Australia asylum bill passes test
PM John Howard firmly backs the new legislation
August 10, 2006
Australia's lower house of parliament has passed a controversial bill to process all future asylum seekers arriving by boat in off-shore camps.
Three members of the ruling party joined the opposition to vote against the proposal, but it still passed by 78 to 62. The bill now goes to the Senate.
The vote constituted the most serious challenge to the prime minister's authority during his 10 years in power.
Critics accuse John Howard was using the bill to heal rifts with Indonesia.
A recent decision to accept about 40 Papuan asylum seekers angered Jakarta, which said that by giving the group refugee visas, the Australians were showing tacit support for Papuan independence.
Papua was granted self-rule by its Dutch colonists in 1961, but was then annexed by Indonesia. A low-level insurgency has been going on in the province ever since.
The bill has sparked considerable debate in Australian and led to the biggest parliamentary revolt of Mr Howard's decade in power.
During Thursday's parliamentary session, Liberal backbenchers Petro Georgiou, Russell Broadbent and Judi Moylan crossed the floor to vote with Labor against the controversial legislation. Another ruling party lawmaker abstained.
Australia angered Jakarta by accepting Papuan refugees
But the governing coalition has a comfortable majority in the lower house, so the bill still passed relatively easily.
It faces a more difficult challenge in the Senate, where the government only has a majority of one.
One Liberal Party senator, Judith Troeth, has indicated she may oppose the bill, describing speeches by party rebels as “outstanding”, Australian radio reported.
The parliamentary debate triggered a clash between opposition party leader Kim Beazley and Liberal lawmaker Wilson Tuckey.
Mr Tuckey asked why Labor was keen to “kill off legislation that the Australian people want” and Mr Beazley responded by calling the law a “weak, worthless piece of legislation”.
He then urged Mr Tuckey to take his “weak, worthless self” off, prompting Mr Tuckey to call him a “big fat so and so”.
Under current law, only people who arrive on outlying islands or are intercepted at sea have their claims for Australian asylum processed off-shore.
Those arriving on the mainland have their cases handled inside the country, under the Australian legal process.
The new legislation means that all arrivals by boat will be sent off-shore, mainly to the island state of Nauru.
Even if their claims for refugee status are accepted, it is unlikely that any of the boat people would be allowed to settle in Australia, the BBC's Phil Mercer says.