Australia drops island camp plan for asylum seekers

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The Independent Online

The Australian Prime Minister John Howard has dropped plans for a new Refugee Bill that drew fire from within his own ruling coalition, in one of the biggest political defeats of his decade in power.

The Bill would have required all asylum-seekers who arrive in Australia by boat to be sent to island detention camps. Some lawmakers in Mr Howard's centre-right coalition joined critics in opposing the Bill as an abrogation of Australia's responsibilities to refugees in a bid to appease Indonesia.

It was drafted after Indonesia temporarily withdrew its ambassador because Canberra gave asylum to 43 refugees from the restive Indonesian province of Papua. Jakarta was angered by the implication that human rights abuses were taking place in the province.

The Bill was to be debated in the Senate yesterday, but Mr Howard said his Cabinet had accepted his recommendation that it be scrapped.

Mr Howard said the legislation would have been defeated because a government Senator planned to vote against the Bill. The government's majority of only two in the 76-seat Senate means that if one government Senator votes with the opposition, legislation is defeated.

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