PM reaches out to Coalition on boats

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the government is “open to further discussions” with the opposition to find a solution to the asylum seeker boat issue.

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Ms Gillard said Labor’s proposal to combine elements of its Malaysia offshore processing plan and the coalition’s Nauru solution remained on the table.

“People can criticise each other’s policy solutions but to get something done then we need to work across the parliament,” she told ABC television.

“And I want to be very clear we are willing to enact that compromise, which contains elements of the opposition policy.

“I am willing to keep talking to the opposition and across the parliament so that we put the politics to one side to address the fact people are risking their lives.”

About 90 asylum seekers are feared 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.

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

Ms Gillard said immigration department advice remained that the deal with Malaysia was the best deterrent to people smugglers.

Labor’s Malaysia plan involved sending 800 people refugee to Malaysia for processing in exchange for 4000 processed refugees.

But last year the High Court ruled against it.

Ms Gillard said finding a solution involving offshore processing was more likely to occur with the opposition than with the Greens.

“I don’t believe that the Greens are going to agree to a package of offshore processing,” Ms Gillard said.

“It seems to me to, just make the most intuitive sense that if you put the politics of opposition and government to one aside and to come back to people working together, it would seem more easier for people who both agree on offshore processing.”

Asked if the government was open to changing its position, Ms Gillard repeated she was open to further discussions.

“I think it was very regrettable that on the weekend the Leader of the Opposition ruled out any policy changes or shifts by the opposition,” she added.

“People are looking to us to put the politics to one side, to stop the exchanges about the past.”

After last year’s High Court decision, the government proposed changing migration laws to allow offshore processing.

But the coalition refused to support the amendments because Malaysia hadn’t signed the UN refugee convention.

The opposition prefers reopening the Howard-era Nauru detention centre, which was closed when Labor came to power in 2007.

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