Aus PM signals tough line on issue of asylum seekers

Australians who were concerned about asylum seekers were not racist, says PM.

Last Updated: Jul 04, 2010, 15:33 PM IST

Melbourne: Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Sunday said Australians who were concerned about asylum seekers were neither racist nor intolerant.

Vowing not to let "political correctness" get in the way of tackling immigration, the country`s first woman prime minister signalled a tough line on the issue.

"I certainly dismiss labels like intolerant or racist because people raise concerns about border security, but we`ve also got to be very alive to the complexity of this and that there`s no quick fix," Gillard was quoted as saying by the `Sunday Telegraph`.

"There`s a temptation for people to use these labels and names to try and close down debate and I`m very opposed to that. People need to be able to have honest discussions.”

"So any sort of political correctness, or niceties that get in the way, I think, need to be swept out of the way," she said.

Gillard, who took over as Premier from Kevin Rudd, has made it a top priority to slow the steady flow of asylum seeker boats that plagued the previous Rudd government.

Defending former prime minister, John Howard`s tough immigration policies that were scrapped by Rudd, Gillard told the daily that "she wanted openness in public debate to be a mark of her prime ministership, as long as people spoke with goodwill and were not critical of race or culture".

A boat carrying 34 asylum seekers was intercepted today, arousing strong passions among voters and is likely to be a major factor at elections expected within coming months.

PTI