|The plan has sparked protests among rights campaigners who say have decried Malaysia's rights record [Reuters]
An Australian government plan to send asylum seekers to Malaysia has been temporarily delayed pending a high court hearing.
At a special evening hearing in Melbourne, Justice Kenneth Hayne said the asylum seekers who were due to leave on Monday should not depart before late afternoon, pending the hearing of another application, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
The decision came after lawyer David Manne, from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, sought an injunction stopping the removal of the group, arguing that Australia did not have the right to deport asylum seekers.
"This is about life or death matters and our clients are challenging the government's power to expel them to Malaysia where they fear they will not be protected and they are at real risk of harm," Manne said ahead of the hearing.
Australia plans to send up to 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in return for accepting 4,000 registered refugees from the country over four years.
This is part of a deal designed to stop asylum seekers arriving by boat from landing in Australia.
The government of Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, has come under increasing criticism over the deal after it was revealed that unaccompanied children who arrived by boat would not be exempt from transfer.
Manne said, "Australian law requires that their claims for refugee protection should be considered here in Australia instead of expelling them to Malaysia."
Outside court, Manne said he did not know if this would set a precedent.
"We'll need to await the outcome of the court, but it has granted an interim injunction pending further argument, so they have put a stay on the deportation of the first 16 asylum seekers under the Malaysia solution," he said.
"Time will tell and we will need to look at the outcome of these proceedings."
'Deal will go ahead'
Ahead of the hearing, the government said it was prepared for protests and legal challenges and vowed the deal would go ahead despite concerns among rights campaigners that Malaysia has not signed up to the UN convention on refugees.
"We are determined to implement this," Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told Channel Ten.
"People who come to Australia by boat can work on the basis that they will be returned to Malaysia, regardless of any protest activity."
The Australian government plans to film 54 people intercepted off Australia's north last week, arriving at the Christmas Island detention centre, boarding a plane to Malaysia and arriving in camps in Kuala Lumpur for processing and post it on YouTube as a deterrent.
The government boosted police presence on Christmas Island on Saturday, increasing the total number of officers on the island to just over 100. The police are expected to escort the asylum seekers to board the plane to Malaysia.
News agencies however reported that a boat with 50 asylum seekers on board was intercepted north-east of Christmas Island on Sunday, the second boat to arrive since the Malaysia agreement came into effect.
According to UN data, Australia receives just under 0.5 per cent of the world's asylum seekers.