Thursday, May 26, 2005

Archival Rescue 43 ~ Aus Detention

Beazley sells out, his popularity rating will suffer.

Beazley rules out conscience vote on detention bill
By Louise Dodson Chief Political Correspondent
May 26, 2005 Sydney Morning Herald

Federal Labor MPs have been denied a conscience vote by their leader, Kim Beazley, on legislation aimed at releasing asylum seekers from long-term detention.

Mr Beazley's decision followed the refusal of the Prime Minister, John Howard, on Tuesday to allow Government MPs a conscience vote on private member's bills to be introduced by Liberal MP Petro Georgiou.

Although Mr Beazley yesterday asked Mr Howard whether he would allow a conscience vote within Government ranks, in regard to the ALP's position he said later: "We will take a collective Labor Party attitude to it."

Mr Beazley also strongly supported mandatory detention.

"We have very firm, clear-cut views on this," he said, "because we invented it - the need for mandatory detention as a deterrent. We put it in place when we were in office."

But he said the detention system had to be operated in a competent and humane fashion.

Labor also reserved the right to move amendments to Mr Georgiou's legislation, he said.

Mr Georgiou's bills aim to release women and children as well as asylum seekers who have been detained longer than 12 months (after health and security checks), and grant permanent residence to those on temporary protection visas.

It has the backing of at least four Liberals - Judi Moylan, Bruce Baird, Russell Broadbent and Marise Payne.

Liberal parliamentarians yesterday expressed concerns about the operation of the detention system, especially its management by the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs.

Some MPs, who did not want to be named, said that while they disagreed with the viewpoint of Mr Georgiou, Mr Baird and Ms Moylan, they nonetheless admired their conviction.

The Immigration Department could be headed for a major shake-up after the Palmer inquiry has reported, senior Government sources said.

At the same time most MPs and ministers supported Mr Howard's insistence that the current policy remain.

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, and the Industrial Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, said the policy should not be changed.

Andrew Robb, a former Liberal Party federal director, said detention was a difficult area but concessions had already been made to soften the system.

"There has been a serious attempt to be more lenient without compromising the basics of the program," he said. "The basic principles of the program should not be compromised."

Compulsory detention sent a strong message all around the world that people could not jump queues, Mr Robb said.

Another Liberal MP, Wilson Tuckey, said: "The minute you open loopholes, the boats will start coming again."

The Uniting Church yesterday called on Coalition MPs - especially those who had visited detention centres - to support Mr Georgiou's proposals.

The church's president, Reverend Dean Drayton, said: "The proposed changes to the mandatory detention regime recognise that the current policy is unsustainable and damaging to people's wellbeing as well as being contrary to our international human rights obligations."

Mr Georgiou's move also won support from the Law Council of Australia. Its president, John North, said: "Since the exposure of what has happened to Peter Qasim, Cornelia Rau, Vivian Alvarez Solon, Naomi Leong and their families, the Australian public is gradually getting to see the failure of our mandatory detention system."

The Liberal Party will debate the private member's bills on Tuesday next week, with the proposed legislation expected to be introduced into Parliament by Mr Georgiou next month.


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