Urgent government legislation reinstating offshore processing centres for asylum seekers has cleared parliament’s lower house.
Only two MPs – independent Andrew Wilkie and Adam Bandt from the Australian Greens – voted against the bill.
Labor and coalition MPs sat side-by-side to support measures that will allow the government to reinstate processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
Earlier, the house rejected an opposition amendment that called on the federal government to restore temporary protection visas and issue defence with instructions to turn back asylum seeker boats where it was safe to do so.
MPs also rejected a Greens amendment that limits the bill’s measures to 12 months.
The Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Earlier, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said asylum seekers who reach Australia by boat this week are “at risk” of being sent to Nauru or Papua New Guinea where they will initially live in tents.
Three boats carrying a total of 200 people have been intercepted since Monday, when the Labor government accepted in principle the recommendations of Angus Houston’s expert panel report on ways to stop the flow of vessels from Asia.
Ms Gillard said as of Monday, all boat arrivals were “at risk of being transferred to Manus Island or to Nauru”.
“That is a very clear statement and a clear message to anybody who is contemplating paying a people smuggler and getting on a boat,” she told Sky News on Wednesday.
Ms Gillard has been challenged by the Australian Greens to commit to time limits for the detention of asylum seekers at the centres, which the government wants operational as soon as possible.
“These issues involving human beings both tear at your heart and challenge your thinking,” she said.
“Because we do have to extend compassion to people who are fleeing persecution but we don’t want to create any incentive to risking your life at sea.”
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, whose coalition will support the government’s legislation, said he had no problem with people living in tents.
“People who arrive illegally by boat need to be treated humanely but they can’t expect five-star treatment or even three-star treatment,” he said.
But Greens leader Christine Milne said tent accommodation was inhumane.
“On the one hand Angus Houston is saying people will be treated better this time and in the next breath we are going to be setting up these huge, temporary tent camps and we are taking away people’s human rights,” she told reporters in Canberra.
The government wants its legislation to pass parliament by the end of this week but independent senator Nick Xenophon has warned he wants a “thorough” parliamentary debate when it reaches the Senate. courtesy: SBC.com