Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Motions

Instrument of Designation of the Republic of Nauru as a Regional Processing Country

12:38 pm

Photo of Kate LundyKate Lundy (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Minister Assisting for Industry and Innovation) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That, for the purposes of section 198AB of the Migration Act 1958, the Senate approves the designation of the Republic of Nauru as a regional processing country, by instrument made on 10 September 2012. [F2012L01851]

Yesterday, acting under section 198AB of the Migration Act 1958, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon. Chris Bowen, designated by legislative instrument the Republic of Nauru as a regional processing country. In accordance with the legislative amendments to permit regional processing, which came into effect on 18 August 2012, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship presented to the House of Representatives the following documents: a copy of the designation; a statement outlining why it is in the national interest to designate Nauru as a regional processing country; a copy of the memorandum of understanding with Nauru signed on 28 August 2012; a statement about the minister's consultations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in relation to the designation; a summary of advice received from the UNHCR about the designation; and a statement about the arrangements that are in place, or are to be put in place, in Nauru for the treatment of persons taken there. These documents were also tabled in the Senate yesterday for senators' information.

I call on my colleagues in the Senate to approve this designation to enable the first transfers of offshore entry persons to Nauru for processing in accordance with the new regional processing arrangements. The government takes our international commitments seriously and, to this end, appointed an expert panel on asylum seekers, led by Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston AC AFC (Retired) and including Professor Michael L'Estrange AO and Mr Paris Aristotle AM, to provide direction on a way forward for Australia to prevent asylum seekers from risking their lives on dangerous boat journeys to Australia. The report of the expert panel was released on 13 August and the government is highly committed to implementing all 22 recommendations of the report. In the weeks following, we have been working through those recommendations to respond to the complex and difficult issues we collectively face. Matters such as these are life or death, and they need to rise above politics. Last month the government passed legislation to provide the legal basis for establishing offshore processing centres to give effect to the recommendations in the Houston report that the panel considered needed to be implemented as a matter of urgency.

This designation will be another step forward in the government's commitment to deter people from taking the dangerous boat journey by expanding safe and regular pathways for resettlement and not providing any advantage to asylum seekers who pay people smugglers to enter Australia illegally. Regional processing is a key component in ensuring a long-term response to people seeking asylum in our region. This government has always been resolute that to work closely with our regional partners is the best way to strengthen the region's response to irregular movement and people smuggling. In 2011, as co-chairs of the Bali process with Indonesia, we produced the regional cooperation framework that was endorsed by ministers at the Bali process ministerial meeting in March 2011. Since then, Australia has committed to establishing and maintaining a regional support office which will coordinate practical measures to implement the framework. This regional support office was officially opened in Bangkok yesterday.

The memorandums of understanding with Nauru and Papua New Guinea, together with the designation of Nauru as a regional processing country, send a message loud and clear that countries in this region are willing and prepared to take the action needed to ensure the integrity of their borders and undermine people-smuggling networks. The message to people smugglers is that asylum seekers will have their claims assessed not in Australia but in Nauru. Further, to undermine the business model of the people-smuggling trade the government has committed to increasing the humanitarian program. As a country, we have a rich tradition of providing refuge to those in need of protection. This has continued with the government's commitment to increase our humanitarian program from 13,750 places to 20,000 places annually, the biggest increase in Australia's refugee intake in 30 years. These measures together, and as part of the full suite of Houston report recommendations, reinforce the message that Australia provides no advantage to those who pay people smugglers to enter Australia.

The government is also continuing to work on implementing the Malaysia arrangement. The government has been in regular contact with Malaysia, which remains firmly committed to implementing the arrangement, and that communication will continue. In 2012-13 Australia will resettle around 1,350 UNHCR mandated refugees from Malaysia. This meets the commitment provided under the arrangement with Malaysia, as entered into in July 2011. However, the government's immediate priority is to establish regional processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea and to begin resettling more refugees from Indonesia and other countries in our region as part of our increased humanitarian program. For the minister to designate a country as a regional processing country it must be deemed in the national interest to do so. The minister has clearly and publicly stated his view that designating Nauru as a regional processing country is in the national interest. Those reasons are: it will discourage irregular and dangerous maritime voyages, thereby reducing the risk of loss of life at sea; it will promote a fair and orderly humanitarian program that retains the confidence of the Australian people; it will promote regional cooperation in relation to irregular migration; and it will address people smuggling.

The new legislation states that the minister is required to consider whether countries have given Australia certain assurances about what will happen to an asylum seeker who is taken to a regional processing country. This is an important requirement, allowing transfers to be effected—but not at any cost. Further, as the minister stated yesterday, and as set out in the minister's statement of reasons, Nauru has given Australia the assurances around the principle of nonrefoulement and the assessment of asylum claims in line with the refugee convention.

The government also believes that it is important for Nauru, as a sovereign state, to have input into the development of any arrangements, and it has been keen to do so. The government is dealing with people seeking protection, and there is a need for fully considered arrangements to be put in place. By presenting the designation and the accompanying documents in accordance with the legislation, the government is providing senators and the parliament with the opportunity to be satisfied that they are appropriate. Again, I would like to call on my colleagues here in the Senate to approve this designation to enable the first transfers of offshore entry persons to Nauru and to provide the circuit breaker to irregular maritime arrivals called for by the expert panel's report.

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