Gillard firm on Malaysia deal for asylum seekers


By Michelle Grattan, The Age

JULIA Gillard has declared the controversial Malaysian people swap is ”a very important innovation” in Australia’s asylum seeker approach and the government is ” determined to implement it”.

With the future of the deal hanging on next week’s High Court full bench hearing that will focus on human rights, Ms Gillard remains confident Australia can guarantee the rights of asylum seekers sent to Malaysia.

In an interview with The Age marking tomorrow’s anniversary of the 2010 election, Ms Gillard was not troubled by the recent criticisms of the government’s detention policy. Labor was the party that first created mandatory detention, in the 1990s, and ”I’m absolutely satisfied that mandatory detention is the right policy”. But the government’s emphasis was on stopping people coming ”so we are trying to smash that [people smugglers’] business model through the Malaysia arrangement”.
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As the government’s attention centres strongly on economic management in uncertain times, Ms Gillard would not be drawn on whether she would be willing to contemplate fresh stimulus if needed. The important thing now ”is to be explaining to people what is going on in our economy”. Asked whether a 2012-13 surplus was an objective or a guarantee, she put the tough position: ”We’re determined to deliver the surplus.” Government sources yesterday discounted reports that a fresh round of savings was being pursued to try to achieve a surplus on time despite a hit to revenue from the economic problems. The sources said savings were always being sought but there was not a special push.

Ms Gillard bluntly told those who will attend the October tax forum to come with ”realistic ideas that are properly thought through, costed and capable of being offset. We are in a rigorous fiscal climate and there’s no point bringing pie-in-the-sky ideas that are not capable of being implemented and being properly offset in the government’s budget.”

She noted that her own focus in tax, as the budget showed, had been on measures to encourage participation in the workforce.

Ms Gillard said she understood many people compared Australia’s strong economy with their own financial problems and felt a ”sense of disconnect” because of cost-of-living pressures. ”I think it’s also there for parts of the economy where people feel at risk of being left behind.” The government would be focused on ”social risk”, not allowing people to fall through cracks without a sense that there was a helping hand.

Criticising Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Ms Gillard said she was increasingly concerned at the ”knee-jerk, populist approach in our national debate” on various issues.