Visit to Nauru and Papua New Guinea, offshore processing, boat arrivals
Wednesday, 03 October 2012
Chris Bowen: Well the visit is for me to obviously see first-hand the progress - the very substantial progress - we've made particularly in Nauru, and also to meet with the President of Nauru, the Prime Minister of New Guinea, other very senior ministers, just to discuss all the implementation details that go with what is this relatively complex exercise, and to talk to them about the progress we've made.
Alison Carabine: Asylum seekers are still housed in temporary tent accommodation on Nauru. When do you envisage more permanent structures will be in place?
Bowen: Oh look, I'll be making further announcements about that and giving updates as I go, and I have done up until this point. I think the Defence Force has done a very good job in getting this facility ready quickly and hence the transfers that we've had. Yes, we will have more permanent structures, but we've also got to ensure value for money in the way we're doing that, and that process is very well advanced.
Carabine: The Nauru Government has ruled out accepting women and children until some improvements are made to the temporary accommodation. When do you envisage the first planeload of family groups will be sent offshore?
Bowen: Well firstly let me say I don't quite accept the premise of your question. Yes, we have had discussions with Nauru, of course we have, as we have had with Salvation Army and others about the facilities for families and children, and they are always kept separately from single adult men.
Again, I'm not about to put a timeframe on that this morning, other than to say that the work is well advanced and, yes, as I've said repeatedly, families will be transferred. It's very important that we don't have any loopholes that people smugglers are able to capitalise on. I think that's a pretty important principle that we'll be implementing.
Carabine: All of the asylum seekers on Nauru are single males; the first group was sent out about three and a half weeks ago. When will their claims be processed?
Bowen: Well we are implementing the 'no advantage' principle, of course, which is that people will not receive an advantage for arriving in Australia by boat, in terms of resettlement. Now of course, as we have announced, this will be done under Nauruan law.
Carabine: Has a settlement yet been reached regarding the legal rights of asylum seekers? They will, as you say, be processed under Nauruan law: what kind of an appeal mechanism will be available to them - available to any asylum seeker who receives an adverse ruling?
Bowen: Well, these will be processed under Nauruan law, as you say. I've also previously pointed out that we'll be working with Nauru to implement the recommendations of the Expert Panel, including the recommendation that there be a merits-based review - not a judicial review under Australian law, but a merits-based review - which would involve a panel type of arrangement with both Nauru and Australian involvement there, but under Nauruan law. And that's the work that we're progressing with Nauru.
Carabine: Does that mean they won't have access to Australian courts?
Bowen: Well, they'll be processed under Nauruan law and that means they'll be processed through the Nauruan system.
Carabine: Doesn't that compromise their access to judicial review, though?
Bowen: Well, as I've said, they'll have merits-based review. But they'll be processed under Nauruan law and that means they have the review rights that are present under Nauruan law, not under Australian law.
Carabine: Chris Bowen, have you been disappointed by the slow pace of progress? Previously, you have said that by the end of September capacity would be 500 on Nauru, but so far on 148 asylum seekers have been sent to the island. What's been the hold up?
Bowen: Well, on the contrary, no, I'm very pleased with progress. I said there'd be a capacity of 500 and in fact there is. It doesn't mean, of course, that we've transferred 500, but in fact we now have the capacity for 500.
The transfers continue. We've been working with Nauru. Nauru's made it clear that they at certain times have asked for the process to be slowed down a little so that they could build in their systems, and that's perfectly fine and appropriate. We'll work with them on that.
But no, I'm very pleased with the progress. We've got a substantial team on Manus Island building away on the temporary facility on Manus Island as we speak. So I'm very pleased with that and I'll be seeing that progress, particularly in Nauru, first-hand.
Carabine: And when will Manus Island be ready to take asylum seekers?
Bowen: Well, as I say, the Defence Force is working away diligently up there. Again, I haven't yet announced a date for that, but progress is good and I'll be making further announcements about that in the coming period.
Carabine: Now, all the while the boats have kept coming. Since your announcement seven weeks ago that you were reinstating third country processing, there have been 57 boats carrying almost 3500 people. Can we conclude from the raw numbers that offshore processing is not a deterrent?
Bowen: No, I don't think you can conclude that, Ali, at all. As I've repeatedly said, it takes a long time for the message to go through. I've also said that offshore processing only complemented by all the other recommendations of the report and all the other things we're doing is important; including the increase in the refugee intake to 20 000, the changes to family reunion that I've already implemented, and all the other recommendations are all important and it takes time. Our communications campaign is combating that, but it will take time for the message to cut through the region and beyond.
Carabine: Can you put a timeframe on just how long it will take for the message to start cutting through and the boats to stop coming?
Bowen: Well, as I say, I mean, each step you take is important. I think the return of people to Sri Lanka has been very important. We've had 39 people now return to Sri Lanka from the people who arrived after the 13 August announcement. We'll continue to talk to people about their options, whether they be Sri Lankans or others, for return.
I think all those things are important and are being noticed in the region, but it does take, as we've seen, it took time for that to happen, it will take time for the other things to have their impact.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Wednesday, 03 October 2012 at 12:06 AEST