Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to his 2007 promise to be tougher on border protection. Since he made that commitment no boats have been turned around, there have been record numbers of illegal boat arrivals, the Christmas Island detention centre is full, people arriving illegally are now regularly transferred to the mainland and the Curtin detention centre is set to reopen. Given his broken promise, why should Australians concerned about the security of our borders believe any new promises he makes in this election year?
I welcome the contribution to the debate today by the member for Cook. Just a few facts: the three years with the largest number of asylum seekers over the last 15 years were under the Howard government—1999, 2000 and 2001. The highest number of boats in any one year arriving in Australia was under the Howard government, in 1999. The largest number of asylum seekers in one year was under the Howard government, in 2001. The single-largest vessel to arrive in Australia was under the Howard government, with 359 people. So let us just put all that into a bit of context.
Secondly, what I would say in response to the member for Cook is as follows. He referred to asylum seekers who are in various processing centres on the mainland. He has been contributing to this debate in recent days. In fact, he was on 2GB—I presume—where he said the following:
Now, it is not for the first time this has happened—
He is referring to people being processed onshore and being accommodated temporarily in some form of hotel or motel accommodation. He said:
I should be upfront with the people about this, Ray—
I presume that is Ray Hadley—
when there was that massive surge of arrivals that occurred back in 1999,2000 and 2001, we had to do that when we were in government for that very brief period of time.
The problem is, as he knows, they kept doing it. It did not stop in 1999; it did not stop in 2000. It went on to 2001. And here are the facts: in 2004-05—this is what the member for Cook neglected to tell Ray Hadley this morning—the Howard government budgeted $1.8 million for community and hotel based detention. That was in 2004-05. Then in 2004 the Howard government was spending approximately $80,000 a month to house two asylum seekers at the Arkaba Hotel in Adelaide. I hope it was a nice hotel! What the member for Cook neglected, I am sure, to tell 2GB this morning was that, in December 2006, under the Howard government there were something like 20 or 30 detainees living in private hotels and serviced apartments and 57 detainees living in residential housing. Hotels like the Comfort Asti Inn in Darwin, the Colonel in Brisbane—
The reason I refer to these matters is that the member for Cook asked in his question about the number of asylum seekers being processed within Australia. That goes to a debate in which he has also been participating, which is how they are being accommodated. This morning on national radio he did not tell the truth. That is the bottom line: he fundamentally misled the Australian public. He said that this practice was only in emergency times, finishing in 2001. He has been found out today to be an absolute political fraud, because this practice was pursued under the Howard government in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. That phrase has been ruled on before and it has been asked that it be withdrawn. I ask you to ask the Prime Minister to withdraw it.
Order! The expression has been used and has been allowed. I would agree it has, from time to time, been asked that it be withdrawn. It falls within expressions where, if it was taken as a direct expression, not in a political debate, there could be offence, but I refer to practice which indicates that people in public life from time to time have comments made about them that in normal life we may not wish to hear. On this occasion I will allow the Prime Minister to continue.
On the point of order, with the greatest of respect, Mr Speaker, in the past if a remark has been made about a person in particular, and if this side has taken offence, you have asked for it to be withdrawn. If it has been made in general about the opposition then you have allowed it. But, as it was specifically about the member for Cook, I ask you respectfully to ask the Prime Minister to assist the House by withdrawing it.
Order! As I have said before, often, regrettably, the justification for these things is that they are taken in context. The context of this question time is that it has been fairly robust.
The member for Cook will resume his seat. I am not persuaded at this stage by the member for Sturt’s learned submission to me to change my mind.
Opposition members interjecting—
On the point of order, although I am not often considered delicate, I did find offensive the suggestion that I did not tell the truth. I did tell the truth and he should withdraw.
Order! The House will come to order! I, perhaps in vain, hope that people will have got a lot of things out of their systems and will, by 7.30, be a lot quieter. On the basis that the member for Cook has indicated that he is aggrieved, to assist the House I ask the Prime Minister to withdraw.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. To assist the House I will withdraw. The member for Cook just said in his remarks then, ‘I told the truth.’ Can I ask the House to form their own independent judgement of the following. This morning on radio he said: ‘I should be upfront with people about that, Ray. When there was that massive surge of arrivals that occurred back in 1999, 2000 and 2001 we had to do that’—that is, accommodate people in hotels—‘when we were in government, for a brief period of time.’ What we now know from the facts is that this practice continued extensively in 2004, 2005 2006 and 2007. I would submit to the House that on any reasonable person’s reading this, in fact, was not a truthful statement.
The reason I highlight this point in this debate on asylum seekers is that it goes to the heart of the truthfulness in which they engage in this debate around the country right now, which is entirely fear based—a debate around the country which is designed to instil fear and intimidation in the community.
The member for Berowra knows, more than anybody else in this place, that there are other ways in which somebody who is aggrieved can, to use his words, defend themselves. Certainly, for the father of the House to show the example of ignoring the standing orders by way of an interjection that is a reflection against the chair is not helpful.
The reason I have dwelt on this matter for some time is that it goes to the core question of whether those opposite are being truthful in this debate on asylum seekers. What we had this morning was a deliberate attempt by the member for Cook to engage in this debate and not to extend to the Australian public the full benefit of the truth concerning their time in office.
I noticed that the member for Berowra was just mentioned by you, Mr Speaker. The member for Berowra was, of course, immigration minister when this practice of accommodating asylum seekers onshore in hotel and motel accommodation occurred under him and under the member for Menzies—I am so advised—as well. Let us therefore reflect carefully on what this says about the truthfulness with which those opposite are engaging in the debate about asylum seekers. On this—
Mr Speaker, on a point of order: this was a question about the government’s broken promise in relation to asylum seekers. The Prime Minister is not being relevant to that question and has not answered that question.
If we are looking for a member with integrity on this question, we should look to the former member for Cook who said this morning:
… I certainly do not support the fear mongering that we see in those ads. I’ve spoken to my successor in Cook, Scott Morrison, and expressed my views to him.
There stands an honourable Liberal, unlike those who sit opposite.
Mr Speaker, as you know, I do not normally stand on points of order in relation to comments made by the Prime Minister. However, that last blanket statement was against everybody on this side of the House, and I ask him to withdraw it.