JULIA GILLARD: Action is underway. Action will be underway as soon as Friday subject to this legislation passing the Senate with reconnaissance teams deployed to PNG and to Nauru to begin the work of setting up the facilities that will be needed there.
[End of excerpt]
WALEED ALY: There you have it, the Prime Minister Julia Gillard announcing that we're about to get going with offshore processing Nauru and Manus Island Papua New Guinea. That bill — that amendment bill has now passed the lower house, it will go to the Senate and is expected to pass tomorrow given that it has the support of both major parties.
Joining us to discuss this now is Richard Marles, the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Foreign Affairs, and he joins us now. Richard Marles thanks very much for your time.
RICHARD MARLES: Good evening Waleed, how are you?
WALEED ALY: I'm very well. How long are people going to be staying in Nauru now?
RICHARD MARLES: Well, this is going to be based on there being a no advantage test. What's clear in the Houston report is that, in coming on a boat, we want to establish the situation where no advantage is gained…
WALEED ALY: Okay.
RICHARD MARLES: We can say if you get on a boat you're going to be in no better position, you're just going to risk your life and pay a people smuggler in the process, [indistinct]…
WALEED ALY: [Interrupts] Let's [indistinct] what that means then because that means that detention centres and refugee camps in other parts of the world; Indonesia, Africa, other parts of Asia, people are waiting five, ten years, so we're talking about leaving people there deliberately for five to ten years.
RICHARD MARLES: Well I'm not sure we're talking about that length of time. What we are talking about though is making sure that there is no advantage in getting on a boat. Unless you put that in place, you will not put in place the disincentive required to stop people making this dangerous journey. Now, we will be working out what is an appropriate amount of time based on doing honour to that test which was what Angus Houston put in his report. But the principle is right, you've got to put in place something which creates a disincentive for people to make what is one of the most dangerous journeys of refuge anywhere in the world.
WALEED ALY: I understand the principle but we've spoken to people, I spoke to someone yesterday who had been in a situation where they were just languishing for years. We already know that there are people who are in that situation where they are looking at timeframes of that kind. Now if that is what your investigations turn up, is that what you have in mind to send people to Nauru for example and deliberately leave them there for five to 10 years so that they don't get an advantage?
RICHARD MARLES: Well, as I say, I don't know whether those timeframes are right. What I do…
WALEED ALY: [Interrupts] If that's what it takes though, is that what you will do?
RICHARD MARLES: What we will do is do honour to the principle which was enunciated by Angus Houston and that is make sure there is no advantage by getting on a boat.
WALEED ALY: Whatever it takes?
RICHARD MARLES: That's what we have to do to make sure that people don't make what is a dangerous journey and has seen people die in their hundreds.
WALEED ALY: Even if it means year upon year upon year?
RICHARD MARLES: What we need to do is put in place a situation which stops people making a journey which has seen them die in their hundreds, 600 people in the last two years. So the no advantage test and principle is very important. In terms of putting a time frame around that which I know is what you want me to do I think it is worth people remembering the Angus Houston report was delivered to the Government on Monday morning, you know we're now speaking on Wednesday. This is what will be sorted out in terms of what are time frames which do honour that principle. But, right now, the important point is that principle and people need to understand why it's there. Unless you put in place a disincentive to make this journey people are going to make it and when they make it they risk their lives and people are dying in their hundreds. There is a moral obligation on all of us to do something about that and I think that's what the Australian people wanted to see after what occurred in the Parliament in June and that's what we're now doing today.
WALEED ALY: All right, I'm going to conclude from that that you're prepared to do whatever it takes and I suppose we'll leave other people to draw their own conclusion.
We spoke to the Nauru Foreign Minister yesterday, Dr Kieren Keke, who said that he'd been speaking to you, not the Prime Minister or the Immigration Minister but to you, about offshore processing in Nauru. We spoke to him about the capacity of Nauru and how many people it holds. This is a bit of what he said:
DR. KIEREN KEKE: The approach was to look at something to be set up within a month. There would be a need for some temporary facilities and that [inaudible] you'd be working on longer term and more established [inaudible] that would have a larger capacity. So it would enable the centre to grow and increase the capacity over this [inaudible].
WALEED ALY: How long would it take to reach that full capacity and what would that capacity be?
DR. KIEREN KEKE: In the past when it's been looked at and [inaudible] three months. [Inaudible] of about 1500 [inaudible].
WALEED ALY: Fifteen hundred, and if they're going to be there for years, if that's what's necessary, Richard Marles, and the place only holds 1500, given the volume of boats that we've seen in recent years, Nauru's going to be full before we know it. What happens then?
RICHARD MARLES: Well I don't necessarily accept that premise. I think what we are trying to do here is build a situation where we create a disincentive for people to get on those boats and I think if we can create that then there is a real opportunity to stop the boats occurring…
WALEED ALY: [Interrupts] But it's not infinite, it's finite and so once that's full…
RICHARD MARLES: Well of course it's finite and that's a point that we've made previously, that obviously it is finite. But, having said that, if you're a people smuggler you're going to need to find hundreds of volunteers who are prepared to put themselves in that situation, knowing they will gain no advantage compared to staying where they are in Indonesia or any other part of the world. That's what needs to be established and we are confident that if we can do that then the flow of boats will stop.
In terms of the actual capacity of Nauru, this is a matter to be worked out by the reconnaissance team which we hope will go there on Friday. It is right that there'll be some temporary accommodation. The aim would be to get that up and running first and then permanent accommodation after that.
Precise numbers are something still to be worked out. Obviously your fundamental point is right, whatever that number is, it is finite. But we are confident that when you combine that with Manus it will have an effect in deterring people from making the journey. I might also make the point that we have long said that part of why the Malaysian arrangement is important is because it adds to that capacity, and adds to that buffer which provides the disincentive to come. The Houston report explicably talks about the value of the Malaysia arrangement. That is something we will continue to pursue as well.
WALEED ALY: Richard Marles, I know we've taken you out of a meeting, I appreciate you taking the time to make that exception for us and speak to us. Thanks very much for speaking to us.
RICHARD MARLES: That's a pleasure Waleed, thank you.
WALEED ALY: Richard Marles, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Foreign Affairs as well.
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