Wednesday, 10 October 2012
That, for the purposes of section 198AB of the Migration Act 1958, the Senate approves the designation of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country, by instrument made on 9 October 2012.
Yesterday, acting under section 198AB of the Migration Act, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon. Chris Bowen, designated by legislative instrument the Independent State of Papua New Guinea 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 Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country; a copy of the memorandum of understanding with Papua New Guinea signed on 8 September 2012; a statement about the minister's consultations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in relation to the designation; and a statement about the arrangements that are in place or are about to be put in place in Papua New Guinea for the treatment of persons taken there.
These documents were also tabled in the Senate today 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 Papua New Guinea for processing in accordance with the new regional processing arrangements.
The government have accepted all 22 recommendations of the Report of the expert panel on asylum seekers, which was provided to the government on 13 August 2012. I reiterate that the panel's recommendations must be implemented as an integrated package as the best way to discourage dangerous sea voyages. This includes creating incentives to encourage greater use of regular migration pathways and international protection arrangements, and disincentives to irregular maritime voyages, including the application of a no-advantage principle and regional processing arrangements.
Designation of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country will reinforce arrangements already underway in Nauru and form a key part of implementing the panel's recommendations. It demonstrates the government's resolve to discourage asylum seekers from risking their lives on dangerous journeys by boat to Australia. The designation of Papua New Guinea along with transfers already underway to Nauru will undermine the people smugglers' product and send a clear message that there is no advantage travelling to Australia by irregular means. We have already seen a number of asylum seekers choose to return home voluntarily after being transferred to Nauru, which is evidence of the false stories that people smugglers are selling about what awaits asylum seekers in Australia. Further, additional and safer regular avenues for migration are being made available through the region, including Australia's increase to the humanitarian program to 20,000 places a year—reinforcing the message that asylum seekers should not risk their lives.
For the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship to designate a country as a regional processing country, he must think it in the national interest to do so. The minister has clearly and publicly stated his view that designating Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country is in the national interest and 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 refugee and humanitarian program that retains the confidence of the Australian people; and it will promote regional cooperation in relation to irregular migration and the addressing of people smuggling.
Papua New Guinea has also provided Australia with certain assurances which include the specified assurances required by the legislation. It is important to note that every care is being taken by the government to ensure the welfare of transferees, including oversight arrangements allowing for transparency of the regional processing centres. This will include the involvement of key civil society actors; appropriate service provision, particularly in relation to health and welfare services; and the provision of mental health services, particularly torture and trauma counselling.
The government are 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 are providing senators and the parliament with the opportunity to be satisfied that what is in place or will be put in place is appropriate. Again, I call on my colleagues in the Senate to approve this designation to enable the transfer of offshore entry persons to Papua New Guinea and to bolster arrangements in Nauru to provide the circuit breaker to irregular maritime arrivals called for by the expert panel's report.
I rise to speak on behalf of the coalition on the motion before the Senate in relation to the instrument of designation of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country under subsection 198AB(1) of the Migration Act 1958 and to indicate that the coalition will be supporting the government's motion. It was almost a month ago that we witnessed a historic day in this parliament.
That historic day was because Labor members from both the right and, more particularly, the left stood alongside coalition senators in this chamber and voted to restore offshore processing. They voted alongside coalition senators to establish Nauru as a regional processing country.
At that time, I proposed an amendment on behalf of the coalition to the motion that was before the Senate. The amendment, if it had been accepted, would have required the government to implement the full suite of the former Howard government's border protection policies. Unfortunately, that motion was defeated. In addressing the Senate today in relation to this particular motion, it is timely to take a look at what has occurred since that time when the government again voted with the coalition to designate Nauru as an offshore processing country but, at the same time, failed to implement the full suite of the former Howard government's successful border protection policies.
The government's 2012-13 budget forecast for the immigration and citizenship portfolio is based on 5,645 arrivals for the entire financial year. Three months into this financial year, including the one month in which Nauru has been reopened, Australia has witnessed arrivals at a rate of approximately 2,000 per month. Remember that for the entire financial year the government's budget for this particular portfolio is based 5,645 arrivals. So in the first three months of this financial year Australians have already witnessed 4.5 times the governments' budgeted expectations. In other words, under this government's policies—reminding the Senate that one of these policies is that Nauru has been reopened—the budget in this particular portfolio area has yet again been comprehensively blown in the first three months of the financial year. I also remind the Senate that, as of yesterday—and this could have changed this morning since I have been in the chamber, and we have only been in this financial year for three months—there have been 101 illegal boats arrive this financial year alone, carrying 6,436 asylum seekers.
Let us compare that to what occurred under the former Howard government, bearing in mind that just four weeks ago this government refused to accept the coalition's amendment that would have seen the government introduce the full suite of the former Howard government's policies. Under the former Howard government's policies, which have been proven to be successful and in part have been adopted by a Labor government, Australia was averaging 45 people coming to this country per year. That was over the final six years of the former Howard government. As I said in question time yesterday, by this rationale Australia has witnessed under this Labor government more than 50 years of Howard government boat arrivals in the month of September alone. Just think about that and the impact that that has on the budget.
In the month of September 2012 alone, under the current Labor government's clearly failed border protection policies, Australia has witnessed 50 years of what boat arrivals were under the former Howard government. Again, this is going to have consequences for the budget in relation to this particular portfolio, bearing in mind—and Australians are well aware of this—that the government has now blown out the budget by in excess of $5 billion. Australians can only throw their hands up in dismay and ask what the government could have done had it not wound back the proven border protection policies of the former Howard government; we would have continued to see a low- to almost zero-rate of boat arrivals.
The $5 billion which the government has blown to date on this particular portfolio could have been spent on building hospitals, building schools and potentially on an NDIS, but that $5 billion has been blown by this government and its failed border protection policies.
I also remind the Senate that 60 boats, carrying 3,830 asylum seekers, have arrived in Australia since the government was dragged, kicking and screaming, to re-establish offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island. So, if the government claims, as it does on a regular basis in both the other place and this place, that its policy alone of offshore processing without the full complement of the former Howard government's policies actually works, they are in denial, because the statistics do not lie. Since we reopened Nauru, the boats have not stopped coming. In fact they have actually increased, because the people smugglers know this government is not fair dinkum.
This government is not fair dinkum when it comes to border protection in this country. As I said: 60 boats, carrying 3,830 asylum seekers, have arrived. Why do the people smugglers continue to put people on boats and send them to Australia? For this reason—despite the fact that the government did the biggest political backflip of all time—and the Left of the Labor Party, as they will again today. I note the irony of the minister having to give the statement to the House on behalf of the government. There was not a lot of passion in it but I can understand why. This minister has been an ardent advocate for onshore processing, as opposed to offshore processing. I can only imagine the pain that must be felt when you have to stand up and say to the people of Australia, 'We got it wrong and we have to now agree with the former Howard government policies which we are readopting.'
