Releasing further detail of the opposition’s immigration policy on Thursday, Abbott said the coalition would immediately look at setting up processing camps in other countries.
“The next coalition government will swiftly begin negotiations with foreign countries to ensure that there is offshore processing available in those countries should Christmas Island be full,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Canberra.
It signals a return to the Pacific Solution of the previous Howard government, which detained asylum seekers at camps on Manus Island and Nauru.
“This is about stopping the boats,” Mr Abbott said.
“We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again.”
But there is anger on Mr Abbott’s benches.
Liberal backbencher Petro Georgiou said he would not support the changes.
“The policy announced today on refugees is cruel. It further victimises the persecuted. It does not have my support.”
Mr Abbott also reportedly sprung the announcement on his party.
Policy ‘not approved’ by party room
Liberal MPs arriving at Parliament House on Thursday confirmed the formal policy hadn’t been approved by the joint coalition party room.
The Canberra Times reported that backbenchers Judi Moylan, Petro Georgiou, Judith Troeth and Russel Broadbent were called to discuss the announcement only an hour before it was made.
Broadbent did not attend the meeting, the Times reported, while Troeth said a ‘briefing’ took place, despite the fact Abbott announced that the policy had been through the proper processes.
Liberal frontbencher Bruce Billson said the issues had been “debated long and hard in the party room”.
But pressed on whether the final policy had been put to the party room he said: “Aspects of it have been debated.”
“What we don’t do is send in the invitation card before the wedding and say ‘Is everyone happy with that?’ before it goes out,” Mr Billson said.
“You know what’s important and those elements are embedded in the policy.”
Backbencher Dennis Jenson clearly wasn’t aware of the detail – even though it had been leaked to newspapers.
He didn’t know a coalition government would make refugees work for any welfare payments they received.
“I haven’t seen that part of the proposal so I can’t comment on it,” he told reporters when quizzed on the policy.
‘Disappointing’ use of asylum seekers as political issue: Greens
It was disappointing to see asylum seekers being used as political issue ahead of the election, Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said.
“The policies announced by the coalition today are simply appalling,” he told reporters in Canberra, labelling them a return to the Howard-era.
“They’re inhumane, they breach international law and they pull the rug from the under the ideal that Australia is a country where you get a fair go.”
But Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said Australians wanted decisive action on border protection.
“The electorate does not accept the nature of borders as they are,” he said.
“They do not accept that people who have illegally gone to the front of the queue, for their sins, they get to stay in a four-star resort, four-star hotel in Brisbane.”