Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister. Does the Prime Minister agree with her Minister for Foreign Affairs, who stated yesterday that the surge in asylum seeker arrivals generated by people smugglers was 'overwhelmingly not people fleeing persecution but economic migrants' and was intruding on Australia's humanitarian program? If so, why is the government granting protection visas to nine out of 10 people who arrive by boat illegally?
I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her question because it enables me to explain some of the approach that the government takes here. There are various stages of assessment of asylum seeker claims, and when people present and raise no reasonable prospect that they have a protection claim when it is clear that they are seeking, to use the terminology, to be economic migrants—that is, that they have come here for economic reasons—then we endeavour to promptly return people. For example, with the outflow from Sri Lanka, we are very promptly returning people. Indeed, we have returned more than 1,000 people because they have been screened out of any assessment process because they are economic migrants.
Then there are some people who raise a credible claim that they may be able to engage Australia's protection obligations. I understand it to be bipartisan policy that we be signatories to the refugee convention, and if people raise a credible claim then that claim is appropriately assessed. That is, it is assessed in the same way that claims have been assessed in this country for some period. These are not just the policies of one side of politics—they are assessed by the department and then there are various review levels, including the Refugee Review Tribunal. I remind the member opposite who asked the question that when she sat on the government benches this also used to occur. Out of those processes, yes, there is screening, so that if people are economic migrants and not engaging our protection obligations we move promptly to return them.
It pays in this debate to deal with the facts, it pays to deal with the complexity and it pays to properly ground your policies based on an understanding of both. That is what we do, as advised by experts through the Houston panel. That is not what the opposition does; it would prefer to stay with its negativity and its simplistic slogans, to come into the parliament and vote for more boats.