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Boats arrive as politicians bicker

AUTHORITIES have intercepted more asylum-seeker boats near Christmas Island as politicians in Australia continued to bicker over the best way to deal with the problem.

HMAS Leeuwin was forced to stop two boats in less than 24 hours - the first on Thursday night carrying 44 people and the second on Friday with 100 passengers. All were taken to Christmas Island to be processed.

In Canberra, there was another twist in an already extraordinary week in the nation's capital.

At 3.30am, Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie, in a desperate effort to resolve the policy impasse before Parliament rises for the six-week winter recess, attempted to suspend standing orders so the lower house could debate and vote on the coalition's asylum seeker bill, which allows for offshore processing in any country that is a signatory to the UN's refugee convention.

The bill would rule out the government's preferred option of sending asylum seekers to Malaysia as part of a people swap deal.

Mr Wilkie's motion won a 51-46 majority, but was short of the 76-vote absolute majority required to suspend standing orders.

He issued a statement slamming his colleagues for failing to exhaust "every possible avenue to find a compromise solution".

The move came about nine hours after the Senate defeated independent MP Rob Oakeshott's private members bill to pave the way for offshore processing in countries signed up to the Bali process, including Nauru and Malaysia.

Mr Oakeshott, who fronted the media in Canberra alongside fellow independent Tony Windsor, said Mr Wilkie's actions amounted to nothing more than a stunt.

He said the House of Representatives had done its part to break the policy deadlock and it was not up to the senate to find a solution.

The Member for Lyne also claimed there was a "moment in time" on Wednesday night when the Greens, who were opposed to sending asylum seekers offshore, had struck a deal with the coalition.

Mr Oakeshott said he had saw a document indicating Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young had agreed to support a coalition amendment to allow for offshore processing only in UN refugee convention countries.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had offered sweeteners in a bid to secure crossbench support for the amendment, including a significant boost to Australia's humanitarian intake, a key tenet of Greens' policy.

Greens Deputy Leader Adam Bandt voted against the coalition amendment and Mr Oakeshott's bill, which passed the lower house 74-72.

Senator Hanson-Young and Greens Leader Christine Milne later denied the existence of a deal.

"The only document that I know that exists is one that was created by Judi Moylan and Mal Washer, and they were looking at ways in which they could put things to Tony Abbott which would allow them effectively not to cross the floor," Senator Milne said.

Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne he understood the Greens had considered the proposal but never agreed to "abandon their opposition to offshore processing".

He also criticised Prime Minister Julia Gillard's move to establish an expert panel to deal with the asylum-seeker issue.

The three-person panel - comprising retired defence force chief Angus Houston (chair), refugee advocate Paris Aristotle and former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade head Michael L'Estrange - has been tasked with compiling a report before parliament resumes on August 14.

Mr Abbott said while he had great respect for the panel's members, the coalition did not need to "sub-contract" its policy.

"We have a policy, a policy that we have held for a decade," he said.

"A policy that worked when we were in government. We do not need an expert group to tell us what our policy is because we've got one."

Topics:  andrew wilkie asylum seekers christmas island


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