Australian MPs may cross the floor over immigration debate

08 August 2006

Some Australian Members of Parliament may cross the floor over the Federal Government's controversial border protection legislation, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

During a heated joint parties meeting this morning, Prime Minister John Howard ruled out making any more changes to the laws, which would send all boat people to island detention centers for processing.

The legislation, is due to be debated in the House of Representatives, has angered Liberal moderates who are worried it would overturn a key concession - keeping children out of detention - won from the Government last year.

Mr. Howard has urged dissenting backbenchers to abstain from voting rather than cross the floor of parliament, but Foreign Minister Alexander Downer conceded some may make public their opposition to the proposed immigration law.

"Some may [cross the floor]," Mr. Downer said in Canberra recently. "I mean, it's a free world. But I think this is a good policy that strikes a good balance. It on the one hand protects Australia's national interests and our country, but on the other hand it retains the humanitarianism that is one of our characteristics."

At least four backbenchers told the meeting they could not support the draft laws, party room sources said, but the dissenting MPs do not have enough support to stop the laws passing the lower house.

"Just about everybody supports it. Maybe not everybody, but just about everybody supports it," Mr. Downer said.

Mr. Downer said Australia had to strike the right compromise between fulfilling its obligations to asylum seekers and ensuring the process wasn't abused for "reasons which are more political than humanitarian".

"I don't want to see people using Australia to, if you like, make political points and getting international publicity, scoring off our country and off Indonesia or other countries in the world when those claims might not be terribly credible," he said.

The legislation was drafted following Indonesian anger over Australia's decision to grant asylum to 42 asylum seekers from Indonesia's Papua province.


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