Senate debates

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Asylum Seekers, Department of Immigration and Border Protection

3:17 pm

Photo of Kate LundyKate Lundy (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I think it is critically important to point out at this time that Senator Macdonald is shedding crocodile tears for the humanitarian program—the offshore one that is guided by the UNHCR—because the coalition government is reducing our humanitarian intake from 20,000 to 13,750. This makes an absolute mockery of the claim that these people are somehow neglected. The opportunity is there for the coalition government to restore the increased numbers for the offshore humanitarian program. If they had any principles and if there were any substance to the claims we have heard in the chamber today, they would do exactly that.

I think it is worth taking a step back to remind people that, throughout Labor's term, we sought cooperation with the coalition to stop the deaths at sea because of people attempting to procure a people smuggler to bring them here to seek asylum. For every effort that we made the coalition took a step back and refused to agree with the Labor government on a strategy to do exactly that. Even when we made a very clear, overt and specific attempt to remove the party politics from this vexing problem by appointing an independent expert panel to advise on policy—and very tough policies they were—we saw the Liberal Party run a mile. We saw them oppose legislation that sought to put in place an arrangement with Malaysia. We saw them oppose our strategies, moves and efforts in this parliament to put in place an offshore processing regime that we believed would stem the flow of boats and undermine—in fact stop—the people-smuggling trade.

But today Senator Cash has belled what was not a very silent cat anyway. Senator Cash comes in here today and claims that this government is not about having shipping news and putting information out into the public domain. Senator Cash was the shipping news in opposition; that was her role. Every day in this place and through Senate estimates, Senator Cash's role was to put as much information in the public domain as she possibly could. Senator Carr referenced the Hansard, and I have many references here on Senator Cash's demands for further information and details about boat arrivals. It is quite intriguing when you go back over the Hansardas I have—to see how explicitly she details the places where the boats arrived, the costs associated with that, the logistic information associated with the way the boats arrived in Australia and the associated settlement services provided.

I am sure Senator Cash would have found herself to be the source of choice for people smugglers under the former government. So it is with a great deal of disgust and irony that when I asked a question today I found that Senator Cash was unable to provide the level of information that we were persistently placing on the public domain when we were in government. There is a hypocrisy in the conduct of the government on this matter, and it disturbs me greatly because it has played into the hands of the people smugglers. The motivation one assumes is indeed the politics of this matter.

The pejorative way in which Senator Cash and other members of the coalition have spoken about asylum seekers and this whole problem belies the politics and the way in which they were prepared to play this issue out for political gain. They now hide in the cone of silence—hiding behind briefings and with Senator Cash unable to give the parameters of what 'operational matters' were when I ask her quite specifically today. We do not even know the kind of information they are prepared to put into this place. This is contemptuous of the Senate's ability to extract information from the executive government, and it concerns me greatly.

We will of course have the opportunity, as the opposition has had before us, to explore these matters through the appropriate accountability mechanisms—Senate estimates, questions on notice, questions without notice and so forth—but I feel absolutely obligated to point out the hypocrisy of the situation, the tragedy that it has contributed to and the angst it has caused not only for the individual people and families involved but also for the sustainment of the deadly trade of people smugglers. I put that to those opposite.


No comments