Senate debates

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Questions without Notice


4:17 pm

Photo of Mark FurnerMark Furner (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise also to make a contribution to today's matter of public importance. Firstly, it is all about solutions. We need to find solutions, and that is one thing this government is doing on this particular issue. We are fixing this issue by working with people in our region. The government have been working hard to implement an effective policy. It is a complex issue, this; it is not a simplistic matter that can be resolved by shifting people off to various parts of the Pacific region. This complex issue of irregular migration cannot be solved by acting alone; instead, it must be tackled by countries forming cooperative arrangements under the auspices of regional and international frameworks.

On 30 March this year, Australia secured an agreement to implement a regional cooperative framework at the Bali Process ministerial conference. At this conference, representatives of the 43 member countries, along with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, agreed to establish a regional cooperative framework to address irregular migration, improve consistency in the treatment of refugees and undermine the people-smuggling trade. Unlike the Howard government and their failed model, we have come up with a solution to deal with this particular problem.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know that a key aspect of the regional cooperative framework is the Malaysian transfer agreement. Asylum seekers transferred to Malaysia will have their asylum claims considered, and those in need of international protection will not be refouled. Those already waiting for an outcome will not be disadvantaged by this arrangement. Asylum seekers transferred to Malaysia will not receive any advantage in the consideration of their claims over the other 93,000 UNHCR registered refugees and asylum seekers already waiting. In exchange, Australia will resettle 4,000 UNHCR mandated refugees, demonstrating the importance we place on assisting those who face the violation of their human rights. The Gillard government have received public support from the UNHCR for this transfer agreement as an opportunity to better protect refugees, and we will assist in processing asylum seekers that are transferred under this arrangement. We believe this transfer agreement will deter people from choosing to arrive by boat. As immigration minister Chris Bowen said on 9 June:

Why would you pay a people smuggler $15,000 or so to come to Australia by boat, only to be taken back to the place where you started the boat journey, which in most cases is Malaysia? So you achieve absolutely nothing.

While the opposition would have the public believe we are being invaded by boat people, they need to be reminded that while they were in government they did not stop the boats. During John Howard's reign as Prime Minister, 240 boats arrived in Australia, carrying 13,600 asylum seekers. Global circumstances determine the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia. When the Taliban regime was brought down in 2001, many Afghanis returned home.

While our Malaysian transfer policy has been well received, Mr Tony Abbott's suggestion to reopen Nauru has not been supported by the UNHCR. UNHCR spokes­person Jennifer Pagonis had said they had 'strong concerns' about Nauru and described the closure of Nauru as 'the end of a difficult chapter in Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers'. Another UNHCR spokesperson said recently:

''UNHCR was not involved and, indeed, distanced itself from any role in overseeing or managing the processing facilities on Nauru under the Pacific Solution. Recent media reports that the centre on Nauru was approved by and run under the auspices of the UN are factually incorrect.''

Minister Bowen has stated that Mr Abbott's solution would not stop boats. He said:

Nauru doesn't break the people smugglers' business model. Nauru, in the absence of other regional engagement, would simply mean that it's an offshore processing centre on the way to being resettled in Australia. The majority of refugees that were processed in Nauru ended up being resettled in Australia under the previous government, so you don't remove that incentive to come to Australia by boat.

Last week, the Leader of the Opposition visited Nauru, but he continues to mislead Australians. He went over there on some false notion of claiming to seek agreement with the Nauru government and to come up with some solution—albeit that he is in opposition—and we know he is misleading Australia on the costs involved and on the suitability of Nauru. Conversely, we have been upfront. We have been upfront about how much the transfer agreements with Malaysia will cost. But Mr Abbott refuses to detail the operational and capital costs required for his Nauru solution. He has spent recent months talking about how Nauru is ready to go and how it could be operational within weeks. But, if the Nauru solution was unsuccessful in the first place, why should we revert to something that did not work? That is the question that needs to be asked here.


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