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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 7773


Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (09:43): I move:

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.