The UN’s refugee agency has told federal MPs from across the political spectrum the government’s Malaysian people-swap deal has some virtues.
Labour MP Nick Champion says UNHCR representatives told the group – made up of government, coalition, Greens and independent MPs – that the controversial policy aimed at stemming the flow of asylum seeker boats to Australian waters has merit.
“They did say that the Malaysian transfer agreement has some virtues, because it’s based in South-East Asia, where they see a big part of the refugee issue being,” Champion told Sky News on Tuesday.
The UNHCR declined to comment on the briefing, but has previously expressed cautious support for the Malaysia deal, provided protection safeguards are properly implemented.
The group also heard from the Immigration Department, the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but members have declined to publicly reveal what they were told.
The cross-party group began meeting in June amid a continuing parliamentary impasse over asylum seeker policy.
The government wants to resurrect the Malaysian deal, but the coalition wants to limit offshore processing to countries that are signatories of the UN Refugee Convention, such as Nauru. The Greens oppose all offshore processing.
Independent Tony Windsor said the group agreed that “some form of regional architecture” was required, but did not agree on what it should look like, or even whether it should include a deterrent component.
Coalition backbencher Judi Moylan said the group was trying to “create a space” where parliamentarians could get out of their partisan corners and entrenched positions.
The group is expected to meet again in the first week of August.
Tuesday’s meeting came as the navy was forced to come to the aid of an asylum seeker boat – carrying around 160 people – north of Christmas Island. The passengers are being taken to the island for processing.
Under the Malaysian deal, the government would send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 processed refugees coming to Australia.