Expert panel report, Malaysia Arrangement, Nauru
Monday, 13 August 2012
Interview with Chris Uhlmann, ABC 7.30
Chris Uhlmann: Joining me now in Canberra is Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen. Welcome.
Chris Bowen: Thank you, Chris.
Uhlmann: Isn't today an admission that you believe that Labor got its policy spectacularly wrong in 2008?
Bowen: No, look, I don't accept that premise and I think this report makes clear that circumstances are very volatile and evolving and that policies which have been tried in the past won't necessarily work now.
The report, frankly, calls on all political parties to compromise. We have. Yes, we've had to develop our position and compromise, and that's what the Australian people are looking for. And I think frankly, they're looking for all political parties to do that.
It means that sometimes you have to have a difficult conversation. Sometimes what you say might not be entirely consistent with everything you've said in your political career, but the Australian people want this sorted out and I think these eminent Australians have done us - the nation - a good service by pointing a way that the political parties can compromise and adopt elements of policies they've supported or opposed in the past to get a solution.
Uhlmann: You talk about not being entirely consistent; in 2010 you said the Pacific Solution was a cynical, costly and ultimately unsuccessful exercise introduced on the eve of a federal election. How would you describe what you've done today?
Bowen: Well, let's look at what this panel recommends. This panel - a theme all through their report, the panel's report, is that there should be no built-in advantage for people who arrive by boat. Now, you're right, we've been critical of the Nauru option in the past because it involved people getting an advantage, coming to Australia, being transferred to Nauru, being processed, and if they're refugees, brought to Australia. We've pointed out that is not a deterrent. We've pointed out that that was costly.
Now the panel takes the view that there should be no advantage, that people who come by boat should be treated the same way as people who are waiting for resettlement in camps in cities around the world and I agree with them, and that is the fundamental principle that we have been looking to implement through the Malaysia agreement, for example.
They recommend other ways to implement that principle, and I think the Australian people are looking for political parties to do that.
Uhlmann: But to be clear, from tomorrow you will introduce legislation to Parliament that will see Nauru and Manus Island reopened. At least that's what you hope.
Bowen: Well the legislation we would introduce will reflect the recommendations of the panel, which would enable the Minister for Immigration to designate countries that can be regional processing countries, that could then be disallowed by Parliament, and yes, we will have discussions with PNG and Nauru as well as ongoing discussions with Malaysia and countries in our region about what we can do together; and yes, I would then move to designate those countries.
Uhlmann: Now, the panel says that you need to do more talking with Malaysia, get more protections in place. So it'll be Nauru and Manus Island until that's sorted. How long will that take?
Bowen: Well, there's gonna be a range of conversations with a range of countries here. Now, I wanted to make the point very clearly today that anybody who arrives by boat from this moment onwards runs the risk of being processed somewhere else -
Uhlmann: In fact 87 people have arrived by boat this afternoon.
Bowen: Well that was before this announcement. That was at one o'clock.
Uhlmann: So they're not included in that?
Bowen: No, well, it's very - it's important that you say to people, 'If you arrive from now on, you'll be dealt with under these new arrangements'. Now, that's an important principle. Now of course, we've got a bit of work to do here.
As a Parliament, first we have to pass this legislation. I would call on obviously the Parliament to pass it as a matter of some urgency. Then we'll have to have ongoing discussions with countries like Nauru, PNG and Malaysia. And, yes, we'll be moving to implement Nauru and PNG as matters of urgency.
Uhlmann: Do you think that your Malaysian counterpart, who you know quite well, will be able to get more protections by his government?
Bowen: Well, look, let's look at what the report recommended here. And I'm more than happy to take on board their point of view, which was that the Malaysia agreement firstly they say was important, that our work with Malaysia has been vital and that's a very important building block. And obviously I welcome that.
They do suggest that some more protections be codified. And some of that can be done by us in terms of our pre-transfer agreement and that's something we had worked with the UNHCR on before the agreement was, if you like, derailed by the High Court decision last year.
Also, in relation to unaccompanied minors, and we do have some flexibility there given that we have potentially three offshore sites to process. Obviously we'll continue to talk to Malaysia. Some of it can be done by us, some of it can be done with the UNHCR and we'll talk to the UNHCR and to Malaysia about some of the matters that are raised by the report.
Uhlmann: Will children be sent to Nauru?
Bowen: Well the report makes clear that you should have a system which minimises the loopholes for people smugglers, but also recommends that for vulnerable people, unaccompanied minors in particular, there should be what you would call a safety valve mechanism so that either the Minister or the Department can take the view that they can be handled onshore, but that's after they've been transferred to Nauru in the first instance in the vast majority of circumstances, but we would also have pre-transfer guidelines.
Uhlmann: Will asylum seekers sent to Nauru or Papua New Guinea now face indefinite detention on those - in those [inaudible]?
Bowen: Well technically of course they are not - closed detention centres have not been in the past, but clearly -
Uhlmann: Is there a time limit?
Bowen: Well, no. What the report recommends is that there be no advantage for coming to Australia by boat. Therefore, that means that if you're a classified as a refugee, the government should through various mechanisms determine how long it would've taken you to be transferred to Australia.
Now that is, as I say, a key difference to models that have been tried in the past. It is a very different model and will be controversial and of course we'll have a deal of work to do to make sure it's managed humanely. But when you've got this panel, which includes somebody like Paris Aristotle, for example - who I would suggest has done more in the real world to help refugees than many other Australian - recommending this as being necessary to save lives, then we adopt that recommendation.
Uhlmann: Chris Bowen, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you.
Bowen: Thank you for that.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Tuesday, 14 August 2012 at 12:56 AEST