Australia will now process all asylum seekers onshore, despite both the government and opposition supporting offshore processing for those that come by boat.

It’s an incredible win for those — mainly on the Left — who support onshore processing. Due to the limited room available in detention centres (and budgetary constraints) people arriving by boat would be processed quickly and given bridging visas to live in the community, which allow a small pension and the right to work.

National MP Tony Crook refused to support the government’s bill yesterday which would change the Migration Act to allow offshore processing, after the High Court deemed it unlawful. But even with Crook’s support, it’s unlikely the bill would have passed the Senate where the Greens hold the balance of power.

The opposition refused to support the bill as it would allow the government’s Malaysia Solution policy. Instead it demanded the government only send asylum seekers to countries which are a signee to the United Nations convention on refugees. The Labor caucus voted yesterday to keep the Malaysia Solution as official policy, even though it cannot implement it.

Gillard was quick to put the blame on opposition leader Tony Abbott and warn the public to expect more boats to arrive. “There is only one reason that we are not in the circumstances to have offshore processing and that’s because of Mr Abbott and his determination to trash the national interest,” said Gillard. “Mr Abbott’s conduct leads us to circumstances where we are at real risk of seeing more boats.”

The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Phillip Coorey is dubbing it the “Australia Solution”, noting: “The decision was announced last night after a day of crisis meetings which tested the authority of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, strained the backbench and took the shine off the policy victory of the day before when the carbon price legislation passed the lower house.”

Yes, it is confusing how we can have both major parties agree on offshore processing and yet not get support for it. “So many aspects of this sorry story fall into the stupid category, it is worthy of a chapter in a political primer on how not to do things,” declares Dennis Atkins in The Courier-Mail.

This is a great day for people smugglers and both parties are responsible, says Greg Sheridan in The Australian:

“It is a defeat in which the Gillard government and the Abbott opposition share equally.”

Labor has no one to blame for this but themselves, says human rights lecturer Angus Francis in The Age:

“The choice that confronted the Labor Party after the election defeat of 2001 was the same that confronts it now: continue to support offshore processing, as Prime Minister Julia Gillard wants, or begin the slow and painstaking process of rebuilding a principled asylum-seeker policy.”

Peter van Onselen is elated that onshore processing is happening, even if it’s only happened because of Gillard and Abbott’s stubbornness. Problem is, detention centres will quickly fill up and other onshore options should be examined, he writes in The Australian:

“Why not simply speed up the processing for all asylum-seekers? Or start community living for those already in detention? Or make arrangements for more processing centres? Again, stubbornness is getting in the way of workable policy outcomes.”

Susie O’Brien in the Herald Sun also supports this change to onshore processing:

“We can well afford to be generous, and to care for those who seek asylum on our shores. Given that most of them are found to be legitimate refugees, and go on to be well-respected members of our society, let’s give them a go.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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