Under this government, only five per cent of people who have arrived since they reopened Nauru have actually been sent there. When you have five per cent, of almost 4,000 people, being sent to Nauru, you tell me: is that a deterrent to the people smugglers? It is an absolute joke. It is a step in the right direction, don't get me wrong. That is why the coalition supported the reopening of Nauru and is again today supporting the establishment of PNG as a regional processing country.
But as we have said time and time again—and we have been proved right in relation to this point—unless the government adopts the full suite of the Howard government policies, sending five per cent of those people who have arrived in the last four weeks is hardly a deterrent to the people smugglers. In fact, last week almost six times the number of people sent to Nauru by Labor turned up this week on boats. What does that say about the policy that the government is currently implementing? The number of Afghan asylum seekers that Minister Bowen has sent to Nauru could fit in a minibus. In other words, he has sent less than a handful. But, if you look at the number of asylum seekers coming from Afghanistan to this country, they could fill ocean liners time and time again. There is clearly no disincentive to people coming to Australia.
Again, statistics confirm that it is not this government that is calling the shots in relation to border protection; the people smugglers continue to run border protection policy in Australia. Despite these glaring statistics, the government still refuses to be honest with the Australian people. It still refuses to explain to the Australian people why in the first instance, in August 2008, it rolled back the former Howard government's policies. We are now standing here in 2012 as a Senate and we are adopting in part the former Howard government's policies. The government cannot explain the last four years to the Australian people and the extent of the political backflip that they have actually done.
Senators will be aware that this day has been a long time coming. In 2010 the Governor of Manus Island wrote to the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea and indicated that he was very happy and the state was very happy to have Papua New Guinea, and in particular Manus Island, host the reopening of an offshore facility. That was over two years ago. If you want to look at how many people have arrived since the Governor of Manus Island wrote to the Prime Minister of PNG, more than 20,000 people have arrived in that time. It has taken more than 20,000 people to arrive in Australia by boat for the Prime Minister to accept that offer made by the Governor of Manus Island in 2010 to the Prime Minister of PNG to restore offshore processing on Manus Island.
The coalition's position on offshore processing has been consistent since day one. We have been consistent in what we have told the Australian people, and under offshore processing it is acknowledged by all Australians that the former Howard government policies stopped the boats. We support the reopening or the reestablishment of PNG as a regional processing country because, as we have said all along, Papua New Guinea has signed the refugee convention and there are legally binding protections for the people that Australia will send there. It was the coalition that originally enshrined human rights protections in the Migration Act, under section 198A, for people who are offshore. It was the coalition that opposed Labor's Malaysian five-for-one people-swap deal. As we said and have continued to say, this deal was an abominable deal that could not provide sufficient protections for those sent to Malaysia.
I remind senators of the report of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on the inquiry into the Malaysian arrangement, in which it was found:
… if the transfer of asylum seekers to Malaysia proceeds then the Australian Government will have failed dismally in fulfilling any so-called 'moral obligation'.
I said at the time that the Senate was debating the Labor government's Malaysian people-swap deal that the Left of the Labor Party should be ashamed of themselves. I said at the time that, going forward, the Left of the Labor Party would never again be able to stand up in this place and tell the Australian people that they believe in upholding the human rights of asylum seekers. Why? It was because the policy that the Left of the Labor Party sanctioned was not based on offshore processing; it was based on offshore dumping, and not the proper management of asylum seekers through offshore processing.
And, while the Left of the Labor Party screamed at the time that they were opposed to this type of treatment, when push came to shove, when they were actually asked to stand up for their principles and have their names recorded as voting against this abominable deal, they threw principle and all caution out the door and they were still prepared to support the Malaysian people-swap deal. That was absolute hypocrisy at its best. But then again, the Left of the Labor Party now proudly support offshore processing, as indicated by the minister's speech in the Senate today. They proudly support offshore processing, as they rightly should.
It was also the coalition that opposed the Gillard government's attempts to strip all protections from the Migration Act. We recall that the coalition's stance at the time was ridiculed by the Labor Party. However, the stance that we took on the stripping of protections by the Labor Party from the Migration Act was vindicated by both the High Court and the Houston report, which the government claims at this stage to rely on for its new policy and which found that the Malaysia deal did not contain adequate human rights protections for those who were sent there. It was also the coalition that insisted that in the changes to the law that passed the parliament to reopen Nauru this parliament would need to approve any country used for offshore processing to ensure appropriate human rights protections were in place.
Then we come to the present day. Just four weeks ago, in September, the government put before the parliament the special legislative instrument to authorise offshore processing in Nauru. That declaration has passed the House of Representatives and the Senate with the support of the coalition. This new designation that is currently before the Senate of Papua New Guinea as an offshore processing country is in a similar form and content to that previously debated by the Senate. Unfortunately for the Australian people, however, the government has come to the realisation far too late and at a great cost to the Australian people that it was wrong—that it was wrong to wind back the proven border protection policies of the former Howard government.
This is a government that still is not committed to offshore processing. It was dragged kicking and screaming to this place a number of weeks ago when it came to the re-establishment of Nauru as an offshore processing country. Even then, the government could not bring itself to say, 'This is Labor Party determined policy.' The government blamed the policy on the expert panel that the government put together to give it the answer to the problem. That, as we know, is the Houston report. What did the Houston report recommend? Again, it recommended the government take action to implement offshore processing on Nauru. If you have actually read the Houston report, as many of us in this place have, it is widely acknowledged that this is one of the most damning critiques of a government's policy that has ever been handed down. What did the Houston report actually find? The government accepted the findings of the Houston report, the expert panel which the government hand-picked itself and to which it gave the terms of reference. The minister has again referred to this and confirmed this today. What did the Houston report effectively find? It found that the government was wrong in principle to wind back the proven border protection policies of the former Howard government. The Houston report also substantially endorsed the coalition's approach to stopping the boats. That is why we are in this place today debating a motion that is currently before the Senate to designate Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country.
Whilst the coalition is supportive of the designation of PNG as an offshore processing country, I reaffirm to the Australian people that if and when a coalition government is next elected to govern this country, unlike the Labor government we will implement the full suite of the former Howard government's border protection policies. Too much has been lost over the last four years because of the Prime Minister's stubbornness and her refusal to admit what is so simple and what has been confirmed by the Houston report that the Labor Party in August 2008 just got it wrong. The coalition's policies on border protection have been proven to work. These policies work together and when combined it is irrefutable that they destroyed the people smugglers model. The same stubbornness by this government that rejected Nauru for years is the stubbornness that is still rejecting the other two planks of the coalition's policies—which are, of course, temporary protection visas and turning back the boats when it is safe to do so. Again, this has been recommended by the Houston panel. Ms Gillard has been proven wrong on Nauru and yet again the Australian public know that she is wrong on temporary protection visas and she is wrong on turning back the boats. The coalition understands that the Howard government's solutions worked then and they will work again when they are restored.
