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Malaysia solution is not there yet

  • 10 August 2012

Next week Parliament reconvenes for a fortnight, and meanwhile the boats keep coming. Minister Chris Bowen will be armed with a report from the expert panel which has been travelling the country hearing from a broad cross section of the Australian community.

Even John Menadue, a strong refugee advocate and previous secretary for the Department of Immigration, thinks it is time to give the Malaysia solution a go. I remain opposed, favouring onshore processing only. If Parliament's preconditions for offshore processing are to be relaxed, the Malaysia solution will need to be improved and it will need to be augmented with a Nauru-type solution.

All Australian political parties say they remain committed to the key obligations of the Refugee Convention. Since 2001, the Parliament has provided governments with additional latitude in discharging these obligations. Instead of processing claims in Australia and providing residence for successful applicants who have arrived in Australia or on our Indian Ocean possessions, Parliament has authorised government to engage in offshore processing in the hope that some of the successful applicants will be resettled in countries other than Australia.

This first happened with Nauru in 2001. The Howard-Ruddock package of measures did deter people from getting in leaky boats and heading for Australia. However most successful applicants taken to Nauru ended up here or New Zealand. Having relaxed the policy, the Labor Government has seen a need to tighten things again.

One of the 2001 measures (s.198A Migration Act) allowed the Minister for Immigration to declare that another country could be used for offshore processing. The Minister was required to declare that the specified country:

provides access, for persons seeking asylum, to effective procedures for assessing their need for protection; provides protection for persons seeking asylum, pending determination of their refugee status; provides protection to persons who are given refugee status, pending their voluntary repatriation to their country of origin or resettlement in another country; and meets relevant human rights standards in providing that protection.

Rightly convinced that Nauru would no longer work as a deterrent, Bowen declared Malaysia to be a suitable offshore processing country. This time, Australia would not retain responsibility for accommodating and processing the asylum seekers, and successful claimants would not