Multi-Party Reference Group, expert panel
Friday, 06 July 2012
Interview with Alexandra Kirk, ABC AM
Chris Bowen: We are willing to accept and more than happy to accept Mr Abbott's nominations, we hope he does nominate somebody to this cross-party reference group to assist the panel. Obviously we would like the whole Parliament to assist in solving this matter. If Mr Abbott is not willing to nominate somebody, of course we would accept self-nominations from members of the Liberal Party as well.
Alexandra Kirk: Now Tony Abbott wants to see the terms of reference for that group before deciding whether to nominate people. Why haven't you provided that?
Bowen: Well we have, we have. The terms of reference are very clear for the expert panel, and in terms of the parliamentary reference group it is simply to provide parliamentary guidance and to receive briefings from the expert panel. So it's all very clear to us, and if Mr Abbott wants to make a specific request for further information he's welcome to make it.
Kirk: Some unnamed immigration officials, they're now being joined by the Opposition, are suggesting that Australia's maritime sea and rescue authorities are becoming a bit like a roadside assistance or taxi service. Was the boat that issued the distress call two days ago, just 50 nautical miles from Indonesia, seaworthy?
Bowen: Well look, obviously this underlines some of the challenges here. I mean, you've got boats on the high seas making distress calls, operational officials need to make decisions and they err on the side of providing assistance, very clearly, because the risk of not doing that is very obvious. Now, I think these current events do underline the need for a proper, robust policy solution -
Kirk: But in the case of this one boat, was it seaworthy or not?
Bowen: Well, look that is a matter for the relevant operational authorities to comment upon and obviously they make the decision based on what is necessary to do to ensure minimal risk to human life. This is, as I say, a symptom of the problem that we have with boats out on the high seas making the journey to Australia and if the Opposition wants to criticise that, well they can be part of the solution by joining the reference group.
They can be part of the solution by joining with the government seeking a compromise or they can be part of the problem, sitting on the sidelines and carping about operational matters.
Kirk: There's a growing body of opinion, including the Greens, backing the idea that Australia take more refugees from Indonesia, many more, to remove the incentive for asylum seekers or refugees to get on a boat and risk their lives. Have you considered that?
Bowen: Of course we have, of course we have considered many, many options. Now simply increasing the refugee intake without other measures in place and saying that will provide a disincentive for all the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers throughout the Asia-Pacific region and saying that will work by itself is, I think, naïve and unworkable.
Kirk: But why haven't you gone ahead with it, at least as a trial, by increasing the numbers significantly?
Bowen: Well let's make a couple of points, Alex. Firstly, to suggest that some sort of increased processing in Indonesia in the absence of a deterrence through offshore processing and proper regional engagement would provide disincentive for, say, the 100 000 asylum seekers in Malaysia, the 100 000 asylum seekers and refugees in Thailand; that they wouldn't see that as a very useful mechanism for getting to Australia, and that simply increasing it by a few thousand, to 20 000, and focusing that on Indonesia and ignoring all the issues in other source in transit countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and Iran; that that would provide some sort of holistic, comprehensive solution is entirely naïve, entirely naïve.
I mean even if you increase the intake very substantially, you'd still have people who would not be regarded as genuine refugees and they would still see it as worthwhile to get on a boat. Many, many of them would.
Kirk: So you're still committed to the idea of sending asylum seekers back to Asia somewhere?
Bowen: Well, I still believe and this would be the view that I've put very consistently, that you need to have proper offshore processing as part of a proper regional framework and that would involve repatriation of people for processing and resettlement in other countries. I believe that strongly as being necessary to provide the necessary deterrent.
Now obviously we are working with the expert panel and everything should be on the table as part of that. But all the policy advice the government has received until this point stands, and of course we continue to argue the case for our policy. But of course in the interest of getting this resolved, are happy to work with the expert panel to ensure that everything is on the table and all sensible ideas are received.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Friday, 06 July 2012 at 13:57 AEST