I rise to speak against the approval of this designation that has been forwarded in such haste by the government. The concerns that the Australian Greens have are concerns that are shared by many in the Australian community. They are very similar to the concerns that we had last time we saw a designation put forward in this place, and that was of course in relation to Nauru.
It seems that every day that goes by this government, together with the opposition, are colluding, snuggling up, to share their obsession with deterrence. Yet despite Nauru already been open, despite the fact that we have sent people there and had a big fanfare about the poor souls that we have dumped on Nauru, it has not stopped anybody coming here by boat. The deterrence factor has already failed. It has been proven to fail. The Australian Greens said it would never work and we have been proven right. The fact is that the reason a deterrence policy will not save lives is because the only option is to give people a safer alternative and a safer pathway to seeking protection. We know that out of the 22 recommendations put forward by the Houston report one of the key underlying principles was that of ensuring we gave people safer options. Yet that is the one recommendation that this government continues to drag its feet on.
We have had big fanfare from the minister about the planeloads of people we have sent from Christmas Island and dumped on Nauru, and I am sure we will have fanfare all over again once the coalition and the government tick off on such an inhumane policy to dump refugees, men, women and children, on Manus Island. But when are we getting our first planeload of refugees from Indonesia, from Malaysia, from Pakistan, giving them a safer option than having to come by boat in the first place? Experts have always argued, both in the Houston report and outside, that the best way of avoiding people having to take dangerous boat journeys is to give them a safer option, but that is not what this parliament has been dealing with for the last two months. We have had to suffer the obsession of the Labor government and Tony Abbott's coalition to punishing refugees in order to see if they can claw back some cheap, quick electoral votes. That is the crux of it, Mr Acting Deputy President. This is not about saving lives, this is all about dirty, bottom of the barrel politics.
This designation has been put forward today does not deal with the concerns that the Houston report said needed to be satisfied in order for the parliament to say, 'Yes, we could send people here.' We do not have the details of that. Let me go to one particular point: even in the memorandum of understanding with Papua New Guinea that the Australian government has signed and tabled as part of this designation, a key aspect is left unagreed. That is in relation to how unaccompanied minors are going to be treated. So we have the minister here, Senator Lundy, asking this chamber to tick off on this designation and yet with regard to the most vulnerable refugees that arrive here in Australia needing our protection, those children, whether they are orphaned or whether they had to flee and leave their mums and dads and their older brothers and sisters behind, there is no detail in this designation of how those children are going to be protected, who looks after them, who will be their guardian, what their rights are. They are the most vulnerable refugees, and this agreement is silent. Yet this parliament is expected to sign off on it.
We see in the documents put forward by the government to argue their case for why dumping refugees on Manus Island seems such a good idea to them, 'Oh well, there is not appropriate accommodation yet so we will put people in tents.' Manus Island has one of the world's highest malaria rates, but we are about to dump refugees, people who already have a fragile state of mental health and physical health, in tents in a place which has a massive rate of malaria. There is nothing in these documents to give us any rise to this chamber feeling satisfied that dumping refugees on Manus Island indefinitely is a good idea at all.
We know that the United Nations refused to participate, as they have in Nauru. They have also said that they will not participate for Manus Island and Papua New Guinea.
This government could not even convince the United Nations to participate in this process, despite the fact that if we are to have a proper regional framework that works towards lifting levels of protection the United Nations has to be involved. But this is such a poorly structured policy, based only on the obsession of deterrence, which has proved to fail, and the United Nations says, 'No, we are not participating.' Regarding the whole policy process by this government, rather than doing what the experts say we need, which is to lift levels of protection around the region so that people do not need to continue to run in order to seek and reach safety, the United Nations has said that this policy pushes down levels of protection and that it undermines the best levels of protection in this region.
Rather than Australia doing what is right, as a wealthy country governed by the rule of law, a country that proudly participated in the drafting of the refugee convention, under Julia Gillard's leadership, under Minister Bowen's leadership and under the spruiking by Minister Lundy, this government is trashing our obligations to the refugee convention. It will leave men, women and children locked up for years and years and years on a remote island in Papua New Guinea. That is not a way of lifting levels of protection for people—the most vulnerable in our region.
UNHCR, as I said, has refused to participate in this process, yet the government cannot even be bothered to make that clear in the designation that it gives to parliament to date. I guess it just assumes that we all would forget about it. It is an inconvenient truth that not even the world's leading refugee organisation will have a bar of this. Not only will the UNHCR not participate but also even the International Organization for Migration will not participate in this policy on Manus Island or Nauru.
The facilities, as outlined in the documents put forward by the government today, show that they are not ready to be housing refugees. We know that they were not ready in Nauru either. We also know that we started sending refugees to Nauru before the Australian government had even signed the contracts with the service providers. This chamber has demanded that the government table the contract with Transfield Services and they are still refusing to do it. Yet the government has the gall to ask the parliament to turn a blind eye to all of these botched mistakes and just allow them to start dumping people in another place, because they need the space and because their promises that offshore dumping was going to stop people coming by boats have not worked.
More people have come on boats in the last month than the month before. Yesterday we had a boat arrive with 100 people. This is not stopping desperate people from seeking safety and protection. The only way you do that is by ensuring people have safer alternatives. That is where the government has put no effort. We have heard nothing from the government about how many people they will resettle from Indonesia—genuine refugees who have been waiting in squalid conditions, hiding in Indonesia because they cannot go to school, cannot go to the doctor and cannot get work. But they have already been assessed as genuine refugees by the UNHCR.
When will the government start resettling some of those people so they do not have to come by boat? We have heard nothing from the government as to that particular recommendation from the Houston panel.
We know that this particular designation goes nowhere near addressing the very serious concerns about the negative impacts of detaining people indefinitely. Refugees will be locked up as prisoners for doing nothing but trying to seek safety and protection, which, despite the language that is used sometimes in this place by the other side, is not illegal. It is perfectly legal to seek asylum in Australia, as it is in any country that has signed the refugee convention. But this government wants to dump refugees—men, women and children—on a remote island in tents, surrounded by Dengue fever and malaria, indefinitely when all the expert knowledge tells us how damaging, how inhumane, how illegal that approach is. There is nothing that this government and senators on the Labor side have to feel proud of when today they will vote to indefinitely detain and indefinitely imprison refugees who have fled war, torture and persecution—all so that the government can say it is being tough and sending a message of deterrence that we know clearly is not working at the moment.
