Julia Gillard’s plan of changing the Migration Act in order to circumnavigate the High Court’s decision on offshore processing remains in troubled waters, with the Coalition and Labor MPs threatening to sink the policy.

In a rare occurrence, Tony Abbott and Gillard are to sit down in a meeting today to discuss the asylum-seeker policy changes. But Gillard is also struggling with internal revolt, with the Labor Left faction meeting today to re-evaulate its position after caucus passed the policy last week without seeing the legislation.

“Now that I have seen the legislation my concerns are even more strong,” said Senator Doug Cameron.

The main concern seems to be that the planned Migration Act changes remove Australia’s human-rights obligations to the United Nations regarding asylum seekers.

Yet it’s not only Labor’s Left that are concerned about the human-rights changes. Matthew Franklin in The Australian says that unnamed “senior Coalition sources” confirmed that they will reject Julia Gillard’s plan to change the Migration Act in order to allow offshore processing as it does not accommodate for human rights protections of asylum seekers and the Coalition didn’t want to give a “blank cheque” to the government for Malaysia.

According to Philip Coorey in The Sydney Morning Herald, the government may be willing to change the wording to encourage the opposition to support it: “Senior sources said yesterday the government was not hung up on the exact wording of the amendment to the act, which would remove legislated protections for those sent offshore.”

Why the focus on offshore processing? asks Russell Skelton in The Age:

“Despite all the bluster and tough talk about stopping the boats and breaking the people smuggling business model, Australia has been quietly doing what most Western countries (including the United States and Britain) do: processing asylum seekers in the community with minimal social discord.

Today’s Oz editorial notes that Abbott’s decision not to support the asylum seekers could come back to bite him if he becomes PM:

“The opposition’s decision to block the government’s Malaysia Solution is unlikely to harm it in the short term. But, faced with new flotillas, Mr Abbott in government could find himself prevented by the courts from processing asylum-seekers on Nauru and Manus Island, and ruing the day he did not not back the Gillard government’s legislation. Under such circumstances, a Labor opposition would be unlikely to come to his aid in the Senate. Unlike Mr Rudd, who succeeded at portraying himself as “John Howard lite”, Mr Abbott would rather break an arm before positioning himself as “Julia Gillard lite.” Nor should he. But sooner or later he will need to start spending political capital in policies that work for the nation as well as in the polls.”

Malcolm Farr agrees at The Punch, noting that Abbott’s biggest problem will be the make-up of the Senate:

“So let’s imagine what might happen in three years time, after a slaughter of Labor numbers at an election, prime minister Abbott finds Nauru isn’t a lawful destination for asylum seekers.

He is old and a master of the House of Representatives, but in the Senate, because the election was for just half the members, he still is in a minority.

He would have to ask Labor and the Greens to back his legislation, which might loom a lot like the bills he today is likely to reject. The Greens won’t budge and the ALP opposition is unlikely to feel any need to help him.”

That’s not the only thing that could happen under a Liberal government. Joe Hockey confirmed that if the Coalition was in power, it would wind back the carbon-tax scheme and all the compensation for households — tax cuts, etc — that comes with it. A Coalition government would also reject the mining tax, says Hockey.

“When we get in we will reveal the true state of the budget and we will take the right measures to get the budget back on track,” said Hockey. “We will unwind the carbon tax … We have said that you do not need to have compensation if you don’t have a carbon tax. We have sent a very clear message to business that if you purchase one of these or enter into an agreement with the government, do not assume that we won’t come along and try to unwind it.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey