New Australian PM set to reverse asylum seeker policy

New Australian PM set to reverse asylum seeker policy

Australia's prime minister is expected to introduce a new border-protection policy this week as the government struggles to cope with boatloads of illegal asylum seekers who filled an offshore detention centre and fuelled political debate over immigration.

New Prime Minister Julia Gillard will meet her Cabinet today to address the influx of asylum seekers that occurred under her predecessor, Kevin Rudd.

The opposition blames Mr Rudd's loosening of tough regulations in 2008 for the increase.

Australia has long been a destination for asylum seekers, with most coming from Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka.

The Christmas Island detention centre, built for 800, has been overflowing for months as more than 2,000 more people arrived by boat this year.

Ms Gillard yesterday called for an open debate on the problem of illegal immigration.

"For people to say they're anxious about border security doesn't make them intolerant, it certainly doesn't make them a racist, it means that they're expressing a genuine view that they're anxious about border security," she said.

"By the same token, people who express concern about children being in detention, that doesn't mean they're soft on border protection, that just means that they're expressing a real human concern."

In April, Australia temporarily suspended refugee applications from Afghans and Sri Lankans, citing improved conditions in those countries.

The Sri Lanka suspension expires on Thursday, and the government will also address whether to extend that suspension.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott said Ms Gillard helped shape her party's policy and a revamp of border protection under the Labour party would not change the status quo.

"I have a simple message to the Australian people: if you want to stop the boats you've got to change the government," Mr Abbott said.

Mr Abbott promised to revive the so-called Pacific solution - in which Australia paid impoverished island neighbours Nauru and Papua New Guinea to keep asylum seekers in detention centres - if his party wins elections later this year.

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