Aussie government expert panel backs Malaysia solution deal
MELBOURNE, Aug 13 — An Australian government-appointed panel of experts on the country’s asylum seeker policy has recommended offshore processing in both Malaysia and Nauru.
The three-member panel, led by former Defence Force chief Angus Houston, has also recommended the reopening of the detention centres on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, established by the previous Howard government, the Australian Associated Press reported.
They are among 22 key recommendations from the panel that also includes refugee policy specialist Paris Aristotle and former diplomat Michael L’Estrange.
The panel said the Nauru and Manus Island centres should be re-established as soon as possible.
It said the government’s Malaysian asylum seeker swap deal should “be built on further, rather than being discarded or neglected”.
But the panel has recommended a strengthening of the “safeguards and accountability” of the deal “as a basis for the Australian Parliament’s reconsideration of new legislation ...”
The panel recommended Parliament pass legislation to support the transfer of people to third countries “as a matter of urgency”.
It also recommended future asylum seekers not be eligible to sponsor family members to come to Australia under the Special Humanitarian Programme, and that the government increase its annual humanitarian intake to about 20,000 — up from the current 13,750.
It suggested that Australia continue to boost its bilateral co-operation with Indonesia, including enhanced joint surveillance and response, and accept an increased number of asylum seekers from Indonesia each year.
Houston told reporters in Canberra he had delivered the panel’s report to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen this morning.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott also was briefed as well as the Greens and independents.
Houston said the set of 22 proposals were integrated.
“We recommend a policy approach that is hard-headed, but not hard-hearted, that is realistic not idealistic, that is driven by a sense of humanity as well as fairness,” he said.
From late 2001 to June 2012, 964 asylum seekers and boat crew had been lost at sea while enroute to Australia, Houston said.
Of these, 604 people had died since October 2009.
“Like all Australians, we are deeply concerned about this tragic loss of life at sea. To do nothing is unacceptable,” he said. — Bernama