Update:Australia drops asylum swap plan
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 13 — After putting up a tough fight to push through a controversial refugee swap deal with Malaysia, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard will finally face defeat as her Cabinet is set to now abandon the proposal.
Australia’s The Age reported earlier today the Australian government is expected to pull the proposed law that would allow it to send asylum seekers to Malaysia, after crossbencher West Australian Nationals MP Tony Crook confirmed he would oppose it earlier today.
Crook was reported as saying that he would support Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s amendment to exclude countries that are not signatories with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, such as Malaysia.
The legislation is due to be debated today but the Australian Cabinet made its decision at a meeting earlier this morning.
Gillard previously gave repeated assurances to Putrajaya of her commitment towards the refugee swap deal, despite waves of opposition in her own country.
The controversial refugee swap deal with Malaysia faced its first defeat on August 31, when the High Court declared it invalid as Canberra could not ensure protection for asylum seekers sent to Malaysia, which is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention.
Determined to press on, Gillard mooted amendments to Australia’s Migration Act, which is scheduled to be voted on today, but Abbott’s declared refusal to support the deal forced the premier’s plans to go awry again.
The Age also pointed out that the expected defeat would have been the first time an Australian government failed at pushing a piece legislation through the lower House since 1929.
“The government had the choice of a defeat on the floor of the House or not proceeding with the bill and being accused by the Opposition of running away from Parliament,” the paper reported.
Australia effectively has no asylum seeker policy. By default, its policy is onshore processing because it will not send people to Nauru.
The United Nations Refugee Agency was reported by the newspaper on Tuesday as saying asylum seekers would get better protection in Malaysia under the so-called “Malaysia Solution” than if held in indefinite mandatory detention in Australia.
Under Gillard’s original deal, informally called the “Malaysia Solution”, Australia plans to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia where their refugee claims would be assessed in return for accepting 4,000 refugees from Malaysia.