There is in the MoU with Papua New Guinea the allowance for this government to dump children on Manus Island. The question this government does not want to answer is: who will be going to Manus Island? When will we be sending orphaned refugee children, unaccompanied children and young children to Manus Island? If we do send young children and young families, which this designation allows, how long will those children spend in immigration detention on a remote island, suffering the lack of access to appropriate services?
We know that the health contract that has been signed does not allow for adequate mental health services to be available on Manus Island. In fact, the contract that was tabled for IHMS, the health service provider that will offer this service to both Manus Island and Nauru, says that the regular counselling that will be available to refugees on Manus Island will be via a telephone call to Sydney. A telephone call to Sydney will be the regular counselling services provided—outrageous. All of the evidence we have is that detaining vulnerable refugees—who have suffered the consequences of having to flee war, torture and persecution—indefinitely, remotely, out of sight and out of mind just compounds their suffering and compounds their traumatic experiences. Yet this government just wants to blindly follow in John Howard's footsteps.
The interesting thing about Senator Cash's contribution to this debate is that the senator fully admits that this is John Howard's policy. We have gotten to a point where the Labor Party has adopted the callous, cruel, inhumane policies of John Howard as their own, and there is no getting out of that. It was all in the name of stopping people coming here by boat but it has not worked.
It is not working and it has not worked. The only result will be years of suffering and inflicted pain on the very fragile, vulnerable refugees that we detain indefinitely, that this government will lock up on Manus Island and make them suffer for as long as they need to suffer so that the government thinks that that will send a message to others.
The experts have consistently told us that if we want to stop people having to take dangerous boat journeys, we need to have an open mind; bring people here safely ourselves. Yes, we have had a commitment to lift the refugee intake. When are we going to start resettling people from Indonesia? Why has the Australian government not brought people from Indonesia who have been assessed as genuine refugees and who have been waiting for years in Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan? Why aren't they here? Why haven't we had the first plane load arrive? It is because this government is not genuine about a humanitarian response.
This is all about competing with the heartless, callous policies of Tony Abbott's coalition. It is a race to the bottom. They are scraping the bottom of the barrel and there is no forethought for what impact indefinite detention will have on the children whom we send to Manus Island. All of the experts say indefinite detention is the worst possible thing that we can be doing to vulnerable refugees. The UN says we should not be doing it. The health experts say we should not be doing it. The government's senators, members of the House and ministers have argued in the past against indefinite detention. Yet here we have a policy that we are being asked to pass in this place to indefinitely dump refugee children on a remote island in Papua New Guinea, wiping our hands of responsibility for them.
This indefinite detention issue is exactly why I have circulated amendments in this chamber to limit the length of detention for any individual on Manus Island to 12 months. If this government cannot be organised enough to assess people's health, security and refugee claims within 12 months, they cannot be trusted to do anything. Twelve months is enough time to do those things. Anything beyond that is unnecessary suffering for these people. If people are found to be genuine refugees, we resettle them. If they are not then we send them home. But you do not need any longer than 12 months to get an answer on somebody's assessment. Most other comparable countries do it in far less than 12 months.
This is the second designation in the last month that we have spoken on in this chamber. Yet, again, it is riddled with gaps, hastily put together and does not have the information that this chamber needs access to in order to make a proper decision. But we will see this voted through today because the government and the coalition are so obsessed with being anti refugee, anti humanitarian and doing everything to make John Howard look good.
Therefore, I move:
At the end of the motion, add the following words:
"And calls on the Government to put in place a 12 month time limit on detention of an individual in Papua New Guinea."
I rise to speak about the thrust of the motion and what the government has moved today, but I will start by making reference to the remarks of Senator Hanson-Young a moment ago.
Senator Hanson-Young has described the processing of refugees and asylum seekers in places like Nauru and Manus Island as being callous, cruel and anti-refugee. I accept that her position and that of the Greens, unlike that of the government, has been consistent throughout this debate. They have always argued for onshore processing and they have always argued against offshore processing in places like Manus Island, Malaysia and Nauru.
But I remind the Senate in considering this issue today that, unlike the situation we are often in of debating an abstract Greens solution to a problem, we have actually seen the Greens' solution to the boat issue implemented over much of the last five years. We have had the Greens' policy working, and the consequence of that policy has been 26,347 people arriving since 2007 on 446 boats and, most conspicuously, most spectacularly and most horrendously, the deaths of over 700 people in that process. I, for one, am not prepared to be lectured about how cruel the implementation of an offshore solution might be when the alternative we have seen in place for the last four years has led directly to the deaths of 700 people.
In the last six years of the Howard government, when the Pacific Solution was fully in train and fully implemented, we cannot be sure, but there were probably no deaths at sea because there were almost no boats coming to Australia's shores. That, by itself, is sufficient reason to reject a continuation of the failed policies of the last four years based on onshore processing of asylum seekers.
I listened to Senator Lundy's speech with considerable interest. In fact, everything that Senator Lundy said in the course of her remarks, with the exception of the reference to the 20,000-people humanitarian intake increase, could have been said by an immigration minister in the Howard government. It was a complete articulation of the Howard government policy, although she failed to mention that there were other elements of the Howard government's policy which have not been implemented as part of this government's policy.
It is probably not of great value to rake over the fact that, in the course of moving from an effective offshore processing solution which operated throughout the last six years of the Howard government to today's partial re-instatement of the Howard government's Pacific Solution, we have been through at least four iterations of the government's policy. After being told that offshore processing did not work we were then told, after hundreds and thousands of arrivals, that maybe it did work and we could have offshore processing happening in East Timor. Then it would happen on a regional processing centre which has never transpired. Then it would happen in Malaysia. In fact, at one stage in the course of that iteration of options Manus Island was also talked about as an option for the government to pursue, and this was openly entertained. The government's pride was too much at risk to reopen the Howard government's detention centre on Nauru, but it was prepared to entertain the option of Manus Island. For some reason it did not pursue that particular option.
We have seen change after change in the government's policy, and to be frank it is very poorly placed today to lecture us in this chamber about what we should do to fix the problem of unauthorised boat arrivals. It has demonstrated that it has absolutely no idea, and today has only the option of returning to the successful solutions of the former government in order to be able to fix this problem—or so the government thinks.
The point about this motion is that while it picks up another piece of the solution that was employed by the Howard government prior to the 2007 election it does not fully pick up the policies which were effective in deterring the business of people smugglers, the flow of boats and the deaths at sea. It does not do those things because it leaves out key elements of that policy. It refuses to acknowledge that turning back boats in certain circumstances was an effective policy that was absolutely devastating to the effectiveness of the product that the people smugglers were selling.
