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MP disagrees with Pacific solution and detention centres for asylum seekers.

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Monday 11 February 2002


MP disagrees with Pacific solution and detention centres for asylum seekers.


ELEANOR HALL: While the result is still unclear, one thing that is c ertain is that the election was a disaster for the Australian Democrats.


The Democrat vote in South Australia fell 9% from its record high of 16.4% in 1997 so today Democrat's Leader, Natasha Stott Despoja will meet her Senate colleagues to work out what to do about the Party's plunging popularity.


At the same time, Labor is still agonising over its policy on asylum seekers.


In Canberra, Louise Yaxley reports.


LOUISE YAXLEY: Senator Stott Despoja says it's time to revisit the Party's identity, positioning and goals. She wouldn't be interviewed before the party room post mortem today. Her Senate colleagues are holding fire until that meeting as well but there's concern in Party ranks that Senator Stott Despoja was in New York for the World Economic Forum during a key part of the election in her Party's heartland state.


The Prime Minister's been quick to needle the Democrats suggesting Senator Stott Despoja's leadership contributed to the plunging vote. He's also had a shot at Labor saying the Party doesn't know where it's going on asylum seekers.


That issue's now leapt across Labor's factional lines. The right's Leo McLeay wants most of the detention centres to be shut.


LEO McLEAY: During the election campaign, Howard sprung this on us so quickly and did it so deliberately as just a ploy to win the election. I don't think we had much choice then.


I really don't have a great criticism of where we went there but now we've had a bit of time to reflect on this and I think all of us know, or most of at least know, that what the Government's doing is wrong and we've got to educate people to take them along with us on this.


LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr McLeay's written to his colleagues calling for a Labor policy which scraps the Pacific Solution of camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. He says outback centres like Woomera and Curtin should be closed and the people moved to bigger towns. He disagrees with those such as the left faction's Laurie Ferguson, who argue it could cost Labor votes.


LEO MCLEAY: I don't think anyone's sort of proved that. There's no doubt that during the last election Howard played us off a break on this issue a bit but I think people, I think there is a change occurring in public opinion.


I think that, as more and more people see how stupid this Pacific option is, that they know that it's making a fool of us and when more and more of the horrific stories come out of the detention centres, like we don't do these things to murderers.


ELEANOR HALL: Leo McLeay and Labor is expected to further develop its position on asylum seekers at its caucus meeting today.