Thursday, May 12, 2011

Malaysian refugee deal condemned from all sides

THE Gillard government's controversial refugee swap with Malaysia has been slammed by all sides of politics, with Tony Abbott labelling it a "tragedy" and the Greens calling it an "appalling deal".

As the Greens tabled a motion in the Senate condemning the plan to trade 800 asylum-seekers for 4000 humanitarian refugees, the opposition hurled a bevy of questions at the government.

The Opposition Leader questioned why Julia Gillard would not pick up the phone to the President of Nauru, with his deputy, Julie Bishop, asking if children would be sent back as part of the deal.

"East Timor is clearly dead and PNG won't happen," Mr Abbott said.

The Prime Minister refused to buy into Ms Bishop's question on children, saying she would "not take lessons" from the opposition on compassion.

"I'm not going to take lessons on compassion from people who soiled themselves, soiled themselves in government with a track record," Ms Gillard said.

"The fact is this is all a political game for them."

Mr Abbott moved to suspend standing orders in the House of Representatives to "hold the Prime Minister to account" for her failed border protection policies.

"This is a tragedy for our country and it is damaging the national interest," Mr Abbott said.

"This is a problem (boat arrivals) going from bad to worse and it's simply because of this government's incompetence . . . it is another example of a weak and indecisive Prime Minister."

Under the agreement with Malaysia, which is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention, Australia will take five refugees for every one it sends away.

Mr Abbott accused the government of "unravelling" - seizing on suggestions that Malaysia would vet which asylum-seekers it wished to take.

The Malaysian high commissioner, Salman Ahmad, has said the deal might not apply to all the asylum-seekers Canberra proposes to transfer, and that Malaysia wants a say in who is sent.

"What that means is that the government's claim that the next 800 boatpeople who arrive in Australia will end up in Malaysia is simply false," Mr Abbott told reporters in Canberra. Stopping boats was the only way to test the policy, he said.

Greens immigration spokesman Sarah Hanson-Young tabled a motion yesterday condemning the deal. ""If there'll be no legislation then how we can give the parliament the opportunity to have their voice heard," she said.

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