Houston panel finds offshore processing not the only option
MORE people would die at sea if offshore processing was seen as the only solution to people smuggling, Houston panel on asylum seekers member Paris Aristotle said on Monday.
Mr Aristotle and the other members of the expert panel spoke to a parliamentary committee on Monday about the progress made on the panel's report.
During the hearing, both the expert panel and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Australian office said that a complete suite of reforms must be made to Australia's refugee processing system.
Mr Aristotle said the talk - much of it perpetuated by the Coalition - that offshore processing was the only solution, would lead to more deaths at sea.
"I think there are risks with this process, but the alternative position is that people are dying," he said.
He told the committee of a 13-year-old boy who watched his father, mother and brother die at sea when a boat sank on the way to Australia in late October.
Panel chair Angus Houston said while there had been progress made on the panel's recommendations, "Roma wasn't built in a day".
He said in the four months since the panel handed its report to the government, a lot had been done, but to finish the job could take years.
"It's also a very costly package, in the order of something like $5 billion over the forward estimates - and that's another constraint in progress that could be made in the time," Mr Houston said.
The overall message from the panel was that any statements that the plan had failed were incorrect and more time was needed to provide a final verdict.
UNHCR representative Richard Towles said while the UNHCR broadly supported the panel's recommendations, they remained unhappy with any offshore processing.
He said the current offshore processing arrangements on Nauru and Manus Island still did not meet Australia's international obligations for the treatment of refugees.