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Injunction on Australian asylum swaps is extended

Australia's highest court yesterday extended an injunction stopping the deportation of asylum-seekers to Malaysia, leaving Prime Minister Julia Gillard's border security policy in limbo until late August or September when a final ruling is expected.

Ms Gillard has signed a refugee-swap deal with Malaysia in an effort to fight perceptions that her government is soft on asylum-seekers, and to raise her support with voters, who the polls show would throw her from office if an election were held today.

Lawyers representing a group of boatpeople who were due to be deported yesterday, the first under the new deal, argued in the High Court that the government did not have the legal power to send them to Malaysia.

"There is a sufficiently serious question to be tried," High Court Judge Kenneth Hayne said, referring the case to a full bench of the court, which will sit on 22 August. The injunction would be extended until a final ruling was made, he said.

The Malaysia deal is the second attempt by Ms Gillard to have an Asian nation take boatpeople. She announced earlier that East Timor had agreed to such a deal, only to have it rejected by the East Timorese parliament.

A second failure by Ms Gillard to achieve a regional agreement would further strengthen the widespread belief that her Labor government is inept on policy and unable to deliver on major promises.