Refugees. What's your solution?

Two boats carrying asylum seekers have capsized on their way to Australia in a week. Around 90 people have drowned; adding to the distressing total of those who have lost their lives trying to reach our country over the past decade.

Yesterday the House of Representatives debated a Bill moved by Independent MP Rob Oakshott. If passed, it would enable Australia to once again process asylum seekers offshore and give the Immigration Minister power to decide where those offshore processing facilities will be.

Yesterday, parliament was a somber place and there were moments where we saw the very best aspects of our elected representatives on display.

There were impressive and moving speeches from both sides of the isle. Parliamentarians were compassionate, obviously distressed at the plight of those who have lost their lives and visibly anxious to see a resolution. As the Prime Minister said – the eyes of the nation were on the Parliament yesterday and its members clearly wanted to live up to those expectations.

They still might. But it is looking increasingly unlikely.

The Bill has now passed the lower house but is set for defeat in the Senate today. Some concessions and efforts to negotiate have been made by the Government, but so far they have not been enough to win the support of either Greens or the Opposition. And without that support – the last 24 hours of debate, however well meaning, will amount to nothing.

Parliamentary and community consensus is that the current situation cannot be allowed to continue. Too many lives have been lost already – but so far Labor, the Coalition and the Greens have not been able to find enough common ground to move the country forward.

The Australian reports today:

JULIA Gillard has made a last ditch plea for senators to pass a bill to allow offshore processing, amid another possible asylum boat drama off the coast of Indonesia.

But the upper house of parliament is set to scuttle the bill today, with the Coalition and the Greens refusing to back the bill that would allow the government’s Malaysia Solution.

“I don’t care if someone sitting in the Senate is from the Greens, Nationals or the Coalition,” the Prime Minister told the Seven Network.

“The bill before the Senate today is a genuine compromise and it is the only bill that can pass today.”

Here’s what some people are saying about the debate:

If you need a re-cap on where everyone stands, earlier this week Mamamia broke down the basic positions of each party:

Where do each of the parties stand?

The Labor Government announced last year that they had struck a deal with Malaysia, where Australia would send 800 asylum seekers who arrive on unauthorised boats to be processed in Malaysia and that in return Australia would accept 4000 people who had already assessed as legitimate refugees, from Malaysia.


Tony Abbott’s Opposition claims that the Malaysia idea will not be a sufficient deterrent to people risking their lives on boats. They have adopted Labor’s previous position (a position Labor has since walked away from) that Australia should not send asylum seekers for processing in a country that is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. The Coalition’s policy is to re-open the detention centre on Nauru that operated under the Howard Government.

The Greens are dead set against offshore processing, no matter where it takes place. They want all asylum seekers who come to Australia to be processed and assessed on our own territory.

But the Government is the Government, why can’t they implement their own policy?

A High Court decision last year invalidated existing legislation that permitted offshore processing. For the Government to fully implement their Malaysia plan, they need to legislate around that High Court decision – so that offshore processing is an option again.

The problem is, the Coalition (while supporting the principle of offshore processing), do not support the Malaysia solution and as a result they refuse to support the Government’s efforts to legislate in the Parliament. The Government can’t look elsewhere for support because ultimately the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate and oppose offshore processing full stop.

How is offshore processing going to stop people risking their lives on boats anyway?

This is where we leave the comfortable realm of fact and re-enter the murky world of discussion and debate. There are a range of views that exist about offshore processing and its merits. At the very least, we can say that proponents of offshore processing (both the Government and the Opposition) claim it deters people from traveling to Australia without authorisation, in order to seek asylum.

To borrow the words of the Prime Minister, it is about ‘breaking the business model’ of people smugglers. If the product being ‘sold’ is “seeking asylum when physically in Australia gives you a better chance of being granted that asylum” – that is undermined if Australia won’t consider your application onshore.

What do you think should happen next? Should the Government offer more concessions to the Opposition, to try and win their support for this Bill? Should the Coalition be more willing to negotiate given that ultimately, they do support offshore processing? Is offshore processing the answer?

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