Monday, 1 December 2008
Questions without Notice
My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the recent surge in the number of boat people attempting to reach Australia and the statement by the chief of mission in Indonesia—
Government members interjecting—
I will start again. My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the recent surge in the number of boat people attempting to reach Australia and the statement by the Chief of Mission in Indonesia of the International Organisation for Migration, Mr Steve Cook:
People smugglers have clearly noted that there has been a change in policy and they’re testing the envelope.
Given the fact that the government has stood down half of Australia’s patrol boats for two months over Christmas and will have only around 320 naval personnel on active duty in Australia over this period, isn’t the government giving a green light to people smugglers?
The member for Murray referred to ‘a surge’ in boat people. In 2008 there have been four boats with 48 passengers. In 2007 there were five boats with 148 passengers. If this year we have had a surge, that was a deluge. I would suggest that the honourable member for Murray in asking her principled question begin by framing her question on the facts in terms of where boat arrivals and passengers on board have stood this year against where they stood last year and during the full duration of her government’s period in office. Fact 1.
The contention by those opposite, and this has been the general commentary as well, that people smugglers are somehow back in business assumes that people smugglers have somehow been out of business in the past. I would suggest to those opposite, particularly those engaged in the foreign policy debate, that they acquaint them-selves, in a conversation with our friends in Indonesia and elsewhere, with the fact that the people-smuggling industry has con-tinued over the years. The critical question is how we cooperate with our friends in the international community, most particularly in the Republic of Indonesia, in dealing with this challenge. This government, like the government which preceded us, seeks actively to work with our friends in Indonesia to do so. We will continue to do so at every level. Furthermore, in terms of the matters which the honourable member refer-red to about the deployment of Australian naval resources, can I say again: her facts are inaccurate.