In the latest attempt by Labor to mollify contentious issues in order to ‘clear the decks’ before this year’s federal election, the government is expected to announce this week – possibly as early as today – a rejigged policy on boat people.

In the dying moments of the Rudd administration, the former PM declared the party would “not lurch to the right” on the issue of refugees and asylum seekers, but reports suggest this is exactly what Gillard will do.

Yesterday the PM called for an open debate on boat people, arguing that fears about border security do not necessarily constitute racism, while Tony Abbott maintained that “only the Coalition knows how to stop the boats.”

Gillard said on the weekend:

“For people to say they’re anxious about border security doesn’t make them intolerant, it certainly doesn’t make them a racist. It means that they’re expressing a genuine view that they’re anxious about border security.

“By the same token, people who express concern about children being in detention, that doesn’t mean they’re soft on border protection, that just means that they’re expressing a real human concern.”

What to think of the Gillard government’s dilemma, and how might Labor respond? Here’s what the media are saying so far.

The Australian

Editorial: Putting policy first in the border protection debate

…the Prime Minister signaled she wanted immigration to be discussed as policy and not treated as a morality play by saying John Howard was not a racist and Australia needed effective border protection.

Paul Maley and Samantha Maiden: Julia Gillard to send back boatpeople

There is a push for the Gillard government to consider lifting the freeze on the Sri Lankan applicants on the grounds that conditions there are now much safer, allowing for the deportation of more failed asylum-seekers, provided that checks were in place to monitor their safety.

Pia Akerman: Sending refugees home ‘a scandal’

Julian Burnside has warned Julia Gillard it would be a “scandal” if her government sought electoral success by deporting asylum-seekers. The human rights activist says sending Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum-seekers back to their home countries would be a scandal.

The Age

Michelle Grattan: Gillard gambles on asylum anxiety

By urging people to vent their fears about the boats without worrying about political correctness, Julia Gillard is taking a gamble. She is sanctioning the escalation of a difficult and explosive debate that turned bitter in 2001, and always has the potential to do so again.

Courier Mail

Michael Madigan: Julia Gillard toughens Labor’s stance on asylum seekers as boat arrivals mount

The Federal Government will move swiftly to toughen its stance on asylum seekers after nearly 100 boat people arrived in 48 hours. Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s approach is expected to include further shoring up of relationships with our neighbours, including Indonesia.

The Daily Telegraph

Sue Dunlevy: Julia Gillard’s right turn on refugees

The Federal Cabinet is expected to endorse a shift to the Right on refugee policy today when it decides whether to continue its ban on processing Sri Lankan asylum seekers. It will consider a new direction on border protection that senior ministers hinted could involve deals with Indonesia and Malaysia, where asylum seekers board their Australia-bound boats. Cabinet will also look at ways to get migrants out of major cities.

The Herald Sun

Ben Packham: Rising asylum-seeker tide hits Julia Gillard

Pressure is mounting on Julia Gillard to do something about unauthorised boat arrivals after yet another asylum-seeker vessel was intercepted on the weekend – the 75th this year.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey