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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Asylum Seeker Madness

It's lonely at the top

Tony Abbott has refused to agree to changes to the migration act which would allow Julia Gillard to proceed with her Malaysian solution for asylum seekers. Furious, the PM accused him of not acting in the national interest. And it's clear to see why the PM is so frustrated - Tony Abbott won't come to the party, the Greens have deserted her on this issue and a large proportion of her own party members are giving her grief.

At yesterday's Caucus meeting of 20 members, about half were in favour of onshore processing and half were against it but when members voiced their opposition, they were told they must vote with the government on this or risk expulsion from the party. When the vote was finally taken, it was narrowly carried on the voices of Pro Gillard proposals.

This is the first time I've seen the PM so rattled. Yesterday she said Opposition members would be judged by history. "They should record their votes, name by name, person by person, stand up in the Parliament and say they are the people who believe their cheap politics is more important than protecting our borders and protecting Australian values in the way we deal with refugees" she said.

Abbott is sticking with Nauru even though he's been told over and over that it won't stop the boats. The last time it was used in the John Howard era, most of the refugees ended up in Australia anyway so it follows that people smugglers will still be able to operate and guarantee their passengers an Australian visa in the long run, but first they will have to spend some time on an island in the middle of nowhere for a while. Tony Abbott needs to address this point.

Julia Gillard insists that the Malaysian solution will work because refugees would be effectively "turned around" and would then face years waiting for asylum. I think the idea has merit but there's a flaw that she can't ignore - Malaysia is not a signatory of the UN Human Rights Convention and nobody can guarantee they will be treated humanely if we send them back. And that's the bottom line.