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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13529


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (19:06): I rise to foreshadow an amendment I will be moving to the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012 which would put into law the Bali process. I know I have been banging on about this all year, but I know it has the support of both major political parties in this chamber and, I would hope, the support of the vast majority of all members here.

The amendment will require an annual report from the minister, whoever that may be, on the Bali process and the work of government in the implementation of the Bali process, to be made to this House. It is good work that is being done, across party lines, offshore, that was started in 2002 by Alexander Downer and is continued under the current government, and, I understand, represented in the process by the minister at the table tonight, Minister Bowen.

The Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime is co-chaired by the governments of Indonesia and Australia. It brings together participants to work on very practical measures to help combat people smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crimes throughout our Asia-Pacific region. It is the best we have in regard to the issues associated with slowing the movement of people within our region and trying to deal with issues of criminality associated with people-smuggling and trafficking. It is the mid- to long-term solution that so many people are looking for as the circuit-breaker to much of the short-term language that we hear dominating this debate in Australia today.

Even Paris Aristotle today in the Sydney Morning Herald again made the compelling case that only a mid-term, comprehensive, regional response will address the issues before the House. Speaking with reference to The Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, of which he was a member, Mr Aristotle said:

The panel presented an integrated package of 22 recommendations knowing it would take time to implement them … The report’s most important components were measures to establish an effective regional processing and protection framework that would build a safer system.

…      …   …

None of the measures are quick fixes, nor can they work on their own. The howls for immediate success and claims that it must have failed even though it has not been fully implemented are examples of the shrillness characterising this debate.

So that is one of the expert panel members in today's media in an opinion piece reflecting not so much on this legislation but on the ongoing debate that has gone off the rails in Australia today, and on the false expectations that are put to the Australian people from short-termism.

None of the issues in question and at stake that challenge public policy in this area will be nor can be fixed by short-term solutions. They need mid- to long-term solutions and they do require Australia to work with our near neighbours. If we try to go it alone in any particular policy way we will fail, and that is regardless of who is the minister of the day, and regardless of the government of the day, and regardless of which political parties are involved. Unless we work with our near neighbours in a coordinated way, as part of a regional process, we will fail. The recommendations that were made by the expert panel highlight that, and, again, people like Paris Aristotle have been highlighting that today. It is the reference point, the safe port, in all of this for public policy in regard to the Bali process, which is the bipartisan piece of work in all of this, and is something that I hope we can get codified into Australian law today.

So, like the expert panel, I am certain that regional cooperation and bilateral agreements will be central to the successful implementation of the recommendations of what is now known as the Houston report, and it is essential for the successful establishment of things such as offshore assessment and to protect against loss of life at sea. The movement of refugees in the Asia-Pacific region is not an issue that Australia can deal with in isolation in the absence of cooperation with other countries in our region. While Australia can establish regional processing arrangements in the short term, Australia's domestic policies alone will not easily deter those refugees who are desperately seeking protection from persecution.

The irregular movement of people affects many countries in our region, as much as if not more than it affects Australia. By and large, those who seek refuge in Australia have transited through the territory of one of Australia's neighbours before they arrive here. Movements into other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, on raw figures alone, are higher than movements into Australia. It is a myth that has made its way into the Australian community that it is any other way. Without a doubt, many of our Asia-Pacific neighbours are more challenged by more movements of asylum seekers than we in Australia are, largely because we are surrounded by water. That alone significantly slows the movement of people to Australia.

Therefore, we need to work with our near neighbours, not only on issues of people seeking asylum but also on issues that are equally challenging, if not more challenging, and which should challenge us as they should and do challenge our neighbours: issues of criminality associated with smuggling, and—for me, the most insidious of all crimes—the crime of trafficking in persons, a crime to which, in my view, Australia does not give the priority attention that it deserves as an issue of great prevalence throughout the Asia-Pacific region. As I say, in my view, if we are going to have a hierarchy of crimes then that is the worst one of all.

The countries of the Asia-Pacific region therefore share a substantial common interest in forming long-term strategies to regulate the movement of people. Indeed, this shared concern has already given rise to multilateral cooperation. As stated before, the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime provides the best regional mechanism through which Australia can encourage and cooperate with other countries in our region on matters relating to irregular migration and related issues.

The Bali process is particularly relevant in the context of this bill. It is committed to assisting other countries adopt best practices in asylum management in line with the principles of the refugee convention. Whilst there are countries involved in the Bali process that are not signatories to the refugee convention, this is our best chance as a region to put together a framework. Certainly Australia's obligations as a signatory would not allow us to act in a way that is in breach of our obligations under the refugee convention. Therefore, that is the standard that is set for the Bali process and the principles behind it.

Australia's ultimate long-term goal relating to refugees is to see the countries of the Asia-Pacific region treat all refugees in a way that is consistent with the principles of the refugee convention through this Bali process. Only through encouraging our neighbours to protect people from persecution can Australia truly discourage people from making dangerous boat journeys to Australia. That is done in a spirit of cooperation, not in a spirit of paternalism. This is an exercise in trying to work together on the full range of issues that challenge us all.

Mindful of this long-term imperative of the refugee issue, this House must acknowledge the central role of regional cooperation and the Bali process in informing sustainable and effective policies in this area. It is, therefore, my view—and, I hope, the House's view—that it is appropriate that we insert into this legislation the idea of having 12-monthly reports on the Bali process to the House. Certainly I hope it is an amendment that is considered in its spirit by all.