House debates

Thursday, 3 June 2010


Asylum Seekers

4:50 pm

Photo of Joanna GashJoanna Gash (Gilmore, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

Many people are not aware of some of the facts and figures surrounding asylum seekers in this country. In fact, some time ago I put out a brochure in my electorate to answer some commonly asked questions and to highlight the facts with help from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Parliamentary Library. In my former role on the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, I had the privilege of touring Australia’s detention centres for a firsthand view of the situation. Despite my initial trepidation, I was nothing short of impressed by what I saw. Behind the high fences were green fields where children were running and playing. They were given new shoes and clothes if they needed them, access to dental and health care, internet access, Kosher food if they had such dietary requirements, and both single and family accommodation.

I am certainly not saying that the mental trauma and stress these people have faced in their home country, which drove them to sell their possessions, raise the $6,000 to $15,000 to pay a people smuggler and take a boat, no longer impacts them when they arrive. Of course it does. But I am saying that they receive adequate care under our watch. Under the United Nations convention, a person is entitled to seek asylum in their closest safe port. Australia is not always the first safe port, yet they still risk their lives to bypass other countries and come to Australia. Why? At the risk of sounding callous and having my detractors say I am a racist, it is a sense of fairness that motivates me to speak up. I am concerned about Australia’s ability to provide the resources for the thousands that have arrived and continue to arrive. I am not prepared to see our seniors, many of whom in Gilmore are doing it tough, go without. I still have many pensioners who live in terrible conditions, and we have many homeless and a waiting list for dentists and hospitals. In fact, a figure that is not widely known by communities is just how much it actually costs Australian taxpayers to cater for one asylum seeker while their assessment is being carried out. The amount is $82,000. That is the taxes of nearly seven average wage earners on $62,000 a year. This means that the relentless flood of asylum seekers is costing taxpayers $250 million each year, and that cost is growing.

The government has to reopen detention centres that the Howard government had closed down to cope with the demand. There are plans in the pipeline to build new ones. In the latest development the government wants to turn a disused mining village in the middle of the Western Australian desert into a processing centre. This will only add to the ever-growing cost from Kevin Rudd’s watered down and failed border protection policy. Since January the number of detainees held in onshore detention centres has risen by more than 240 per cent due to the record illegal boat arrivals with hundreds of detainees transferred to the mainland. Last week nine detainees broke out of the Villawood detention centre and that is another added cost in resources and energy.

Sadly, there are 427 children being held in detention centres right now. Where are all the voices that criticised the Howard government when we had 21 children in detention centres and others who lived in the community and attended regular schools? Each new boat arrival stands as an incentive for others to test the system and jump the queue, not to mention those still waiting in refugee camps with no ability to buy a place on a boat. It is going to cost Australians well over $1 billion over the next four years just to deal with the present flood. Unless the government takes a more resolute approach in discouraging immigration queuejumpers, immigration laws will never be taken seriously or the sovereignty of our nation.

Since the Rudd government announced their asylum freeze, 22 boats have arrived carrying almost a thousand people. The overwhelming majority of these illegal arrivals, who will be from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, will be staying for at least six months and three months respectively before their claims are even assessed. The fact is people smugglers are using the opportunity the federal government has created in softening the Howard government border protection policies and people smugglers now have a highly desirable product to sell—like permanent residence in Australia—and maybe the government will give you a special deal to process you quickly in an attempt not to lose face politically.

I am pleased to report that the coalition have put forward a policy or strategy to address community concerns which Australians will have an opportunity to vote on at the next election. Part of our policy will include (1) the commencement of discussions to establish an offshore processing detention facility in another country; (2) temporary protection visas and benefits with the proviso that recipients make a contribution through a work for benefits scheme as is required of Australian citizens; (3) we will require those who arrive illegally onshore to make any claim within 45 days and we will turn back boats where circumstances allow. This will send a clear message to opportunistic people smugglers who take people’s lives into their hands, allowing them to travel on leaky boats just to make money. It will tell them that people who come to this country through illegal channels will not arrive on the mainland and will not automatically receive a permanent visa. So then there is no product to sell. So far the number of illegal boat arrivals under Mr Rudd is 129 which is over 6,000 people. The problem is growing; the cost is growing, and this government has no real strategy to deal with it.