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2014 Offshore Processing Policy Background - from the Manus Island Riot Inquiry Report

On March 5, 2014 the Australian Senate referred the incident at the Manus Island Detention Centre from 16 February to 18 February 2014 to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee for inquiry.

On December11, 2014 the Inquiry released their report.

NOTE: The following timeline of offshore processing policy changes is a simple overview taken direct from chapter One of the Inquiry's background notes. (Link below). The red headings hopefully make this an easy page to scan.

Committee Attempts a Visit to Manus RPC:

1.6 Early in the inquiry, the committee formed the view that making a site visit to Manus Island Regional Processing Centre would greatly benefit the inquiry by enabling senators to inspect the centre and gain a firsthand appreciation for conditions and other factors that may have contributed to the incident in February 2014.

1.8 On 28 April 2014, the committee wrote to the Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, as well as the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, seeking the government's approval and assistance.

1.9 The committee did not receive any response.


1.21 This section of the report provides background to Australia's policies of mandatory detention and offshore processing, the geography and climate of Manus Island, as well as a summary and timeline of the incident which occurred at Manus Island Regional Processing Centre between 16 and 18 February 2014.

Mandatory detention and Offshore Processing

1.22. The policy of mandatory detention of non-citizens without a valid visa was introduced by the Keating (Labor) government, with bipartisan support, in 1992 through the enactment of the Migration Amendment Act 1992. At the time, mandatory detention was envisaged as a temporary and exceptional measure to manage a particular cohort of Indochinese unauthorised boat arrivals.

1.23 The policy was extended to all 'unlawful non-citizens' with the enactment of the Migration Reform Act 1992 (which came into effect on 1 September 1994).

Prime Minister John Howard - TPVs - Pacific Solution

1.24 Between 1999 and 2001, the number of unauthorised boat arrivals increased to approximately 9500 over that period. These asylum seekers were predominantly from the Middle East. In response, the Howard (Coalition) government introduced a range of measures, including Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and the 'Pacific Solution', intended to discourage further boat arrivals and reduce the number of people in detention.

Pacific Solution + Norwegian freighter Tampa

1.25 The 'Pacific Solution' was a policy of offshore processing introduced in response to the events of August 2001 when 433 asylum seekers en route to Australia were rescued from their sinking boat by the Norwegian freighter Tampa. The Tampa was refused entry to Australia, however, the ship's master defied this order and upon entering Australia territorial waters the ship was forcibly boarded by the Special Air Service (SAS). The asylum seekers on board were subsequently transferred to Nauru.

Pacific Solution + Excising Islands from Migration Zone

1.26 Under the Pacific Solution, Christmas Island, Ashmore and Cartier Islands and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands were excised from Australia's migration zone. This meant that non-citizens arriving unlawfully at one of these Australian territories were unable to make a valid application for an Australian visa, including protection visas, unless the bar on the visa application was removed by ministerial discretion. Instead, these asylum seekers were transferred to Offshore Processing Centres which were established at Nauru and Papua New Guinea (Manus Island) where they were detained while their claims for asylum were assessed.5 Asylum seekers found to be refugees were resettled in Australia or in a third country, with a preference for resettlement in a third country rather than Australia.

Nauru & Manus RPCs from 2001 to 2008

1.27 Between 2001 and 2008, a total of 1637 asylum seekers were detained in the Nauru and Manus Island Regional Processing Centres. Of these 1637, 1153 (approximately 70 per cent) were found to be refugees, with 61 per cent resettled in Australia and the remainder resettled in countries such as New Zealand, Sweden, Canada, and the United States of America (USA).

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd - End of Pacific Solution

1.28 During February 2008, under the Rudd (Labor) government, the Pacific Solution was formally ended. The Rudd government announced that the processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island would no longer be used and that future unauthorised boat arrivals would be processed at Christmas Island.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard reversed the decision and re-opened Offshore Processing Centres as a "last resort" and for health checks and processing.

1.29 However, in 2012, in response to an increase in boat arrivals the Gillard (Labor) government reversed this decision and reintroduced the policy of transferring asylum seekers to offshore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The Gillard government stated that offshore detention would be a 'last resort' and that unauthorised arrivals would be detained for identity, health and security checks but once these were completed, it would be up to the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship to justify an asylum seeker's continued detention. Ongoing detention was considered appropriate for people who posed a security risk or who did not comply with their visa conditions.

