Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says the federal government will oppose the coalition’s proposed amendment to migration laws.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Julia Gillard held talks on Monday on changes to migration laws to put offshore processing beyond legal doubt, following an adverse High Court decision.
After the talks, Mr Abbott said the coalition would not be supporting the amendments and would instead propose to insert a clause that ensured that any country with an offshore processing agreement with Australia would need to be a signatory to the United Nations refugee convention.
The opposition’s proposal would effectively rule out Labor’s asylum-seeker deal with Malaysia, which is not a signatory to the UN convention.
Mr Bowen told reporters in Canberra on Monday afternoon the government would not be accepting the coalition’s proposal.
“Clearly Mr Abbott is doing this for one reason and one reason alone – because he wants to stop the Malaysia agreement being implemented,” Mr Bowen said.
“He doesn’t want it to work because it’s not in his political interest to work.”
Mr Bowen said Mr Abbott was also being hypocritical because he wanted to enter into an agreement with Indonesia to turn boats around, but Indonesia is also not a signatory to the UN refugee convention.
And in any case being a signatory is “not a guarantee to receiving adequate treatment”, Mr Bowen said, adding that Afghanistan and Iran – two major sources of asylum seekers – were signatories.
“We will introduce the legislation on Wednesday and we will not be accepting the opposition amendments,” he said. Mr Bowen said the government would not support reopening the Nauru facility, as it has been advised this would not deter people smuggling.
There would be discussions with cross-benchers in both houses of parliament about passing the laws, the minister said. “We need to see how that plays out,” he said. Mr Bowen said he could not say when the legislation would be debated, but the opposition had previously said it would “expedite its passage through the house”.
Asked what was the government’s Plan B, Mr Bowen said:
“The situation is that onshore processing is the current situation in the absence of any agreement.
“We do that. We have had a reduction in the number of people in detention facilities over the last three months of a considerable nature, of around 2000 people.
“So we would obviously be continuing to process people in existing detention facilities.
“Very clearly, if this legislation doesn’t pass, then offshore processing will be regarded as unlawful and therefore the obvious result of that is onshore processing.”
But Mr Bowen stressed that “we are not there yet”. “We will be moving the legislation, we will be opposing the opposition’s position and we will be vigorously arguing in the house and the senate,” he said.