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PM, backbenchers still hoping for compromise -

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PM, backbenchers still hoping for compromise

Reporter: Greg Jennett

TONY JONES: Barring a breakthrough in the next six days, John Howard will next week face one of the
most public displays of dissent from his backbench in his nine years in office. The Prime Minister
is locked in a stalemate with a group of four MPs demanding changes to mandatory detention. The
group, led by Victorian Petro Georgiou, now intends to press ahead with two private member's bills
to be introduced in Parliament on Monday. But despite the gulf between them, the dissidents and Mr
Howard are holding out some hope of reaching a compromise. From Canberra, Greg Jennett reports.

GREG JENNETT: John Howard could have guessed what was in store today from the group of four
dissident backbenchers he'd had to the Lodge last night. For two hours they talked, but there would
be no deal.

JUDI MOYLAN, WESTERN AUSTRALIAN MP: We haven't reached final agreement on some of the substantial

GREG JENNETT: In the party room, the Prime Minister said he wanted to avoid any splits, but noted
that it was now up to Petro Georgiou and his band of supporters to decide what to do.

JUDI MOYLAN: We will now go ahead and Petro will introduce those bills to the selection committee.

GREG JENNETT: They did - and the way has been cleared for the bills to go into Parliament on
Monday. Mr Howard and 'the Georgiou Four' have been unable to agree on their demand for an end to
indefinite detention and converting temporary protection visas to permanent refugee status. But
they're still talking.

JUDI MOYLAN: Yes, there's definitely an opportunity for us now to further discuss this, and the
Prime Minister has certainly indicated a willingness to continue the discussions. We would hope for
resolution before the bills come before the House for debate next week.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: I'll continue to talk to my colleagues. I take the view that people
within the Liberal Party are entitled to be heard and, as leader of the party, I will spend time
listening to them and talking to them.

GREG JENNETT: As long as it doesn't change the fundamentals of mandatory detention.

JOHN HOWARD: But there are ways - particularly having in mind the position of children and the time
sometimes things take - there are ways in which we can make it work better.

GREG JENNETT: If the Georgiou bills do get introduced, they'll be a public irritant to the
Government, but the numbers, House procedures and John Howard will ensure they're no threat.

KIM BEAZLEY, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking to the House
that these bills will be given precedence and that, in the next two weeks, these bills will be
debated and voted on?

PARLIAMENT HOUSE SPEAKER: The Honourable Prime Minister.


GREG JENNETT: Having started negotiations with the 'Georgiou Four', a wider group of Liberal
backbenchers is hoping John Howard will go ahead and deliver change - whether there's a private
member's bill or not. That could happen, but counted together, those passively or actively seeking
reform still represent only a small minority. The pressure for change isn't confined to the
backbench. Claims by an Immigration Department whistleblower on Lateline last night that mistakes
are commonplace and that staff face retribution if they speak out were followed up in Parliament

MAN: Isn't it now time for the Minister to have a royal commission?

AMANDA VANSTONE, IMMIGRATION MINISTER: We have one person identifying themselves as a whistleblower
with what appeared, at first glance, to be general claims. They are, of course, impossible to test.

GREG JENNETT: And in the case of would-be defector Chen Yonglin, the Foreign Minister has denied
that his department broke any law in contacting the Chinese Consulate after the diplomat sought
protection. Greg Jennett, Lateline.