People climbed on to those boats that they had paid US$10,000 or whatever the cost was to get a place on those boats and they headed a couple of hundred kilometres off the coast of Indonesia only to be intercepted and turned back by an Australian naval vessel. Quite possibly the boat would return to the same port from which it had departed and then other asylum seekers in that place or in contact with people in that place would realise they had done their dough, wasted their $10,000 as they had not got very far. The damage to the business case of the people smugglers by such actions was enormous. That is why in certain circumstances the tactic was employed successfully and legally under the Howard government. The absence of that particular policy tool today is another reason that this government's policies are under great doubt. In my opinion it is quite likely that these policies will not succeed in replicating the success of the former government's policies.
The government also refuses to reinstate temporary protection visas to underscore the fact that arrival in Australia in this fashion does not give one a permanent capacity to stay in the country or to bring other family members here. Removing that particular capacity does an enormous amount to undermine the attractiveness of arrival by boat. My party has always argued that we should do our utmost to deter those kinds of arrivals, and the deaths at sea of over 700 people in the last four years has reminded us all of how sensible and appropriate such a policy is.
I note with interest that the government is now touting proudly—and Senator Lundy did this in her remarks—the fact that a number of people who were either transferred or going to be transferred to Nauru have elected to return to their country of origin, specifically to Sri Lanka. I understand that some 46 adult men have left Christmas Island to avoid being transferred to Nauru and have returned to Sri Lanka, as well as a couple of others who got to Nauru and returned to Sri Lanka through other means. The fact the government is making much of those instances is significant. If we wind the clock back a little we would recall that when the government was still in the mode of denying that offshore processing was going to work it kept telling us that Nauru did not work. Why didn't Nauru work? It did not work because most of the people who were processed there ended up back in Australia. That is an interesting use of language: most people processed there—that is, those who got to Nauru and went through the process of being processed—ended up back in Australia.
But those figures ignored the fact that under the Pacific solution a large number of asylum seekers never got to Nauru. They either never went to Nauru or went to Nauru and elected to leave and go back to another country or to their current country of origin because they chose not to go through the process of being assessed for a visa to come to Australia. Those people were excluded from Labor's calculation of the success or otherwise of Nauru because it did not suit their case. In fact, if you include those people who arrived by boat in Australia and who were either sent to Nauru or were going to be sent to Nauru but were diverted back to their country of origin, only 43 per cent of those who made boat journeys under the Pacific solution actually ended up with visas to live in Australia. That was the statistic which made the Pacific solution a success but it was the one that the Labor government denied or fiddled with in order to claim that the Pacific solution was in fact a success. They were happy to white out those people who chose voluntarily to return to another country in claiming that the Howard government solution did not work but today they are very happy to claim that those people going back to their countries of origin is in fact an indication of Labor's success in their replication of some kind of boiled-down or pared down version of the Pacific solution.
The policies that are being pursued to date after the dismantling in October 2008 of the Howard government solution have manifestly failed. By boat, 26,347 people have arrived. There have been 446 boat arrivals. The government, for this financial year, has calculated its spending on dealing with this issue based on the arrival of 5,600-odd people but we have seen since the beginning of the financial year averaged arrivals of 2,000 people per month. We have already exceeded the quota for arrivals for this financial year, and it is only three months old.
Clearly this government still has no idea. Clearly this government does not understand how to solve this problem. It is time that they either fully embrace the policies that were effective in the past or they accept that they cannot do that and let another government take over and deal with this problem effectively—if indeed they have not already so trashed the effective solution to this problem, have not so stimulated the trade of the people smugglers and made those businesses boom in a way which they simply did not between 2001 and 2007. They have not done that to such an egregious extent that it is no longer possible to push that genie back into the bottle.
Let me simply repeat what has been said by many coalition members and senators in the course of debates here and in the other chamber: while the coalition welcomes the fact that the government is dismantling its own previous failed attempts at restricting the unauthorised arrival of people by boat, it has not implemented the Pacific solution that was so effective under the former government. While it has half-heartedly embarked on this process, while it has left so many key pieces of the puzzle out it will not in all likelihood succeed in preventing arrivals of people by boat. I say that with the greatest concern and sadness because, while people continue to make those perilous journeys on boats, they continue to risk their lives. Once again, Australia will need to examine how it can take further steps to prevent that loss of life at sea.
The coalition, as Senator Cash indicated, will support this motion but we acknowledge this is only a very small piece of a solution which the government is very far from having found.
In rising to speak today I will say what I have said on several other occasions in that this is once again a very unhappy experience for me in having to speak up against this motion. Many of the arguments in this debate have been thrashed out quite comprehensively but I think it is important to reiterate that this is an incredibly complex problem. None of us here have any simple solutions that will resolve it. There are many factors at play, many of them global, international factors, many of them in our region and some of them here on our doorstep.
Because it is such a complex problem and because it is an issue of such tremendous complexity, it is an issue that requires leadership. For wicked problems like this, it is critical that we have governments and political leaders who are prepared to show some leadership and courage, and to try and take the community with them rather than trying to appeal to people's fears and concerns. But instead of that, rather than having a debate in this country that is measured and that highlights the limitations that the Australian government has in terms of influencing the movement of people across the world, we have seen a debate that has been dominated by simplistic slogans and the notion of quick fixes and simple solutions, rather than leaders having the courage to acknowledge that this is a difficult problem that ultimately requires a much longer term set of measures to ensure that we do get the response that we are after.
We have seen a game of political football. Those on the conservative side of politics say, 'We stopped the boats.' That is a function of how debased the political discourse in this country has become, that a problem like the movement of people across the world that results from so many different factors has become reduced to a four-word slogan like 'We stopped the boats'. It is a function of the fact that we have a political debate in this country that has been diminished by the contributions that many people have made on this issue. The lesson for the Labor Party is: whatever you do on this issue, it will never be enough for those opposite. Here we have an opposition who essentially voted for the government's policy and are now doing everything they can to distance themselves from it. They need to realise that they own this policy. It is theirs just as much as it is the government's.
I think it is important also to correct some of the things Senator Humphries said earlier in his contribution. He alluded to the claim that we have essentially seen the Greens policy being enacted over the past five years. Again it is a reflection of the fact that this debate often occurs without any genuine reference to the facts as they actually exist. What is the Greens policy? We want to see an increase in the humanitarian intake. We want to see more funding for the UNHCR. We want to see greater focus on regional processing. We want to see an uncoupling of our onshore and offshore quotas. We want to see people's lives at sea being made safer. We want to see all of those things happen, and none of those things have been in place. So to say we have actually seen the Greens policy enacted over the past five years is just plain wrong.
It is a great injustice to this debate when we have those sorts of contributions, to then gloss over the fact that it was a conservative government that saw the death of 350 people during the sinking of the SIEV X: 'We will gloss over that part of history because it is inconvenient'. It is time that the debate on this issue was at least returned to a level where there is some degree of civil discourse, where the facts as they exist are on the table—not as those opposite would try to construct them. It is very important that we do that because we will not make any progress on this issue unless we do so.
