Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has warned asylum seekers they “will never come to Australia” on illegal boats despite voicing concerns about those in offshore detention centres.
Mr Turnbull says it is “absolutely clear” there’ll be no Australian resettlement of asylum seekers in centres on Manus Island and Nauru, while conceding the government’s policy is harsh.
“But it has worked,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.
Speculation that Mr Turnbull could take a more lenient approach to the processing of asylum seekers was sparked when he conceded he shared the public’s concern about offshore processing.
He later clarified that didn’t mean the resettlement policy would change.
“It is not an ideal environment,” he said.
“We are doing everything we can to encourage them to return from where they came.”
The government was actively looking at ways to resettle the asylum seekers once they were processed but couldn’t take a backward step on the issue, he said.
“We will not tolerate people smuggling, if people want to come to Australia, people smuggling is absolutely the wrong way,” he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the prime minister had assured him privately and publicly the government would continue with its immigration policies.
He hinted some changes may be afoot, but only to strengthen existing policies.
“If we need to sharpen our programs, our policies, which will make it even harder for people smugglers to get through the net, that’s exactly what we’ll do,” Mr Dutton said.
The government wanted to move people out of detention and into permanent settlement “somewhere else in the world” as soon as possible.
Temporary protection visas and turn-backs were also key aspects of stopping the boats, he said.
Mr Turnbull has also flagged a possible reversal of a decision to exclude Mr Dutton as a permanent member of the national security committee.
He said the minister would be seconded when security issues involving immigration arose and it was important he didn’t waste his time on matters irrelevant to his portfolio.
“If experience suggests we should change the arrangements, we will,” Mr Turnbull said.