by Alan Thornhill
Julia Gillard announced tonight that a former defence force chief, Angus Houston, will head an expert committee to advise the government on what might be done to stop asylum seekers setting out for Australia in leaky boats.
The Prime Minister was speaking shortly after the Senate had rejected a government plan to do that.
That would have involved sending asylum seekers to Malaysia and reopening a processing centre on Nauru.
Federal parliament was then due to rise for its six week winter break.
It was clear, by then, that it would do so without agreement on any plan to stop the boats..
The government, opposition and Greens had all stuck doggedly, instead, to their own rival plans.
That was despite hours of passionate debate, in both houses of Parliament, in which members on all sides declared their grief at the deaths of more than 90 refugees, who drowned this week, when two boats capsized, days apart, in waters off Christmas Island.
As debate in the upper house approached its conclusion, the Government Leader in the Senate, Chris Evans pleaded with other Senators to support the government plan, which would see asylum seekers sent to Malaysia or Nauru.
He said the challenge before the Senate was to “do something” that might discourage asylum seekers from boarding those boats, or doing nothing.
“You have the opportunity to do something,” Senator Evans declared.
The Senate was then debating a bill, that an independent member, Rob Oakeshott had moved in the House of Representatives, where it had attracted government support, before it was passed by the lower house.
Throughout the long parliamentary debate , the Coalition has opposed the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Malaysia.
The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said that would be done under “a dud deal” which “stripped away protection” from asylum seekers.
In the Senate, today, Greens Senator, Christine Milne, proposed that Australian’s humanitarian migrant intake be increased from 13,750 to 20,000 a year.
However her move was defeated, on a 53-8 vote.
The Oakeshott bill, itself, was also defeated, a short time later, on a 39-29 vote.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
Friday December 13
The Dow Jones index falls 105 points to 15,739.
The $A drops to US 89.39US cents shortly after 8am, Sydney time
The Senate rises for the year, without passing government bills to abolish the carbon tax
Car industry workers’ plight to be high on the agenda, when the Prime Minister meets State premiers today
Australia’s unemployment rate rises slightly to 5.8 per cent in November 2013 (seasonally adjusted):ABS
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