Boat tragedy off Indonesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia Arrangement
Thursday, 30 August 2012
Interview with David Speers, Sky News PM Agenda
David Speers: Well this boat, apparently, issued its first distress call just eight nautical miles off the coast of Java. The Indonesian authorities then sent out a search and rescue, found nothing, and called off the search. Australian authorities then asked a merchant vessel in the region to have a look in a broader area, and they of course found the survivors that have been found.
Now, are you concerned that Indonesia called off this search in the first place?
Chris Bowen: Well look, I'm not going to provide commentary on details, I will leave that for operational experts and also for Minister Clare to provide any updates from his portfolio point-of-view.
Obviously I'm aware that BASARNAS began the search, they said publicly and to Australia yesterday that they could not find any evidence of the boat having been sunk, that they could not find any survivors. Obviously, there's a high degree of difficulty in any search and rescue where details are sketchy, where all you have are some reports, so I don't think we should leap to criticism.
I think we should work with BASARNAS on this rescue and we should leave any further commentary on any further lessons to be learnt until after the rescue operation is complete.
Speers: But in general terms, is there more Australia can do to help Indonesia detect these vessels and search for these vessels?
Bowen: Well look David, we already work closely with BASARNAS. Obviously, this is well inside Indonesian waters. We have dispatched HMAS Maitland and two PC-3 Orion aircraft to assist BASARNAS.
BASARNAS obviously is coordinating the search and rescue and I don't think it's necessarily helpful for me to provide running commentary from many thousands of kilometres away. Obviously we assist, where and when we can, with BASARNAS and we provide extra resources to them where and when we can.
Speers: Ok, well it's now 17 days since you announced plans to reopen processing centres at Nauru and Manus Island. There hasn't really been, in that time, a slowdown in the number of boats coming to Australia or trying to get to Australia, has there?
Bowen: No, and of course, we've always said very consistently that you would see people smugglers continuing to sell their product, and particularly trying to spin and lie to people and run some sort of 'closing down' sale.
I'm very pleased with the progress we've made. Richard Marles, on behalf of the government, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Nauru this morning. We will have, at the end of today, 150 Australian defence force personnel onsite - on Nauru - constructing the temporary facilities. We are making very good progress here and there's been a high degree of cooperation between Nauru and Australia in getting this done.
Until you see, of course, planes leaving for Nauru, and also the full suite of measures being implemented, in line with the over 20 recommendations of the Houston-L'Estrange-Aristotle Report, this will take time to be effective. And you will continue to see, people who've already paid their money to people smugglers in some instances, in other instances people smugglers spinning what is the situation to try and get more money before the policy is fully implemented.
Speers: And what if Nauru and Manus Island don't prove to be a disincentive, as you warned for so many years they wouldn't be?
Bowen: Well, of course, there are challenges to implementing this policy, of course there are. But what is important here is that, although Manus Island and Nauru are high-profile elements of the government's policy, there are many other elements as well. There's the increase in the refugee intake, there's the $10 million down payment I have announced in terms of capacity building in the region, there's changes to family reunion.
There are all sorts of suites of measures, which are at various stages of implementation, and it will take time to have full impact, of course it will. But the progress we have made in a short period of time since we received the report has been very significant indeed, as is evidenced by the fact that there is a very large number of ADF personnel working very hard on Nauru as we speak, and the Memorandum of Understanding with Nauru has already been signed.
Of course the next stages will be for me to consider to declare Nauru as a regional processing country and for that to be approved by the Parliament, and then for transfers to occur to Nauru, Papua New Guinea; and other elements of the policy to be implemented.
Speers: Well, the President of Nauru met Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the Cook Islands today. After the meeting he said that he would prefer the processing of asylum seekers there to be done as quickly as possible, but that's not exactly how this is going to work, is it?
Bowen: Well, there's processing and then there's resettlement. And our policy is very clear and it's reflected in all our arrangements that we're putting in place, and that's the implementation of the 'no advantage' test. That is, that people who arrive in Australia by boat should not receive an advantage over those waiting for resettlement in Australia in other parts of the world.
Now yes, that policy has its challenges, but we've seen Nauru be very cooperative with Australia in implementing this policy and that will continue. We've had very advanced discussions with them, the MOU has been signed today, the President of Nauru, the Foreign Minister, other ministers have been very actively discussing implementation of the policy with us. That will continue; the policy will be implemented in line with the Houston recommendations.
Speers: But you're confident both Nauru and Papua New Guinea are fully aware that these people could be there for years?
Bowen: Well, the MOU that we've signed today reflects previous MOUs which did also involve some people staying on Nauru for lengthy periods of time. The Nauruan Government and the Papua New Guinea Government have been closely consulted by us, and with us, in developing the agreements that we've signed and we continue to talk about with them, yes.
Speers: And can you tell me Minister, when will asylum seekers start arriving in Nauru and Manus Island? And what will the capacity be?
Bowen: Well what I've said is that we would expect to have at least 500 places on Nauru by the end of September, but that that capacity would come online in a progressive way before then; and I'll make further announcements about when people will be transferred to Nauru.
I have provided regular updates to the public and will continue to do so. We've said publicly that the capacity we're working towards in the longer term in Nauru is 1500; and less than that, about 600 in Papua New Guinea.
And of course, as I said before, the other elements of the policy have been progressively implemented by us as well; all the recommendations of the Houston Panel.
Speers: And that Houston Panel also recommended that you keep working with Malaysia, to try and make that more workable; to strengthen some of the safeguards for those that would be sent there. Has there been any contact with the Malaysian Government since that report 17 days ago? Any further discussions on developing this agreement?
Bowen: Yeah we've been in very regular contact with Malaysia all through this process. They remain firmly committed to implementing the policy. Of course we've briefed them on the report. We've briefed them in particular on the elements of the report that said the Malaysia agreement is a very important one - a vital building block for the regional framework and should not be discarded.
We've of course communicated that to the Malaysian Government. We've also communicated what else the report said about the agreement, and we'll continue to talk to them about that and I'll again provide further updates when we're in a position to, David.
Speers: And no indication from Malaysia they are willing now to make legally binding guarantees?
Bowen: Well, the recommendation of the panel is very clear: it is not that legally binding guarantees are essential for the agreement to be implemented, but there can be better codification of some of the protections for vulnerable people.
Let's just be clear, because I know some people have misrepresented the representations of the Houston Panel. The Malaysian Government remains very committed to this. They remain very committed to working with us to break the people smugglers' business model. They've been very good partners to Australia in this and we appreciate their ongoing cooperation with us.
Of course, I'm not going to provide a running commentary on our discussions with them, or the UNHCR about implementing some of the recommendations there. But can I say I've been very pleased with the ongoing cooperation with Malaysia, and also the Malaysian Government's understanding of what has been a quite malicious and unfortunate misrepresentation of conditions in Malaysia by some in Australia for political purposes.
I think the Malaysian Government has been very cooperative with Australia and they continue to be committed to implementing this agreement.
Speers: Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, thank you.
Bowen: Thank you, David.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Friday, 31 August 2012 at 09:28 AEST