Controversial refugee legislation to remove
asylum seekers who reach the mainland for processing offshore is due in the
Parliament later today – with the government numbers in the Senate still
wobbly. The issue was not discussed during
yesterday’s special Government Party Room meeting, but is expected to be raised
at today’s usual meeting.

Victorian Liberal Judith Troeth has
indicated she will vote against the bill, and Barnaby Joyce’s support is still
uncertain.

That throws the attention on the back up
vote of Family First Senator Steve Fielding. If Troeth
opposes the bill, Fielding’s vote could prove crucial –
making up the Government’s Senate majority of only one.

At a doorstop yesterday he said he had not
decided how to vote. It has since emerged that he had a meeting with
Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone on the issue.

The matter has taken on a new urgency, with
claims from the Christian Brothers’ Edmund Rice Centre that as many as nine men
returned from Nauru to Afghanistan may have been killed, and three children of people sent back from Nauru have
been killed.

“The families had been told on Nauru by
Australian Immigration officials that Afghanistan would be safe,” Edmund Rice Centre Director Phil Glendenning said.
“It clearly was not. It clearly is not. Any public policy that has as its end
result the death of innocent people, and especially children, is a policy that
no civilised nation can possibly consider. The so-called Pacific solution is no
solution at all.”

The Edmund Rice Centre has urged all MPs
and Senators to reject proposals to reinstitute off-shore processing.

“In our experience in 18 countries there is
too much evidence that we are getting it wrong,” Glendenning said. “And on this
issue if you get it wrong – people get killed.”

Labor immigration spokesman Tony Burke says
the claims, if proved, show how high the stakes could be when processing
refugee applications.

“If you get it wrong, then people do return to persecution. If you get it
wrong, people do lose their lives,” he said this morning. “There’s more detail to come out on this,
but the most important thing as Amanda Vanstone conducts her investigations is
she mustn’t be defensive on this one.”

Peter Fray

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