Yesterday Julia Gillard appealed to all MPs to put lives before politics and come together to find a solution to the asylum seeker problem. While the debate was going on in Parliament, another boat sank and more bodies were pulled from the ocean as the people smugglers overloaded another un-seaworthy vessel for a healthy profit.
For a moment, we thought agreement could be reached but no such luck. Nobody gave an inch. Tony Abbott insists there is a proven example of how to stop the boats by adopting the same policies as John Howard - to re-open Nauru and re-introduce Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Julia Gillard is hanging out for the Malaysian-swap deal.
Refugee advocates described Temporary Protection Visas as a cruel way to treat people and left refugees with an uncertain future. John Howard introduced them in 1999 to unauthorized boat arrivals fleeing persecution. When they were eventually released from detention, they were required to re-apply several years later in case the life-threatening conditions had changed in their homeland. They were eligible for special benefit, rent assistance, family tax benefits, child care benefits and Medicare but they had no family reunion rights and could not re-enter Australia if they ever chose to leave.
In 2008, Kevin Rudd abolished TPVs and introduced PPVs (Permanent Protection Visas) to all refugees who asked for protection and there is a strong belief among the general public, that this is why we have so many people risking their lives to come here in leaky boats.
Last night, with the help of the Independents, the government managed to scrape through Rob Oakeshott's Bill 74 votes to 72, after a day of emotional debate. The Bill proposes to re-open the detention centre of Nauru but to allow the Malaysia people-swap deal to go ahead. Experts agree there is no hope of it getting through the Senate today because the Greens won't support any form of off-shore processing, so the whole exercise seems a total waste of time.
The PM is hoping that one or more Opposition Senators will cross the Senate floor today and she issued them a warning. "There is a very stark choice for Senators today, either they vote for this Bill and we leave this Parliament with laws so we can process people offshore or they continue to play politics and we end this Parliament with nothing effective done." She went on "I am calling on each and every senator today to look into their conscience, to think deeply about this."
She also said that if the bill did not pass, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott would have failed the nation and the Australian people. But hang on a minute Prime Minister, Tony Abbott can't put policies into place that will solve the situation, he's not in government - you are.