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Houston report's high cost of deterrence

  • 14 August 2012

Three honourable men without a party political agenda have reported on how they think we can honourably stop the boats. Angus Houston, Michael L'Estrange and Paris Aristotle have put 22 recommendations which should be treated as an integral package but which inevitably will be cherry picked by a hung parliament.

Putting regional agreements and the Malaysia solution on hold, they have recommended a return to John Howard's Pacific Solution while cutting the High Court out of the action.

This is a body blow to the Gillard policies to date. By way of balance, they also blow out of the water Tony Abbott's assertion that boats can be safely towed back to Indonesia.

Given the world's humanitarian crisis, the panel recommends that the Government immediately increase our humanitarian program from 13,750 to 20,000 with 12,000 of those places going to refugees. This would double our annual refugee intake offshore and onshore.

They accept the reality of population flows across the globe with people fleeing dreadful situations of persecution. Their ultimate aim is to set up a regional system which provides a genuine alternative pathway for asylum seekers who otherwise will get on leaky boats seeking a durable solution to their woes.

The panel wants government to be able to send a clear message: 'Don't bother getting on a boat and heading for Australia because you will not get to settle there any more quickly than if you do the 'decent' thing and wait in a transit country like Indonesia.'

Like all right thinking people on this issue, the expert panel espouses a regional solution for a regional problem. But in the short term, they espouse an offshore solution to Australia's distinctive problem. They know that the people smugglers have been one step ahead of Australian governments of both political persuasions, and now they want to steal a march on the smugglers.

They think it can be done decently, even if it means holding people in places like Nauru and Manus Island for three or four years.

The panel strongly endorses the need for offshore processing in the short term. The panel concedes that the so-called Malaysia solution as negotiated by the Gillard government falls short and should not be resurrected until