Refugee policy
seems set to be sensitive for the Government this week, with claims in The Age
today that dissident Coalition MPs have the numbers in the Senate to force
changes to proposed amendments to migration law that would see all boat
arrivals – including women and children – placed in offshore detention centres.

A vote on the
legislation is due tomorrow. There’s concern in Coalition ranks that the
measure is a grovel to Indonesia – as well as worries over the issue of children
in detention.

Concerns on
that last issue will have only been exacerbated by weekend reports that sexual harassment and abuse is widespread within immigration
detention centres – reports handled by Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone with her usual
panache. Her lackeys have suggested anyone with
further allegations of abuse in detention centres should take their claims to
the police.

Refugee advocates are making much of a
Newspoll commissioned by Melbourne businessman Ian Melrose that shows 74% of respondents would prefer
to keep the current laws, with only 15% supporting a change in the laws in
order to improve relations with Indonesia.

Justice John Dowd, from the International
Commission of Jurists has said “While good relations with Indonesia
are important, the Australian people know that it is immoral to change our laws
in this way. The West Papuan asylum seekers who recently arrived in Australia
were judged to be genuine refugees. Sending asylum seekers to Nauru is
barbaric and counter to the principles of international law Australia
has signed up to.”

The Prime Minister is sticking firm to his
position – or was, anyway. At the time of writing we haven’t yet heard about
the outcomes of this morning’s Coalition Party Room meeting.

Before September 11, 2001, the refugee rows were all about stopping illegals. The Government
has been very successful at this. It gets overlooked – understandably, because
of focus on the human cost involved.

Peter Fray

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