Asylum seeker bill passes

A RARE handshake between Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and his Opposition counterpart Scott Morrison celebrated the passage of the long-awaited asylum seeker bill through the House of Representatives in Canberra on Wednesday.

The unusual moment of bipartisanship on the floor of the House was marred only by the presence of Greens MP Adam Bandt and independent Andrew Wilkie on the opposite side of the House, voting against the Bill.

However, the marathon debate leading up to the vote was anything but bipartisan.

The Coalition used more than 10 hours of debate and 45 speakers, including four who spoke twice, to unpick the government's back-flip on reopening the Nauru detention facility, with speaker after speaker standing to land a political punch over hours of what was a markedly one-sided debate.

On the government side of the House, 13 Labor MPs rose to speak and on the cross benches five independents added their two cents' worth to the debate.

Meanwhile, in the two days since the Houston Panel released its report recommending the pathway to agreement, more than 200 asylum seekers on three boats were intercepted.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the refugees intercepted in the past two days could be sent to Nauru or Manus Island for processing, pending the passage of the Bill by the Senate.

The Senate also changed its usual parliamentary schedule for Thursday to allow for extra time to consider the Bill, with a view to passing the legislation before week's end.

The Houston panel made 22 recommendations which the government committed to take action on, including the re-opening of Nauru's detention centre and a new centre on Manus Island.

Australian Defence Force Chief General David also tweeted on Wednesday Defence was already preparing to send a reconnaissance team to both Manus Island and Nauru later this week.

The team also will make recommendations to the government on the quickest and best way to set up the centres, after Ms Gillard said earlier this week the centres could be up and running within a month.



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