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SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia's new prime minister Tony Abbott said Monday his tougher border protection scheme, with the navy towing asylum-seeker boats back to Indonesia, would begin as soon as his government was sworn in.
Abbott, who swept to victory in an election on September 7, put a pledge to "Stop the Boats" at the centre of his campaign, vowing a crackdown on asylum-seekers arriving by sea which includes towing back vessels where possible.
"On day one, which will be Wednesday, I expect Operation Sovereign Borders to commence," Abbott told reporters in Canberra.
"It will start to make a difference from day one. Do I think the boats will stop dead on day one of an incoming government? I wish, but it may not happen.
"But from day one, the people-smugglers and their customers will start to notice a very significant difference. Interdiction operations on the seas to our north will change and become more forthright, cooperation with the authorities in Indonesia will become more vigorous."
Australia has struggled to manage the stream of asylum-seekers arriving on rickety, overloaded fishing boats which are boarded in Indonesia. Hundreds have died on the risky journey in recent years.
Several boatloads carrying more than 200 passengers have arrived since Abbott's conservatives took power.
Abbott plans to tow back asylum-seeker vessels, while buying up Indonesian fishing boats to keep them out of the hands of people-smugglers, embedding Australian police in villages and paying locals for intelligence.
At his first press conference since the election Abbott conceded that not all elements would be in place instantly, but said there would be an immediate impact.
Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has said Jakarta will reject the plans as not in the spirit of partnership between the nations, adding that the issue would be a top priority for talks with Abbott ahead of next month's APEC summit.
Abbott said he wanted to travel to Indonesia as soon as possible, maybe even before the APEC meeting which begins in early October. Indonesia was "in many respects... our most important single relationship", he said.
"I am determined to get the relationship off to the best possible start," he added.
Julie Bishop, set to be sworn in as foreign minister, has said the new government would work with Indonesia "where we need to" but it was not seeking permission to implement the controversial refugee policies.
"Over the next few days and weeks we will be working cooperatively with Indonesia," Bishop said.
"But I point out we're not seeking Indonesia's permission to implement our policies, we're seeking their understanding," Bishop told Meet the Press on Sunday.