Supporters of the federal government’s new asylum plan say it would be different from the ‘Pacific Solution’, after the Greens labelled it ‘a return to the bad old days of the Howard government’.


An expert panel led by former defence chief Angus Houston issued its recommendations yesterday, saying asylum seekers should be processed on Nauru and Manus Island as soon as possible, while the federal government’s Malaysian people swap deal should be amended before it proceeds.

“It will be quite different to what was set up last time,” former defence force chief Angus Houston told ABC radio. “These will be much better conditions for people to live in.”


Paris Aristotle, a member of the panel, told ABC’s Lateline last night what’s proposed is a very different arrangement from the Howard government’s Pacific Solution.

“We are not recommending opening detention centres. People would not be in arbitrary detention, they would have to return to that accommodation each evening, but it’s not intended that it would be a detention centre in any of the proposed transfer arrangements”.


The panel recommends that asylum seekers found to be refugees should not be resettled faster than if they had applied through ‘regular’ means under a regional framework (which is not in place yet). It is therefore unclear how long potential refugees would have to wait on Nauru or Manus Island before resettlement.

“A mother and her children who has been assessed by UNHCR in Malaysia or in Indonesia or in Iran or Pakistan a couple of years earlier and were identified for resettlement, their place won’t be held off because someone has gone around that process,” Mr Aristotle told ABC.


Mr Aristotle says there would also be better monitoring mechanisms over living conditions in asylum processing centres.

“We’ve recommended that there be oversight and monitoring mechanisms through high-level groups comprising of cross-party membership, experts from the non-government sector or academia, senior officials who would monitor and oversight the adherence to the conditions of any transfer arrangement and international obligations,” Mr Aristotle said.


“We’ve recommended a legal advice, a review process, and a full list of services, and in addition to that, we’ve recommended a substantial addition in the humanitarian program that would create more places to be available across a regional processing network. None of that was in place in the past.”

The Nauru detention centre was opened under the Howard government in 2001 and closed by the Rudd government in December 2007, while a detention centre on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea, was built in 2001 and closed in 2003.

Mr Aristotle says the processing centres would be different from the way detention centres were operating on Manus Island and Nauru before.


He says there would be a ‘no-advantage principle’ given to people arriving by boat.

“Back then there were no regional structures for people across the region to apply into. There wasn’t a queue. And this is not about establishing a queue but it’s about creating a credible system that people now can apply through,” Mr Aristotle said.

He says the previous system had more of a punitive element to try to dissuade people. “This is an evolvement of that process,” he said.

The panel recommended that the Migration Act 1958 be amended so that arrival anywhere on Australia by irregular maritime means will not provide individuals with a different lawful status than those who arrive in an excised offshore place.

The legislation, likely to be rushed into parliament on Tuesday, will not nominate specific sites for offshore processing. Instead that will be done by ministerial regulation, a measure that could be overturned by a vote of parliament.


The panel recommends that in the future those who arrive in Australia through irregular maritime means should not be eligible to sponsor family under the SHP but should seek to do so within the family stream of the Migration Program.


Amnesty International said it was appalled by the panel’s recommendations which it says threatens a return to the “bad old days” of the “wildly expensive” Pacific Solution.

“Sending asylum seekers to places like Malaysia, Nauru and Papua New Guinea is unacceptable and a complete outsourcing of Australia’s human rights obligations,” Amnesty refugee spokesman Dr Graham Thom said in a statement.

“It is shocking to see the panel favour punitive measures that deliberately hold vulnerable people hostage, separate families and leave them in limbo.”


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it is studying the report with “deep interest”.

“In principle, UNHCR supports the report’s conclusion that a sustained and strategic engagement, that is multi-dimensional, comprehensive and equitable, is required across the region,” it said.


Sharon Pickering from Monash University was one of the academics who consulted with the panel over the past few months.

“(To have) some of the processing though regional collaboration is heartening, but unfortunately there is a lot of devil in the detail, particularly in relation to the time-limit of detention, of people that will be sent to Nauru, Manus Island on PNG and potentially Malaysia as well,”she told SBS.

“We may have people languishing for some time, we may have families that are separated for indefinite periods of time”.

Greens leader Christine Milne labelled most of the 22 recommendations from the panel as cruel and disappointing, and likened them to the ‘Pacific Solution’ of processing irregular boat arrivals offshore.

She said recommendations from the panel took away people’s human rights and offered cruelty to people most in need.

“That is the proposition that John Howard put forward,” Senator Milne told reporters in Canberra on Monday.