Govt, Abbott in asylum talks denial
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison rejects accusations by the federal government that the Coalition is unwilling to sit down and negotiate on offshore processing.
"At no stage has the Coalition rejected any discussions, but there must be something to talk about," Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney today.
His press conference was hurriedly convened after immigration minister Chris Bowen earlier launched a broadside attack on the Coalition's refusal to meet to negotiate on border protection policy.
Issuing a trail of letters between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, written in the week leading up to the tragic sinking of a boatload of 220 asylum seekers off Java, Mr Bowen said the federal government had warned that the worsening weather was increasing the risk to life at sea - and an offshore processing policy was needed to prevent another tragedy at sea and deter boat arrivals.
Mr Bowen said: "I don't believe the situation is acceptable to the Australian people. In fact I believe the Australian people have had a gutful of the politicking."
Ms Gillard had offered to recall parliament to pass legislation that had been stymied by the Opposition's refusal to support the Malaysia refugee swap, but a meeting had been repeatedly rebuffed by Mr Abbott in his replies, Mr Bowen said.
However, Mr Morrison said Mr Bowen had misconstrued the letters and it was the federal government that had been saying "no" on the issue by refusing to consider adopting elements of the Coalition's decade-old border protection policy.
"This government said no to temporary protection visas ... said no to turning boats back ... and also said no to amendments that would allow offshore processing," Mr Morrison said.
He repeated his comments of yesterday, that Mr Abbott wanted to see a specific proposal from the government in writing.
"The Coalition will accept any proposal from the government in strict confidence," he said.
Mr Bowen said the letters received from Mr Abbott, the most recent one sent last night, had stated that fresh meetings on the issue were "pointless".
"I don't believe there is anything pointless about meeting to try to save lives," Mr Bowen said.
The Coalition is refusing to allow legislation that would enable the federal government to send asylum seekers to Malaysia in a refugee "swap", and instead supports establishing an offshore processing centre on Nauru - which was the Howard government's policy.
Mr Bowen said an offshore processing centre, which the government wants located on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, wouldn't work to deter boats unless it was accompanied by the Malaysia arrangement.