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Transcript of joint press conference: Parliament House: 9 April 2010: suspension on processing of all new applications from asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

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Senator Chris Evans Minister for Immigration and Citizenship  

[Transcript of Joint Press Conference with Minister for Foreign Affairs Stephen Smith,   and Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor] 

Suspension on processing of all new applications from asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan

Friday 9 April 2010

Parliament House, Canberra

CHRIS EVANS: Good morning, everyone. Thanks for coming.

Look, today I want to announce that the Government is implementing an immediate suspension on the processing of all new applications from asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. The decision has been made in the light of the changing circumstances in both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Evolving country information from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan is likely to have a significant effect on the outcome of assessments as to whether asylum-seekers have a well �œ founded fear of persecution within the meaning of the Refugees Convention.

The likelihood of people being refused visas and being returned safely to their homelands will increase.

The Foreign Minister, Mr Smith, will shortly provide additional details on the changing circumstances in these countries.

The suspension is effective immediately and will apply to asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

The Government will review the situation in Sri Lanka after a period of three months and in Afghanistan after a period of six months.

The Government has decided to continue processing claims from those asylum-seekers who are already on Christmas Island or who are on en route to Christmas Island, having been intercepted and detained by the Royal Australian Navy.

All irregular maritime arrivals will continue to be taken to Christmas Island. All people on Christmas Island, including those subject to the suspension, will continue to be treated fairly and humanely.

New asylum claims, claims from Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals, will not be processed during the suspension period. However, appropriate health, identity and security checks will be conducted.

The Government accepts that the facilities at Christmas Island are stretched because of the recent increase in boat arrivals but we have taken prudent steps to increase accommodation on the island and within a matter of weeks, in fact a matter of days, we'll get the first of further additional capacity.

As I've said several times in recent months, if Christmas Island is no longer able to accommodate arrivals, the northern detention facility in Darwin is available for use and will be used.

It's a purpose-built, secure immigration detention centre with capacity to accommodate up to 546 people.

We have taken a consistently hard line approach to people smugglers and people smuggling and today's announcements will further strengthen the integrity of Australia's immigration system.

I'm not going to speculate today on the impact these announcements may have on boat arrivals. What I will say is that today's announcements make it clear to all that the changing circumstances in both these countries will make it more likely that visa applications will be refused.

What is important to the Government and the Australian people is that we rigorously assess refugee claims to ensure we continue to provide protection to those in need in accordance with our international obligations. And we will continue to treat people humanely and ensure that those who are refused visas are returned safely to their homelands.

The Home Affairs Minister, Mr O'Connor, will also outline new measures to combat the financing of people smuggling from within Australia.

The changes we are announcing today send a strong message to people smugglers that they cannot guarantee a visa outcome for their clients and a message to those seeking to employ people smugglers that they may find themselves found not to be refugees and returned to their country of origin.

The Rudd Government will continue to protect those in need but we will not hesitate to act decisively against those who attempt to profit from the process.

I'd like to hand over to Mr Smith to make an opening statement as well.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much, Chris. As the Minister has outlined, the basis of the Government's decision for the suspension of processing for new asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan is changing and evolving country circumstances in both of those countries.

The press release and the briefing materials that you have been provided with go into some of that detail.

Let me make some remarks. Firstly, so far as Sri Lanka is concerned, as we speak we are witnessing in Sri Lanka for the first time in two decades a parliamentary election following on recently from the presidential election.

Sri Lanka is clearly a country in transition and that evolution is the basis of the Government's decision to suspend processing so far as new asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka is concerned.

The fact that we have an evolving situation in Sri Lanka was reinforced and underlined yesterday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Australia who made the point that the UNHCR is also reviewing its country circumstances so far as Sri Lanka is concerned. And our consideration of the evolving circumstances in Sri Lanka, bolstered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' comparable review of circumstances, forms the basis of our decision in that respect.

The suspension so far as Sri Lanka is concerned is for three months because we hope that country circumstances would have clarified over that period, and that explains or underlines the review timetable so far the Sri Lankan suspension is concerned.

So far as Afghanistan is concerned, circumstances and conditions, particularly for minority groups, including and in particular Afghan Hazaras, are also changing.

There was a time indeed, until quite recently, there was a time when if you were an Afghan Hazara then you almost automatically fell within the provisions of the Refugee Convention, suffering from a well-founded fear of persecution.

