Statement on Asylum Seeker and Refugee issues
9 July 2012
Following the most recent tragedies of asylum seeker vessels sinking while on route to Australia, and as a result of the current political impasse over offshore processing, the Prime Minister has announced the establishment of an independent expert panel to examine asylum seeker and refugee issues.
The panel will be led by former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, and will include Mr Paris Aristotle, a leading refugee expert and advocate, and Mr Michael L'Estrange, a former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and diplomat. It will provide a report to the Government before Parliament resumes in mid-August.
A Multi-Party Reference Group has also been created to support the work of the panel, with its members representing the different views of the Australian Parliament, excluding the Opposition, who declined to participate. The Reference Group, along with other government and non-government organisations, will assist the panel to find genuine solutions and policy outcomes which the Parliament can support, including the aim of preventing the further loss of asylum seeker lives at sea.
More information on the Multi-Party Reference Group may be found here
The National Platform of the Australian Labor Party on asylum seeker and refugee issues was amended at the Party’s National Conference on 3 December 2011.
The new Platform includes:
Labor recognises that the phenomenon of people smuggling has a long history arising from the need for people to escape from danger and persecution. Labor also recognises that those who decide to leave a country in perilous circumstances have the right under the Refugee Convention to determine their means of departure.
Recognising the risk to life of people travelling on unsafe, unseaworthy and overcrowded boats, Labor will work with the UNHCR and countries of the region to expedite the claims for refugee status by asylum seekers in the region to eliminate any pull that people smugglers may have over vulnerable protection claimants.
However, recognising the risk to life of people travelling on unsafe, unseaworthy and overcrowded boats, Labor will;
consider introducing further penalties for serious people smuggling offences;
ensure repatriation of crew members who are proven to be juveniles. Crew members assessed to be minors will not be held in immigration detention centres or adult prisons.
Labor is committed to ensuring Australia meets its obligations to the maritime principle of safety of life at sea which requires a response to assist in the rescue at sea of vessels in distress.
The new Platform also states:
Labor aspires to progressively increase Australia’s humanitarian intake to 20,000 places per year, should bilateral and regional arrangements prove to be successful in reducing irregular migration to Australia.
Labor recognises that, under the Refugee Convention, asylum seekers have the right to seek protection and asylum.
Labor will ensure that asylum seekers who arrive by irregular means will not be punished for the mode of arrival.
See pages 170 - 176, Chapter 9, ALP National Plaform, here.
I have also spoken in the Senate on the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, where I said:
“The application of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees to those who come to Australia is paramount. I for one will always stand up to argue Australian government policies must remain consistent with it. UNHCR Australia suggests that the refugee convention has helped over 50 million people restart their lives”