Australia ruling hits Pacific refugee plans

Speculation is mounting over yet another coup as Labor figures grow anxious about Gillard`s parlous showing in the polls.

Sydney: Australia on Sunday said its plan to send asylum seekers for processing in the Pacific appeared untenable after a court ruled against a similar deal with Malaysia, deepening the prime minister`s woes.

Canberra`s plan to send 800 boatpeople to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 of the Asian nation`s registered refugees was part of a proposed regional strategy to halt the flow of thousands of refugees arriving on its shores each year.

Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen said, the government`s lawyers had reviewed Wednesday`s High Court judgment against the so-called "Malaysia Solution", and advised it threw the entire offshore processing system into question.

Bowen said, the solicitor-general, Stephen Gageler, had expressed "no confidence" in plans to send asylum-seekers arriving by boat to either Papua New Guinea or Nauru, as were being contemplated by the government.

"The solicitor-general`s advice confirms the significant doubts over, whether or not the government and immigration minister could make a valid declaration for either Papua New Guinea or Nauru," Bowen said.

The judges said Australia could not ship asylum seekers offshore unless the country in question was compelled to adequately protect them. Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees.

Canberra`s entire regional processing plan now looks fatally flawed, with Gageler warning that offshore detention in PNG or Nauru was also now not possible under current laws due to similar human rights concerns.

The conservative opposition, said it would support amending the Migration Act to overcome the problem, but the left-leaning Greens party, who hold the deciding vote in the upper house signalled strong objection to any changes.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon raised concerns about Australia`s refugee policy with Prime Minister Julia Gillard during a visit to Canberra on Saturday, and the latest developments will deepen her troubles.

Gillard stumbled at the outset of the regional plan by prematurely announcing that neighbouring East Timor could host Australia`s asylum-seekers and was forced to retreat after strong objections from Dili.

Australia`s first female leader seized power in a party coup last year but has been dogged by credibility issues after failing to win an outright majority at the election and reneging on a promise not to introduce a pollution tax.

Speculation is mounting over yet another coup as Labor figures grow anxious about Gillard`s parlous showing in the polls, likely only to worsen with the scotching of offshore processing.

Gillard has reacted defiantly, insisting she is the best person for the job, and Bowen said, she retained the party`s full support.

"Julia Gillard is very firmly the leader of the Labor Party and will continue to be," he told a television news channel.

He said, the High Court ruling threw significant hurdles before offshore processing and warned there was "no clear or easy response" to the sensitive issue of boatpeople, hundreds of whom now hang in legal limbo.

"The government (will) now carefully consider all its options," he said.

Offshore processing was introduced as a deterrent to people-smuggling by the former conservative government of John Howard under a scheme known as the "Pacific Solution", which was condemned by human rights groups.

PNG`s Manus Island and Nauru, both being considered as destinations by the current government, were central to the plan, which saw asylum-seekers including children held behind razor wire, sometimes for several years.

Bureau Report

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