MPs stand up for their beliefs, and fall down on their duty to protect lives
The Australian Parliament is failing us. It is putting politicking ahead of human life.
As desperate people were being hauled from the sea, our parliamentarians professed the deepest of concern and then spent their afternoon arm-twisting, filibustering and trying to do political deals.
The Gillard government's record on asylum policy is a shambles. But the Parliament's failure to enable offshore processing of asylum seekers - which both major parties say they want - is driven primarily by Tony Abbott's determination to deny Labor any legitimacy or legislative victory, especially a victory enabled by any of his own backbench crossing the floor.
Heat is on ... Julie Bishop and Mal Washer confer with the Greens and Andew Wilkie. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The heavying of WA Liberal Mal Washer by deputy leader Julie Bishop and others, at the back of the chamber and periodically outside, continued all afternoon.
Despite eventually bringing Washer back into line, the bill still passed last night, with the support of Andrew Wilkie and the other crossbenchers. But given that the Greens oppose offshore processing, it's all in vain, nothing will pass the Senate unless the major parties find common ground.
The government had already agreed on a plank of Abbott's policy (processing on Nauru) and to at least consider another (temporary protection visas).
Scott Morrison has a word in Rob Oakeshott's ear. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew Meares
But the Coalition refuses to accept the government's plan to process asylum seekers in Malaysia (which would have been enabled by the private member's bill from Rob Oakeshott that the Parliament was actually debating) because Malaysia has not signed the UN convention on refugees.
Emotions ran high as the debate took place even as another maritime disaster unfolded. MPs knew they would be judged harshly, but they could still find no way to reach a resolution.
Gillard said it was time to vote for the Oakeshott bill and told MPs they would then be able to say ''no one won, no one lost, we just got something done''.
But Abbott insisted that any offshore processing had to be conducted only in UN convention signatory countries.
It was clear the deep distress and concern of MPs on both sides of the House was genuine. And 41 MPs, independents and members from all parties met yesterday to try to overcome the intransigence of their leaders.
But the Coalition's position is difficult to reconcile with the fact that it embraced Nauru as a processing venue well before it signed the refugee convention, and the fact that its policy is to turn back boats to Indonesia, also not a signatory state.
The government remains impotent while the Coalition refuses to listen to the majority of members of the House of Representatives and refuses to give Labor's compromise plan a try.
As the independent Tony Windsor said in the debate, despite the two recent tragedies, despite the deep backbench concern, despite the public outrage, ''there's still the smell of politics written all over these proceedings''.
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