With the fall of the Taliban, with better security in parts of Afghanistan, with constitutional and legal change and reform, it is clearly the case that whilst it is off a low base, and while there are still very difficult circumstances for Hazaras - and I underline that, there are still very difficult circumstances for Hazaras - in our view, again reflected by the United Nations High Commissioner Refugees' own review processes, it is not now automatically the case that just because you are an Hazara Afghan, that you automatically fall within the provisions of the Convention.

That now requires much more detailed country and individual circumstances consideration.

It is clearly the case that circumstances in Afghanistan will take a longer period to clarify, to crystallise, and that is the basis of the Government's decision to suspend, so far as new asylum-seekers from Afghanistan are concerned, for a six-month period.

The consideration that the Government has effected and the decisions that we've announced today have been taken very carefully, very thoughtfully, and very methodically. And we have always had uppermost in our minds the need to ensure

that we continue to discharge our obligation at international law and to discharge our obligation under the Refugee Convention and to absolutely respect the provisions of the Convention.

The fact that part of our consideration is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' own review of country circumstances bolsters us in our very firm view and conviction that we continue to conduct ourselves absolutely in accordance with the Refugee Convention.

Can I just make one other point? We know, and both the Minister for Immigration and I have said this repeatedly over the last couple of years, that we are suffering from very significant push factors. The fact that we are concentrating on Sri Lanka, a country which has recently emerged from two decades of conflict, and Afghanistan, still very hard-pressed so far as conflict and security is concerned, underlines those push factors.

And we've also made the point that the only effective way of trying to deal with these matters is to deal with them regionally and internationally.

In our case that is through the Bali Process which Australia and Indonesia co-chair.

At about this time last year, for the first time in a number of years, Australia and Indonesia convened a ministerial level meeting of the Bali Process.

That saw some 40 countries and nearly 10 international institutions join in that ministerial level meeting of the Bali Process.

I've recently had conversations with my Indonesian counterpart, Foreign Minister Natalegawa, and we both agreed, in principle, that we should convene in the course of this year a further ministerial level meeting of the Bali Process to reinforce our own efforts, but also the regional community's efforts in this area.

We're dealing here with source countries, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, with transit countries, Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and also destination countries, including Australia.

It is often missed or under-appreciated that Afghanistan, for example, and Pakistan - and we know we have very serious difficulties so far as people movements are concerned as a result of conflict and circumstances in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area - Afghanistan and Pakistan are both members or parties to the Bali Process.

In the last few days this week, a high-level delegation, led by the National Security Adviser, joined by the Ambassador for People Smuggling, has visited Pakistan and Afghanistan to further pursue and to further consolidate the very good agency-to-agency relationships that we have with Pakistan and with Afghanistan, so far as people smuggling, people movement and displaced people are concerned.

And so, our regional and international engagement continues to be a most important feature of the work that we do to manage this very difficult problem for Australia,

which is a problem we share with very many countries in our region and throughout the world.

I'll hand over to Brendan O'Connor, the Home Affairs Minister, and then we're happy to respond to your questions.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Thank you very much, Stephen.

The Government is determined to disrupt and deter people smuggling operations. Following the money trail is critical to detecting and disrupting crime groups, including those involved in people smuggling.

Stronger regulation is needed to ensure more reliable financial intelligence. So we need to ensure we change AUSTRAC's rules - that is the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre's rules - to ensure that remittance dealers who pose a significant money-laundering or terrorism financing risk can be deregistered.

The Government also proposes a more comprehensive regulatory regime for remittance dealers to be implemented following consultation with the financial services sector.

The Government will establish a criminal intelligence fusion centre within the Australian Crime Commission. The new centre will ensure that financial intelligence and other criminal intelligence can come together in real time. Agencies will include the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink and others, and will be collocated so that: what one agency knows - all agencies know.

These initiatives will build upon the legislative changes in the Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill introduced into the Parliament by the Attorney some time ago.

Under this legislation, those who are found to provide material support to people smuggling will be subject to 10 years imprisonment or fines of up to $110,000.

I urge the Opposition to pass this bill as soon as the Senate resumes in May.

Once this bill is enacted, those in Australia who provide material support to people smugglers will be detected, will be arrested and will be jailed.

Finally, just before this press conference started, I distributed a media release regarding an interception that occurred in the early hours of this morning.

