The Australian government will legislate today to recommence the processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The opposition Coalition said it would support the legislation, dropping its earlier objections. Earlier today, at 9.30 a.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time, the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, made a formal request to the president of Nauru, Sprent Dabwido, for permission to reopen the asylum seeker processing centre on the island. The centre was closed in 2007 when the Labor government of Ms Gillard's predecessor Kevin Rudd came to power. Pressure has been building on the government because 338 asylum seekers have died in the seas around Australia since October last year.
Mr Dabwido issued a statement to The Australian newspaper today in which he said 'Nauru is only too willing to play any role that will contribute to reducing this unacceptable situation.' He said that his 20-minute conversation with Ms Gillard had been 'very positive and productive'.The cross-party agreement became possible yesterday after the Labor Party agreed to accept the key elements of former Prime Minister John Howard's 'Pacific Solution' without insisting on a commitment by the opposition to support the government's plan to implement 'the Malaysia Solution' to the country's immigration crisis. The Pacific Solution involves migrants who are attempting to reach Australia by sea being transported to detention centres on islands around the Pacific. When the Pacific Solution was Australian government policy between 2001 and 2007, there were detention centres on Nauru, Manus in Papua New Guinea and Christmas Island. Ms Gillard said yesterday 'I am prepared to further compromise to get things done. I'm not going to play politics when too many lives have been lost.'
The Malaysia Solution would have seen 800 asylum seekers who had arrived in Australia by boat deported from Australia to Malaysia and, in return, 4,000 refugees from Malaysia being sent to Australia. The opposition remains opposed to this policy. The opposition continues to call for a policy of 'turning boats round' where possible.
The treatment of asylum seekers has been a thorny issue in Australian politics for some time. Tony Abbott, the leader of the Australian opposition Coalition said 'I think this is a good move by the government. It could have come at any point in the last four years. It should have come much, much earlier than it has.'
Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen welcomed the cross-party support for the new policy. ''All Australians are looking to the parliament today to get this sorted,' he said.
Australian Home Office Minister Jason Clare said that the centre on Nauru could be re-opened within 'weeks not months'. He added that another centre on Manus, Papua New Guinea, would be operative 'as soon as possible'. He added that the Australian Defence Force had already been given instructions to prepare the centres.
Ms Gillard said that the government would also increase the Australian humanitarian refugee intake from 13,500 to 20,000 a year. While Ms Gillard said that the government would continue to negotiate with Malaysia, commentators believe that, without opposition support, the Malaysia Solution appears to be doomed.
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