PM ‘outsourcing prime-ministership’ on asylum

Former defence chief Angus Houston will lead an expert group to examine asylum seeker policy, Prime Minister Julia Gillard says, but the Coalition has already savaged the idea.

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Ms Gillard made the announcement after the Senate voted down a bill to restore offshore processing.

“(He will) provide a report to me and to the nation about the best way forward for our nation in dealing with asylum seeker issues,” Ms Gillard told reporters.

“The expert group that Mr Angus Houston will lead will also have serving in its number Paris Aristotle.”

Mr Aristotle is a prominent refugee lawyer.

Ms Gillard said she would appoint a third member with foreign expertise.

The group will be able to receive facts from government and beyond, with briefings available from wherever they wanted.

“They will be able to consult as they see fit,” she said.

The prime minister said the government’s proposal for the Malaysia people swap deal was supported by evidence.

The government was keen to see fresh eyes and get new expertise.

Ms Gillard said there had been goodwill generated in coalition ranks, “at least at the back bench level.”

It was important the expert group could relate to parliamentarians and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Greens leader Christine Milne would be invited to be parliamentary representatives to the reference group.

‘This is so defective that the prime minister couldn’t even tell us who the three people were’, he told Channel Nine.

He cited a labor MP who said the prime minister has ‘outsourced the prime-ministership’

Ms Gillard earlier said Mr Abbott had an entrenched view about the issue.

“Mr Abbott has said consistently the only thing he is prepared to vote for is his plan,” she said.

“Mr Abbott did not move one millimetre at any stage of this … while people are drowning at sea.”

The opposition leader had received briefings and been told by experts Nauru would not work.

In putting together the expert panel with people of the highest calibre, it could not be criticised, Ms Gillard said.

“We believe the outcome of that will be very persuasive.”

The expert group would act independently and form their own views of the evidence of the facts.

“Angus Houston and the team he leads are free to come to any conclusion they want to,” Ms Gillard said.

Ms Gillard said no member of the group was partisan.

“None of them have a political view to push here,” she said.

She said it would be remarkable indeed if Mr Abbott refused to accept the views of Mr Houston.

“I can’t believe that’s possible.”

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