Defence will provide an operational brief on the circumstances of this matter later this afternoon.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to commend all those involved in the safe rescue of these irregular maritime arrivals. This event is a timely reminder of the perils of people smuggling and underlines the importance of today's initiatives.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Minister, is it your expectation that this will stem the flow of boats for the medium term?

CHRIS EVANS: No. Look, I don't think it will have an immediate effect on boats. I think we still expect boats to arrive. We're hopeful that, over time, this will have an impact on people smuggling operations. But what we do do, I think, by this announcement is send a very clear message that people smugglers cannot guarantee people a visa, and they cannot, therefore, sell the sort of product that they've been selling.

It's a very clear message too to those who are seeking to employ people smugglers that processing of their claims will be suspended, and there's an increasing expectation from the Australian Government that the number of people found to be refugees from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan will decrease.

We've already got evidence, since the new country information has come in, of decreasing approval rates. And so, the message is the circumstances in Australia have changed and that, increasingly, persons from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are being refused asylum in this country.

But obviously, the longer term impact and the longer term trend in those asylum claims will develop over time.

QUESTION: The way that Australia determines its refugees, it does follow quite closely the UNHCR guidelines. Aren't you pre-judging the review of those UNHCR guidelines for a political fix? And secondly, can you confirm that you are sending scores of AFP police officers to Christmas Island as we speak, and that they will be followed with riot gear later on?

CHRIS EVANS: Look, as Mr Smith made clear, the UNHCR have stated publicly that they are reviewing their guidance for Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. And, in particular, there is a review going on of Sri Lankan conditions, both by the UNHCR and other countries.

A number of countries have already suspended processing of claims from Sri Lanka. Based on that review, and the country information we've been getting and reporting from posts, we've decided to suspend processing.

People aren't being denied their right to seek asylum, but it's been suspended so that we can assess that developing information. And it is our belief that if conditions continue to improve, the numbers of persons who will be returned, because they have not been found to need our protection will increase.

If circumstances in the country improve, therefore, people will be able to be returned safely, and that's the number one priority of the UNHCR and others, that the first option is to allow people to be returned to their homes in safety and dignity. The pause allows us to monitor those developments.

QUESTION: But sent back without processing?


QUESTION: Is that what the suspension means?

CHRIS EVANS: No. But what I'm saying is that over the period of the suspension, if conditions improve, we'd expect to see the rates of asylum claims proven to be successful diminish. And what I've said, in our experience in recent times, we've been applying the country information in recent weeks that we've received. Our experience has been the success rate on claims has been falling. Now, that's in the first assessment. It's not review. I don't want to over-claim on those matters, but the advice from my department is that we're seeing an increasing trend in refusals of both Sri Lankan Tamils and the largest proportion of Afghan asylum-seekers here, Hazaras. And we have new country information, as Mr Smith explained, about Hazara conditions. It is quite different to what was available in the past.

So those sources are being applied now, but based on that information, we're suspending new arrivals' assessment for the period of the suspension.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about the Federal Police.

CHRIS EVANS: I'll let the Minister for Home Affairs respond to the AFP questions. It's his responsibility.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: In relation to the Australian Federal Police, they are responsible for community policing on external territories, including Christmas Island.

The AFP has deployed some officers. We will not be discussing the numbers of officers deployed. They have the responsibility of ensuring the security of all of those on the island, and their decisions, of course, are consistent with those objective. I am confident that the Australian Federal Police has done the right thing in that regard.

QUESTION: But clearly, their deployment is because you expect there to be some unrest as a result of this policy.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: As I've made clear, the Australian Federal Police has the responsibility of making decisions about the security of the island. They determine these matters and I'm confident they've made the right decision.

CHRIS EVANS: Could I just, in answer to that, could I just make the point that the effect of the suspension does not apply to those already in detention. To those persons in detention on Christmas Island will continue to be processed.

So in terms of this announcement, it makes no impact on their continuing processing.

QUESTION: What happens tomorrow and those who arrive tomorrow?

CHRIS EVANS: Those who are not currently in detention or in the control of Australian officials will have the suspension applied to them.

So the suspension applies immediately for any new arrivals.

QUESTION: In practical terms, a boat turns up from today, or next three months, six months - what happens? You're not turning them back. You're still intercepting, escorting them to either Christmas Island or elsewhere.

CHRIS EVANS: No, no, they'll all…

QUESTION: While they just stay in limbo for three to six months.