My principal objection to the motion before us is that we are violating a very important principle when it comes to those people who seek our protection—that is, we must first do no harm. By sending people to PNG, we are saying that we will inflict harm and suffering on one group in the community, people who are deserving of our protection in both a moral and legal sense. We are saying to them, 'We will inflict harm upon you' and no-one can deny that what is before us is a policy that inflicts tremendous harm on people. We are saying to them, 'We will inflict harm upon you in an effort to try to change the behaviour of another group of people.' That is a principle that we should never support.
I am very concerned, as are many others who have made contributions to this debate. We argue that we are acting in the interests of refugees. I do not see any refugees arguing in support of this policy. I do not see a clamour from refugee groups suggesting that we are doing is in their interests. In fact, what I hear is in large part the direct opposite of that. Of course, we have the same arguments against this policy from human rights groups like Amnesty, from churches, from the ACTU, from a number of academics and from human rights lawyers.
One of the most interesting contributions recently was from some people within PNG. We know there are parliamentarians in Papua New Guinea who are appalled at what has been inflicted on them. We have PNG's former Attorney-General Sir Arnold Ahmet, who says that Australia is being presumptuous by essentially debating the legislation before PNG had the opportunity to even discuss it within their own parliament. He said:
We cannot overnight be expected to rubber-stamp. It's like a patronising attitude towards Papua New Guinea and we cannot simply be expected to do this. And I think that Australia has handled it very poorly.
He goes on to say that:
Struggling Pacific island states cannot be presumptuously treated like Australian territories with the token gestures of development dollar for removing this problem from Australian soil. This is a moral dilemma. We can't simply be forced upon to take these people.
Even worse than that, not simply are we treating PNG with disrespect but we have the Catholic Bishop of Manus Island, who described the Australian government's plans to process asylum seekers as 'immoral'. Bishop Ambrose Kiapseni was a critic of the Howard government's use of Manus and said that he believed what we were doing on Manus Island with this approach was 'far worse' because we were not prepared to outline the limit on how long asylum seekers would stay there. He says:
…keeping the people like that in a place maybe they don't want to stay in, I think that's like forcing them. So[it] is immoral in that way. It's like putting people in jail without a sentence.
Just think about that. He is stating that he believes that this approach is worse than the Howard Pacific solution.
It is worth considering the conditions on Manus as well.
We have essentially a developing country with a range of communicable diseases, including malaria; we have health infrastructure that is inadequate; and we are saying to people who are both legally and morally entitled to our protection that we are going to send them to that environment so we can try and use them as an example for others. The President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, said that she was very concerned about the change in the balance between executive discretion, ministerial discretion and the opportunity for review by the High Court. In her words, she says that we have 'a strengthening of ministerial discretion, the executive role, and a weakening of the capacity for judicial review'. She says that to change that 'is a worry in a modern democracy where people should have ready access to the courts'.
We have a number of important contributions to this debate, including from some of the people directly affected, who say, 'We don't want it.' There are also very sensible pragmatic reasons. I think there is a very sound moral argument for why this should not proceed, but there is also a pragmatic argument. We know that, to date, there has not been a significant impact on the flow of people seeking our protection. We know that, in fact, to date there has not been a significant impact, because it is unlikely that a policy like this could be worse than the conditions that some people are fleeing from. I find it a little offensive that this argument has been dressed up as an argument for compassion for refugees. There is nothing compassionate about a statement that says, 'We stop the boats. We'll decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.' That is the construct through which this debate has been had. That has nothing to do with compassion and has everything to do with politics.
Ultimately, this is an issue that requires a much more mature debate. It requires a return to the bipartisanship that we had during the Hawke and Fraser years, where this issue was not used as a political football. Unfortunately, that bipartisanship broke down during the tenure of the Howard government, when he saw opportunity in the lead-up to an election to politicise what should have been a manageable problem, not one that was seen through the prism of politics. Unfortunately, that is not the tenor of the debate; it is a function of the lack of leadership and courage from some of our political leaders at this time.
We know that the numbers are not with us in this parliament. We have a bill before the parliament to try and make what is essentially a very bad piece of legislation a little better. We have a bill that would at least ensure that the health of refugees is monitored and that we get a clear and accurate assessment of what their health needs are, as well as how we can best meet those needs. The bill has been supported by the AMA and it essentially says that there will be an independent health panel made up of experts, operating at arm's length from the immigration department and reporting to the parliament so that we can ensure that the parliament at least has some role in ensuring that the welfare of refugees is looked after.
Ultimately there is a much better way of dealing with this problem. It requires bipartisanship. It requires us to offer people a safer pathway. It means that we need to increase our humanitarian intake and work on a regional solution. We need to better resource the UNHCR and provide people with other avenues of reaching this country. I am sure that there will always be a time when some people will use whatever options are open to them to arrive here, and it is our responsibility, both legally and more importantly morally, to offer them protection.
In a wealthy country like Australia it is a sign of strength and not weakness to be able to afford people that protection. It is with some sadness that I speak again today. We will not be supporting the motion today and we will be ensuring that we do whatever we can to make what is essentially a very poor piece of legislation a little better for those people involved.
I rise to speak today on the designation of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country. And so our nation's trajectory of shame in relation to our treatment of asylum seekers continues. I have spoken on this too many times before. We once had a proud history when it came to the way in which we responded to some of the world's most desperate and wretched peoples. At that time I think we could have held our heads up high if that had been our national anthem at the time. Those particular lines, 'For those who've come across the seas/We've boundless plains to share,' genuinely reflected the way we saw ourselves as a small but proud nation prepared to sign up to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. In fact, we were one of the first countries willing to sign up to that convention which, as we all know, was a response to the disgrace that was the case of how Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany were treated during the Second World War.
Proudly, we signed up to the convention in 1954, and as a result of that convention we undertook obligations on a world stage to treat people seeking asylum with respect. We took on an obligation to assess persons claiming asylum as to whether they were genuine refugees. What we know now is that of those persons coming to Australia seeking asylum over 90 per cent are ultimately assessed to be genuine refugees. We also undertook obligations of non-refoulement under the 1951 refugee convention—not forcibly returning people seeking asylum to the country from which they were fleeing.
The designation motion that is being debated today is only possible because of the shameful passage of the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Act several months ago. In my view, the passing of this legislation heralded a low point in Australia's willingness to allow human rights violations in order to achieve a pragmatic, political outcome. The Human Rights Law Centre has analysed the human rights violations in that legislation and they have been scathing in their analysis. They have said that the legislation:
… enables the government of the day to designate any country as a regional processing country—
and, of course, that is what we are doing today—
regardless of the human rights protections afforded in that country either under international or domestic law. This is likely to give rise to violations of non-refoulement obligations under the Refugee Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture, all of which have been ratified by Australia.
