The federal Government has upped the pressure on the Coalition to reopen discussions on offshore processing for asylum seekers.
The Government has revealed Prime Minister Julia Gillard wrote to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott last Wednesday, just days before an asylum seeker boat sank off the coast of Indonesia at the weekend.
Gillard offered to recall Parliament to pass new border security laws.
But Abbott rejected the offer of fresh talks because the Coalition remains opposed to Labor's plan to send boat arrivals to Malaysia.
Instead it wants the Government to restore temporary protection visas immediately to deter people making the dangerous boat journey to Australia.
"I think the most important thing the Prime Minister could do, before the Christmas break, is to restore temporary protection visas immediately," opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison told Sky News yesterday.
The Coalition also wants offshore processing in countries that have signed the United Nations refugee convention, which Malaysia has not.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen yesterday said the Prime Minister wrote to Abbott saying she would take steps to recall Parliament to consider changes to the Migration Act if the opposition would indicate its support.
Gillard wrote that it would be pointless, however, to have a talkfest and she wanted some assurance legislation would pass. She also suggested Bowen meet with Morrison to come up with a "mutually satisfactory outcome".
Abbott wrote back on Friday, according to Bowen, saying there wasn't much point in further private discussions between the two men.
"Then, of course, we saw the tragic events of last weekend," Bowen told reporters in Sydney, as the search continued for the 200 asylum seekers missing after their boat sank.
Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan on Monday wrote to Abbott again, calling for both sides of politics to come together "in good faith" to reach a mutually acceptable solution.
But Bowen insists the Malaysia agreement is "absolutely essential" to the Government's deterrent policy, but suggested there was a slim chance Labor could change its view on that front.
The opposition's preferred option of a processing centre on Nauru, by itself, would not provide a deterrent.
Pressed on whether the Government was prepared to compromise on the Malaysia plan, Bowen referred to Swan's letter, which stated the Government was "willing to engage constructively and examine options for an outcome we could both support".
"How long this impasse continues is up to Mr Abbott because Mr Abbott is stopping a meeting occurring," Bowen said. "I don't believe there's anything that's pointless about meeting to see if you can reach an agreement to save lives."
Former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer called on the two major parties to sit down and agree on new offshore processing arrangements.