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Immigration Bill, toy chicken focus of Parlia -

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Immigration Bill, toy chicken focus of Parliament

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

KERRY O'BRIEN: And speaking of protecting democracy, it's a been a day of high passion, high farce,
florid prose. One of them, Petro Giorgio, continued their defiance and bad jokes in the nation's
Parliament today with spirited debate on the contentious Immigration Amendment Bill and described
the proposed new disturbing piece of legislation he had encountered. The Labor Party was happy to
share the sentiment, but also honed its attack on other fronts with a detailed comparison of
impacts from past and present interest rate rises and a backhander over the Treasurer's perceived
lack of political courage. Political editor Michael Brissenden reports.

JUDI MOYLAN, LIBERAL BACKBENCHER: The Australian people have big hearts and I cannot believe that
they would condone a bill that is so regressive.

RUSSELL BROADBENT, LIBERAL BACKBENCHER: If I am to die politically because of my stance on this
bill, it is better to die on my feet than live on my knees.

PETRO GEORGIO, LIBERAL BACKBENCHER: Australians, who once accepted the policy as being necessary,
came to see that it was cruel and wrong.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Liberals have put their trust in John Howard. He has the overwhelming
support of his backbench on leadership, of that there is no doubt. Yesterday the Prime Minister
urged those inclined to oppose his ammended bill that would see all asylum seeker who arrive by
boat processed offshore to abstain rather than vote with the Labor Party. As it was introduced into
the House this morning, the defiance continued.

PETRO GEORGIO: The migration amendment does not reflect this tradition. It does not uphold the
deeply held Australian values of giving people a fair go, of decency and compassion. I regret that
I cannot commend the bill to the house and I will be voting against it.

RUSSELL BROADBENT: We are suffering a drought in this nation and it is my fervent prayer that the
rains would fall to fill our rivers and streams, our lakes and our dams, that each raindrop would
form a mighty flood that was so full of compassion and justice that would not only soften the
parched earth, but also soften the nation's heart. It's with regret that I cannot support this
bill. I will vote against it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, sometimes passion can lead to great and inspirational prose, and then
sometimes in the hands of Victorian backbenchers it can run off into flowery excess. Nonetheless we
can be in no doubt how Russell Broadbent feels. Both he and Petro Georgiou will cross the floor
when the vote comes and Judi Moylen and Bruce Baird will probably abstain. They are the key
opponents on the Government's side in the House of Reps, but they don't have the numbers to scuttle
the bill. There is overwhelming support in the party room for the amendments. But in the Senate the
numbers make things much tighter. Judith Troeth is still making up her mind. She may cross the
floor. The Government, though, feels pretty confident it has Steve Fielding, the Family First
senator, on side and that would give it the numbers. The dissidents believe the Prime Minister's
amendments, proposed following the arrival of the 43 West Papuans a few months ago, breaches the
spirit of a hard fought agreement reached last year for a bill that was overwhelmingly endorsed by
the Parliament. Of this they are in furious agreement with the Labour Party.

TONY BURKE, OPPOSITION IMMIGRATION SPOKESMAN: Last year every member of this Parliament voted for
legislation that said you might be able to get away with some things under the convention, but
Australian standards are a bit better and you might be able to get away with detaining children
under the refugee convention, but we're Australia and we set our own bench marks and our standards
sometimes, our standards of decency and our expectations are a cut above the rest. Everyone in this
place and everyone in the Senate voted for it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: There's a healthy tradition in the Liberal Party of allowing members to
prosecute principled positions that may not conform to party policy. Nevertheless, it's not
considered a good way to fast-track a parliamentary career and in this instance, the dissidents
have felt considerable heat from their colleagues, many of whom are starting to worry about their
own prospects. Giving the Labor Party a leg up at any time is unwelcome, but petrol, IR and
interest rates are all creating an unusual and unfamiliar level of unease and it's no surprise that
those are the subjects that dominated Question Time.

WAYNE SWAN, OPPOSITION TREASURY SPOKESMAN: Prime Minister, is it the case that a greater proportion
of household income is consumed by interest repayments under your Government than under the
Hawke-Keating government?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: This has become the central thesis of the Opposition's attack. Don't worry
about 17 per cent under Keating, instead worry about the real impact on the hip pocket of today's
much bigger mortgage. The Prime Minister, though, isn't about to let 17 per cent be forgotten so
easily.

JOHN HOWARD: If the average borrower in Australia today were paying the average interest rates of
the Hawke-Keating years, instead of paying $1,430 a month, they'd be paying at least $2,300 a month
and if they were paying the notorious 17 per cent interest rates, they would be paying over $4,000
a month, Mr Speaker.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Government argues people are sitting on bigger assets now, too, as a result
of a decade of Coalition government economic policy. Labor points out that in 1982 when John Howard
was Treasurer interest rates were capped at around 13 per cent, money was extremely hard to get,
but the 90-day bank bill rate was up to 21 per cent. It's an argument that leaves most mortgagees
behind. It's a bit like the chicken and the egg, really. Speaking of chickens...

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER: Mr Speaker, we are waiting for the Labour Party to actually say whether
or not it will support...

SPEAKER: Order! The Member for Corio will remove himself.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Labor has been having a field day with the other soft spot the new
parliamentary term has presented to them. Every time the Treasurer gets to his feet he's been
howled down by chicken jokes and squarking and today even a stuffed bird. It's all a reference to
Peter Costello's decision to bow out of the leadership race without a fight. This is the man who's
dined out for years on his own barnyard banter with witty lines about Latham's roosters. Today's
antics saw the elbow-flapping member for Corio, Gavin O'Connor, expelled from the House. One of his
colleagues was heard to remark it was a "poultry" offence. No doubt there will be plenty more
"fowl" play to come.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Highbrow debate, indeed.