Expert panel report, boat arrivals, offshore processing legislation, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, humanitarian program, turning back boats
Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Interview with Marius Benson, ABC NewsRadio
Marius Benson: Chris Bowen, good morning.
Chris Bowen: Good morning, Marius.
Benson: The key question now is will the boats stop? What's your expectation about boat arrivals?
Bowen: Well, obviously, whenever you implement a new set of arrangements it takes time for word to spread about that. And as the report itself makes clear, this is an integrated package of 22 recommendations, all of which need to be implemented and some of which take some time.
So I do expect that there will be people who continue to arrive in Australia by boat. Of course, we'll see the impact over some time. But it's important that we take every step possible to reduce that number and over time to eliminate that number to save lives and to give people a better chance of resettlement in Australia.
Benson: Is this an integrated package of 22 measures, or is this just a cherry picked selection of those 22 measures? Because, as I understand it, it's Manus Island and Nauru that's getting the go-ahead now; Malaysia hasn't got the go-ahead.
Bowen: Well, the government has accepted all 22 recommendations, so I'm afraid I can't accept the premise of your question.
Benson: The government has, but where is it with Parliament?
Bowen: Absolutely, Marius, and this is a key point: that not only the government but the Parliament do need to recognise - as every one of the three Panel members has said - this is an integrated package. It includes the increase in the refugee intake to 20,000; the further progression of the Malaysia agreement which the Panel has called very important, impressive and vital as a next step; and the other steps as well that are all outlined in the report.
So yes, this is an integrated package. The government will certainly be working to implement all of them. The Manus Island and Nauru centres are referred to as circuit breakers in the report and important steps, but there is a lot to do after that. And certainly, I think you're right, Marius, we'll continue to have an argument in the Parliament, as is appropriate in a democracy, but we'll be making the point that you need to adopt this entire integrated package.
Benson: But are you doing it in bits and pieces? Is the debate now on Manus Island and Nauru, and then you'll negotiate further with the Opposition on, I don't know, turning back the boats, Malaysia?
Bowen: Well, not turning back the boats, Marius. The report makes it clear that's not feasible in the foreseeable future.
Benson: Okay, well, Malaysia and the increased intakes?
Bowen: Yes, well, the increased intake doesn't require legislation; that's a matter for the executive. Obviously, there's a lot of detail to be worked through. We've accepted the recommendation in principle. The increase to 20 000 is an important one; it's one that we first flagged last November and it is important in terms of -
Benson: But you can do it by regulation?
Bowen: Well, we can do it by executive decision. The intake is not determined by the Parliament.
Benson: What about Malaysia?
Bowen: Well, any further advance to Malaysia would come before the Parliament, in terms of the instrument that I would -
Benson: But you want legislation this week; that's not going to be involved in this week's legislation, Malaysia?
Bowen: No, Marius, the legislation this week doesn't mention Nauru or Manus Island either. The legislation this week enables the Minister for Immigration to designate a country as a regional processing centre and allows for that to be disallowed by the Parliament when and if the Minister for Immigration does that -
Benson: I'm a bit confused.
Bowen: Nauru, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
Benson: So when this legislation, as is expected, is passed after 23 people speak from the Opposition, you'll then be able to implement the whole lot: Nauru, Manus Island and Malaysia?
Bowen: Subject to the views of the Parliament, yes.
Benson: Subject to the views of the Parliament? But the Opposition objects to Malaysia.
Bowen: Well, that's right, Marius, and with respect, that's the whole process. The legislation enables the government to put forward proposals which the Parliament will then be able to consider.
Yes, the Opposition continues, despite the recommendations in the report, to say they don't support Malaysia, despite the report pointing out that it is a very important step, despite the report's lead author, Air Chief Marshal Houston, saying it's an impressive arrangement. Yes, now, that's fine, we'll continue to have that debate.
But the matter for the government is we've accepted all the recommendations. Now, some of them, yes, we'll have to continue to fight for.
Benson: Okay, but Nauru and Manus Island, they go ahead straight away? They don't have to wait for agreement from the Opposition on Malaysia?
Bowen: Well, they will need to be subject to the Parliament, and yes, the Opposition has indicated they will support those two particular elements.
Benson: So you'll be getting it in bits?
Bowen: We support all the report's recommendations, but it's a [inaudible] process, as the report itself recognises. And yes, we will have to continue to argue for some parts of it.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Wednesday, 15 August 2012 at 10:10 AEST