Tough talk on immigration a boost for Australia's Leftist government
JULIA Gillard could be forced to accept onshore processing of asylum-seekers because of a political deadlock over legislation to revive Labor's Malaysia Solution.
Yesterday, Tony Abbott crushed the Prime Minister's people swap deal with Malaysia by saying he would process asylum-seekers in third countries only if they were signatories to the UN convention on the treatment of refugees.
The Opposition Leader's stance ruled out Malaysia but allowed him to cling to his alternative proposal of processing asylum-seekers on the Pacific island of Nauru using facilities built by the Howard government.
As the impasse continues, a Newspoll indicates Ms Gillard's battle for offshore processing has coincided with an increase in her personal popularity among voters.
After two weeks of daily battle over her plan to circumvent last month's High Court ruling, which scuttled her Malaysia Solution, voter satisfaction with the Prime Minister's performance lifted from her lowest level on record.
According to the latest Newspoll survey, taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, voter satisfaction with Ms Gillard jumped from 23 per cent to 27 per cent and dissatisfaction fell seven percentage points from 68 per cent to 61 per cent.
As the Coalition stridently opposed the Malaysia Solution, Mr Abbott's personal approval fell five percentage points to 34 per cent and his disapproval rating climbed from 52 per cent to 54 per cent.
The government's bid to revive offshore processing remained deadlocked last night, as neither major party has the numbers to prevail, while the Greens, who control the Senate, oppose offshore processing in any form.
Last night, as he attacked the Coalition's position, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen conceded that if Labor's amendments, to be introduced to parliament tomorrow, were not passed, offshore processing would remain unlawful - the Greens position. "Therefore the obvious result of that is onshore processing," Mr Bowen said.
Last week, Ms Gillard, determined to press ahead with the Malaysia plan to deter people-smugglers from bringing asylum-seekers to Australia by boat, proposed an amendment to the Migration Act that would allow offshore processing in a location to be determined by the government of the day.
Yesterday, responding to concerns from the opposition and Labor's Left faction about the human rights of those sent to Malaysia, Ms Gillard proposed new amendments that would clearly specify that Malaysia could not send any asylum-seekers back to their country of origin and that would guarantee asylum claims would be processed in Malaysia, which is not a signatory to UN conventions.
She later told parliament the changes delivered on the "basic tenets" of the UN convention and, when coupled with agreements between the Australian and Malaysian governments, provided ample protection for the rights of the asylum-seekers.
"The eyes of the Australian community are upon us," Ms Gillard said during question time. "At the end of the day, this is not a debate between two competing policy positions - it is about executive government having the power to put in operation arrangements it sees as appropriate.
"Australians want us to resolve this issue and put it behind us. Australians want us to find common ground on this and get this done."
Mr Abbott said he was not prepared to back the Malaysia plan because it was bad policy. He said offshore processing only in those nations that had signed the UN refugee convention would "restore offshore processing, while retaining offshore protections". "It's a much superior proposal to what the government has put forward," he said. "Our proposal is a win-win."
Mr Abbott said the Coalition's policy position had been "crystal clear" for a decade. He invoked former prime minister John Howard's declaration that "we will determine who comes to this country and the circumstances under which they come".
Last night, Mr Bowen said the opposition wanted to stop the Malaysia agreement being implemented because Mr Abbott feared it would work.
But a meeting of Coalition MPs endorsed Mr Abbott's position. "If Julia Gillard wants to stop the boats she should support the Coalition's proposed amendments," Mr Abbott said after the meeting. "The right way to stop the boats is the combination of Nauru, temporary protection visas and turning boats around where it's safe to do so.