugglers to try their hand against the Australian system,” he told reporters in the Northern Territory.

“We do support strong borders and we will do everything we can to stop the people smugglers getting back into business.”

Mr Shorten said a Labor government would triple the number of AFP officers stationed overseas to deter and disrupt people smuggling operations.

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The athletes are hoping to stay in Australia.

Late last year, Labor softened its asylum seeker policies at its national conference by formally endorsing doctor-ordered medical evacuations off Manus Island and Nauru.

Labor officials also committed to increasing the community-sponsored refugee intake and to appointing a special envoy for asylum seeker issues if the party wins the next federal election.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton described the policy changes as “the biggest green light in years” for people smugglers.

“We’ll be back to the worst days of Rudd and Gillard within weeks of a Shorten government being elected,” Mr Dutton told 2GB radio.

A total of 80 people-smuggling ventures have been disrupted under Operation Sovereign Borders since September 2013, data shows – 11 in Malaysia, 15 in Sri Lanka, 53 in Indonesia and one in Pakistan.