INDI MP Cathy McGowan yesterday rebuked the federal government for holding a group of 153 asylum seekers on a Customs vessel.
The Sri Lankans cannot be processed under the Migration Act as they are outside Australian territorial waters.
That has left them facing living in limbo for several weeks while their case is argued before the High Court.
“I find it all very, very distressing,” Ms McGowan said yesterday.
“On one hand I think the government is working within its policy of acting with deterrence — clearly that’s what it is doing.”
But Ms McGowan said there was a “really strong feeling” in the community that Australia needed be more compassionate as it followed its international obligations.
Liberal member for Farrer Sussan Ley stood by the government’s actions.
“This is obviously a very difficult situation, but it’s important to remember this government was elected with a clear mandate to secure our borders,” she said from Broken Hill yesterday.
Ms Ley said it was estimated that more than 1000 people lost their lives at sea attempting to reach Australia under the former government’s failed policies.
“No one, not even our critics, wants to see a repeat of this,” she said.
“It’s been said many times, and is worth repeating, that Australia will continue to act in accordance with our domestic and international obligations.
Ms McGowan said that while she could understand where the government was coming from, “I’m one for a much higher level of compassion”.
“You really have to question does the end justify the means in all of this.”
Ms McGowan said she was “very pleased” the matter had ended up in the High Court.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott would not reveal the asylum seekers’ exact location.
Ms McGowan drew attention to comments from Mr Abbott in the Parliament on Tuesday in which she said he declared “we need to be our best selves”.
The comment was made when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged and offered condolences for the hurt caused by his country in World War II.
Ms MsGowan said Australia had “built a bridge and walked over it” through forging closer ties with Japan.
“I was almost moved to tears to think that on the one hand we can be magnanimous and forgive and work together,” she said.
“At the very same time we’re caught up with this ‘less than being our best selves’ circumstance on the high seas.
“I’d be calling on the government to be its best self, its most compassionate, its most humane.”