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Transcript of joint press conference: Canberra: 28 June 2012: asylum seeker legislation; expert advisory panel

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Transcript of joint press conference, Canberra

THU 28 JUNE 2012

Prime Minister

Subject(s): Asylum seeker legislation; Expert advisory panel

PM: Yesterday the House of Representatives passed legislation which would have enabled o asylum seekers and refugees.

That bill before the House of Representatives was a compromise between the Government’s

It was supported by the Government, by every Independent in the House of Representative Party member, Mr Mal Washer, had his support been necessary for the bill to pass the Hous

This evening that same bill has been voted on in the Senate. The bill was supported by the G two independent senators in the Senate.

So, broadly across the House of Representatives and into the Senate, this bill has secured su passed by the Senate. Both the Opposition and the Greens voted against this bill.

The Leader of the Opposition has said on many occasions to the Australian nation that he w voted against stopping the boats.

Progress has been made over this week; progress in a compromise being brought together a Parliament.

But we have not secured the new laws that we need to enable the Government to create a d arrangement with Malaysia and to break the people smugglers’ business model.

In these circumstances, I’m here tonight to announce the next step that will be taken.

Tonight I can announce that the Government has invited Mr Angus Houston, the former Chie group to work in the coming weeks; that is to work quickly and to provide a report to me an for our nation in dealing with asylum seeker issues.

The expert group that Mr Angus Houston will lead will also have serving in its number Paris to migrant and refugee communities.

He is a refugee himself, a survivor of torture, and he has worked over a long period of time Howard Government on detention centre issues, including being used as a lead negotiator in detention centres.

We will very shortly announce a third member to serve on th e panel, with foreign policy exp

I want to be very clear about the role of this expert group. This expert group will receive the will be able at their option to receive briefings wherever they want to get those briefings fro

They will be able to assemble all of the material to help them form their views. They will be

The Government believes that the proposal we have put before the Parliament is supported But we are certainly very prepared to see fresh eyes and new expertise brought to the task.

Now in terms of the parliamentary processes, there’s been, actually it mightn’t seem it on th interesting goodwill generated during the past week, at least at the backbench level, where the political party divide to try and find a way forward for this Parliament.

I think it is important that the expert group has the opportunity to relate to the parliamentar views.

Consequently I will invite the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Australian Greens parliamentary representatives to a reference group that will be able to be consulted with by

So the expert group, using the reference group to understand the perspective of parliament

Should the Leader of the Opposition decline to formally nominate members of the Oppositio will invite across the Liberal and National Parties individual members to nominate themselve

Now I understand how frustrating this all is for Australians. They rightly want to see us in th

They understand, I think all Australians understand following the period in which we’ve seen effective action. Effective action to ensure that we deter people from getting on boats and r

This is a complex problem that the Government has worked long and hard on. We do believ Parliament. We believe it is the right way forward.

But we also accept that with the Leader of the Opposition determining to vote against stopp to drive us to conclusion here, and to ensure that our nation can map the necessary policies journeys at sea, and paying a people smuggler the price of that risky journey.

I’ll turn now to the Minister for some comments, then I’ll be happy to take your questions.

MINISTER BOWEN: Thank you, Prime Minister.

Today, the Australian Parliament missed the opportunity to do what the Australian people w model.

The Government worked with the Independents of goodwill, members of the crossbenches a which could give the government of the day the opportunity to implement policies of offshor incentive to come to Australia by boat.

As the Prime Minister said, we’ve got the support of every Independent in the House of Rep their position and revise their thinking in a difficult process for them.

We also had the support this afternoon of Senator Xenophon and the Democratic Labor Part Victoria. This shows, I think, considerable goodwill across the Parliament.

But we do need to take it to the next step and the Government, of course, worked to compr offer to implement one of its key policy platforms: the opening of a detention centre at Naur

As I’ve said repeatedly over recent days, we can argue about how effective Nauru may be, w may be.

I don’t think anybody could argue that Malaysia and Nauru implemented together, opened t Nobody could argue that that is not the case, not one Member of Parliament, not one Senat

The political system has reached an impasse. So now we need to break that impasse. We ne advising the Government.

The Government’s had the benefit of advice now for many months about what is necessary model. We’ve acted on that advice. We’ve made those briefings available to the Opposition.

But now we need a formal process to make that level of advice open more widely and broad broken.

This impasse needs to be broken to save lives. This impasse needs to be broken to get a mo Australian people that our two major political parties, both of whom support offshore proces legislation.

The Government today progressed legislation to stop people risking their lives to get to Aust that down. That is not a sustainable, accountable position for the Opposition or for the Parlia

So the measures the Prime Minister has announced today are designed in every sense to pro Government’s had available more broadly for a formal structure.

The Opposition has been given that advice before. It’s been available for crossbench MPs in refresh that advice and make it available more broadly so that this impasse can be broken.

PM: One at a time. Matthew Franklin.

JOURNALIST: Thank you. Prime Minister, you probably were aware of Mr Abbott’s press con quoted John Howard saying you should take what you can get from the Parliament. And he agreed at least to Nauru.

I know that that is not your position, but could you explain why you believe that going for th opening Nauru, would not have taken the issue forward?

