Tuesday 6 September 2011

Tony Abbott accepts PM's invitation to discuss a bipartisan plan for asylum seeker processing

Tony Abbott is pushing for the reopening of the controversial detention centre on Nauru. Source: AAP

Formal negotiations are set to begin within days on a bipartisan plan to process asylum-seekers offshore with Tony Abbott accepting an offer from Julia Gillard to attend a special briefing with senior government officials in Brisbane tomorrow.

Responding to the Prime Minister's letter outlining the offer earlier today, Mr Abbott said he was "happy to work with the government" to remove any legal hurdles preventing offshore processing.

"I am happy to accept your offer and request that the briefing take place in Brisbane tomorrow afternoon," Mr Abbott said.

"Since the High Court's decision last week, the government has effectively lacked a policy to deal with illegal boat arrivals and it's hardly in the national interest for this to persist."

But Mr Abbott took the opportunity to press the government on the Coalition's policy of Nauru. "No doubt you will take the opportunity provided by the Pacific Islands Forum to talk further with the leaders of PNG and Nauru about early re-establishment of the processing centres there," Mr Abbott said.

"As you know, I will be attending the Pacific Islands Forum in New Zealand this week," Ms Gillard said. ''I hope that in my absence the briefing will allow you to consider opportunities to act in the national interest."

Mr Abbott had urged Ms Gillard to speak to Nauru’s President at the New Zealand forum to discuss a potential reopening of the island’s Howard-era processing centre but the Prime Minister said it was far too early to engage in such dialogue.

“It is premature for me to be pursing that agenda here at this forum given the High Court’s case of last week and that the government is still preparing its response,” Ms Gillard said from Auckland .

Despite a threatened revolt from Labor's Left faction, the government is seeking Coalition support to restore offshore processing as an option, including in Malaysia.

The government yesterday announced 335 who arrived since the Malaysian deal was struck would be processed on Australian soil following last week's High Court decision declaring the plan invalid.Labor is split on whether to do a deal with the opposition to allow offshore processing or to rule it out entirely.

With Ben Packham

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