Saturday, 3 September 2011

Abbott dishes out wedge politics to further marginalise Gillard

Tony Abbott puts Nauru deal to Julia Gillard as Labor faces split on detainees

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott speaking at a CEDA luncheon in Melbourne yesterday.
Picture: Aaron Francis. Source: The Australian

TONY Abbott is offering to work with the Gillard government on a policy of processing asylum-seekers offshore, if Nauru is included, as Labor faces a split over how Australia handles refugees.

As part of a political squeeze on Julia Gillard from all sides, the Coalition is prepared to conditionally side with Labor against the Greens over the policy of deterring people-smugglers by processing asylum-seekers outside Australia.

The Opposition Leader continued to call on the government yesterday to use Nauru to handle refugees as he offered to discuss implementing the Coalition's policy with Labor. "We've been saying really for two years now that if you're serious about stopping the boats you've got to reopen Nauru, you've got to reintroduce temporary protection visas, and you've got to have the option of turning boats around where it's safe to do so," Mr Abbott said.

Facing an internal fight over whether to process asylum-seekers overseas or on Australian soil, the Prime Minister has called for a "careful response" to this week's decision by the High Court, which ruled out Labor's plan to send asylum-seekers to Malaysia for processing.

Ms Gillard, who is expecting formal legal advice within days on the asylum-seeker processing options that remain, would not speculate yesterday on whether there would be a "flood of boats arriving" or whether she supported, in principle, using the Pacific island nation of Nauru as an alternative to Malaysia.

"I'm not going to speculate on policy options now, nor am I going to speculate about the impact of various policy options on potential arrivals," she told Sky News. "I'm not going to get drawn on possibilities at this stage. We're going to work through - I'll work through - guided by, of course, the Solicitor-General's legal advice and by my colleagues, including Chris Bowen."

The choice between onshore and offshore processing is threatening to split the ALP.
Keating government minister Graham Richardson and a number of ministers had argued that the government should adopt the Howard-era policy of sending asylum-seekers to Nauru as soon as possible.

But Labor's Left faction convener, Doug Cameron, and the Greens have called for an end to all offshore processing. Senator Cameron told ABC Radio's The World Today he wanted all asylum-seekers to be processed in Australia, and said the government should allow only limited mandatory detention.

"Offshore processing is inconsistent with the party platform, and with the party platform is the way to go," he said. "We were keen to engage in an original solution to an international problem but the original solution must be on a different way than offshore processing. They (Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and Nauru) would be unacceptable, in my view. We don't want people locked up other than to identify who they are, to make sure their health is OK, and to make sure they're not a threat to the community."

As Labor's immigration spokeswoman during the Howard government, Ms Gillard opposed the use of Nauru for offshore processing, and yesterday she said she had worked with Mr Bowen, the Immigration Minister, "to strike this innovative arrangement with Malaysia".
Labor has grown increasingly divided on refugee policy, with some MPs now pushing for a return to temporary protection visas and the reopening of Nauru.

"I think the only way to go is the Nauru solution, accompanied by a reinstitution of TPVs," one Labor backbencher said.

"Onshore processing, if we do that, necessarily will invite a whole range of people-smugglers . . . More importantly, that would turn illegal boat entry into a de facto arm of immigration policy.

"My view is that in the medium to long term you would attack the integrity of lawful migration. And that would result in community and public support plunging.

"I think Nauru might be legally acceptable, subject to Nauru signing the UN refugee convention and secondly the Australian government establishing the processing centre, staffing the processing centre with Australian officials and having them answerable to Australian law in such a way the processing centre would be akin to an embassy or a consulate that we have in overseas countries, which at law are recognised as sovereign Australian soil."

While Ms Gillard is being urged to abandon Nauru as an option by some of her colleagues, the Opposition Leader is offering conditional support to the government for asylum-seekers to be sent to the Australian-built centre on the island.

"There is nothing in the High Court's decision that stops us from reopening Nauru," Mr Abbott said yesterday. "If the government is serious, that's what it will do. Yes, it would be a terrible humiliation for Prime Minister Gillard . . . but if the government wants to take control of our borders once again, it's got to put the policies in place that we know . . . work."

The Coalition is insisting any discussions with the government would have to include TPVs and the use of Nauru as a processing centre. Ms Gillard and Mr Bowen have both rejected the reintroduction of the TPVs used by the Howard government.

As pressure grows, MPs including Mr Morrison and Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young, will be on Christmas Island on Monday and Tuesday as part of a parliamentary inquiry into the immigration detention network.

Additional reporting: Joe Kelly
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