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Transcript of press conference: Sydney: 14 September 2012: Asylum seeker transfer to Nauru; Expert Panel recommendations; 'no advantage' principle; Tony Abbott.

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SUBJECTS: Asylum seeker transfer to Nauru, Expert Panel recommendations, ‘no advantage’ principle, Tony Abbott.

CHRIS BOWEN: Good morning. Earlier this morning, the first transfer of from Australia to Nauru of asylum seekers was completed. Thirty single adult males of Sri Lankan origin were taken at 6.30pm Christmas Island time yesterday. They arrived on Nauru at 7.44am Nauru time today. The transfer occurred smoothly and without incident.

Obviously, this is a very significant step in the implementation of the recommendations of the Houston Panel.

We know that there have been people smugglers out there in the region over recent weeks peddling lies and untruths, saying that this wouldn’t happen, that somehow the Nauru processing centre wouldn’t be established or that they could provide guarantees that people wouldn’t be transferred there. This tells the lie to the people smugglers’ message of the last few weeks.

The message is very clear: if you arrive in Australia by boat you can be taken from Australia by aeroplane and processed in another country.

Now, today, of course, is a significant day. But the recommendation to implement the Nauru processing centre was one of 22 recommendations and we continue to work to implement every one of those recommendations. Implementing all the recommendations is key to breaking the people smugglers’ business model. We’re the only party - the Government, Labor Party - the only party committed to working to implement all of the 22 recommendations of the Houston Panel. I’ve provided other updates and I’ll continue to provide updates about the implementation of those reports.

Now, of course, there will be more transfers next week to Nauru and in the weeks following. And members of the media should be aware that images of the transfer are now available on the Department of Immigration website.

I’m happy to take your questions.

JOURNALIST: How long do you expect the first group to be in Nauru for?

BOWEN: Well, I’ve said before about the principle of ‘no advantage’, the very clear recommendation of the Houston Panel, that people who come by boat should not be advantaged in terms of their resettlement options and their resettlement outcomes over people who are waiting for resettlement elsewhere in the region. That applies to the first transfer; it applies to later transfers. It applies to all transfers and everybody affected by the Houston Panel recommendations. Now, I’m not going to provide a how-to guide to people smugglers about that. I’ve said before that resettlement options are looked at on a case-by-case basis, bearing in mind the personal circumstances of the individual.

JOURNALIST: What’s a sort of realistic timeframe?

BOWEN: Well, look, what I’ve said is that we would look at the benchmark of how long it would take for resettlement from people elsewhere in the region, looking at their individual circumstances, their vulnerabilities, their gender, their age. All those things would go to looking at how long it would take for someone to get a visa, a permanent visa in Australia, if they were waiting for resettlement elsewhere in the region. That’s the principle that we’ll apply on a case-by-case basis.

JOURNALIST: How did you choose those particular men?

BOWEN: Operational reasons. The law is very clear that everybody who arrives in Australia is subject to transfer overseas. But in terms of who’s chosen to go where, that’s an operational decision made by my department.

JOURNALIST: There must have been a reason as to why those men were sent.

BOWEN: Operational reasons. I think you can expect to see a broad cross-section of people transferred to Nauru next week and in coming weeks.

JOURNALIST: What kind of legal representations do these men have?

BOWEN: Well, they will receive the treatment as is outlined in the Houston Panel, in terms of they will have their claims assessed under the Refugee Convention. They will be assisted in terms of those claims, and of course the governments of Nauru and Australia will make further announcements about the detailed legal treatment at an appropriate time, which I envisage to be in the not too distant future at all.

JOURNALIST: Do they have independent representation?

BOWEN: They will have the ability to seek representation.

JOURNALIST: What about avenues of appeal, their applications?

BOWEN: I’d refer you to the Houston Panel, which makes very clear recommendations. We’re implementing those recommendations about appeal.

JOURNALIST: Can you describe to us what they will be experiencing this morning, their housing?

BOWEN: Well, look, the footage is there for all to see. It’s well known that this is a temporary facility. It has tents, it has all the necessary support that goes into that. But it is a temporary facility, it’s not designed to be a permanent, luxurious facility. It’s a temporary facility which is appropriate for the processing of these people.

JOURNALIST: So less comfortable than Christmas Island?

BOWEN: Well, Christmas Island is a permanent facility, purpose built. This is a temporary facility which is quite different to what we have on Christmas Island.

JOURNALIST: When will children be sent there?

BOWEN: Look, I’ve said that for obvious reasons the law applies and we are not going to provide loopholes for people smugglers to exploit. In terms of what particular people will be sent when, you’ll see that play out next week and in coming weeks. I’m not going to provide a running commentary in advance of who will be sent when. But as was evidenced today, we’ll provide the information as and when it is appropriate on each occasion.


JOURNALIST: Can I just ask if you saw Tony Abbott’s defence of last week in regards to, essentially, claims that he monstered somebody on SRC in Sydney?

BOWEN: Did I see his defence this morning? No, I’ve been focused on this this morning. I haven’t seen his performance on media this morning.

Okay, thank you.