Bob Hawke says there is no way to “stop the boats” as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has claimed he will do to the asylum-seeking craft regularly arriving on islands off Australia’s north-west coast.
The former Labor prime minister repeated his attack on Mr Abbott describing him as “mad as a cut snake” and said Australia needed people like those arriving by boat to claim asylum because they had initiative and courage.
Mr Hawke offered a range of thoughts across many issues to a Financial Services Council conference in Melbourne today.
Mr Hawke admitted he had early concerns about Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s re-election prospects but believed the Labor campaign was looking up for her now.
He also said there was no way to “stop the boats” as Mr Abbott had promised.
“We’re all bloody boat people,” Mr Hawke said.
“That’s how we found the place.”
Mr Hawke said he understood the frustration of many voters at “queue jumpers”, but said “we have to look at the other side of the coin”.
He said the Coalition’s approach to the boat people question was “nonsense”.
“We cannot turn the boats back,” Mr Hawke said.
“These people have got initiative, guts and courage and Australia needs people like that.”
He pushed Indonesia as the location for an asylum seeker processing centre, saying it would be “fair enough, as long as the conditions there are humane”.
Mr Hawke also spoke about his South Australian-based work with a centre focused on improving relations between the Islamic community and others, saying the real challenge for Australia in his eyes was not to “demonise Muslim people”.
On the wider question of the August 21 poll, Mr Hawke was happy to admit the five-week campaign had not started well for Labor, after a series of damaging leaks and the issue of former leader Kevin Rudd’s rolling.
“Julia hasn’t been able to shine in the first half of the campaign,” he said, but he genuinely felt that Labor would win.