Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Lundy. I remind the minister that last night the number of people who have arrived on unauthorised boats under the Labor government clocked in at over 25,000. I also remind the minister that in the first month following the Howard government's announcement of the Pacific Solution there was an instantaneous reduction in the number of boat arrivals from 1,645 to 561. Given that it is now more than one month since the government announced the return to offshore processing on Nauru, and that in that time an unprecedented 2,300 asylum seekers have arrived on 40 boats, when will the government concede that its policies have failed?
The government is taking action recommended by a panel of experts. The government has agreed in principle, as the opposition well knows, to implement all 22 recommendations of the expert panel report on asylum seekers. This is how responsible governments develop policy: by listening to the advice of experts. Those recommendations included regional processing in Nauru and PNG as soon as practical, and the government believes that the measures it is putting in place, as recommended by the expert panel, will be effective. The combination of an increased refugee intake from offshore and no advantage for those who arrive by boat removes the attractiveness of attempting the expensive and dangerous boat journey to Australia.
However, it is important for those opposite to be reminded that the expert panel does not recommend temporary protection visas, a measure that in the past saw 68 per cent of refugees permanently remaining in Australia. It also makes clear that tow-backs create a risk to the lives of Australian Defence Force personnel, and would only ever work with agreement with other countries—something Indonesia has said will not happen. We are faced with opposition for opposition's sake.
The government, in contrast, is attempting to take the politics out of this issue, putting in place the very important principle behind this policy, which is saving lives. Those opposite have made a different choice. They choose to insert the politics into this challenging policy question and the objective of saving the lives of people in quite desperate circumstances at sea, and I condemn them for that.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to the statement made by Minister Bowen on 23 August that Nauru will be capable of housing 500 asylum seekers by the end of September. Given that the former Howard government took just 19 days to get Nauru up and running following the introduction of the Pacific Solution, can the minister confirm that the 500 asylum seekers referred to by Minister Bowen will be housed at Nauru by the end of September?
Honourable senators interjecting—
As the opposition well knows, our plans are well underway in Nauru. This has been canvassed several times through the course of various debates and conversations across this chamber, and we are on track for achieving the goals that the minister outlined.
The issue, though, is one of the failure of the opposition in the spirit of their support for the legislation, to continue to pick apart the principles that underpin what we are trying to achieve by placing people on Nauru. The issue at stake is that the Labor government is trying to take the politics out of this issue. We have listened to the expert advice and now we are putting in place the operations needed to successfully implement that.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I also refer the minister to comments made by Minister Bowen on 28 August, in relation to offshore processing, that:
… it's not having an effect yet, but it does take time to work.
By what date does the minister expect that Labor's offshore processing will have an effect?
Again, I think that question just underlines the pathetic politics that are being played with this issue by the opposition. We are putting in place a solution as recommended by the expert panel and we will continue to do so. It is interesting to note—
Opposition senators interjecting—
It is interesting to note, as the opposition attempt to interject across the chamber, their failure to follow through with their support for the expert panel agreements.
Opposition senators interjecting—
As to the 22 recommendations, all of which we have accepted both in principle and in practice, we are now in the process of implementing them. If the opposition cannot bear to see the government actually taking the higher moral ground here, putting the saving of lives before the petty politics that those opposite continue to play out on this, then that will continue to reflect poorly on them as an opposition on this challenging issue.