Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Lundy. I refer to the fact that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship now costs more than $1 billion a year more to run than it did when the Howard government left office—
Government senators interjecting—
and that officials have attributed this blow-out to the increase in boat arrivals. Given that more than 15,000 people—including 1,221 so far this year—have now arrived on unlawful boats since the government's decision to abolish the border protection policies of the Howard government, does the government agree that former Prime Minister Rudd was wrong to abolish the Howard government's proven border protection measures, which reduced the number of boats coming to Australia to zero?
The government does not apologise for providing people in immigration detention with a level of health care and support that is commensurate with the broader community. These are not new costs and they are accounted for in the wider detention budget. We have always acknowledged that detention is expensive, and the healthcare contracts reflect the increase in boat arrivals.
The cheaper option, and the government's preferred policy, is a successful arrangement with Malaysia. But Mr Abbott's negativity is preventing offshore processing, as senators opposite well know. If the coalition were truly concerned about the cost of immigration detention, they would stop playing negative politics and work with the government to re-establish offshore processing and stop people from getting onto the boats in the first place. We want to see people remain in detention for as little time as possible. We want to ensure that they are treated humanely and that they have appropriate access to health and mental health care. The services contracted by the immigration department include comprehensive mental health screening and support services to address those people in need.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. I know that Senator Lundy has been here for 16 years but that she is only new as a minister but I would have thought that, after 16 years, Senator Lundy would have understood what relevance is. She is reading the wrong brief.
To take up the opposition's question about their alternative proposal, we know about the opposition's dodgy figures for a processing centre on Nauru, as they continue to unravel. It has been revealed that the opposition's secret costings were seemingly provided by a catering company. Mr Morrison's unfunded costings apparently come from a catering subcontractor, Eurest Support Services, who were a catering contractor on Nauru for the International Organisation for Migration and openly admit they have no expertise when it comes to costing. We have our own detailed costings. The opposition has no leg to stand on. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to the fact that since the last election, the government has funded more than 4,400 new beds in Australia's immigration detention network. Given the Prime Minister's own statement that the Labor Party is a party of truth telling, can the minister please confirm that the government has opened more beds for asylum seekers in our detention network than it has for Australians in our public hospitals?
I have already responded to the question of why those numbers have increased: it is because those opposite refuse to support the government's proposed arrangement with Malaysia. Our policy is to implement that agreement with Malaysia, because it is the best way to implement an orderly migration system. It is a genuinely regional solution, as the senator well knows, and the Malaysia arrangement was the first bilateral arrangement pursued and ready to be implemented under the regional cooperation framework. Unlike the policies of those opposite, it is not a so-called solution that we are foisting upon an unwilling regional neighbour. The policy is not reckless and damaging; in fact, it is the result of detailed negotiations with a key regional partner. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise what impact the government's decision to release into the community single male detainees who have not been found to be refugees will have on the capacity of state government and not-for-profit agencies to meet emergency accommodation needs in the community? What effect will the decision have on the applications of 200,000 Australians already on the public housing waiting list, up from 174,000 last year?
I will reiterate my previous answer: we would not be facing this problem if the opposition supported the government's proposed legislation for offshore processing. Any series of complaints, either contrived or genuinely concerning to the states about bridging visas and young males coming out of detention, are based on the fact that senators opposite and the opposition are responsible for that. If they supported our Malaysia arrangement, which I understand they have had plenty of opportunities to do, we would not be in this situation. They cannot play both sides of the argument and do this crab walk—on the one hand criticising us for the numbers and on the other hand not supporting the legislation that allows offshore processing. It is duplicitous, it is misleading, and it is typical of an opposition that always says 'no'.