Getting Tough on Refugees; Australia Forces in New Laws to Secure Its Borders

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AUSTRALIA yesterday rushed through tough anti-immigration laws despite protests from liberals.

The measures dramatically reduce the status of asylum seekers who reach the mainland and remove their right to land on any of Australia's outlying islands.

Members of John Howard's Conservative government and the Labour opposition united to force the measures through.

It will now be lawful for Australia to tell immigrants arriving at its remote Indian Ocean territories of Christmas Island, Ashmore Reef and Cocos Island that they cannot claim refugee status and must return to their last port of call - usually Indonesia.

Other asylum seekers who reach the Australian mainland and are denied refugee status will not be allowed an automatic appeal.

Before the new law was introduced, asylum seekers could obtain legal aid to take their cases to an appeal court.

But an assessment will now decide whether they stand a reasonable chance of winning an appeal before they can take that legal step.

One of the new Bills also settles the legality of the government's action in the crisis involving the Norwegian ship Tampa, which took a group of boat people to Christmas Island.

It gives Australian patrols extra powers to intercept ships carrying asylum seekers and, in cases where their vessels are too fragile to make the return journey, take them to other Pacific countries such as Nauru.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said the Bills were designed to meet public expectation that Australia should have control over its borders.

There have also been concerns, raised by Commonwealth Solicitor General, Mr David Bennet, QC, that if the government had no power to expel asylum seekers, the country could be open to New York- style hijackers. …