The Act provides for the removal of unaccompanied children to a regional processing country for a broad range of reasons considered to be in the 'national interest', contrary to the general obligation under the Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that the best interests of the child are given primary consideration and the specific obligation to ensure that asylum seeker children receive all necessary human rights protections and humanitarian assistance.
This is the pass that we have come to in Australia. The Human Rights Law Centre went on to say:
The Act provides that the rules of natural justice do not apply to a range of Ministerial decisions, including decisions as to which countries should be designated as regional processing countries, whether an asylum seeker should be sent offshore, and which regional processing country an asylum seeker should be sent to. This directly breaches Australia's obligations under the ICCPR to ensure that, in the determination of rights and obligations, a person must have access to the courts and is entitled to a full and fair hearing.
The litany of human rights violations continues.
This designation today—what would it involve? What does it represent? Essentially, if this motion is passed today and the Independent State of Papua New Guinea is designated as a regional processing country, it will be one of the wealthiest nations in the world outsourcing our moral responsibilities to one of our poor neighbours, one of the poorest countries in the world. Our neighbours like Nauru and Papua New Guinea are far more economically challenged than what we are.
On one hand, we posture on the world stage and in our own neighbourhood about the need to work together but our actions—and they are actions promoted by the Australian Labor Party, and Tony Abbott and the coalition—convey a lack of respect for our regional partners and an unwillingness to take genuine responsibility for those asylum seekers who seek refuge with us.
Let us compare the situation that we face with those of our regional partners—partners like Indonesia, who have 10,000 asylum seekers; Malaysia, who have 90,000 asylum seekers; and Thailand, who have more than 140,000 asylum seekers. About 6,000 asylum seekers come to Australia each year by boat, and it is a small fraction of our immigration intake of 110,000. We welcome the fact that the refugee intake has been increased to 20,000 but this is still extremely low in comparison to our peers, other wealthy nations, in the world. So in 2010 Canada received 23,160 asylum seekers and in France it was 47,790.
In Australia we expect our regional partners Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to agree to new responsibilities for thousands of asylum seekers but we are not prepared to shoulder the burden equally. We use our economic power and influence to pressure more vulnerable states like Nauru and Papua New Guinea to take on our moral responsibilities for us.
What will it mean to designate the Independent State of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country and, more specifically, asylum seekers to Manus Island? I would like to refer to the words of a man called Paul Lonot Sireh, a Manus Islander, a Manusian. He was born and bred there. He did his primary and secondary schooling there and then went to a seminary to study for the priesthood. He left Papua New Guinea for Australia about 12 years ago and he has recently written some heartfelt words about the prospect of having Manus Island designated as a regional processing centre to take Australia's responsibility for refugees. He said:
Being a Manusian, I am feeling sad for my island and my people.
… … …
The move to spend millions of dollars to reopen the Manus detention centre is very much like building a palace in the middle of a slum. Manus Island is a forgotten province in PNG to say the least as regards development. People's lifestyle is undisturbed and peaceful. However like most developing peoples we are now feeling marginalized and our needs ignored by both governments. Because I reside in Australia, I am privileged to have access to a modern and western lifestyle, with three meals a day, better clothing, and many other benefits from living in this country. Manus Islanders don't have these privileges.
Can both the Australian and PNG governments help improve the living conditions of the islanders before thinking of spending millions on an exercise that will not be beneficial to all? If foreigners are to be sent to Manus, how will the needs of all Manus Islanders be met?
What would be the ideal way to boost the local economy on Manus? Here are a few suggestions for much needed improvements to infrastructure. Our deserted Lorengau town needs to be developed with good roads, housing and good sanitation. The Manus highway is very much like a logging track. The wharf has been there since World War II. People are dying every day because there are insufficient drugs and no hospital facilities to attend to the sick. The airport terminal needs to be renovated or completely rebuilt. These are just some of the vital needs of Manus Island if Australia and PNG governments are serious about boosting the local economy.
I will interpolate here with my own comments: through Australia exerting economic influence to displace our moral responsibility to process those people coming to our shores seeking asylum by placing them in a less privileged country like Papua New Guinea and a less privileged area in a less privileged country like Manus Island, the divisions that can be set up, the jealousies, the misunderstandings that can occur, we must take some responsibility for. By displacing our moral responsibilities we are spreading the wretchedness of those people who are coming to Australia seeking asylum from us.
I will continue with Mr Sireh's words:
But my main concern is that Australia is a prosperous First World nation that is economically capable of accepting a much large number of refugees who reach our shores seeking asylum from war, violence and persecution. By offering Manus PNG, with a much weaker developing economy, substantial aid to process many of these asylum seekers, Australia is lapsing back into the habits of its colonial past by exploiting the resources of another nation, in this case the willingness and economic needs of the remote Manus Islanders.
The government is asking Manus-PNG to do what they themselves are not willing to do. The fact that the government's motive is to deny asylum seekers the protection of Australian Law makes moving their problems to PNG all the more reprehensible.
… … …
Despite the many differences, are there not also many parallels with the early history of Australia, when England decided to solve her convict problems by sending them around the world to Botany Bay—out of sight, out of mind?
Mr Sireh reminds us of the experiences of the Palestinian asylum seeker Aladdin Siselam, who remained the sole detainee on Manus Island for 10 months in 2004. Mr Siselam told ABC Radio's Saturday AMprogram that it would be wrong to reopen the facility, that it is a bad decision and he gave testimony to the effect on his own mental health of being detained on Manus Island. He went on to say he continues to experience a mental disability from the post-traumatic stress he experienced after that detention and suffering, and that it has been difficult for him to rebuild his life. I will come back to what we know are the ongoing consequences for people's mental health of indefinite detention.
Mr Sireh says:
I strongly urge that such experiences should not happen again. To re-open the Manus detention centre would be inhumane and destructive for the health and wellbeing of all involved.
Please leave Manus Island alone if the local people can't benefit from it, and the very name of Manus Island becomes linked around the world with injustice and persecution.
As I have already indicated, we are denying asylum seekers their basic human rights—rights that every human being is entitled to. The legislation that enables this designation to occur explicitly denies the rights of natural justice. It provides explicitly that protections within the legislation are not binding on the government and it removes the role of the minister as a guardian for unaccompanied minors, children, and begs the question: who ultimately will be responsible for these people? They are vulnerable because they are minors and particularly vulnerable because they are asylum seekers.
