Tony Abbott to Europe: Be like Australia. Shut the borders and turn refugee boats back

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott hasn't gone away.
Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott hasn't gone away. 
Stefan Postles

Ex-Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has found a new vocation since being kicked out of office: refugee crisis expert. 

Abbott spent Tuesday night lecturing European countries on the best way to deal with the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. During a speech in London honoring former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, he said European leaders should follow his example: Shut the borders and send boats crossing the Mediterranean Sea back to where they came from.

That, according to Abbott, was the “only truly compassionate thing to do.”

Australia's tough border protection policy had resulted in not "a single illegal boat" reaching Australia in the past 18 months, Abbott boasted, making Australia the only country in the world to defeat people smuggling. His country succeeded where others have failed by forcing illegal boats to turn around or by sending the asylum-seekers to offshore processing centers where anyone found to be a legitimate refugee is resettled in Papua New Guinea, Nauru or Cambodia. 

The United Nationshuman rights groups and leading newspapers have called Australia's approach inhumane, brutal and cruel. And a new report by Amnesty International accuses the Australian government of also paying people smugglers to turn their boats back.

Abbott sees it as a model.

“This means turning boats around, for people coming by sea. It means denying entry at the border, for people with no legal right to come; and it means establishing camps for people who currently have nowhere to go,” he said. “It will require some force; it will require massive logistics and expense; it will gnaw at our consciences — yet it is the only way to prevent a tide of humanity surging through Europe and quite possibly changing it forever.”

Here's a full transcript of the speech.

Abbott also said the hundreds of millions of people trying to enter Europe were “economic migrants,” as opposed to refugees, because they had “crossed not one border but many” and were “no longer fleeing in fear." Those claims echoed ones made by some European leaders to justify their hard-line stance on the issue.

“Our moral obligation is to receive people fleeing for their lives. It's not to provide permanent residency to anyone and everyone who would rather live in a prosperous Western country than their own,” he said.

Referencing the Bible, Abbott, a former trainee Catholic priest, said the “wholesome instinct” of Western countries to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” was “leading much of Europe into catastrophic error.”

“No country or continent can open its borders to all comers without fundamentally weakening itself. This is the risk that the countries of Europe now run through misguided altruism.”

Abbott’s speech sparked uproar on social media, with many mocking his tribute to Thatcher.

Using the hashtag #ToneCommandments, Twitter users also lampooned Abbott's reference to the Bible and attacked his policies on refugees, coal and the environment. 


Abbott clearly hoped to use Tuesday's speech to celebrate his government's achievements and cement his legacy — mentioned scrapping the carbon tax, slashing the budget and standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But in the end, it served to remind many people of why they are glad he is no longer in office.