Australia migrants: Gillard to pursue Malaysia swaps

Julia Gillard: ''The best solution from our point of view is the arrangement with Malaysia''

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard says her government wants to revive an asylum-seeker swap deal with Malaysia.

She spoke after receiving the backing of her Labor Party caucus for proposed legislative changes to the Migration Act to allow such an arrangement.

Australia's High Court ruled this month that her plan to send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia in return for 4,000 processed refugees was unlawful.

The ruling threw the controversial plan to control immigration into disarray.

The plan - dubbed the Malaysia Solution - was supposed to send a tough message to people arriving in the country by boat that they would not be processed in Australia.

"Malaysia offered the best answer to the issue of asylum seekers and people smuggling then. It offers the best answer now," Ms Gillard told reporters at Australia's parliament.

But the High Court ruled that Malaysia did not offer adequate protection for refugees. The country is not a signatory to the United Nations convention on refugees.

"We are determined to pursue the arrangement we have made with Malaysia," Ms Gillard said.

Australia asylum

  • Irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs) in 2010: 134 boats carrying 6,535 people
  • IMAs up to 22 Aug 2011: 36 boats carrying 2,183 people
  • As of 25 Aug 4,427 IMAs detained on the mainland, 811 on Christmas Island

Source: Australian Department of Immigration

"But the amendments we will bring to the parliament will be broad amendments which will restore to executive government the ability to make the arrangements that it sees fit for the transfer and processing of asylum seekers in third countries," she said.

Ms Gillard also said the government would pursue plans to reopen a detention centre on the remote Papua New Guinea island of Manus.

However, the amendments would face a difficult time in parliament.

The opposition says it may insist that any offshore processing of asylum seekers be in countries that have signed the UN convention.

Labor's governing partners, the Greens, oppose offshore processing and are not likely to support any bill to resurrect the Malaysia plan.

Australia currently detains all asylum-seekers arriving by boat, including several hundred in a centre on Christmas Island which has seen riots in recent months.

Ms Gillard's previous plan for an offshore processing centre in East Timor, was abandoned when the country refused to take part.

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