(Bloomberg) -- Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would strengthen the country’s maritime border protection, after warning that new laws passed in parliament last week would weaken its boundaries and raise national security concerns.
“The Australian government has zero tolerance for people smuggling and illegal boat travel to Australia,” Morrison said in a video message. “No one who attempts an illegal boat journey to Australia will ever be allowed to settle here.”
Morrison, who heads a minority center-right government, lost a crucial vote Feb. 13 on legislation that will allow doctors a greater say on the medical evacuation of sick asylum seekers held in detention centers on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to Australia.
The main opposition Labor Party has rejected the government’s assertion that the new rules will embolden people smugglers and lead to more boat arrivals, saying the rules will only apply to existing refugees in offshore detention, not new arrivals.
Morrison said in the video message that it was more than four-and-a-half years since the last successful maritime people smuggling venture to Australia. Since then, the government had intercepted more than 800 people from 34 boats.
“More than 1,200 people died attempting illegal boat voyages to our country. We will never allow this to happen again,” Morrison said. The latest flare-up over refugees has put immigration policy back at the top of the political agenda ahead of a national election due by May.
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