Date: June 29 2012
THE asylum seeker debate yesterday was punctuated by people once opposed to offshore processing explaining why a steady stream of deaths at sea had led them to change their minds.
However, the Australian Greens, who hold the balance of power in the Senate, stood firm in their view against offshore processing and, barring an unlikely change of mind last night, were set to vote against the Oakeshott bill, ensuring its defeat.
Watching from his sick bed in Adelaide, the Independent Senator Nick Xenophon became so agitated, he began ringing radio stations. Once opposed to sending arrivals offshore for processing, Senator Xenophon said it still made him uncomfortable but it was better than the current situation.
''The stink of a compromise is better than the stench of death,'' he said.
Senator Xenophon even voted for the bill by having a pair arranged with an opposition senator.
The human rights lawyer and former Labor Party candidate, George Newhouse, urged the Greens to change their minds and allow offshore processing to be used at least temporarily while a more lasting regional solution was found.
Mr Newhouse, the head of Shine Lawyers Social Justice Practice which represented the survivors and the families of the deceased on SIEV 221 which foundered on Christmas Island in 2010, said he had changed his own views on offshore processing and the Greens must too.
"I have seen the carnage caused by a shipwreck and the damage done to people's lives. A 4 per cent death rate is too high a price to pay to come by boat to Australia,'' he said.
''Personally, it's a difficult decision but on balance I would have to say that I would prefer the ugly compromise of people being processed safely overseas than to die at sea."
Mr Newhouse said he agreed with the Greens' principles but ''I cannot stomach the loss of life that is being caused by this policy vacuum''.
The Labor Senator Doug Cameron a key figure in the party's Left, was once emphatically opposed to the Malaysia plan. Assurances, including an involvement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, had helped him change his mind, along with the ongoing tragedies.
''I think the Greens need to grow up. They need to understand that people are dying,'' he said yesterday.
The government Senate Leader, Chris Evans, was the immigration minister when Labor unwound the political solution.
''I was the one who closed Nauru, I was the one who got rid of temporary protection visas. I find this very difficult. But if we allow ourselves to be swayed by the baggage we bring to the debate, we won't be doing our job,'' he said.
The Greens stood their ground yesterday. They tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to try and stop people getting on the boats by facilitating their passage to Australia. They proposed Australia increase its humanitarian intake of asylum seekers from 13,750 per year to 20,000. This included an additional 1000 taken directly from Indonesia and another 4000 from Malaysia.
The Greens support processing people offshore, but not those who have already arrived in Australia.
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