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Navy has turned boats back before: Abbott

Wed July 11, 2012 8:04am

The navy has turned back asylum-seeker boats before and can do so again, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says.

SPEAKING from the Melbourne Fish Market where he met workers, Mr Abbott responded to criticisms of the coalition's asylum-seeker policy by former Defence Department secretary Paul Barratt.

"I respect the professionalism of the navy," Mr Abbott told journalists on Wednesday.

"I appreciate navy personnel have a difficult job to do often under highly distressing circumstances.

"But the fact is the navy has turned boats around before and it has done so with great professionalism and can do so again with the right support from government and that's what I'd be giving them."

Mr Barratt said on Tuesday defence personnel would strongly object to Mr Abbott's policy of turning some boats back to Indonesia.

"They would hate it. Ordinary sailors would say this is not what we joined the navy for," he said.

Mr Abbott said the coalition would respect the defence force if there was a difference of opinion on the best way to tackle the asylum-seeker issue.

"The government (would) respect the integrity and operational capacity of our defence forces," he said.

But he indicated the opposition's policy would not change, stressing that the navy has "turned back boats before".

"The fundamental point I make is we've done it before and we can do it again."

Both the coalition and government have been under fire for failing to broker an asylum-seeker solution.

Mr Abbott said the opposition's policy was crystal clear.

"We believe in rigorous offshore processing in Nauru, temporary protection visas ... and the option of turning boats around where it's safe to do so," he said.

"These are the policies that have worked in the past and can work again the future."

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