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Labor primes for defeat on asylum

The federal government is set for its first major parliamentary defeat, when it introduces legislation today aimed at resurrecting its Malaysian people swap deal.


Prime Minister Julia Gillard will press ahead with a doomed bid, setting the scene for the government’s first major parliamentary defeat.

The government will introduce its proposed Migration Act amendments – aimed at putting offshore processing of asylum seekers beyond legal doubt – in the House of Representatives on Wednesday morning.

The coalition is set to oppose the changes, which would allow the government to resurrect the Malaysian agreement that was struck down by the High Court last month.

In the event the changes pass the lower house, they will almost certainly be voted down by the coalition and Greens in the Senate.

Nonetheless, Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday said she was determined to bring the changes to parliament.

“Mr Abbott has slammed the door on national interest and we will be challenging him, for once, to put this nation’s interest first in front of his political opportunism and reckless negativity,” she told ABC Radio.

Labor caucus later gave the draft laws the green light after two hours of heated debate.

Twenty people spoke on the issue – half for and half against.

The party’s left faction argued the policy breached the ALP’s national platform and international human rights obligations.

Left faction convener Doug Cameron proposed a motion calling on the party to process all asylum seekers onshore but was defeated.

But Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has conceded the government will be forced to embrace onshore processing if indeed the amendments are defeated.

Ms Gillard told the backbenchers the changes were in the national interest and the coalition’s stance was in its “narrow political interest”.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said it was up to Ms Gillard to resolve the impasse.

“My responsibility is to good policy and consistent policy,” he told the Seven Network.

“If the government wants offshore processing, it can have offshore processing. It should have offshore processing, and it should be at Nauru.”

Under the government’s Malaysian plan, Labor wants to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 processed refugees.

Ms Gillard told parliament the plan was similar to that used to deal with Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s and 80s.