Aus Govt to reopen Nauru centre
UPDATE: THE Federal Government will take immediate steps to implement the recommendations made by the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, including re-opening the processing centre on Nauru.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the government had endorsed in-principle each of the 22 recommendations contained in the panel's 160-page report.
She said the government would begin by introducing amendments to its asylum-seeker bill on Tuesday that will enable Australia to commence processing asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, the Opposition's policy preference.
The amendments will be in the form recommended by the expert panel, Ms Gillard said, and would enable the Parliament to decide offshore processing arrangements on a country-by-country basis.
If the Coalition agrees to support the amendments Ms Gillard said she wanted them through both houses of Parliament by Thursday.
Re-establishing processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island were among the most significant recommendations contained in the expert panel's 160-page report.
The panel also found the government's people swap deal with Malaysia, struck down last year by the High Court, required further work before it could be enacted.
To that end, Ms Gillard said the government would enter further discussions with Malaysia in a bid to put in place greater protections and oversight, as recommended by the panel.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen would not put a timeframe on the how long those talks may take.
Further, the Federal Government will immediately implement the panel's recommendation around family reunion applications, and gave in-principle support to increasing Australia's humanitarian intake to 20,000.
Ms Gillard said work would need to be undertaken around managing the costs of increasing the humanitarian intake.
She said the government's in-principle endorsement of the 22 report's recommendations showed a willingness to compromise, and she called on parliamentarians to do the same.
"This report is telling us not to stay in our fixed positions, but to act to get things done," Ms Gillard said.
"I am prepared to further compromise from the government's position in order to get things done."
Mr Bowen said the panel - chair Angus Houston, Paris Aristotle and Michael L'Estrange - had given the Parliament an opportunity to "rise above partisan bickering".
"The Parliament must not miss this opportunity tomorrow," Mr Bowen said.
He said the report made it clear people arriving in Australia by boat should not be advantaged over those seeking resettlement in Australia through proper channels.
And he issued a stark warning to anyone considering making the perilous journey across the sea.
"From this point forward, anybody who comes to Australia by boat runs the risk of being transferred to an offshore processing place," Mr Bowen said.
Asylum seeker panel report released
LABOR'S people swap deal with Malaysia needs to contain greater protections for asylum seekers before it can be implemented, the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers has found.
It was one of 22 recommendations contained in the panel's much-anticipated report, released in Canberra on Monday which calls for the establishment of a regional framework to deal with asylum seekers.
To the delight of the Coalition the report recommended reopening processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru "as soon as possible".
But the panel found one of the other key planks of the Coalition's policy - turning boats around - was not possible without Australia striking regional and bilateral agreements - primarily with Indonesia - that met a number of conditions detailed in the report.
Retired defence force chief Angus Houston, who chaired the committee, said the cost of implementing the recommendations would be $1 billion annually, but would be offset by reduced costs arising from "substantially" fewer illegal boat arrivals.
Mr Houston said it was difficult to say how long it would take to implement the recommendations, but added if the package was employed in full it would "start to have en effect fairly quickly."
The panel - also comprising refugee advocate Paris Aristotle and former Department of Foreign Affairs boss Professor Michael L'Estrange - found a "no advantage" principle needed to apply whereby irregular migrants gained no benefit by choosing to circumvent regular migration mechanisms.
It was recommended the Malaysian solution be "built on further rather than being discarded or neglected".
Mr Houston said the policy, which the High Court last year ruled was illegal, was a "good arrangement" but required tweaking.
"It would not require huge changes," Mr Houston said.
Prof L'Estrange said the Malaysian solution was an "important building block for a regional arrangement", something each panel member agreed was essential to stopping the flow of boats.
Mr Aristotle said the regional framework would be "something we've never had".
The panel, which had six weeks to compile the report, rejected onshore processing, with Mr Houston saying there was little doubt it was encouraging people to "jump in boats".
He said the suite of measures outlined in the report would "reduce the attractiveness" of boarding a boat.
The major parties should resist the urge to cherry-pick the parts of the report consistent with their respective policy positions, Mr Houston said.
Breaking up the package would reduce its effectiveness, the trio stressed.
The panel also recommended Australia immediately increase its annual humanitarian intake from 13,750 to 20,000.
Consideration should also be given to increasing humanitarian intake to 27,000 within five years, the report recommended.
Australia should also increase its resource allocation and funding as part of the regional approach.
Mr Houston described the need for a "hard-headed, not hard-hearted" policy approach.
"One that is realistic, not idealistic, that is driven by a sense of humanity as well as fairness," he said.
He said there were "very few new ideas" in the area of asylum-seeker policy, which made the panel's job more difficult.
He stressed there were no "quick and simple solutions", but to do nothing would be "unacceptable".
"It's one of the most challenging things we've every done in our lives," Mr Houston said.
He said the panel had not been influenced by the politics of asylum-seeker policy.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the panel had endorsed its long held policy of reopening Nauru.
"The panel has endorsed, in very large part, the approach of the Coalition," Mr Morrison said.
"The Houston panel has green-lighted Nauru and red-lighted Malaysia and the people-swap in its current form."
While welcoming the call for a boost to Australia's humanitarian intake and aid funding, the Greens said the panel's endorsement of offshore processing was a return to the "bad old days of John Howard".
"The Greens will not be party to something that is cruel to people," Greens Leader Christine Milne said.
Labor is yet to reply to the report.
- Introduce legislation to pave the way for offshore processing as "a matter of urgency".
- Reopen processing centres in Nauru and Manus Island (PNG).
- "Build on"Malaysian people-swap deal to ensure greater protections for asylum seekers.
- Amend the Migration Act 1958 so that people arriving illegally by boat are not granted special legal status.
- Turning around of boats not possible under existing conditions.
- Increase Australia's humanitarian program.