Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says the government will press ahead with plans to introduce the government’s amendments of the Migration Act into parliament on Wednesday, although both Labor and the Coalition’s plans for offshore processing now look doomed to fail in the Senate.
On Monday, the federal government conceded it will be forced to process asylum seekers on Australian soil in the likely event the opposition rejects a bid to resurrect its Malaysian people-swap deal.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday presented Opposition Leader Tony Abbott with a new set of proposed Migration Act amendments aimed at reinstating offshore processing, placed in doubt by the High Court last month.
In a last-ditch bid to win Mr Abbott’s support, the government’s new proposals sought to address his concerns about a lack of human rights protections.
The new amendments would require the government to consider whether a country selected for offshore processing would honour the “principal obligations” of the UN Refugee Convention – namely non-refoulement (which protects refugees from being returned to a place where they may at risk) and the processing of asylum claims.
ABBOT T REJECTS CHANGES
But Mr Abbott quickly rejected the new version, saying it paid lip service to human rights while exposing the government to greater risk of a legal challenge.
Mr Abbott said the coalition would put forward its own amendments, which would only allow offshore processing in countries signed up to the UN convention – ruling out Malaysia but not Nauru.
“It will restore offshore processing, while retaining offshore protections,” Mr Abbott told reporters.
“It’s in my judgment a much superior proposal to that which the government has put forward. “Our proposal is a win-win: certainty plus protections.”
LABOR REJECTS COALITION PLANS
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen later confirmed the government would oppose the Coalition’s proposal and vowed to press ahead with plans to introduce the government’s amendments into parliament on Wednesday.
“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 (for it) to work.”
Mr Bowen called on Mr Abbott to clarify what he would do if his own amendments failed: “If he can’t succeed with his amendments where will he stand on the legislation? Will he oppose the legislation or not?”
GREENS TO HAVE LAST LAUGH
The major parties’ apparently immovable positions mean both sets of amendments are likely to be defeated in the Senate, where the Australian Greens hold the balance of power.
“We Greens will not accept these or any other amendments,” Greens Leader Bob Brown told reporters on Monday.
Mr Bowen said the government remained firmly opposed to re-opening the Howard government-era detention centre on Nauru and conceded it would be out of options if its legislation failed.
“Very clearly if this legislation doesn’t pass then offshore processing will be regarded as being unlawful,” he said.
“The obvious result of that is onshore processing.”
Mr Abbott’s proposal has won the backing of former solicitor-general David Bennett.
“This draft … provides more protection for asylum seekers than the two government versions and it is less likely to be the subject of complex judicial proceedings,” Mr Bennett said in legal advice to the coalition.
Under the government’s Malaysian deal – rejected by the High Court last month – Labor wants to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 processed refugees.
Meanwhile, the Senate on Monday passed a bill aimed at streamlining the protection visa process for asylum seekers fleeing types of persecution outside categories defined by the Refugee Convention.