The Federal Opposition is set to raise its focus on mandatory detention and border security, with this morning’s joint party room meeting debating illegal immigration at length.

A dozen MPs spoke on the issue, and while two spoke about the need for access to legal review and fairness and equity for asylum seekers, the majority view emphasised the hard line of the Howard years.

Yesterday in Question Time, Sharman Stone showed that the transfer of the portfolio from hardline right-winger Chris Ellison (who has retired) to a prominent moderate has not softened the Coalition’s views on mandatory detention. Stone accused the Government of “giving the green light to people smugglers”, linking it to the Government’s limitations on mandatory detention requirements earlier this year and Navy plans to keep several boats in port over the summer break.

The question prompted fury from Government backbenchers like Michael Danby, and led the Prime Minister to declare “there they go again.”

In the party room today, one speaker, who was said to have reflected the “vast majority” of MPs’ views, made the remarkable claim that mandatory detention had “saved lives” and that there should be no maximum period of detention.

The views were supported by Malcolm Turnbull who declared that the Coalition was the party of secure borders and that there would be “no welcome mat for people smugglers” from the Coalition. There would be no change from the Howard Government’s policy, Turnbull said.

The Coalition may also oppose the Government bill to remove the ability of Ministers to issue conclusive certificates to block Freedom of Information requests. John Faulkner this week introduced changes to the FOI Act to remove “public interest” conclusive certificates. However, the Bill has been referred to a Senate committee, and will not be considered until March next year. Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis told the party-room the Coalition should take no position on the bill until the committee had reported, and instead use it to expose Labor’s “hypocrisy” on the issue.

Peter Fray

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