Policy of "No Advantage"

1.30 Coinciding with the reintroduction of offshore processing of asylum seekers was a government campaign warning asylum seekers that they would be transferred to Nauru or Manus Island if they arrived in Australia by boat and that they would be afforded 'no advantage' over those seeking asylum in Australia whilst in overseas refugee camps.

Public comments relating to re-establishing offshore processing

1.31 Some public commentary around the decision to re-establish offshore processing was critical, describing Manus Island as 'depressing and its only purpose is a jail', citing research demonstrating the negative impact of lengthy detention on mental health.

Inhumane and Prohibitively Expensive

Archbishop Jeffrey Driver, head of the Anglican Church in Adelaide, described the government's policy as 'inhumane and prohibitively expensive' and argued it was 'punishing the victims in order to discourage the perpetrators'.

The media also reported the limited capacity and lack of readiness of the facility on Manus Island at the time the policy announcement was made.

From 2012 to 2014

2012 The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Australia & PNG

1.32 On 8 September 2012, the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) relating to regional processing arrangements in Papua New Guinea. The Australian Government described the MOU as 'a significant step towards establishing a regional processing centre on Manus Island' and paving 'the way for processing on Manus Island, subject to the designation of PNG as a regional processing country under Australian law'.

PNG designated as a Regional Processing Country

1.33 About one month later, Papua New Guinea was designated as a regional processing country by an instrument signed by the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon Chris Bowen MP under the Migration Act 1958.

2012: First Transfer of Asylum Seekers to Manus Island

1.34 On 21 November 2012, the Gillard government confirmed the first transfer of asylum seekers (a group of seven families of Sri Lankan and Iranian nationalities) from Christmas Island to Manus Island.

At the time, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship stated:

The first transfer to Manus Island has now taken place – and will be the first of many – sending the clear message that people arriving by boat risk being sent to a regional processing centre in either Nauru or Papua New Guinea...To those contemplating the dangerous journey to Australia by boat: people smugglers are lying to you, don’t waste your money and don't risk your life – it's just not worth it.

No Advantage to those who come by Boat

There is no visa on arrival, there will be no special treatment, no speedy outcome and certainly no advantage given to those who come by boat.

Manus currently Temporary & Refurbished Structures

On arrival in PNG, the group has undergone local immigration clearance processes before being moved into the regional processing centre at Manus Island, which is currently a combination of temporary and refurbished structures.

Operations Overseen by Both PNG & Australian governments

Operations at the centre will be overseen by both the Australian and PNG governments,

Welfare by: Salvation Army + IHMS / Support services by: G4S

with welfare services provided by the Salvation Army, health services by IHMS and operational support services by G4S. Local Manus Island residents have also been employed at the processing centre.

2013: 70 Removed from Manus for Operation Reasons

1.35 On 20 June 2013, the Gillard government removed a group of 70 asylum seekers, comprising families with children and vulnerable men, from Manus Island. A spokesperson for the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship stated that the transfer had been made for 'operational reasons'; however, refugee activists believed it was a 'signal that the government was ending detention of families and children on the island'.

2013 Manus to become Male Only

According to G4S, the contractor managing the Manus Island RPC at that time, the decision to remove families from the centre and make the centre a single adult male (SAM) only facility occurred on 15 June 2013.

2013 The Regional Resettlement Arrangement

1.36 On 19 July 2013, the Australian Rudd (Labor) government and the Papua New Guinean Government entered into a Regional Resettlement Arrangement. The arrangement outlined 'further practical measures Australia and Papua New Guinea will pursue together to combat people smuggling' including:

Unauthorized Maritime Arrivals to be Processed and Resettled in Papua New Guinea or other Pacific Island States after a successful refugee process

...any unauthorized [sic] maritime arrival entering Australian waters will be liable for transfer to Papua New Guinea (in the first instance, Manus Island) for processing and resettlement in Papua New Guinea and in any other participating regional, including Pacific Island, states. Papua New Guinea undertakes for an initial twelve month period to accept unauthorised maritime arrivals for processing and, if successful in their application for refugee status, resettlement.