CHRIS EVANS: No no. The persons will be intercepted. They'll be taken to Christmas Island. They'll be treated as offshore entry persons, and they'll go through the normal process of health, identity, and security checks. They will then be in a position where we will not start processing any claim they make for asylum for the period of which the suspension is in place.

Following any review of the suspension, we would then - if the suspension was lifted - the Government would then seek to process their asylum claims.

They will remain - well, the combination arrangements will be determined according to our capacities, but they will remain in detention for the period of the suspension, and the suitable accommodation arrangements will be made.

But they will remain in detention.

But they will be taken to Christmas Island, they will be legally offshore entry persons, and they'll have the normal health security checks.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] Christmas Island is going to overflow… You have to go to Darwin…

CHRIS EVANS: Well the reality is, yes, that we have pressure on Christmas Island. Depending on the numbers of arrivals, we would obviously, as we've said for months, look to use other mainland detention facilities, but as I say, that depends on arrivals, and obviously we've also got to increase capacity on Christmas Island.

But as we made very clear, if we exceed the capacity, we'll access mainland detention facilities.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] fallen victim to a scare campaign, the scare campaign from the Opposition? Doesn't it make it seem that the Government has fallen victim to the scare campaign from the Opposition?

CHRIS EVANS: Well not at all, not at all. This Government retains its commitment to treating people humanely and appropriately.

We've made a decision on the suspension based on very sound public policy grounds. We've analysed the country information. We've looked at all the factors that impact on processing. We've had some experience now of processing against new country information. We have the knowledge of UNHCR and other information made

available to us, and the UNHCR's public announcement of its review. And based on all that information, the Cabinet has taken a decision to suspend these two caseloads.

QUESTION: Just in terms of push factors and the reason people are coming here, aren't you now admitting that pull factors playing a crucial part too?

CHRIS EVANS: No, what we're saying is that the push factors continue to drive large numbers of people out of these countries. Afghanistan I think has become the largest - I think it's the largest if not the second largest - refugee producing country in the world.

But there are millions of people who are in need of assistance or who have been displaced who are not refugees. Those push factors are still strong. What we're doing is responding to what's happening in those countries, and what's happening in those countries is that the conditions are changing; that while there's still disruption, there's still a lot of concern about those conditions, people who seek asylum are assessed against the grounds of the Refugee Convention. And merely because things are tough, that the situation in the country is not good, is not a reason for giving someone refugee status.

So a lot of people flee who are not found to be refugees. What we're saying is we're responding to changed international information, as other countries in the UNHCR are, and the suspension was seen as the best way for dealing with that evolving situation - and the impact on claims for asylum in this country.

STEPHEN SMITH: Can I just reinforce that point before I throw to Michelle, and it's to reinforce a point that I made in my opening remarks: what we're dealing with here are changing or evolving country circumstances in two source countries.

As we have made clear in the past - as the UNHCR has made clear recently - what drives movement of people, what drives displaced peoples, is circumstances in countries or source countries.

And in both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, we see countries which have been the subject of very serious security situations in recent times, indeed in the case of Afghanistan, ongoing.

But the basis of the decision are changing or evolving country circumstances. In Sri Lanka generally, but in Afghanistan, particularly as that applies to individual or minority communities, and in our case, that of course particularly applies to Hazara Afghans, who have always formed the vast bulk, if not almost exclusively, the composition of Afghan asylum-seekers to Australia. Michelle.

QUESTION: Isn't it true that you've essentially lost control of and that this has led to a serious compromise on this policy, that the situation has got out of hand, and that this has led to a serious compromise on your pledge, when you came to office, to run a humane policy which got people through the system as quickly as possible, I think within three months?

CHRIS EVANS: Well I reject that interpretation. I mean, what we have made very clear is that we continue to treat people humanely, we continue to treat people with dignity. And we've rejected the approach of the previous government. None of that changes. Those detention values will continue to be applied.

But what we have had is a situation where we have had a large increase in arrivals, and we've had to respond to that too, but today's announcement is driven by changed country information. My department is already applying that in these refugee's assessments. And early signs are that we are seeing a different pattern in outcomes of asylum claims from those two sources. And that is supported by the UNHCR's public announcement that they are reviewing conditions in those two countries.

QUESTION: Well, you could just send them back.

CHRIS EVANS: Well no, people will still continue to have their claim assessed in accordance with the Refugee Convention. There is no suggestion that they won't have the ability to make a claim.

