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Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers and regional processing: legislation before the Senate

The Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers released its Report on Monday 13 August 2012. On 14 August 2012, in response to the panel’s recommendation to reintroduce processing on Nauru and Manus Island, the Government resumed debate on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011, which had been introduced in the House of Representatives on 21 September 2011.
The Bill is discussed here. The Government introduced amendments to the Bill on 14 August 2012. The Bill is now the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2012. The Government amendments were:
  • Various references to ‘offshore’ became references to ‘regional’.
  • Any designation by the Minister of a ‘regional processing country’ to which ‘offshore entry persons’ are to be sent is to be done by legislative instrument rather than simply be in writing.
  • Disallowance of such a legislative instrument will be possible but it must take place be within five sitting days of being laid before each House.
The amended Bill was passed by the House of Representatives on 15 August 2012 and is now before the Senate.

For many years the Labor Government and before it the Coalition Government have been under pressure to adopt and maintain effective measures to address border security concerns, combat people smuggling and 'stop the boats'.

In 2001 the Howard Government introduced third country offshore processing (the 'Pacific Solution'). Unauthorised boat arrivals after that point were to be intercepted at sea and either returned to Indonesia (boat 'turnarounds') or removed to third countries in the Pacific Ocean (either Nauru or Manus Island). Any claims made by those people for refugee status could then be processed outside the jurisdiction of Australian courts, with no guarantee of a resettlement place in Australia.

On 8 February 2008 the Rudd Government announced that the centres on Manus and Nauru would no longer be used and that future unauthorised boat arrivals would be processed on Christmas Island. However, in response to rising numbers of boat arrivals, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced in her first major policy speech in July 2010 that the Government had begun having discussions with some of our neighbours (initially Timor-Leste) over a proposal to establish 'a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing irregular entrants to the region’.

Subsequently, on 25 July 2011 the Australian Government signed an asylum seeker transfer agreement with the Malaysian Government and introduced the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 in September 2011, but without the support of the Opposition and the Greens, the Bill did not progress.

If the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2012 passes the Senate, this will effectively mean that Australia is to reintroduce third country offshore processing (referred to during the Howard Government as the ‘Pacific Solution’).
Tags: asylum, refugees