Australia's decision to refuse entry to refugees arriving by boat and send them to Papua New Guinea is necessary as the number of asylum seekers making the journey rises to as many as 50,000 a year, the government said.
"The spike makes it unavoidable," Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Sunday in an interview with Sky News. "It could rise further as people smugglers really close in and make a financial killing. This is what refugee advocates, many of them, and the Greens party can't accept. The nature of the problem has changed, and that requires a new, bolder solution."
A boat with 81 passengers that was stopped Saturday in waters off northwest Australia will be the first to face Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's "hard-line" policy on asylum seekers announced the previous day. Five people have drowned since July 12 in incidents at sea between Australia and Indonesia, and the issue has eroded support for the ruling Labor Party amid pledges by opposition leader Tony Abbott to "stop the boats."
Mr. Rudd has made asylum seekers a priority before elections that must be held by the end of November. Mr. Abbott has called the plan "simply a pre-election fix."
Australia put a A$200,000 ($183,000) bounty on people smugglers, offering rewards for information leading to convictions and targeting criminal groups stretching from Australia to nations including Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq, the government said Sunday.
Weekend newspapers in Australia carried the government's full-page advertisements promoting Mr. Rudd's policy with the message "if you come here by boat without a visa, you won't be settled in Australia" and a photo of a fishing boat at sea.
"Any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being resettled in Australia," Mr. Rudd told reporters in Brisbane on Friday, standing alongside Papua New Guinea's prime minister, Peter O'Neill. "If they're found to be genuine refugees they'll be resettled in Papua New Guinea."
"They haven't even worked out how they are going to pay for it, let alone what the procedures are going to be for resettling in Papua New Guinea," Scott Morrison, the Australian opposition immigration spokesman, said in an interview Sunday on Channel Ten. "And then, once they are resettled in Papua New Guinea, what do they think they are going to do? It's not that hard to get from Papua New Guinea to Australia."
Almost all of the passengers on the boat that was stopped Saturday are originally from Iran, Immigration Minister Tony Burke said that day.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Foreign Ministry told The Associated Press that a riot Friday at an Australian-run detention center on the Pacific island nation of Nauru had caused damages worth an estimated $55 million, and had led to the arrest of 125 asylum seekers.
Successive Australian governments have struggled with boat arrivals from Southeast Asia since the late 1970s, when then-Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser granted entry to more than 2,000 refugees from the aftermath of the Vietnam War.