Children held in immigration detention could be released before Christmas if the Senate crossbench plays ball with the government.
But there’s a chance they will still be there before parliament returns in February as Immigration Minister Scott Morrison wrangles with the crossbench over immigration law changes.
While Palmer United Party senator Glenn Lazarus as late as Wednesday said he would like to see children released from the Christmas Island detention centre, he and PUP colleague Dio Wang appear to be holding back their support.
With independents John Madigan and Jacqui Lambie declaring their opposition, the government has yet to secure the Senate numbers needed to re-introduce temporary protection visas and other measures.
Mr Morrison dangled a carrot in front of the crossbench on Wednesday with a suite of concessions including increasing the refugee humanitarian intake by 7500 places over four years.
As well, the 25,000 asylum seekers now on bridging visas will be offered the work rights denied to them by Labor in government.
The changes were tailored to meet the demands of PUP, and other crossbenchers Nick Xenophon, Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm.
Senator Xenophon said the amended bill wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t want to throw away the chance to increase the refugee humanitarian intake.
Senator Leyonhjelm said the concessions could open the door to those willing to pay for the right to migrate to Australia.
The position of PUP ally Ricky Muir is unknown.
Mr Morrison would not speculate on the likely outcome of a Senate vote on his bill.
But he did indicate acceptance of it before Thursday, when parliament rises for the long summer break, could mean the release of children from Christmas Island.
The bill allows the government to introduce a fast-tracking process to clear the 30,000 asylum-seeker claims cases left over by Labor after the 2013 election.
The government has agreed to limit the process to those cases only.
Mr Morrison’s announcement followed reports PUP had withdrawn its support for the bill which also boosts powers to turn back boats, head off High Court challenges and create five-year safe haven enterprise visas for asylum seekers willing to live in regional areas.
Labor welcomed the plans to make work rights easier for people on bridging visas and the increase in the humanitarian intake.
But it still objected to huge swathes of the bill, immigration spokesman Richard Marles said, adding the process to release children from Christmas Island could have started months ago.
PROPOSED CHANGES TO PROTECTION VISAS
* First introduced in 1999 by the Howard government, scrapped by Labor in 2008 and replaced with permanent protection visas.
* Apply to unauthorised arrivals, whether by air or sea.
* Reassessed every three years against the situation in an applicant’s homeland.
* Those found to still be owed protection will be granted another TPV or a safe-haven visa.
* Opposed by refugee advocates because it leaves people in limbo.