One of the worst aspects of this policy is the fact that it subjects people to a term of detention which is indefinite on the basis of this idea of no advantage being given to those people who seek asylum by coming to Australia by boat. As Julian Burnside, the eminent jurist, has pointed out: this is nonsensical. What are the dynamics? How can this concept of no advantage and how can the length of detention be determined when there are so many flaws in applying the formula?
How does one determine when a person seeking asylum in Australia and arriving by boat would otherwise have been resettled? How do we determine what the average term of waiting for resettlement would have been? Do we take the average standard of an African refugee camp? Do we look at waiting times in Malaysia or Indonesia? Depending on what formula we apply, the difference could be between five and 40 years. Either of those possibilities would be totally unacceptable.
Effectively, this policy has people being sentenced to exile in a place that is out of sight, out of mind for Australians, for an unknown period in conditions that are unacceptable. Their 'crime' is seeking asylum under a convention which Australia proudly signed up to in 1954. We know that there will be devastating consequences for these people. These people will, by and large, be the future citizens of Australia, and we as a nation will continue to pick up the tab for the economic costs; the ongoing assistance and rehabilitation for the mental effects of the detention; the cost of the opportunity lost by having these people's potential squandered for the period they are detained; their concept for what it is to be an Australian and the way that will fundamentally be affected by what they have experienced; and also our concept of ourselves as a people.
The effects of this will be generational, and I am sure that history will judge what we are doing extremely harshly. We know, particularly in relation to the mental health consequences of indefinite detention, how serious those consequences are because we have now been doing this experiment for a decade. We know that indefinite detention creates factors for producing mental illness and mental disorder. It seems to me that if we had set about to design a cruel process to achieve a devastating outcome we could not have been more effective.
These are people who flee trauma, persecution and threats to their lives and their families, who have often experienced or witnessed things unthinkable for those of us who sit in this chamber. They take perilous journeys to reach our shores and they come with hope, seeking solace and refuge—and we dash that hope, we dehumanise them, we demonise them and we lock them up indefinitely. And now we ship them away from our shores to places like Nauru and Manus Island, where there is one of the highest rates of malaria in the Pacific. It is not surprising that indefinite detention leads to self-harm, severe depression and suicide. We saw that time and time again at Nauru, where children swallowed shampoo in an effort to kill themselves. This is the responsibility that we all have to be prepared to take if we are going to implement this kind of policy.
This is a complex problem, but the Greens have been willing to genuinely grapple with this. There are no easy solutions, and so we have a Greens policy that is aimed at ensuring that people do not feel that they need to take desperate measures in order to get the opportunity to seek a better life. That is the way to stop the boats.
It is only through leadership—the kind of leadership that this country deserves and that we are all elected to take on as a sign of the trust placed in us by the Australian people—that we will see genuine progress in dealing with this difficult issue. There is much at stake. It is not just the immediate welfare of those people coming to us for refuge right now but also our international reputation. Most importantly, in the end it is about our own concept of who we are as a people and what we stand for. I genuinely believe that we are better than this policy would suggest, and urge the Senate not to support the motion.
I reiterate to the Senate the integral nature of supporting this motion, which is to designate the Independent State of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country. I would like to address the amendment put forward by the Greens and the reasons the government will not be supporting this amendment.
The government is taking action recommended by a panel of experts. We have agreed in principle to implement all 22 recommendations of the expert panel's report on asylum seekers, and this is how responsible governments develop policy: we listen to the advice of experts. Those recommendations include regional processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea as soon as is practicable. The government believes that the measures it is putting in place as recommended by the panel will be effective. The combination of an increased refugee intake from offshore and no advantage for those who arrive by boat removes the attractiveness of attempting the expensive and dangerous boat journey to Australia. It is important to note, and in the context of this debate I remind my colleagues, that the expert panel report does not recommend temporary protection visas, a measure that in the past, contrary to what we have heard today, saw some 95 per cent of refugees permanently remain in Australia, and makes clear that tow-backs create risks to the lives of Australian Defence Force personnel and would only ever work with an agreement with other countries, something that Indonesia has made amply clear will not happen.
Through the course of much of this debate we are faced with opposition for opposition's sake and we as a government are doing our level best to take the politics out of this issue. As we have said consistently, there is still some way to go before we see the real effects of these policies but we are starting to see positives such as the recent voluntary returns of Sri Lankans. We know people smugglers will continue to test our resolve, but no-one should doubt the government's commitment to implementing the 22 recommendations of the expert panel. We believe that it is only through doing this, through responding to that expert advice diligently, that we will be able to end the appalling trade of people smuggling and help stop people dying at sea. People arriving by boat without a visa after 13 August 2012 run the risk of transfer to a regional processing country. That is clear.
Senator Hanson-Young interjecting—
The government has already transferred a significant number of people to Nauru and such transfers will continue to take place over the coming weeks and months. Indeed, the principle behind this policy is that saving lives is paramount. Contrary to the Greens' accusations levelled through the course of this debate, transferees will not be left on Nauru and Papua New Guinea indefinitely.
As I was saying, to have an effective policy it is necessary, as we know by the panel's advice and recommendations, to have a no-advantage principle for people seeking asylum—that is, for those seeking asylum they are not given any preferential treatment in processing their claims as a result of travelling irregularly by boat to Australia. This means that people who arrive in Australia by boat should not be resettled any faster than refugees waiting in refugee camps around the world. If the government is going to invest in a regional process, it is fundamental that asylum seekers should be required to access that process and not seek an advantage by travelling to Australia irregularly by boat. It is important to remember that irregular maritime arrivals would have been waiting long periods in the region for processing and provision of a durable outcome to this very difficult problem. We are not adding to that time, only reinforcing the principle that there will be no advantage gained in paying a people smuggler to bring them to Australia and, most importantly, risking their lives and perhaps the lives of their loved ones in that process.
These measures are in conjunction with the unprecedented rise in the humanitarian intake to 20,000 people. This will include refugees who have been waiting for a number of years in the hope of resettlement in Australia. It is also important to note that the panel has also recommended circumstances in which people spend time waiting in Nauru and Papua New Guinea be different than when asylum seekers were processed there in the past. The intention is that the facilities will be open, there will be appropriate mental health arrangements and transferees will have access to education and vocational opportunities. So I refute many of the propositions put forward by the Greens in the debate today about the treatment of asylum seekers on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea.
This motion seeks to implement a key and urgent recommendation of the expert panel report. As I stated a number of times in my opening comments and at the beginning of my closing remarks, this motion is about the designation of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country. The government's policy will be a clear demonstration that people can pursue regular options and be safely referred to resettlement countries like Australia as part of an orderly humanitarian program while at the same time providing no advantage to those who arrive by boat. Together, these things will undermine the people-smuggling trade. For these reasons the government will be opposing the amendment put forward by the Greens. I commend the substantive motion to the Senate.