Crook sinks Malaysia deal

Crossbench MP Tony Crook has confirmed he will vote against the government’s amendments to the Migration Act.

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Without the MP’s support, the government will be at least one vote shy of clearing its changes through the lower house.

Mr Crook said he would support coalition amendments limiting offshore processing of asylum seekers to third countries that have signed up to the UN refugee convention.

“I have a strong humanitarian feel for this,” he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

Mr Crook said it was a shame politics had got in front of compromise.

“I think both sides are so close, but so far,” he said, urging the prime minister and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to reach a bipartisan agreement.

“At the end of the day it will be down to the government and the opposition to work through on this.”

The MP said the coalition had a proven record in government on handling asylum seekers.

It would appear all but two of the 150 MPs in the lower house supported offshore processing, Mr Crook said.

But the MP refuted suggestions he was “killing off” offshore processing by voting against the government’s changes.

“It is blatantly wrong,” he said.

Mr Crook said he advised Prime Minister Julia Gillard of his decision on Wednesday night.

The MP’s decision effectively scuttles the government’s asylum seeker swap deal with Malaysia.

OPPOSITION CHALLENGES GOVERNMENT

The opposition has challenged the federal government to proceed with a vote on planned changes to migration laws despite Labor appearing to lack the required numbers in parliament’s lower house.

It would be “absurdly cowardly” for the government to pull its legislation, opposition frontbencher Joe Hockey said.

The changes to the Migration Act will allow the government to proceed with its Malaysia asylum seeker swap deal and secure the future of offshore processing.

If the bill is defeated it will be the first time in more than 80 years a government has had legislation defeated in the House of Representatives.

Whether the opposition will use the likely defeat to bring on a vote of no confidence in the Gillard government is not yet clear.

“I’m not going to speculate on that … we’ll see how the vote goes,” Mr Hockey said.

But it’s unlikely any no-confidence motion will win the backing of the crossbench.

Key independent MP Tony Windsor has suggested a defeat on Thursday might be the first of a few for the government.

“But that’s what democracy’s about,” he told ABC Television.

“You take it on the chin and get on with it.”

Labor also faces the prospect of losing the support of another crossbencher, independent Bob Katter.

The Queensland MP has raised the prospect of abstaining from any vote on Thursday.

“That would be a decision in line with my own position that neither option is palatable to me,” he told reporters in Canberra.

When asked whether he would abstain, Mr Katter said: “We have made no decision at all.”

Another independent MP, Rob Oakeshott, wants parliament to have greater scrutiny over any regional processing framework.

The coalition will push amendments limiting offshore processing to countries that have signed up to the United Nations Refugee Convention.

That would eliminate Malaysia but permit Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says the government can put offshore processing beyond legal doubt by accepting the coalition’s amendment.

He slammed the Malaysia arrangement as “a cruel deal for boat people”.

“It’s a dud deal for our country,” he told reporters in Canberra.

The opposition had legal advice from former solicitor-general David Bennett that its amendments provided greater legal certainty as well as stronger protections for people, Mr Abbott said.

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