Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has faced accusations that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is “inhumane and uncivilised” during a hostile BBC interview in London.
Ms Bishop is in the United Kingdom for the annual AUKMIN meeting with her British counterpart William Hague and the defence ministers of both countries.
But on Tuesday morning, BBC Radio 4’s John Humphrys questioned her about Canberra’s “inhumane” detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
The presenter noted they’d been described as having the look and feel of concentration camps and suggested Australia was “effectively operating a sort of Guantanamo Bay … only in some ways even worse”.
Ms Bishop defended Australia’s policy, stating the federal government had taken a “tough line” to deter people making the journey by sea with consequent drownings.
“Our aim is to dismantle the people smuggling trade that flourished in South East Asia,” the foreign minister told BBC radio.
“We’ve done this before and it worked.”
Ms Bishop said people in detention centres were treated with respect and dignity and given healthcare and schooling.
On Manus Island the standard of accommodation and support people received “in many instances is better than that received by the people of Papua New Guinea,” the foreign minister said.
A Senate inquiry has been established into the violence on Manus Island that led to the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati in mid-February.
Humphrys on Tuesday asked Ms Bishop: “Why can’t you have these detention centres in Australia?”
“That’s not a very civilised way of going about it,” the presenter said of offshore camps before questioning Ms Bishop about the recent death on Manus Island.
“Yes well 1200 people have died on boats trying to get to (Australia),” Ms Bishop replied before the radio host interrupted to ask if that justified the PNG death.
“No I didn’t say it justified it at all, I just said we are trying to stop people coming by boat,” Ms Bishop said.
“This is what happens in unruly behaviour when violence occurs – and it’s tragic.”
Immigration is a hot issue in the UK with anti-immigration party UKIP gaining popularity on the back of concerns about a potential influx of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals.
The ruling Conservative Party has also increasingly appealed to voters’ perceived prejudices on immigration since Australian strategist Lynton Crosby was put in charge of the Tory election campaign.