ALMOST two-thirds of voters support the Coalition’s decision to reintroduce the Howard government’s “Pacific solution” for dealing with asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

The latest Herald/Nielsen poll also finds the Coalition the preferred party overall to deal with asylum seekers which is looming as a central issue in this year’s federal election.

The poll of 1400 voters, taken between Thursday and Saturday, came after the announcement by Tony Abbott that a Coalition government would once more detain asylum seekers indefinitely in locations such as Nauru. The Coalition would also reintroduce the controversial temporary protection visas which Labor abolished on humanitarian grounds.

The poll found 62 per cent of voters supported “the Howard government’s policy of processing asylum seekers in countries outside Australia”. A minority of 33 per cent opposed the policy.

Asked which party had the best asylum-seeker policy, 35 per cent nominated the Coalition while support for Labor and the Greens was 19 per cent and 18 per cent respectively. “A majority of Australians are likely to support policies presented as tough and uncompromising and are less likely to support policies perceived as soft,” said a Nielsen pollster, John Stirton.

So far this year 133 boats have arrived in Australian waters and Labor MPs reported to caucus last week the arrivals were becoming a dominant concern among voters.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said he would not engage in a policy race to the bottom with Mr Abbott but promised to explain the facts more often to offset some of the myths and fears being perpetrated. For example, Australia took about 13,000 refugees a year, whether they arrived by boat or air. If boat arrivals increased, the net intake would not, he said.

The Opposition claims the government has lost control of the borders. It said the arrival of four boats in two days over the weekend showed the three-month and six-month processing freeze the Rudd government placed on Sri Lankans and Afghans respectively had failed to deter asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers found on the most recent boats were intercepted north of Ashmore Island and Scott Reef. They are en route to Christmas Island where 2436 people are detained in facilities with space for 2500.

The government has budgeted for the arrival of 2000 asylum seekers by boat in the year to June 30 next year. This is a drop on the year before but costs will double as more people fight their deportation and spend longer in detention to do so. The rates of rejection are increasing, with almost half of the 480 who arrived last year rejected as refugees by the Immigration Department in the past two months.

As the government postponed the transfer of about 30 families to the remote mining town of Leonora yesterday, it prepared the detention centre in Curtin to receive hundreds of asylum seekers affected by the April 9 suspension.

“The policy has been as ineffective as it is discriminatory,” the opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said. The first transfer of 90 people to Leonora, scheduled for yesterday, was cancelled.

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