Call for break to asylum deadlock

THE Greens have called for a multi-party committee to break the deadlock over asylum seeker policy.

Greens Leader Christine Milne and immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the committee would need to be underpinned by international law and the Refugee Convention, and include experts in international law, refugee advocates, leaders from the major parties and representatives from the Immigration Department.

It would be in the same mould as the multi-party committee established to deal with the climate change issue.

Despite both major parties supporting a form offshore processing, they have been unable to reach a compromise on asylum seeker policy after a boat carrying 200 people sank 200km north of Christmas Island last week.

Only 200 people are thought to have survived.

The Greens are opposed to offshore processing and said the outcome of the committee process would need to be legal.

Senators Milne and Hanson-Young refused to entertain the possibility of a multi-party committee recommending offshore processing, despite it being the advice of Immigration Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe.

"The experts around the table would be people with legal expertise in terms of our obligations," Senator Milne said.

"Offshore processing as its currently envisaged is not legal; that's the fact of the matter."

She predicted any offshore arrangement would be challenged in the High Court.

In August last year the court deemed the government's Malaysian people swap deal to be illegal.

Senator Hanson-Young there was an appetite from Australia's neighbours for a regional approach to the issue. Australia was instead treating it as a domestic issue, she said.

"We have to be showing leadership in the region. We can do that by increasing our humanitarian intake," Senator Hanson-Young said.

The asylum seeker issue was raised in both party room meetings on Tuesday.

In the Labor Caucus room Immigration Minister Chris Bowen was asked about last week's drownings.

Mr Bowen reminded colleagues Prime Minister Julia Gillard had written to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott last year in an attempt to reach a compromise, including using Nauru for offshore processing.

Ms Gillard reaffirmed her commitment to reach a compromise and was willing to negotiate in good faith with the Opposition.

The matter was not raised by any other Labor MPs.

In the Coalition Joint Party Room Mr Abbott said it was normal for any humane MP to wonder whether more could have been done to prevent the tragedy.

But upon reflection Mr Abbott said he was confident the deaths were not due to a failure of Coalition policy, which he said had been consistent.

He expressed a number of concerns with the government's Malaysian solution, and encouraged his colleagues to "stand firm" in opposing it.

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