The Labor Party appears to be stringing out debate on a number of relatively non-consequential bills in the House of Representatives this morning to avoid a vote on its controversial Malaysia refugee swap legislation.

Overnight, a report in the West Australian by crack parliamentary reporter Andrew Probyn – missed by all the other dailies — revealed WA Nationals crossbencher Tony Crook would slap down the government’s so-called “Malaysia Solution”, due to his concern that refugees would suffer at the hands of Malaysian authorities.

Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention.

The yarn prompted an emergency meeting of Cabinet just after 8:30am that’s believed to have closely discussed the political fallout if a sitting government lost its first lower house vote in 80 years. Its final defeat was certain anyway with the bill to be nixed in the Senate with the help of the Greens.

On the House of Representatives Daily Program, the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill is listed at number 4 in the running order behind the Work Health and Safety Bill and the Social Security Amendment Bill.

This morning’s debate, mostly before a near empty chamber, featured riveting discussions on a safety bill for firefighters, a national standard for fertiliser products, Coptic Christians in Egypt and the AQIS export service rebate. Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten droned on for a number of precious minutes on proposed PAYG non-compliance withholding laws.

At one point Labor backbencher Amanda Rishworth’s speech on the OH&S bill detoured into an (admittedly horrific) anecdote about a hot oil incident at Hungry Jacks.

Earlier, Tony Crook outlined the reasons for his rejection of the people swap solution – struck down by the High Court — in which 800 asylum seekers who arrived via boat would be exchanged for 4,000 refugees from camps in Malaysia.

“I’m disappointed that it’s come to this and the government and opposition have not been able to sort out a position on this.”

“Both sides are so close yet so far and it’s a shame that politics has got in front of compromise.”

He detailed the exchange when he informed Julia Gillard of his decision to back Tony Abbott’s amendments.

“The Prime Minister was disappointed but the Prime Minister is a pretty cool customer, she will move on from this. Obviously Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott were pleased with my decision, where we go to here from this is up to the Government and Opposition,’’ he said.

The House next meets on Monday October 31.

Peter Fray

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