QUESTION: No, but you could just deal with the problem by sending them back if circumstances have changed.

CHRIS EVANS: Well we would deal with problem in the sense that people would still be able to access their rights under the Refugee Convention. They would have their asylum claims assessed. And if found to be a refugee, would be given protection in Australia. If found not to be a refugee, we would seek to return them - as we do now.

What the pause says is that we think conditions are improving, that the advice from the UNHCR is they're reviewing their advice, and their advice is one of many that we use - the State Department and other organisations. When we combine that country advice, we're seeing an improved situation. And what we would expect is if things continue to improve - both more generally in Sri Lanka, but also in terms of minority groups in Afghanistan, then we would be likely to find less people to be refugees, and more people… well, more people would be able to be returned.

And our preference is - and the preference has always been - that people will be able to return in safety and dignity to the country of origin.

QUESTION: On the issue of suspending applications, does this now - and your intention to use the Darwin facility - does this mean that you can transfer people, who've arrived, from now on, to Darwin, under suspension, and they get no access to appeal … so it allows you to move people to Darwin without the access to appeal. And what happens at the end of the three months?

Is it a rolling three months as people arrive, are they then reviewed after three months?

CHRIS EVANS: Look. The legal status doesn't change for these persons whether they're suspended or not, and whether they are on the mainland or offshore Australia. That's always been the case under the Howard Government legislation.

They are offshore entry persons. And they have the suite of rights associated with that. And that included barring them, if you like, to full court appeal. None of those circumstances have changed.

So whether they're on Christmas Island, Darwin, or Sydney's North Shore, their legal status is the same and their legal status in terms of their rights as off-shore entry persons will not change by virtue of the suspension. So that's fundamentally the case and that's not in dispute.

Your question about rolling suspension, no, what we have announced is that there will be a review after three months of the suspension of processing of all Sri Lankan asylum-seekers who arrive from today's date and suspension for six months of any Afghanis who arrive from today's date. That is a Government review that will be undertaken at the three month or six month mark.

QUESTION: Mr Smith, has any other country suspended applications from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and can you honestly say that this new information that Australia has about these two countries has nothing to do with the political pressure you're under on border protection?

STEPHEN SMITH: I'll make the same point that Minister Evans did and I expressly draw to all of our attention the comments yesterday made publicly by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in Australia.

Firstly, in respect of Sri Lanka, that country's circumstances were evolving and evolving quickly. Secondly, as a consequence of that, the UNHRC was conducting its own review of country circumstances and comments in respect of Afghanistan indicating that because of changing circumstances in Afghanistan a comparable review was occurring in Afghanistan.

So we have been doing carefully and methodically our own assessments.

As I said in my opening remarks, we are very much bolstered and very much reinforced by the fact that the UNHCR is doing precisely the same thing.

Our policy response to those evolving and changing circumstances has been to say we will effect a pause or a suspension of consideration of new asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan for limited periods and after three months, in the case of Sri Lanka, we will review circumstances and after six months, in the case of Afghanistan, we will review circumstances.

As I said, we are more confident that there might be a crystallised or a clearer picture so far as Sri Lanka is concerned. So that forms the basis of our decision. We are not the only country on these matters that has been in consultation with the UNHCR or indeed is contemplating taking action of their own.

In the case of Afghanistan, we may well be the first country to effect a pause or a suspension but we make our judgements on our decisions based on our absolute attachment to fulfilling our international legal requirements and our adherence to the provisions of the Refugee Convention.

So far as Sri Lanka is concerned, my advice is that a number of countries have over the last recent period effected a suspension, a small number, and I'm very happy to have provided to you those particular countries.

But the movement of people from Sri Lanka or from Afghanistan is not a movement solely in the direction of South East Asia or Australia. The vast bulk of movements for example from Afghanistan are towards Europe. So we're not the only country grappling with the changing circumstances or dealing with a very large number of displaced people. And that is why in our context, as I reinforce again, we work very closely with the source, the transit and the destination countries within, in our region, the Bali Process.

But what underlines the fundamental basis of our decision here is we have two source countries where historically, in the case of Sri Lanka for over two decades, and in Afghanistan we have seen very substantial push factors displacing people and moving people as a result of serious conflict.

