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Canberra facing defeat on Malaysia refugee deal

AUSTRALIA: Australia’s conservative opposition on Sunday warned it would almost certainly knock back laws vital to the government’s salvaging of its controversial Malaysia refugee swap deal.

Thursday 22 September 2011, 04:27PM

Opposition spokesman Greg Hunt said his Liberal/National coalition was poised to reject migration law amendments that would allow Canberra to revive the controversial plan.

“I think in its current form it is exceptionally unlikely that we will support the bill,” Hunt told ABC television.

“It’s still a cabinet and partyroom process but... we will not give this government a blank cheque.”

Canberra’s plan to send 800 asylum seekers to the Southeast Asian nation in exchange for 4,000 of its registered refugees was derailed by a High Court ruling which threw Australia’s entire offshore processing policy into doubt.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, struggling in the polls, wants to amend the laws so the Malaysia swap can go ahead, along with plans to process boatpeople in Papua New Guinea.

But objections from the left-leaning Greens party, key allies in Gillard’s fragile ruling coalition, mean she must get opposition support.

Hunt said the amendments “stripped out the 1951 (UN) convention” on refugees, removing Australia’s obligations not to return asylum seekers to places of persecution or danger – “the very purpose of refugee law”.

“What they are looking at is breaching all of Australia’s obligations and duties under the 1951 convention,” he said.

Gillard is also facing an internal revolt, with several MPs from the Labor party’s left reportedly threatening to vote the amendments down due to similar human rights concerns.

“It completely removes Australia’s international obligations,” Senator Doug Cameron, who heads the left faction, told the Sun-Herald newspaper.

Though they arrive in relatively small numbers by global standards, asylum seekers are a thorny political issue in Australia, which has a mandatory detention policy for boatpeople, who mostly arrive via Indonesia.

Canberra’s Malaysia swap is part of a regional plan including the offshore processing of asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea, which it hopes will deter people smugglers from the perilous sea journey to Australia. –AFP



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