Tuesday, 26 August 2014
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Senator Cash. Can the minister update the Senate on the government's recent commitment to refugees in Syria and Iraq who are facing persecution and violence at the hands of terrorists like the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS?
I thank Senator McGrath for his question. I am pleased to advise the Senate that people affected by the humanitarian crises in Iraq and Syria will be the primary beneficiaries of the success of the government's strong border protection policies, with 4,400 resettlement places being set aside in the Australian government's 2014-15 Refugee and Humanitarian Program. In 2014-15 the cabinet has committed a minimum of 2,200 places for Iraqis, including ethnic and religious minorities fleeing from violence in northern Iraq to neighbouring countries. This government has also committed a minimum of 2,200 places for Syrians, including those now living in desperate conditions in countries including Lebanon. A further medium term commitment has been made to accept at least 4,500 Syrians over the next three years.
The fact of the matter is that this government's policies under Operation Sovereign Borders have not only stopped the deaths at sea—1,200 deaths at sea under the former government's policies—but also allowed us to return those valuable and precious places in our Humanitarian Settlement Services program to those people who are most in need. We will continue our commitment under this government to use our Refugee and Special Humanitarian Program to assist those who are affected by the conflict in Iraq and Syria, and with the continued violence in these countries the Australian government is dedicated to ensuring that its Humanitarian and Resettlement Program reaches those who are most in need.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate how the coalition government's strong and overwhelmingly successful border protection measures have allowed Australia to offer this additional support?
The undeniable truth, although it is often denied on the other side, is that when you have strong border protection policies in place you as a government determine who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come—unlike the former government, which quite happily rolled back the proven border protection policies of the former Howard government and quite literally outsourced management of Australia's very precious Refugee and Humanitarian Program to the people smugglers. We all know what the results of that were. In excess of 50,000 people came here illegally and 29,000 of them were dumped into the community with no processing, 1,200 people died at sea—confirmed deaths; we do not know the number of those not confirmed—and, in addition, 14,500 places in our refugee program were given to those who came here illegally as opposed to those who are languishing in camps.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate why it is important to ensure Australia maintains a well-regulated and orderly humanitarian and refugee resettlement program?
The commitment that this government has been able to make to those in Iraq and those in Syria is clearly highlighting the humanitarian dividend that comes into play when you restore integrity to our borders. The policies implemented by the former government ensured that only those who had the means and the opportunity to pay were given a protection visa in Australia. What we, on this side, are doing is restoring fairness and integrity to our borders. So long as Australia, under this government, maintains strong border protection policies, we will never again turn our backs on those refugees who apply for a protection visa through the legal channels. It is a fact that places in our refugee program are precious, and therefore the government must ensure that those places go to those who are most in need.