We've recently seen that conflict end in Sri Lanka. We're hopefully seeing a transition in Sri Lanka from war to peace. We want that very much to occur. But on the UNHCR's own analysis and on our own analysis, it is an evolving circumstance that is seeing the effect - has seen the effecting of a pause.

In the case of Afghanistan, it is a different analysis, but nonetheless an analysis which says that particularly in the case of minority communities, especially Hazaras previously, indeed up until quite recently or the recent past, it was almost invariably the case not just in Australia but elsewhere that if you were an Afghan Hazara you were effectively almost automatically entitled to recognition under the Refugee Convention because you were suffering, just because of the mere fact you were a Hazara Afghan, from a well founded fear of persecution.

The fall and decline of the Taliban, constitutional legal reform in Afghanistan and better security circumstances in some parts of Afghanistan has seen not just Australia but the UNHCR say it's actually time for us to effect a careful consideration of the evolving and changing circumstances in Afghanistan so far as they relate to people falling within the provisions of the Refugee Convention.

What that will cause us to do in Afghanistan, in the case of Afghanistan, is a much more careful individual consideration of circumstances.

QUESTION: Please clarify for me, if I am an Afghan intercepted at sea tomorrow, I'm taken to Christmas Island, I'm told that I won't get refugee status for at least six months, but hang around you never know what's going to happen, so if it comes up to six months and there's still a suspension what happens to me? Do I take a punt and stay another six months or what?

CHRIS EVANS: Well people are obviously always able to return voluntarily and some people do. We've had quite a history of people deciding to return voluntarily for a range of reasons so that's a decision for them.

What we're saying is the Australian Government will suspend processing of their claim until the review in six months. So they will not have their claim formally considered in that period. That's the message to them. They will be detained and if they choose to pursue their claim, they will have to wait six months before we begin to entertain - well before we review the suspension and take a decision. If the suspension is then ended, we would process their claim.

QUESTION: Are you willing to extend the suspensions beyond three or six months if circumstances overseas are not clarified in that time?

CHRIS EVANS: Well, the Government would make a decision then based on the country information available to it. That is what we've said; we'd review the suspension in those time periods.

The UNHCR for instance have indicated they're more likely to make a new report on Sri Lanka available quite quickly. That's expected in weeks rather than in months. Again that's a matter for the UNHCR but those are the indications they've given. Their advice on Afghanistan is likely to be longer and they're saying we'll have to wait longer for that advice.…

QUESTION: But isn't [inaudible] detention what you railed against in Opposition?

CHRIS EVANS: Can I just finish that - this question first? So while we make the point that the UNHCR will not be the only determinant for our decision - we take other sources of information, my department has done that for years - we will make an assessment and that information will be available to government when we review the suspension at the three month and the six month mark.

QUESTION: Wouldn't a TPV be more humane? Minister could you explain how it's humane to not start processing an asylum-seeker's claim for three to six months?

CHRIS EVANS: Well it's humane because people will still have access to consideration of their refugee status. They will still be treated with dignity and treated as human beings. But what we're saying is as a result of changing circumstances we intend to delay consideration of their claims because we think the situation in their country is improving. We think they are less likely to be found to be refugees and owed our protection and that it's a matter of the timing of that decision and that the best option for people is return safely to their home country. And so we think by virtue of the delay, more people will be able to return safely to their country and we will make those decisions then but they will be detained and they will be entitled at the end of any suspension to have their claims considered if they want to pursue them.

QUESTION: What about indefinite detention sentences?

CHRIS EVANS: There will be no indefinite detention.

STEPHEN SMITH: Sorry, sorry, question on a different subject, sorry.

QUESTION: [Indistinct].

STEPHEN SMITH: Well first up, I haven't read the speech. I've seen reports of it, firstly. Secondly, I'm not proposing to engage in a running commentary about Australia or East Timor or Indonesia's view of history.

QUESTION: He also criticises aid partners very strongly, and it appears - he doesn't mention Australia, but he's talking about boomerang aid, money going in and straight back out.

STEPHEN SMITH: Australia works in partnership with East Timor. We have a substantial program which we agree in partnership with East Timor which meets our view of the need to assist in terms of capacity building but also East Timor's priorities and we do that with agreed country strategies on a regular basis.

QUESTION: You're comfortable with the current status - the current arrangements for aid?

STEPHEN SMITH: I'm very comfortable with the support that we give to East Timor to build the capacity to manage their affairs and to improve the service delivery to their people.

Thanks very much guys, cheers.