Thursday, 3 December 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs, Senator Cash. Senator, I refer to the generous offer from the New Zealand Prime Minister to resettle refugees and people seeking asylum who've been detained by your government on Manus Island and Nauru. After over seven years of misery, suffering and uncertainty for thousands of innocent people who have committed no crime, will your government finally accept this kind offer from Prime Minister Ardern and give people the freedom and safety they so desperately need and deserve? And if not, why not?
Senator McKim, you mentioned Nauru and Manus Island. For your benefit, because clearly you've forgotten why people are on Nauru and Manus Island—just to remind you—it is because you supported the failed border protection policies of the former Labor government. You see, colleagues, when we came into office—
Predictably, it's on relevance, Mr President. Yes, the word 'Nauru' was in my question, but the sordid and shameful history of Australia's offshore detention policies is not relevant in any way.
An honourable senator interjecting—
Order! I will make the rulings, if people don't mind. On the point of order: a small amount of historic context is directly relevant. It would not be appropriate for it to form the bulk of the answer to the question or a substantive part of the answer to the question. I think it is reasonable to have some historic context, but to be directly relevant it must directly address a substantive part of the question. You have reminded the minister of that, Senator McKim, and I call the minister to continue her answer.
As I was saying, the only reason Senator McKim is able to ask his question today is that he supported the failed policies of the former Labor government.
In relation to the New Zealand refugee resettlement offer, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs have made it very clear that we appreciate the offer from the New Zealand government to resettle refugees. However, as you know, Senator McKim, we remain focused on completing the United States resettlement arrangement. Clearly, you know the answer—you're sitting there shaking your head! The US arrangement—for your benefit, Senator McKim—is actually progressing well, with 876 refugees resettled to date and further departures expected in the coming weeks and months.
Minister, why is it that your government insists that the US arrangement must run its course before engaging with the New Zealand government in response to their offer? Why must people wait longer than the 7½ years that they have already been detained? Has your government not heard of, and does it not have the capacity for, walking and chewing gum at the same time?
Unfortunately, colleagues, I'm going to have to go to the question from Senator McKim, 'Does your government have the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time?' The answer is yes. Clearly, we showed that when we came into office and actually stopped the boats coming. You see, Senator McKim, you supported failed policies and, as such, when we came into government we had to clean up the mess that you created.
Just let me remind you, Senator McKim: 50,000 people arriving on more than 800 boats; 1,200 lives—and Senator Hanson-Young will remember this well—tragically lost at sea; and over 8,000 children detained whilst Labor were in government. In July 2013, just to remind Senator McKim, there were 10,201 people in detention, including almost 2,000 children.
Thank goodness for that, Mr President! Minister, I note the findings of the Australian Human Rights Commission report released today. It notes 'grave concerns' for the physical and mental health of the 196 refugees and people seeking asylum who were transferred to Australia from Papua New Guinea and Nauru for medical reasons. When will you finally give these people freedom and safety, and end their prolonged and heartbreaking suffering?
Well, the Morrison government will never apologise for protecting Australia's borders and for restoring integrity to our borders. We will never apologise for that.
In relation to the report that you referred to, Senator McKim, you would be aware that the home affairs department has responded to it and has agreed with nine of the commission's recommendations. But what you also failed to advise the Senate of was that the commission, importantly, noted and acknowledged the reduction in the number of children in detention, which peaked at almost 2,000 under those opposite. And this is what Senator McKim also failed to tell the Senate: that overall we've reduced the number of people in detention by 85 per cent, from more than 10,000 under his alliance to just 1,500 now; and that more than 70 per cent of those in detention centres have a criminal record.