Australian Parliament Condemns Refugee Swap Deal With Malaysia

Sky News, 16 June 2011

Federal parliament has taken the rare step of condemning a government policy, with both houses calling on Labor to dump its asylum seeker swap deal with Malaysia.

In an embarrassing defeat for Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the Greens motion condemning the so-called ‘Malaysia solution’ passed the lower house with coalition support on Thursday morning.

The same motion passed the Senate in May. However, the motion has no legal power meaning the government is free to persist with its plan.

‘The parliament has sent a clear message to the prime minister that the government does not have the support of parliament for this deal,’ Greens MP Adam Bandt said.

‘I hope the government listens to the Australian public and parliament and scraps this deal.’

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said it had been a long time since both houses of parliament had condemned a government policy.

‘The minister now has some serious reflecting to do on this arrangement,’ Mr Morrison told reporters.

‘We have a proven, more cost-effective, more humane solution through the re-opening of Nauru.’

Under the government’s deal Malaysia will accept up to 800 people who arrive in Australia by boat in exchange for 4000 people already judged to be genuine refugees.

Speaking shortly before the motion was passed, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen pointed out the Greens and coalition were against the proposal for entirely different reasons.

‘Let’s not kid ourselves that they are at one on this, they come at it from completely different points of view and we are in the middle, sorting out this problem,’ he told Sky News.

He made it clear the government would not back down: ‘We have the power to enter into this arrangement and we will.’

Ms Gillard announced the deal almost seven weeks ago but negotiations on the details are still under way.

Mr Bowen rejected suggestions the deal was on shaky ground as government officials headed to Geneva for crucial talks with the UN’s refugee agency.

‘The UNHCR is based in Geneva so I think it’s singularly unsurprising that there might be a meeting in Geneva,’ he said.

‘This is quite a complex operational arrangement and you would expect that Malaysia, Australia, the UNHCR would want to spend a bit of time making sure we get the details right.’


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