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Australia asylum legislation clears first hurdle

SYDNEY -- Legislation to allow the transfer of boatpeople seeking asylum to Pacific states cleared Australia's lower house Wednesday, with politicians saying it will effectively deter people-smugglers.

Canberra has struggled to stem an influx of boatpeople who make the dangerous sea voyage to Australia and this week agreed to reopen camps on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and tiny Nauru.

It followed an independent report by former Defense Force Chief Angus Houston that recommended utilizing the shuttered camps used under the so-called “Pacific Solution” of former conservative leader John Howard.

The legislation reinstating offshore processing made it through the lower house of parliament after a marathon debate and must now go to the Senate or upper house, where it is expected to pass Thursday.

Only two MPs — independent Andrew Wilkie and Adam Bandt from the Australian Greens — voted against the legislation.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen urged the Senate to speedily pass the bill.

“The Australian people expect no less and the people-smugglers fear nothing more,” he told parliament.

The government hopes that offshore processing will make asylum-seekers think twice about paying people-smugglers to bring them to Australia, knowing they could spend years waiting on a Pacific island before being resettled.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said an advance team of Australians could be in PNG and Nauru as early as Friday to assess facilities.

She warned asylum-seekers they could initially end up in tents on the remote Pacific outposts.

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