Visit to Nauru and Papua New Guinea, boat arrivals, Expert Panel recommendations, Humanitarian Program, returns to Sri Lanka
Friday, 05 October 2012
David Lipson: Chris Bowen has been touring Nauru. He's currently in Papua New Guinea looking at the facilities there for offshore processing. I spoke to him a short time ago.
Chris Bowen: Well, there's been very good progress made, David. I'm very pleased with the work that's gone in from the Australian Defence Force personnel, my department, other agencies and Nauruan officials. And to take what was a very run down site and turn it into what is now accommodating people in a relatively short time has been quite a lot of work. I'm very pleased with the work. We have capacity now there of 500. Of course, I'll be making further announcements in coming weeks about further increases to that capacity and steps to make that centre more permanent.
Lipson: Have you been given any indication of what legal rights to appeal the Nauru Government will afford asylum seekers?
Bowen: Well, this will be done under Nauruan law, not Australian law. We announced that some time ago. We have previously referred to merits review, as recommended by the Expert Panel. The Expert Panel recommended a small panel for merits review of processes. We're working with the Nauruan Government on the details about that. Nauruan law does provide for some avenues of appeal in various places, in various elements. But of course it's quite different to the Australian levels of appeal in the multiple courts that apply in Australia.
Lipson: But have you been given any guarantee that asylum seekers will be afforded reasonable treatment in the eyes of the Nauruan law?
Bowen: Well, yes, Nauru is now a signatory to the Refugee Convention, of course. They have a Migration Act and they are working very hard to make sure that this done in accord with all the relevant principles and international obligations. We're helping them with that.
Lipson: What about Manus Island? You're meeting the PNG Government there today. When will it be up and running?
Bowen: Well, I met with the Governor of Manus Island last night. I'm meeting with Prime Minister O'Neill this morning. Again, very good work being done, a very substantial ADF presence on Manus Island working hard to get that up and running, again in very difficult circumstances. There's been a lot of Royal Australian Air Force aircraft flying in all the material, all the Defence Force personnel. I expect we'll see that centre up and running and transfers occurring in coming weeks, and again I'll make more announcements about that at the relevant time.
Lipson: More generally, we've seen 58 boats and nearly 4000 asylum seekers arrive since you announced offshore processing. It seems pretty clear that offshore processing alone is not enough to deter asylum seekers from getting on boats. So which of the other 22 recommendations that you're trying to implement will see a slowing or a stop to asylum seekers arriving by boat?
Bowen: Well, David, it's a package. You can't cherry pick this one or that one and say this one's fine and this one's not important. They're all important. The package is important. That's the government's approach. It's not the approach of the Liberal Party or the Greens Party, but it's our approach to say this is a package and only if we do them all will this have the full impact. I've always said that offshore processing can be an important part of the package and is an important part of the package, but by itself is obviously not the answer in and of itself.
But we are obviously dealing with people smugglers who are spinning hard, lying hard, saying, 'Look, don't worry about it, you might get sent to Nauru for a short time but then you'll be processed in Australia and resettled in Australia', all of which we know is untrue. And that message is getting out there from us that these are lies from the people smugglers.
But it does take time. You've got people who are in a desperate situation, very keen for a better life in Australia, and also people smugglers who are very desperate to keep the profit that they've made in the past and will say or do anything. But I think -
Lipson: To implement all of those 22 recommendations, though, particularly several of them, would take a long time even with Opposition support. Are you saying that it could be years before we see an end to people arriving by boats?
Bowen: I didn't say that, David. But what I'm saying is that all the recommendations -
Lipson: But it would take a long time, wouldn't it?
Bowen: Some of them will take longer than others. But you also can look at not only the implementation of Nauru and PNG; the implementation of the increase in our refugee intake to 20 000 is very important. It's started, we've already started to see people being processed under that increase. That is very important and it would be a very backward step if that were ever reversed.
The changes to family reunion are very important and again, we're communicating those around the region. The returns to Sri Lanka have been important and we continue to talk to people about their options there. That sends a very, very strong message that people who have paid their money to people smugglers to come to Australia have then under these new arrangements decided to return to Sri Lanka. And as I say, I think that's been a very important development and we'll continue to talk to people about their options.
All of those things do have an impact. But it also takes time for those messages to work through the region and for people to get those messages about the new arrangements that are in place in Australia.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Friday, 05 October 2012 at 11:30 AEST