Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, Senator Lundy. Last week, when I was visiting the Manus Island detention centre, I was banned from taking in my camera and my mobile phone. That meant that we were not able to take photos of the facilities. We were not able to take photos of the toilets without doors on them. We were not able to take photos—
This means that no photos were taken of the cramped facilities that families live in, the rooms without air conditioning, the men's toilets with no doors on them, the rubbish tip on which the children's play area sits with shards of glass sticking out of the grass. It was incredibly hot, humid and mouldy in this facility and yet we were not able to take any photographic evidence. What is the government hiding from the Australian taxpayer?
It is worth prefacing my response with the fact that, for too long now, people smugglers have been peddling lies and false promises and this has led to tragic deaths. We want people to stop taking the dangerous journey and break the business model of the people smugglers. We remain committed to implementing the recommendations of the expert panel. Our message is clear: if you come to Australia by boat then you will be transferred to Nauru or Papua New Guinea. We are not breaching any international law or human rights obligations and we have increased our humanitarian intake.
The government has nothing to hide. The government is working very hard on the implementation of the recommendations of the independent expert panel, and we do so with the hope that one day the opposition will refrain from their continuing hypocrisy and support us with regard to the Malaysia arrangement as well. Sadly, the opposition choose not to do that. In the meantime, we will do our utmost to break that business model and—as Senator Hanson-Young, I think, is only well aware—we are committed to that, particularly in relation to the management of those detention centres. We continue to work with the governments of both Nauru and PNG in the implementation of our policy, and our approach to breaking this people smugglers' business model.
I take note of the minister's answer to my first question. I have a supplementary question. On 16 August last year, the minister spoke in this chamber during the debate on the legislation to allow offshore processing, saying that the Australian government would adhere to all obligations for health, wellbeing and the welfare of detainees on Manus Island and Nauru to be met. The UNHCR have criticised the government's meeting of those obligations this week. They have also stressed that this is illegal. What is the government's response?
In relation to the UNHCR report the Gillard government is committed to ensuring people held in immigration are treated with dignity and respect. Food and water are available at all times, as is access to medical care and mental health support services whenever they are required. This government works constructively with the UNHCR, and will do so in relation to the operation of regional processing centres in both Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Indeed, the UNHCR itself acknowledges the commitment and ongoing effort by this government to put in place the procedures and conditions for transferees. We continue to work closely with the government of PNG in relation to many of the concerns raised by the UNHCR in its report—echoed by Senator Hanson-Young again today—particularly in relation to the continuing construction of a permanent facility, the development of operational policies and legal frameworks, the development of a refugee status determination process and arrangements for the provisions of mental health services.
I reject totally the imputation in this question that the government is not making every effort, through our management of these centres and our work with the PNG and Nauru governments in this regard. Senator Hanson-Young can bring a range of issues into this chamber—as she does continually—and I am in a position to provide reassurance that I just outlined about the raft of matters that we are working on very closely with the PNG government. The UNHCR of course has direct involvement in all of this work, and I am confident that our commitment to the dignity and respect of detainees in these detention centres is maintained with the full oversight of the UNHCR in this regard. We are responding to the report in the way that I have described.