PM: Firstly, let’s just be very accurate about the history here and I didn’t have to opportunity I’ve been advised of its contents, and I think it’s very important that the record here is clear

Mr Abbott has not moved one millimetre in this debate. He has not moved in any way for a he did make an announcement about the number of refugee places.

Well, we all want to see more genuine refugees come to this country, but that was not a com about offshore processing.

Mr Abbott has said consistently the only thing he is prepared to vote for is his plan of Nauru

Now in contrast, the Government, recognising the seriousness of this issue, recognising the been prepared to compromise and try and find a way of working together.

We said, originally, it was Malaysia that was the best way forward. Our expert advice said th Minister Howard when Mr Abbott sat at Prime Minister Howard’s cabinet table.

The same experts who advised the Howard Government when they created the Pacific Solut

That obviously wasn’t going to get the support of the Opposition and so we moved, and said Nauru, we have the benefit of expert advice around Malaysia, let’s put the two of them toge

Let’s also find a way of taking forward issues like Temporary Protection Visas through an ex of that.

Mr Abbott did not move one millimetre at any stage of this discussion. Mr Abbott tonight has

move one millimetre while people are drowning at sea.

But the Government has said - yes, and I’ll answer your question - the Government has bee advised this Government and former governments, that Nauru by itself will not work.

That is the reason for not accepting Mr Abbott’s proposal about Nauru. Mr Abbott has receiv looked him in the eye and said to him ‘Nauru will not work.’

Now we need to find a way here to move away from this politics, the politics that the Leade actually get people to look at the policy and look at the facts.

In putting together this expert panel, we are getting people of the highest calibre. I do not b this Parliament to utter one word of criticism of Australians like Angus Houston.

No-one will be able to do that. Australians of the highest calibre and we are making them av assistance and a report. We believe the outcome of that will be very persuasive.

Phil Coorey.

JOURNALIST: By the appointment of this reference group, does that signal in any way you c they come back (inaudible) or are you saying you’re pretty confident of what they’re going t

PM: They will act independently, the expert group, Angus Houston, Paris Aristotle and the th independently.

So they will form their own views based on the evidence and the facts.

For us, we have taken a lot of advice about the evidence and the facts, and that is what has absolutely clear here, Angus Houston and the team he leads are free to come to any conclus they believe is in the national interest.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, about 400 dead since the election, 100 or thereabouts in the l before Parliament comes back.

Are you asking Angus Houston to come up with his ideas, his (inaudible) ideas, within the ne response legislatively when we gather back in August?

PM: We have asked Angus Houston to provide a report as soon as possible, and certainly be Parliament has it and can act on it in the next parliamentary session.

I can’t be clearer with you than that. We have asked him to provide the report as soon as po resumes.

JOURNALIST: Back to Phil’s question, if the report comes back saying not Malaysia, does tha

PM: Look, I am not going to prejudge what is in a report from an expert panel that I have a Australians of huge capacity to apply their intellect, their judgment, to this question and to p

I would only be doing that if I think their views are of the utmost significance.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you believe this expert panel could convince the Greens, gi legislation, can convince the Greens to back fresh legislation?

PM: I think you’ve misunderstood the Senate numbers. The single biggest bloc that voted ag team.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if the expert panel - are you prepared to say now given that y panel comes back with a series of recommendations, that you are guaranteeing that you wil

And you said you wanted to come back quickly, of they came back say in three weeks, woul

PM: Well, let’s get the expert group going. We are setting them a formidable task. A formida

They will do it as quickly as they can do it, but we just need to be practical. We are asking t before Parliament resumes and I'm sure that they will get about that task with as much effic

But we live in the real world and doing a lot of work takes time and there’s no other way to done. So, you know, we’ll get the report as soon as we possibly can.

In terms of what the Government will do with the report, I would not be setting up this grou the utmost seriousness the recommendations of this panel.

Of course, we have government and Labor Party processes which will be gone through, but Australians to find a way through here on such a significant issue to the nation’s future.

Michael Gordon.

JOURNALIST: Mr Aristotle is very experienced in the area. Will the other members of the pa preconceptions - to the area?

PM: Well none of these people are political partisans, none of them have got, you know, a p

Mr Aristotle has expertise from his own personal life and in the work he does, and in the rep work with the Minister for Immigration, indeed with Minister Ruddock when he was Minister in refugee and asylum seeker matters.

Angus Houston obviously has a wealth of expertise in defence matters. But you don’t get to like ours without having formidable public policy capacity. I know Angus Houston personally

We will want to add to that someone with foreign policy expertise given the importance of re

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader said not now, not ever in respect of the the past few days. What makes you confident that - have any confidence at all - that the pr change the numbers at all in the Parliament?

PM: Well this is really a question that needs to be directed to the Leader of the Opposition.

But I would put the question perhaps slightly differently.

If, and they will do their work, but if an eminent panel with the likes of Angus Houston on it Leader of the Opposition say that was of no worth?

That would seem to me a very extraordinary conclusion.

JOURNALIST: But hasn’t that been the case with Andrew Metcalfe’s advice-PM: We’re talking about a man who served this nation as the Chief of the Defence Force as

Relied on; viewed as an impeccable Australian by both sides of politics, I would think it rema said tonight or at any other time that an Australian of that eminence, his views are of no wo

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how quickly will you be setting up the parliamentarians’ group

PM: I’ll be issuing the invites during the next days.

Thank you.