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Australia government seeks opposition support on immigration detention legislation

By Renju Jose and Lewis Jackson

SYDNEY (Reuters) -The Australian government on Wednesday urged the opposition to support legislation that would allow authorities to lock up former immigration detainees who were released after a landmark ruling by the country's top court.

The High Court of Australia ruled last month that an unnamed and stateless Rohingya man held in immigration detention after serving time for child sexual offences was being unlawfully detained as no country had agreed to resettle him so there was no real prospect he could be deported.

The ruling led to the release of roughly 150 others, among them refugees and stateless people, who were similarly unlikely to be deported and faced indefinite detention. Some had served time for violent offences.

The verdict overturned an court ruling from about 20 years ago that said indefinite immigration detention was lawful as long as the government intended to remove the person from Australia eventually.

The federal government is scrambling to pass the law on Wednesday as the opposition coalition and government lawmakers continued to clash over the ramifications of the high court ruling.

Four of the about 150 people who were freed since the court ruling have been charged with fresh offences, media have reported.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said all parts of the bill, which is in the upper house now, had been carefully developed to withstand any constitutional challenge.

"The government believes it has got the balance right, ensuring that we have the toughest possible laws within the constitutional limits set by the high court," Dreyfus said during a media briefing.

The proposed law will apply to the released group and allow the government to petition the courts to detain people if there is a high risk they will commit a serious violent or sexual offence.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles on Wednesday declined to say how many people the government would apply to have detained.

Dreyfus said the government would reject opposition amendments to the bill because they risk exposing it to further challenges in the high court.

Laws allowing indefinite detention of asylum seekers have shaped Australia's border politics for the last two decades, as the government routinely held people for prolonged periods of time – some for over a decade.

(Reporting by Renju Jose and Lewis Jackson in Sydney; Editing by Gerry Doyle)