Bloomberg News

Asylum Seekers to Be Handled in Australia in Gillard Setback

October 13, 2011

Oct. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said asylum seekers will be processed within the nation after her plan to handle them overseas was set to fail in parliament, a blow as she grapples to boost her popularity.

Refugees arriving by boat will still face mandatory detention upon arrival and may then be handled within the community, Gillard told reporters at a press conference yesterday in Canberra. The National Party’s Tony Crook, whose support was needed for a vote yesterday, cited “humanitarian” concerns for declining to back Gillard’s bill.

The setback is sure to provide the opposition with fodder to attack Gillard’s handling of the immigration issue after she sent a modified bill to parliament last month. Australia’s High Court declared her initial deal with Malaysia to process the migrants illegal on Aug. 31.

“This is bloody-mindedness from the prime minister,” opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison told Sky News yesterday. “The Government’s mess is one of its own making.”

Once Crook announced he wouldn’t support the immigration bill, Gillard had little choice but to withdraw it from a vote, said Nick Economou, a lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne. The Australian prime minister needed to try to build on the momentum of the lower house approving her plan to tax carbon emissions Oct. 12 rather than risk a defeat, he said.

‘Pretty Damaged’

“Why would you overwhelm the good news of yesterday with the bad news of today,” he said by phone. “Gillard is pretty damaged already.”

Backing for Gillard’s party is at 29 percent, compared with 49 percent for Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition, according to a Newspoll survey by the Australian newspaper published Oct. 11. The poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, was conducted Oct. 7-9.

Abbott introduced his own amendments last month to enable offshore processing in Nauru, an option the government has rejected as too costly.

Gillard’s personal approval was 28 percent in the Oct. 11 Newspoll survey. She had a 23 percent approval rating at the beginning of September, the lowest figure for a prime minister since 22 percent for Paul Keating in 1993.

Gillard presented her changes to the migration plan to parliament last month after the High Court overturned the government’s July 25 agreement with Malaysia, saying it didn’t provide adequate protection for asylum seekers under international or domestic law.

Still Committed

Gillard said yesterday the government is still committed to the proposed arrangements with Malaysia.

“We believe it’s the best policy outcome for this country, that it would give the maximum deterrence effect, to deter people from getting on leaky boats and risking their lives,” she said.

Under the prime minister’s agreement with Malaysia Australia would send 800 asylum seekers to the Southeast Asian nation and would accept 4,000 people from that country who have been verified as legitimate refugees by the United Nations.

The climate law approved Oct. 12 in the lower chamber is intended to make about 500 companies pay A$23 ($22.90) a ton for their carbon emissions starting in July 2012, before switching to a cap-and-trade system three years later.

The government Oct. 12 named Jillian Broadbent, a board member at the Reserve Bank of Australia, to help design the A$10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corp., which will provide new financing for renewable energy projects in Australia.

--Editors: Patrick Harrington, Peter Hirschberg

To contact the reporter on this story: James Paton in Sydney at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at

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