20 February 2012

Julia Gillard’s position uncertain as Australian immigration row continues

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard's position as leader of the ruling government is allegedly under threat as former prime minister Kevin Rudd prepares to challenge Ms Gillard. Mr Rudd has apparently voiced his concern over the Labor Party's significant hardening on Australian immigration policy.

Australian immigration

Prime Minister Julia GIllard is expected to be challenged by her predecessor Kevin Rudd as early as next week.

Australian immigration has dominated politics in recent weeks with political parties embroiled in a bitter feud over the contentious issue. As more and more boats arrive on Australian shores and the deadlock continues, disquiet has been growing within the Labor Party.

Ms Gillard succeeded Mr Rudd as prime minister in June 2010 after a similar fall in popularity but Australia's first female prime minister has struggled to maintain the party's confidence in recent months. Mr Rudd successfully defended his parliamentary seat and returned to the cabinet as minister for foreign affairs.

As the Australian immigration debate continues, it would seem as though Ms Gillard's inability to satisfactorily resolve the issue may serve as the catalyst for her removal as prime minister.

Ms Gillard has favoured a harder line than her predecessor when it comes to illegal immigration, favouring offshore processing and attempting to deport asylum seekers to nearby Pacific Island nations.

However, her inability to successfully pass her people swap deal with Malaysia, known as the Malaysia Solution, has been seen as a major failure and many political observers claim Mr Rudd may step in as early as next week.

Mr Rudd promised prior to leaving office that he would not "lurch to the Right" on his asylum policy and is reportedly disappointed with the tough direction Ms Gillard has chosen.

While Mr Rudd weighs his options, the immigration issue further deteriorate as Australian authorities continue to intercept asylum seeker boats bound for Australia.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed on Saturday that a vessel carrying 79 asylum seekers was intercepted northwest of Christmas Island.

Mr Bowen stated that it was the sixth boat intercepted since Opposition Leader Tony Abbott ended talks with the government.

"We've always said that without a genuine deterrent such as the Malaysia arrangement, the boats will keep coming," said Mr Bowen.

"This is another boat you can chalk down to the negativity of Tony Abbott."

Mr Abbott claimed he would be happy to resolve the issue with the government if the government was prepared to reopen the processing centre on the Pacific island Nauru, reinstate the temporary protection Australian visa programme and begin turning boats around.

"The only thing that stops Julia Gillard embracing those policies, those proven policies, is sheer stubbornness," said Mr Abbott.

"Julia Gillard's pride is getting in the way of putting in place policies that will stop the boats; I say swallow your pride prime minister."

Mr Bowen had tentatively proposed reinstating the temporary protection visa program as well as offering to reopen Nauru's processing centre in an effort to gain the opposition's support on the Malaysia solution but Mr Rudd contested these proposals.

The opposition claims it makes no difference whether Mr Rudd or Ms Gillard heads the government.

"Rudd was the one who abolished the Howard government measures" said opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison.

"He's as culpable as Gillard on this and at no stage ever admitted that it was a massive mistake to abolish those measures. He’s the reason the boats started coming initially and she's the reason they keep on coming."

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy London.

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