THE asylum seeker debate is laced with ''veiled racism'' and should leave all parliamentarians ashamed, key crossbencher Tony Windsor says.
After the major parties both announced last week tough new policies to deter asylum seekers arriving by boat, Mr Windsor said Labor was futilely competing to be as tough as the Coalition and this would backfire.
''I reckon we should all be ashamed to even be in the Parliament, the way in which this debate has carried on,'' he said. ''The politics of the dog whistle, the veiled racism - it's great stuff if you want to create the politics of fear and division in the community.''
The tough policies of the former prime minister John Howard produced scandals such as the 2005 case of Cornelia Rau, a German citizen and Australian permanent resident unlawfully detained for 10 months, Mr Windsor said.
''People started to think why are we doing this? What about kids in razor wire and all that? That imagery can turn around - Australians are basically compassionate. They don't live in this suit they've been put into very comfortably.''
The government announced last week it would release into the community thousands of people on bridging visas as they overflowed from the offshore processing system, but would not let them work.
The Coalition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, will now introduce a private member's bill to repeat the Howard-era temporary protection visas under which refugees would be sent home if the situation in their country improves.
The Environment Minister, Tony Burke, admitted on Sunday that the government's new policies were ''very harsh'' but said they were necessary to stop asylum seekers drowning at sea.
Border protection picked up another boat on Saturday night, carrying 87 people.
The Greens immigration spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, said there was no difference between Labor's bridging visas and temporary protection visas. ''It's a race to the bottom on who can be the nastiest,'' she said.