And so PM Julia Gillard made statements like the following:
I don't support the idea of a big Australia... We need to stop, take a breath...
For people to say they're anxious about border security doesn't make them intolerant ... It means that they're expressing a genuine view that they're anxious about border security...
Former Labor leader Mark Latham wasn't buying it:
Former Labor leader Mark Latham has labelled Labor's position on population growth "a fraud of the worst order", saying immigration numbers must be slashed...
Ms Gillard's "sustainable" population call was not backed with any substance and was a "fraud" designed to appeal to western Sydney voters sensitive to the asylum seeker issue, Mr Latham said.
"It's clever politics but it's a fraud. It's a fraud of the worst order," he said.
Just a few months later, Latham has been proven correct. Gillard has announced two new policies on asylum seekers. The first is that women and children who arrive illegally won't live in detention centres but in the community. As has been pointed out in the media, this almost guarantees that anyone who arrives will stay. Once established in the community it becomes very difficult to reject asylum claims and to return people back to their own country.
The second new policy is even more significant. The Gillard Government, understandably, doesn't want people getting into boats to try to claim refugee status in Australia. So they are going to allow people who claim they are refugees from anywhere in Asia to be flown, at Australian taxpayers' expense, to an Australian processing facility:
The Federal Government has revealed its East Timor detention centre would see asylum seekers from across Asia able to apply to come to Australia.
The Opposition says the plan risks creating a regional dumping ground that would serve as a magnet for asylum seekers.
The secretary of the Immigration Department, Andrew Metcalfe, revealed in Senate Estimates that potential refugees who reached countries as far away as the Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand could apply to go to the proposed Timor centre.
Mr Metcalfe said Prime Minister Julia Gillard's "overarching concept is that there would be collective responsibility for displaced persons in the region" and they could send them to the centre to determine whether they were refugees.
"Therefore risking your life in getting on a boat would not occur and people smugglers would not be able to offer the automatic destination of Australia in terms of what they are selling," he said.
Mr Metcalfe was unable to say who would pay for the movement of asylum seekers about the region under the scheme, but indicated Australia would bear most of the burden.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said asylum seekers would take the view they had a new spread of countries from where they can access Australia. "They haven't thought through the magnet effect," he said. "They have comprehended that anybody who crosses the line is eligible for processing in East Timor.
"It creates a magnet and you are effectively extending Australia's migration zone to the borders of this region, wherever the hell this is."
Obviously there is going to be an upsurge in the number of people claiming refugee status in Australia. First, if you bring your wife and kids they will be placed in the community and will be almost guaranteed to be granted permanent residency. Second, you can apply from anywhere within Asia.
So, yes, the stance Gillard took on border security during the election was a fraud. That has become typical of Australian elections. Every few years the liberal political class has to appeal to the rank and file for support. And so we get a few weeks of politicians saying things they don't mean and won't follow through with.
We cannot rely on simply casting a vote to really change things - not when the major parties are committed to liberal political philosophies. We need to actively work to change the political culture, so that the people who put themselves forward for political leadership really do mean what they say when they talk about issues such as border security.