Friday 9 September 2011

Tarred with the green brush blurrs Julia

Partnership tested as Julia Gillard rejects Bob Brown's asylum attack

Brown and Julia
Greens Leader Bob Brown has attacked Labor's asylum seeker policy, warning
Julia Gillard his party won't support any off-shore processing deal.
Picture: Getty Images Source: Getty Images

Julia Gillard has dismissed Greens attacks on her asylum-seeker policy as she prepares for a strategy meeting with senior colleagues today aimed at sharpening Labor's political tactics for next week's crucial resumption of parliament.

The Prime Minister has also warned Tony Abbott and critics within her own Labor Party she will not dump her proposed Malaysia Solution on asylum-seekers, invoking images of drowning children to underline the cost of inaction in the face of people-smuggling.

Ms Gillard's defiance came as border protection authorities prepared to intercept an asylum-seeker boat with about 40 people on board off Christmas Island, the first to arrive since the High Court scuttled the Malaysia deal.

Greens leader Bob Brown yesterday savaged Ms Gillard's plan to seek opposition support for legislation to circumvent last week's High Court rejection of offshore processing of asylum-seekers.

Shaking the close relations between the two minority-government partners, Senator Brown demanded onshore processing as he declared the Prime Minister's advisers in the bureaucracy were "turkeys".

In an apparent attempt to pressure Labor, Senator Brown also dumped his pledge not to block its planned mineral resources rent tax, demanding it be reviewed. His shift came as Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie added to the uncertainty by describing the tax as unfair.

Ms Gillard left this week's meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland ahead of schedule last night, as colleagues drew up plans for a tactical summit today designed to wrest back the political initiative lost when the High Court ruled that offshore processing of asylum-seekers was illegal.

Ms Gillard and her ministers will consider the handling of legislation to deliver the planned carbon tax and minerals tax, as well as how to turn the political pressure back on to the opposition on issues including the economy and jobs.

Senior government sources said the meeting would be critical to reversing the government's poor fortunes after weeks on the back foot and a continuing stream of poor results in opinion polls.

Before leaving Auckland, Ms Gillard flatly rejected Senator Brown's criticism of public servants who had urged the government to press ahead with its plan to exchange 800 asylum-seekers arriving by boat for 4000 proven refugees from Malaysia.

The bureaucrats also warned that a return to onshore processing would overwhelm the nation's processing facilities and lead to asylum-seekers being released into the community, where they could cause social tension similar to that in England and France.

After Senator Brown said the officials should be sacked, Ms Gillard said: "Senator Brown is completely wrong. It's the wrong thing to do, to criticise officials.

"They are giving the best of their advice and experience and I have asked them to do that to the Leader of the Opposition as well as me, in circumstances where the leaders of our nation need to respond to last week's High Court case."

Ms Gillard appealed to the Opposition Leader to embrace her Malaysia Solution ahead of his preferred option of processing asylum-seekers in facilities built by the Howard government on the Pacific island of Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Having allowed Mr Abbott to be briefed by government officials on Wednesday, Ms Gillard said he had "facts at his disposal that he didn't have available earlier this week".

Ms Gillard said the Malaysia Solution was the best way to discourage asylum-seekers from paying people-smugglers to take them to Australia in dangerous boats. It was almost the most humane option, she said, insisting she did not want to see "women and kids getting on boats potentially risking their lives" and reminding her critics among the Greens and the Labor Left faction that about 50 asylum-seekers died when their vessel was smashed on rocks off Christmas Island in December. "I invite people to remember what they felt like when they saw those images."

Mr Abbott reserved his position yesterday, repeating that he was willing to help restore offshore processing in nations such as PNG and Nauru.

Earlier, Senator Brown vowed to fight any reintroduction of offshore processing. "We Greens won't have it," Senator Brown said. "I won't have it. The Prime Minister is wrong. She is letting down this country on immigration and the decency that Australians want to see towards asylum-seekers.

"As far as the bureaucrats, these turkeys out of the bureaucracy in Canberra who are prognosticating about Australia somehow or other becoming a Paris or London burning, they should be out on their ears."

Senator Brown also called for a review of the proposed mineral resources rent tax, which the Greens had previously attacked as letting mining companies off too lightly, but had reluctantly agreed to back because it was better than no tax.

Additional reporting: Rowan Callick and Debbie Guest

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