TWO Liberal MPs lamented the lack of leadership of both sides of politics on refugee issues when they told Parliament on Tuesday night they would vote against legislation to excise the mainland from Australia's migration zone.
An emotional Russell Broadbent branded the legislation a disgrace that would remain a ''blight on our national integrity'', while Judi Moylan said it was out of step with the rule of law.
''That our leadership has come to an enabling consensus on this matter is not a display of unity and bipartisanship, but rather a retreat from leading the national debate to a higher place for a greater purpose,'' Mr Broadbent said.
''I stand tonight in a place of discomfort and controversy in a debate that is complicated, divisive and polarising. In this moment I could choose to be at peace with my party … or at peace with my heart for this nation. I choose my heart for this nation,'' he said.
Ms Moylan lamented that governments of both persuasions had ignored reports over the last decade that warned of the dire consequences of mandatory detention. She also complained that the legislation was justified by just two paragraphs in the report of the Gillard government's expert panel on asylum seekers.
The panel proposed the legislation - which was withdrawn in the face of opposition by MPs including Mr Broadbent and Ms Moylan in 2006 - to ensure that all asylum seekers who came by boat were able to be processed offshore.
Their speeches were watched from the public gallery by another of the Liberal rebels of 2006, Bruce Baird.
The dissenters were joined by the Greens' Adam Bandt and suspended Labor MP Craig Thomson, who called on the government to get its ''moral compass back on track''.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison branded government MPs ''gutless to the core'' for supporting the legislation when they opposed it in 2006. Mr Bowen replied that the government had been prepared to take tough decisions in line with the recommendations from the expert panel. ''We want to resettle more refugees in Australia,'' he said.
The debate came after Mr Bowen told Labor MPs an asylum seeker who has been on a hunger strike for 47 days on Nauru will not be transferred to Australia, despite claims by others on the island processing centre that he is close to death.
Mr Bowen said any decision to transfer hunger strikers to the mainland could act as an incentive for others to take similar action.
He confirmed that new rules denying work rights to those who arrived after August 13 would be softened.