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Australia Lawmakers Open Debate on Gillard’s Migration Law

Australia’s parliament adjourned until next month after opening debate on proposed changes to the country’s migration law that would make it legal to send asylum-seekers to another nation for processing.

The government began debate on the changes today on the bill after it was introduced yesterday, rather than waiting until the next session that begins Oct. 11.

“This is a matter of the national interest, it’s a matter of some public interest and I think it’s appropriate that the parliament begin considering it today,” Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told reporters in Canberra.

The migration issue has dominated national politics since the High Court last month rejected Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s policy of assessing refugee claims for asylum offshore. The proposed changes don’t have the support of the opposition Liberal-National coalition or the Greens lawmakers Gillard depends on for her parliamentary majority.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott, who has criticized the prime minister for failing to stem a flow of Asian boat people lured by Australian economic growth, introduced today his own amendments to enable offshore processing in Nauru, an option the government has rejected as too costly.

“A prime minister who is incapable of protecting the borders of our country is a prime minister who has manifestly failed in the highest task she has,” Abbott told parliament today.

Malaysia Deal Blocked

Gillard is seeking to resurrect a deal with Malaysia to process illegal immigrants in that country after the High Court blocked the policy. Under the deal Australia would have accepted 4,000 people verified as legitimate refugees by the United Nations from Malaysia, which would accept 800 asylum seekers deemed to have arrived illegally.

The refugee issue is among reasons Labor’s support has slumped to a record-low 26 percent, according to a Newspoll published by the Australian Sept. 20.

The government aimed to make a political point by pushing the legislation to a vote even though parliament was likely to defeat it, John Warhurst, a professor at the Australian National University in Canberra said yesterday in an interview.

“They want to pin down the Greens and opposition to vote it down. This way they can say ‘we tried.’”

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