(Australian) Government Pushes Ahead With Immigration Laws

Govt pushes ahead with immigration laws
The Age
August 2, 2006 – 7:39PM

Controversial immigration laws have been listed for debate when parliament resumes next week, despite Prime Minister John Howard failing to reach agreement with a group of concerned backbenchers.

The backbenchers say they still cannot support the laws, which would send all boat people to islands like Nauru and Christmas Island for processing, even if they reach the Australian mainland.

But the government has listed the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill for debate next Tuesday, August 8 – the day parliament resumes following the winter break.

Liberal MP Judi Moylan, one of a group of 10 concerned backbenchers who blocked the bill's passage last session, says nothing has changed in the past six weeks.

“There's definitely some major sticking points at the moment,” Ms Moylan told AAP.

“I can't support it (the bill) in its current form.”

The laws were proposed in April to heal a diplomatic rift with Indonesia, sparked by Australia's decision to grant protection visas to a group of boat people from the troubled Indonesian province of Papua.

But a backbench revolt stalled the bill's passage through parliament.

The backbenchers, who had forced the government to water-down detention laws a year earlier, feared children would be locked up, asylum seekers denied access to legal services and appeals processes, and people found to be genuine refugees would be settled in other countries.

During marathon talks, Mr Howard promised minor adjustments including better detention conditions for women and children and oversight by the ombudsman.

But the backbenchers continue to oppose the laws.

Ms Moylan, who has received more than 700 emails and letters on the issue during the winter break, says nothing has changed since Mr Howard offered “nominal changes”.

She has not ruled out crossing the floor.

A second backbencher told AAP they, too, remained opposed to the bill.

The dissenting backbenchers do not have the numbers to stop the bill passing the lower house but the Senate could potentially reject it.

At least one Liberal senator, Judith Troeth, remains opposed to the laws.

She would only need to sway Family First senator Steve Fielding to thwart the government's plans, while maverick Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce has also expressed reservations about the proposal.

In June, a Senate committee urged the government to dump the legislation, citing insufficient information about how the system would work, concerns it may breach international laws, and perceptions it was introduced to appease Indonesia.

This week, the last of the 43 Papuan asylum seekers had his claim for asylum upheld – throwing the issue back into the spotlight.

David Wainggai, the son of a Papuan independence leader who died in an Indonesian jail, is likely to be released from the Christmas Island detention centre later this week.

He successfully appealed an immigration department decision to reject his application for protection to the Refugee Review Tribunal.

But some fear he could be the last asylum seeker to arrive in Australia by boat and enjoy the benefits of its legal system if the government's new hardline offshore processing plans get the green light.