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Friday, June 29, 2012

Angus Houston to head refugee panel

Julia Gillard has called on former Defence Chief Angus Houston to head a panel to find a solution to the asylum seeker debacle.  As expected, the Senate rejected the government's Malaysian people-swap deal yesterday.  Houston will join refugee expert Paris Aristotle and former Foreign Affairs Secretary, Michael L'Estrange.

Professor Michael L'Estrange

Professor L'Estrange graduated with Honours from Sydney University and was awarded the 1975 NSW Rhodes Scholarship and studied at Oxford University.  In 1986 he was awarded a Harkness Fellowship and studied at  Georgetown University in Washington DC and the University of California.  He worked for several leaders of the Opposition in a range of advisory positions and in 2000 became Australia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.  In 2005 he  took up the position of Secretary to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra and was appointed Director of the National Security College of the Australian National University in December 2009.

The Prime Minister said no one would be able to utter "one word of criticism" of Mr Houston and if the panel endorses the Malaysian people-swap deal, Mr Abbott will find himself in a very awkward position if he doesn't go along with it.    Mr Abbott said yesterday that the Coalition will never support Malaysia - full stop, end of story.

Mr Abbott will also be under the spotlight when the PM sets up a Parliamentary reference group.  If he refuses to take up his allocation of three MPs in the group, individual Coalition MPs will be invited to nominate themselves.

Paris Aristotle

Liberal backbencher Mal Washer almost crossed the floor on Wednesday to vote with the Government but Julie Bishop was able to change his mind, and at one point, she planted a kiss on his cheek.  Mr Washer said last night that he would nominate himself to the reference panel if Mr Abbott did not nominate anyone and would not intervene if he chose "fair-minded people."

Dr Mal Washer

Ms Gillard said the government believed the defeated Malaysian solution was a good one but "we are certainly very prepared to "see through fresh eyes and new expertise brought to the task."  The outcome of the review would be "very persuasive" but she did not commit to accepting its recommendations.

After the High Court ruled that the Malaysian solution was unconstitutional, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said "it is one of the most questionable and curious High Court decisions in memory."