PM urges Abbott to listen to refugee panel

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has criticised Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for declining to pledge support for whatever an eminent panel decides about asylum seekers.

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Former defence chief Angus Houston, former top diplomat Michael L’Estrange and refugee advocate Paris Aristotle have been asked to assess all asylum policy options.

They will examine the Malaysian deal and the coalition’s preferred policies – reopening Nauru, reintroducing temporary protection visas and boat tow-backs – and report back to the government and parliament in August.

Mr Abbott has vowed to stick with the coalition’s policy pledges, regardless of what the panel concludes, despite saying they were Australians of “great distinction”.

Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott needed to reconsider this stance.

“Those eminent Australians will do their work in coming weeks,” she told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday.

“Mr Abbott needs to look at the outcome from those eminent Australians.

“Mr Abbott can’t on the one hand say he respects these people and then say their views are of no worth.”

The panel is being set up after the parliament this week failed to pass a bill to restore the government’s power to send asylum seekers offshore despite about 100 people dying in twin boat disasters in the past 10 days.

“I am certainly prepared to work with anyone who wants to put the national interest first,” Ms Gillard said.

Meanwhile, two boats have been intercepted carrying 108 people since Friday night.

The latest, carrying 67 passengers, was found at Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Its interception comes after an Australian Navy vessel earlier on Friday evening detected a boat carrying 41 people northeast of Ashmore Islands in the Timor Sea.

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