14 August 2006

Australian PM throws out migration bill

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Australian PM John Howard has withdrawn a contentious migration bill, passed last week by the Australian legislature, from the Senate amid fears the bill would be defeated.

According to reports from Reuters, Australia abandoned on Monday plans for tougher new asylum laws, designed to ease Indonesian concerns, after a revolt by government lawmakers ensured Prime Minister John Howard could not pass the legislation.

The revolt handed Howard the biggest parliamentary defeat in his conservative government's 10 years in office, and forced him to withdraw the changes ahead of a vote.

"The whole bill is out," Howard told reporters, adding he accepted that he did not have the numbers to pass the laws through the upper house Senate.

The new laws, drawn up to ease Indonesian concerns after Australia granted asylum to 43 Papuans, would have sent all asylum seekers who arrived by boat on mainland Australia to detention camps on the remote Pacific island nation of Nauru.

Three government lawmakers defied Howard and voted against the new laws in the lower house last week, and two abstained. At least two government Senators planned to defy Howard in the Senate, where the government has a one-seat majority.

Howard shrugged off any damage to his authority over his party, saying his ruling Liberal Party was proud of having a range of opinions, and that his ultimate authority came from voters at national elections.

Ties between Indonesia and Australia were strained and Indonesia withdrew its ambassador in a temporary protest after Australia granted asylum to the Papuan asylum seekers, who had arrived in the country's remote north by boat in January.

Howard on Sunday said the new laws were not crucial to Australia's close ties with its larger neighbour, but a day later said he did not know if Indonesia would be upset that the new laws were not passed.

Mandatory detention for illegal arrivals has been at the centre of Howard's past two election wins. Church and human rights group have condemned the stance.

Dissenting government politicians were angry that the proposed immigration laws would mean children would have been detained in Nauru, despite a Howard promise a year ago that children would no longer be kept in immigration detention.

However, Howard said asylum seekers who arrived by boat on outlying Australian islands would still be sent to Nauru for processing under existing laws.


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