Sydney - The Australian government will release 100 children being held in an asylum seeker detention centre as part of a deal struck with independent senators on Friday to reintroduce temporary protection visas.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison had been pushing to bring back temporary visas for asylum seekers which bar permanent settlement in Australia and return them to their country of origin when it is deemed safe to do so.
But he was blocked by Labour, independent and minor party senators who hold the balance of power in the upper house of parliament and argued the visa was cruel and left asylum seekers in limbo.
After weeks of hard negotiations, Morrison secured a deal in the early hours of Friday and got his legislation through by one vote. The visa was first brought in by the Howard government but repealed by the Rudd Labour government in 2008.
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The legislation also gives stronger powers to the minister to block boats carrying asylum seekers from reaching Australia, refuse visas on the grounds of "character" and "national interest", and to deport non-Australians with no challenge. All this can be done in secret.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has said the legislation removes basic rights for asylum seekers.
The government rejected criticism from the UN organisation.
"The passing of this bill means stronger borders," Morrison told reporters on Friday.
As part of the deal to secure the passage of the legislation, Morrison agreed to increase the annual refugee intake by 7 500 places and allow asylum seekers who have bridging visas to work.
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He will also release around 100 children held in the Christmas Island detention centre, some of them for as long as 15 months. It does not include children held in the Nauru detention centre.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Morrison used the plight of asylum seeker children to pressure senators.
"Using children as hostages is never OK and only a sociopath would do it," she told parliament.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said children will now be released from Christmas Island detention centre and placed in the mainland community.
"This is a win for Australia," Abbott said on Fairfax Radio.