Papua New Guinea to determine Refugee Status

Transferees would be accommodated in regional processing centres. Papua New Guinea will undertake refugee status determination.

RPC managed adn administerest under PNG Law

The regional processing centre will be managed and administered by Papua New Guinea under Papua New Guinean law, with support from Australia.

What is unique about this Arrangement is that persons found to be refugees will be resettled in Papua New Guinea and any other participating regional, including Pacific Island, state.

Persons found not to be refugees may be held in detention or returned to their home country or a country where they have right of residence.

Acknowledged Non-Refoulement Conventions

1.38 The arrangement acknowledged the commitment to non-refoulement required under the refugee conventions, as well as Australia and Papua New Guinea's 'obligations for the welfare and safety of any persons transferred to Papua New Guinea under this arrangement'.

Australia to provide funding, including full cost of implementation

The arrangement also outlined the assistance and funding Australia would provide to Papua New Guinea in giving effect to the arrangement.

In particular, the arrangement stated 'Australia will bear the full cost of implementing the Arrangement in Papua New Guinea for the life of the Arrangement'.

Regional Resettlement Arrangement, 19 July 2013.

A Hard-Line Policy Decision

1.39 At the time of announcing the Regional Resettlement Arrangement, the then Prime Minister described the policy as 'a hard-line decision' and one intended: make sure that the message is delivered loud and clear to people smuggling networks around the world, and those criminal elements within Australia who may be supporting them that the hopes that they offer their customers for the future are nothing but false hopes.

The Hon Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister, 'Regional Resettlement Arrangement', Transcript of joint press conference, 19 July 2013

Refugees sent to Island before they were up to Standard

1.40 At the same press conference, the then Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship the Hon Tony Burke MP, stated:

In the last couple of weeks, I've removed children and a number of family groups from Manus Island because the facilities, as they are right now, are not appropriate for some of those different groups.

The intention here though, is that we will now bring the quality of those places back up to standard for the processing centre.

The Hon Tony Burke MP, Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship, 'Regional Resettlement Arrangement', Transcript of joint press conference, 19 July 2013.

Plan to make Manus Island a Permanent Facility

So that, where at the moment, we will not be transferring women and children immediately across to Manus Island, the intention is that as the temporary facility moves to a permanent facility, anybody who arrives from now on will be subject to the new rules.

People who are currently within the detention network, within Australia on Manus or on Nauru do not have these rules applied to them.

But from now on, vessels that are intercepted will have the new rules apply to them.

2013 A New MOU Supporting Regional Resettlement Arrangement

1.41 On 6 August 2013, the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea entered into a new MOU, supporting the Regional Resettlement Arrangement and superseding the MOU of 8 September 2012.19

  1. 1.42 Under the terms of the revised 2013 MOU: Persons to be transferred to Papua New Guinea are those persons who:

  2. have travelled irregularly by sea to Australia; or

  3. have been intercepted at sea by the Australian authorities in the course of trying to reach Australia by irregular means; and

  4. are authorised by Australian law to be transferred to Papua New Guinea; and

  5. have undergone a short health, security and identity check in Australia.

Government of Papua New Guinea and the Government of Australia, 2013 MOU, 6 August 2013.

2013 Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister

1.44 During September 2013, the Abbott (Coalition) government took office following the 7 September federal election.

2013 Operation Sovereign Borders

Prior to the election, the Coalition had announced its 'Operation Sovereign Borders' policy which included the following undertakings:

  • establishing a military-led response to combat people smuggling and to protect Australia's borders (Operation Sovereign Borders or OSB);

  • treating the border protection crisis as a national emergency; and

  • appointing a senior military commander of three-star ranking to lead OSB

Lieutenant General Angus Campbell DSC AM as Commander of the Joint Agency Taskforce (JATF)

1.45 On 19 September 2013 the Abbott government implemented its pre-election commitments, appointing Lieutenant General Angus Campbell DSC AM as Commander of the Joint Agency Taskforce (JATF) with responsibility for OSB.23 JATF comprises representatives of the Australian Defence Force, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (department) and is tasked with ensuring 'a whole- of-government effort to combat people smuggling and protect Australia's borders'



Report: Incident at the Manus Island Detention Centre from 16 February to 18 February 20, Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee for inquiry. On December11, 2014

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