CANBERRA - Australia's conservative government said Thursday that tough immigration policies could soften if the opposition wins elections, after candidates from center-left Labor Party called for Australian-run migrant camps on two Pacific islands to be closed.
Australia Broadcasting Corp. reported that asylum seekers were being allowed conditional freedom to leave Manus Island on Papua New Guinea, where the Australian government has a policy of sending migrants who try to reach Australian shores by boat.
Last month, however, Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled that Australia's detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was unconstitutional.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that Nauru had given asylum seekers freedom of movement since October and Papua New Guinea “are heading down that track as well.”
Dutton singled out comments by opposition Labor candidates, including Sophie Ismail, that the camps should be closed, and said Australia's policies would soften if the Labor wins July 2 polls.
The aim of sending asylum seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea is to deter boat arrivals by refusing to allow them to ever settle in Australia.
Another Labor candidate, Michael Freelander, has likened the Papua New Guinea facility to a Nazi concentration camp.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten condemned the comparison, but Dutton said he could not be trusted to maintain Australia's tough policies because at least 18 Labor candidates opposed them.
“It's obvious to all of us that Mr. Shorten doesn't have control of his own party when it comes to the crucial issue of border protection,” Dutton told reporters.