GetUp!, a Sydney-based group that campaigns on political issues, paid A$16,100 ($14,000) for Afghan refugee Riz Wakil to have the lesson with Abbott in a bid to get him to soften his stance on controlling asylum seekers. Abbott is favored in polls to win an election due to be held in the next 10 months.
“Tony Abbott has to have a heart and I want him to have a more humane approach to border protection,” Wakil, said in an interview from his printing business in Sydney. “His policies are not humane and won’t stop the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia.”
Wakil, who came to Australia in 1999 on a fishing boat and spent nine months in a detention center before becoming an Australian citizen, has never been on a surfboard. Abbott, 52, who won two boxing Blues while studying at Oxford University, is a swimmer, surfer and cyclist.
His Liberal-National coalition has promised to increase border protection measures, including turning back boats carrying asylum seekers and processing refugee applications on offshore islands. Abbott blames the Rudd government’s softer border policies for an increase in the number of refugee boats arriving on Australian shores.
About 3,204 asylum seekers have arrived on 69 boats so far this year, Immigration Department figures show. That compares with 2,726 on 60 boats in 2009.
Abbott’s coalition led Rudd’s governing Labor party in a Nielsen opinion poll published in the Sydney Morning Herald on June 7. The coalition led labor 53 percent to 47 percent, according to the poll that had a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points.
Since winning office in November 2007, Rudd has moved to dismantle former Prime Minister John Howard’s “Pacific Solution” policy of detaining refugees in island camps in third countries and has pledged to speed up the assessment of asylum claims.
The government in 2008 closed detention centers on Nauru and Manus, a province of Papua New Guinea.
Rudd on April 9 halted processing new asylum claims from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka to refute claims it had softened border protection. Australia will accept 13,750 refugees and people who qualify under special humanitarian rules in the year ending June 30, up from 13,507 in the previous year.
“People in Afghanistan are still being persecuted,” Wakil said. “Tough measures will not stop people arriving on boats. They are desperate.” He doesn’t yet know when the surfing lesson with Abbott will be.