Monday, September 5, 2011

Bipartisan deal to help cope with illegal immigration to Australia?

THE Coalition has offered to work with the Gillard government to change the Migration Act to allow offshore processing of asylum-seekers, after it was thrown into doubt by the High Court.

The move came after the Solicitor-General today produced new legal advice saying it may be impossible to resurrect the Howard government's asylum-seeker detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru under current laws.

Solicitor-General Stephen Gageler has given the government written advice confirming that the High Court's decision last week to scuttle the controversial Malaysian people swap deal has far-reaching implications for all offshore processing.

Mr Gageler and two other senior counsel, Stephen Lloyd and Geoffrey Kennett, say they “do not have reasonable confidence” that the government could legally send asylum-seekers to Papua New Guinea and Nauru as a result of the judgment.

The lawyers say Nauru's decision to ratify the UN Refugee Convention this year “raises the possibility” that a government could use its power to send asylum-seekers to Nauru in the future, but only if it could satisfy a court there were appropriate protections in place.

“These are complex issues of fact and degree requiring detailed assessment and analysis,” the advice reads.

The Gillard government has been considering reopening the former Howard-era detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, while Tony Abbott's policy is to reopen the “Pacific Solution” detention centre on Nauru.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the advice confirmed there were significant doubts about both PNG and Nauru and that the government needed to work through the options, one of which could be amending the Migration Act.

“Clearly the High Court has interpreted the Migration Act in this way and it would be open to the parliament to change the Migration Act to deal with how the High Court has interpreted it and that's one of the options that would be available.”

Mr Abbott said he did not want the government to use the High Court's decision as an excuse to drop offshore processing.

“If the government wants to put offshore processing beyond legal doubt by amending the Migration Act, the Coalition's prepared to work with the government to bring that about,” he told reporters in Sydney.

Mr Abbott maintained his position that sending asylum-seekers to Nauru is a viable option. “Nauru's legal system is essentially the same as Australia's,” he said. “So any suggestion that there is some problem with the Nauruan legal system and the way people are treated in Nauru is just utterly implausible.”

Coalition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis also said the new legal advice did not completely rule out offshore processing.

He said he had spoken with Nauruan Justice Minister Mathew Batsuia, who affirmed his government was prepared to enact domestic laws to ensure his country was compliant with the court's verdict.

“Given that the Nauruan government is prepared to take those steps, it now remains for the Australian government to demonstrate that it has the political will to make the Nauruan solution effective,” Senator Brandis said in a statement.

However Mr Bowen said the Coalition also needed to consider the legal advice and think again. “Mr Abbott needs to move beyond his Nauru dream world and simplistic solutions and admit that whichever way you cut it, offshore processing under the current law is no longer an easy option,” he said.

“Quite clearly under all the legal advice, if Mr Abbott wanted to go down the Nauru option he would need legislative change. He would need it on several bases.

“And what is very clear from the High Court judgment is you could not send unaccompanied minors in any workable way to Nauru or anywhere else. That's a significant change,” Mr Bowen said.

Under a deal first announced by Julia Gillard in May, the government had planned to send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 already-processed refugees.

But the High Court's full bench ruled 6-1 that the Mr Bowen's declaration that Malaysia was an appropriate place to send asylum-seekers was invalid because the country is not legally bound to protect them. The ruling has thrown Labor's plans to try to halt the flow of asylum-seeker boats into disarray.

Mr Bowen today repeatedly refused to reveal whether he considered resigning as a result of the decision, or whether he offered his resignation to Ms Gillard. “Conversations between the Prime Minister and I are conversations between the Prime Minister and I and that's how they'll remain,” he told the ABC. “I'm not going to run away from my responsibility just because the going gets a bit tough.”

Former prime minister John Howard said Ms Gillard had succeeded in “antagonising everybody” on asylum-seekers. “The real culprit though, of course, was Kevin Rudd,” he told Network Ten. “Kevin Rudd was the prime minister who dismantled the Howard government policy which had stopped the boats coming.”


Adverse public opinion polls put Australia's faltering Leftist government under huge pressure over illegals

JULIA Gillard will be forced to choose between negotiating with Tony Abbott or giving ground to people-smugglers as a new survey shows a dramatic collapse in public approval of Labor's management of asylum-seekers.

A Newspoll for The Australian today found 78 per cent of respondents rated Labor's handling of the issue as "bad" - a significant increase on the 53 per cent recorded by Newspoll in November 2009.

Only 12 per cent of those surveyed believed the Government was doing a "good" job on asylum-seekers, barely half the 31 per cent in November 2009. And only 22 per cent of Labor supporters backed the Government's handling of the issue.

Government sources said the Prime Minister was unlikely to announce a new asylum seeker policy for weeks, as Labor scrambles to work out a solution and braces for more boats to arrive, the Courier-Mail reported.

The Government's shaky border protection policy was dealt another blow yesterday after legal advisers warned it may have to abandon offshore processing of asylum seekers entirely.

Solicitor-general Stephen Gageler warned the Federal Government it faces major legal difficulties in re-opening the former "Pacific Solution" immigration detention centres in Nauru and PNG's Manus Island after the High Court scuttled plans to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Labor needed time to work out a new way to stop people smuggling. "I've said, if you like 'time out' for a moment," Mr Bowen said. "Let's go back, have everything on the table and consider the options."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott offered to support the Government to get around the ruling by changing legislation as long as this re-opened the centre on Nauru, re-introduced temporary protection visas and allowed the navy to turn boats around at sea. "If the Government wants to put offshore processing beyond legal doubt by amending the Migration Act, the Coalition is prepared to work with the government to bring that about," Mr Abbott said. "We don't want the Government to use the High Court's decision as an excuse to drop offshore processing."

Mr Bowen said he would not negotiate with Mr Abbott if the Opposition insisted on the outcome and warned the High Court decision could lead to more asylum seeker boats heading to Australia.

But Ms Gillard faces growing pressure from the Left of her party and the Greens to abandon offshore processing entirely.

Labor backbenchers warned Ms Gillard not to announce another policy before discussing options with the party's caucus, which will meet again when parliament resumes next week.

"She should not underestimate the level of disquiet in the caucus," one Labor backbencher said.


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