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The Government And Labor Snuck Through An Offshore Processing Bill And It's Kind Of A Big Deal

Some bipartisanship in support of off-shore processing of asylum seekers.

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In a rare display of bipartisanship in Canberra, the Coalition and Labor today joined forces to quickly pass a bill so that Australia is still able to send asylum seekers to Nauru.

Stefan Postles / Getty Images

The political lovefest wasn't because the government and opposition suddenly discovered they're best mates.

It was because human rights lawyers had found a pretty big hole in their off-shore processing laws.

The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) took a case to the High Court in May this year which raised serious doubts over whether the government has the authority to spend the billions of dollars that it costs to run the Nauru off-shore processing centre.

When the government realised it may lose the High Court case, it gave opposition leader Bill Shorten a "minute to midnight" call on Tuesday to ask for his help - and Shorten was there in an instant.

On Wednesday, an amendment to the Migration Act passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. The amendment gives the government the power to give money to other countries as part of its off-shore processing of asylum seekers.

The reason for the sudden urgency is that parliament is about to rise for the winter break, meaning all asylum seekers on Nauru could have been left in a legal limbo until parliament returns in August.

So today, both parties came together to ensure they could take a break knowing that the people on Nauru will be staying on Nauru.

Stefan Postles / Getty Images

Labor convened a special meeting of caucus on Wednesday to officially support the government's position.

The motion passed by Labor reads: "The caucus supports the draft amendment to the Migration Act on the basis that the legislation solely goes to enabling payments, enabling the fact of regional offshore processing and that the legislation does not change or in any way expand the current situation/policies/extent of regional offshore processing."

"Nor does the federal parliamentary Labor party in any way condone the manner in which the current federal government is running offshore processing."

In supporting the bill, Shorten asked for recognition that Labor was being more supportive of off-shore processing than the Coaltion had been while in opposition.

The opposition leader said his party's support for the amendment should be a "turning point" for immigration policy, Fairfax reports.

"My fear is that the truth was that the Coalition opposed the Malaysia solution not because they thought it wouldn't work, they opposed it precisely because they were afraid it would work and they played their politics hard," he said.

The bill passed the house today on the voices, with only Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie dissenting.

Stefan Postles / Getty Images

Wilkie said the law passed today is not consistent with the government's rhetoric of a "regional solution" to the asylum seeker issue.

"This isn't a regional process, these are like the hulks of 200 years ago...these are sovereign states and we are sending people to sovereign states," he said according to The Guardian.

"This is a shameful day. Its more shameful and more troubling because it is done with a virtual consensus in this place," he said.

The HLRC has also raised serious concerns over today's bipartisanship.

"The Government repeatedly assures the Australian people it is acting legally. A Government confident its actions are lawful doesn't suddenly change the law when its actions are challenged in court," said Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton today said the amendment would strengthen Australia's border security.

"There is no question that the regional processing arrangement are important to Australia's strong border policies," he said.

The HLRC's case could be heard by the High Court as soon as September.