Govt plans to sidestep excision vote

By Daniel Clery
The West Australian
26 November 2003


THE Federal Government will try to sidestep a Senate vote disallowing the excision of 4000 islands from Australia's migration zone and has vowed to maintain its hardline policy against asylum seekers.

As Prime Minister John Howard urged his party room yesterday to maintain the pressure on a Labor Opposition "still haunted" by border control issues, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the Government would explore all avenues to continue the excision of land from the migration zone.

Monday night's disallowance overturns the emergency measure used by the Government to stop 14 Kurdish asylum seekers who landed at Melville Island on November 4 from claiming asylum in Australia.

The disallowance motion only came into effect from yesterday and does not affect the status of the asylum seekers now in immigration detention in Indonesia.

But it does prevent the Government from reintroducing regulations considered the "same in substance" for another six months, meaning it cannot take similar emergency action if an unauthorised boat reaches Australia between now and June.

Mr Ruddock and Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone would not outline yesterday the measures being considered by the Government for use against future asylum seekers.

But it is understood legal advice is already being sought on whether the Government can excise islands on an ad-hoc basis as boats approach.

For example, if a boat reached Melville Island again, emergency regulations could be gazetted excising one island, or 1000 islands - rather than 4000 islands - from the migration zone.

Deputy Clerk of the Senate Rosemary Lang said previous High Court decisions gave the Federal Government relatively broad powers to introduce regulations that were similar in intent but different in form from already disallowed measures.

"If the Government gets its legal advice right, it could mount a pretty strong argument that a future regulation excising, say, two islands is quite different in substance from excising 4000," Ms Lang said.

Shadow immigration minister Nicola Roxon said the Government's decision to allow the Indonesian crew that delivered the asylum seekers to return home showed it was interested in politics and not the prosecution of people smugglers.

Labor and the minor parties vowed yesterday to vote down any attempt to excise any part of Australia's territory from the migration zone.


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