Immigration issues dominates first Australian leaders' debate

09:14, July 26, 2010      

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Immigration policy and the issue of asylum seekers dominated the first half of the Australian leaders' debate at the National Press Club in Canberra on Sunday night.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Sunday accused Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of being tricky with his new immigration policy in the leaders' debate, saying she is already delivering what the opposition leader has promised.

Abbott, who earlier in the day announced the coalition's new immigration policy, challenged Gillard to match his plan for reducing Australia's immigration intake.

The coalition has promised to cut the annual intake from 300, 000 to 170,000 in its first term of government.

The debate over immigration levels came amid a wider discussion about population levels.

"We have nominated what we think is the right number for Australia going forward and I challenge the prime minister to do likewise," Abbott said.

However, Abbott was forced to defend his policy announcement after it was pointed out during the debate that it was the former Howard government that had allowed immigration levels to rise.

"But it's the current government which has presided over immigration numbers of 300,000 a year and something needs to be done about an unsustainable rate of increase," Abbott said in response.

Gillard said Abbott was being convenient with the truth, adding that the Labor government had already reduced the immigration intake from 300,000 in 2008 to 175,000 this year, with further reductions in the pipeline.

"So the trick here, and I think Tony should really reveal the trick, the trick here is Tony today has promised the Australian people what I'm already delivering to the Australian people," Gillard said in the debate.

Labor has seized on an independent report that suggested population growth would slow without the coalition's intervention, with the BIS Shrapnel study from May indicating net migration would drop to 175,000 this financial year and 145,000 in 2011-10.

On the issue of asylum seekers, Gillard said she was " determined" to set up a regional processing center but refused to set a time-line for it.

"I'm not going to set a false deadline here, we will take the time to get it done," she said, noting discussions with East Timor, her preferred location, were under way.

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(Editor:李牧(实习))

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