Chris Johnson June 30, 2012
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott insists he doesn't need a panel of experts to tell him what asylum seeker policy he should adopt.
The government has appointed former Defence chief Angus Houston to lead a three-person committee charged with finding a way forward in the political deadlock.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard wants the group to consult widely and report back to her before Parliament resumes on August 14. The advice will be publicly released.
While not committing unreservedly to adopt the panel's recommendations, Ms Gillard said the counsel would be favourably considered.
Mr Abbott confirmed yesterday that he had received an invitation from the Prime Minster for the Coalition to take part in a cross-party parliamentary reference group for the expert panel. But he said that, while Mr Houston and his fellow panelists - refugee advocate Paris Aristotle and former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade boss Michael L'Estrange - were all people of ''great distinction'', he didn't want their advice.
''The Coalition doesn't need an expert committee to tell us what our policy is because we have a policy, and it's a policy we will stick to,'' Mr Abbott said.
''It's a policy that we have had in effect for a decade now. It's a policy that worked when we were in government. It's a policy that will work should we win the next election.''
The opposition has refused to countenance the government's plan to exchange asylum seekers with Malaysia, demanding instead that Nauru be reopened as a processing centre.
The government has agreed to include Nauru in its offshore processing plan, but it won't drop Malaysia.
The Greens will not agree to any offshore processing proposal.
The three parties, along with the independents, have spent much of the week debating the issue but have left for their long winter break in a stalemate.
Moderate Liberal MP Judi Moylan almost brokered a deal with the Greens during parliamentary debate on Wednesday that would have broken the impasse and allowed a return to offshore processing of asylum seekers.
Independent MP Rob Oakeshott said yesterday that Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who was observing the House of Representatives debate from the special guests' gallery, had agreed to support an opposition amendment to his bill. Mr Oakeshott said he saw a document that had: ''APPROVED: Tony A, APPROVED Sarah HY'' on it.
''The agreement came from a few people but essentially at the heart of it I think it was Judi Moylan's good work in trying to pull a compromise,'' he said.
But Mr Abbott said there may have been a document, but there was never any agreement from the Greens.
''My understanding is that they were considering our proposal but they never agreed to abandon their opposition to offshore processing,'' he said.
Greens leader Christine Milne said ''at no stage'' did her party agree to any proposal for third-country processing.
Ms Moylan confirmed last night that no final agreement was actually reached.
''I have no doubt that the Greens consideration of our amendments with the additional safeguards was genuine,'' she said.
''But at no time did the Greens resile from their opposition to offshore processing and the bill.''
Ms Moylan said while she has not been a supporter of offshore processing in the past, she was trying to find a way to save lives.
''Under the circumstances where there were more asylum seekers losing their lives at sea, I was trying ensure that if the Coalition's amendment was the only viable alternative, that additional safeguards were put in place,'' she said.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government might be willing to reopen Nauru's detention centre on the condition that if it failed to stop the boats coming, the opposition would agree to the Malaysia deal.
''That's not the Liberal Party's position …'' Mr Bowen said.
''The Liberal Party's position is 'never-ever Malaysia, over my dead body'.''