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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11621


Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (17:40): I present the instrument of designation of the independent state of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country under subsection 198AB(1) of the Migration Act 1958, together with five related documents in accordance with subsection 198AC of the Migration Act 1958. I ask leave of the House to move a motion relating to the approval of the instrument.

Leave granted.

Mr BOWEN: I move:

That, in accordance with subsection 198AB of the Migration Act 1958, the House approve the instrument of designation of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country.

Today, acting under section 198AB of the Migration Act, I designate 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, I am required to present to the House the following documents: a copy of the designation; a statement outlining why I think 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 my 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 to be put in place in Papua New Guinea for the treatment of persons taken there.

I now seek approval of this designation and present the necessary supporting documents to the parliament. I call on colleagues in both houses of parliament to approve this designation to enable the first transfers of offshore entry persons to Papua New Guinea for processing in accordance with the regional processing arrangements. Approving this designation will reinforce regional processing arrangements already underway in Nauru and illustrate the government's resolve to discourage dangerous boat journeys to Australia.

The government has endorsed in principle all recommendations contained in the report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers presented on 13 August 2012 and has already taken significant steps to implement these recommendations. I have previously spoken about the government's decision to increase Australia's humanitarian program to 20,000 places a year, with 12,000 of those places being for refugees offshore. This is the biggest increase to Australia's refugee intake in 30 years and clearly demonstrates Australia's commitment to assisting those most in need.

In further support of this, the government has already allocated $10 million for regional capacity building projects, with a special emphasis on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This funding will assist the UNHCR and non-government organisations in the region to build safer and more orderly migration pathways, which is part of the strategic and integrated approach recommended by the expert panel and a demonstration of Australia's ongoing commitment to building protection in the region through the Bali process regional cooperation framework.

The panel's advice highlights the task which this government is undertaking: balancing effective border control with the need to deal humanely with asylum seekers arriving irregularly by boat in Australia and the underlying need to prevent the loss of life occurring as a result of irregular movement. These important issues are at the heart of Australia's national interest. Today's designation of Papua New Guinea is a further step in the government's task of implementing the panel's recommendations. It builds on the progress already made, particularly in relation to regional processing on Nauru. Regular transfers of asylum seekers to Nauru from Australia commenced on 14 September 2012 following the designation of Nauru as a regional processing centre by this parliament on 10 September 2012.

Following the commencement of transfers to Nauru, we have already seen a number of asylum seekers choose to return home voluntarily. This is evidence of the false stories that people smugglers are selling about what awaits asylum seekers in Australia. These returns represent a powerful message which undermines the viability of the people-smuggling model. The parliament's approval of my designation of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country will further reinforce this message to asylum seekers considering a boat voyage to Australia and demonstrate that there is no advantage in doing so. As this parliament is acutely aware, a substantial number of lives have been lost at sea as a result of the activities of people smugglers. The government is gaining important momentum to stop this tragic trade. This designation is a key and urgent part of the action required to prevent this tragic loss of lives at sea from occurring in the future.

The only condition for the exercise of my power to designate a country as a regional processing country is that I think it is in the national interest to do so. I think that it is in the national interest to designate Papua New Guinea as such, as Papua New Guinea has provided Australia with certain assurances, which include specified assurances required by legislation. I also think that it is in the national interest to designate Papua New Guinea as a regional-processing country because 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 addressing people smuggling.

It is important for Papua New Guinea, as a sovereign state, to have input into the development of any arrangements, and it has been keen to do so. We 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 accompanying documents, in accordance with the legislation, I provide the parliament with the opportunity to be satisfied that what is in place, and will be put in place, is appropriate.

Again, I call on both houses of parliament to approve this designation to enable the first transfers of offshore entry persons to Papua New Guinea and to provide the circuit-breaker to irregular maritime arrivals called for by the expert panel's report.