Environment Minister Tony Burke
Environment Minister Tony Burke Karleila Thomsen

Asylum seeker policy 'strong', but govt unsure operate it

THE Federal Government is still unsure how to operate its "no advantage test" for asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boats, nearly a year after announcing the policy.

A recommendation of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers in Aug 2012, the policy prevents people seeking asylum in Australia from being processed at the border any faster than those who come through legitimate channels.

Just over a week into the job, Immigration Minister Tony Burke on Tuesday said the policy was "a solid one", but then outlined that the government still did not know how to implement it.

"How we will implement and how we will operate that is something where there's some material that has come back to me, some I've sent back to the department," he said.

But he remained concerned that in the 11 months since the policy was announced, the government had still not settled on a specific definition, or plans to operate, the policy.

"I don't think the explanation yet it tight enough but it's not a hardening or softening of the principle, it is simply to provide a higher level of charity on it," Mr Burke said.

"I think there was a bit of a view that further explanation of the no-advantage principle wasn't required. I have a different view."

He said processing of people under the policy began on Monday this week, and he was not concerned there had been any delays to the processing of asylum-seekers.

Mr Burke said the intervening delays would not mean the final part of the process would be fast, or that it would effect the final decisions in individual cases.

He also called for the debate on asylum-seekers to be removed from "slogans", such as "stop the boats", despite the lack of a definition for the Labor Government's "no advantage test" nearly a year since it was announced.

Mr Burke said he wanted to "bring a few moments of reality" back to the debate, saying the Howard Government itself had moved away from a "turn back the boats" before the 2007 election.

"And the reason for this was quite simple, the international situation had changed," he said.

"If anybody actually thinks you can photocopy the rules of 2001 and more than a decade later people smugglers haven't found a way around them, then they are kidding themselves."