Asylum deadlock grips Canberra

A compromise on asylum seeker policy seems as unlikely as ever as federal politicians trade blame following last week’s boat tragedy.


There were fiery exchanges but no signs of a bipartisan breakthrough on Monday as MPs returned to Canberra for the last week of parliament before the long winter break.

The government is once again calling on the opposition to support its bill to resurrect offshore processing – placed in doubt by the High Court last year – but the coalition isn’t budging.

“The government is putting forward a bad deal,” opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison told ABC Radio.

“The government needs to focus on what is poor legislation and that doesn’t seem to be their focus.”

About 90 asylum seekers are believed to have drowned when their overcrowded boat capsized between Indonesia and Christmas Island on Thursday.

The tragedy has sparked fresh calls for a deal between the major parties – both of which support offshore processing but differ on whether to use Malaysia or Nauru – in an effort to stem the flow of boats trying to reach Australia.

In heated scenes on Sky News, Labor MP Nick Champion told Liberal senator Mitch Fifield the coalition had to change its position.

“It’s simply not good enough to come in here and reel off these crap lines,” Mr Champion said.

“It’s about time you started compromising.”

But Senator Fifield said the government had created the problem by scrapping the Howard government’s policies.”It’s about time you guys fixed it,” he said.

“And the way you can fix it is by putting in place the policies we all know work.”

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott dodged questions about refugee policy as he left a function at Parliament House.

Labor backbencher Andrew Leigh said the need for a bipartisan solution was increasingly being recognised by “sensible” members of the coalition such as Judi Moylan, Mal Washer and Philip Ruddock.

“I really hope that cooler heads will prevail and Mr Abbott will put morality before politics,” Dr Leigh told reporters, adding the Malaysian solution could have prevented last week’s drownings.

Dr Washer last week urged his coalition colleagues to reconsider Malaysia, while Ms Moylan has labelled both Malaysia and Nauru as crude.

Greens leader Christine Milne says her party won’t support any “dog-eat-dog” solution on asylum seekers.

“There’s no way the Australian Greens will support abandoning international law,” she told Sky News.

The Greens also have called for Australia to increase its annual humanitarian refugee intake from the current 14,000 to 25,000.

Liberal backbencher Jamie Briggs said he wasn’t convinced by the immigration department’s assessment that the Malaysian solution was the best way to stop the boats.

“I don’t have a lot of faith currently in the immigration department,” he said.

“We’ve seen this issue handled extremely poorly in recent times.”

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