Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister and I thank the Prime Minister for finally adopting one element in the coalition's border protection policy—namely, offshore processing in Nauru. When will the Prime Minister adopt the other two elements in our policy—namely, turning boats around, where it is safe to do so, and the temporary protection visas that are also necessary if we are finally to stop the boats?
As to the Leader of the Opposition's question, the government has endorsed in principle the recommendations of this report here, a report put together by three very eminent Australians—Angus Houston, a former Chief of the Defence Force; Michael L'Estrange, a foreign policy expert; and Paris Aristotle, an expert in refugee and asylum seeker issues. It is this that has guided the government and I want to take this opportunity to thank those three eminent Australians for their work. Yesterday of course we saw people, out on the politics, claiming what the scoreboard was out of this report. The truth is that for every political party in this parliament, including the government and including the opposition, aspects of this report endorse parts of their policy and aspects of this report reject parts of their policy. That is the truth of this report. I say it frankly about the things that the government has advocated. It is also true about the things that the opposition has advocated.
That is the conclusion of Angus Houston's panel and its work. I think it is incumbent upon us now to put aside those political scoreboards and that point-making, to put aside the shouting and the rhetoric that has characterised this debate, and to actually get on with the job of enacting the recommendations of this report. So the government will later today introduce amendments to the legislation already on the Notice Paper, the government's bill, to amend asylum seeker and refugee law. We have had this morning good faith discussions—
Madam Deputy Speaker, the Prime Minister was asked not just about offshore processing but also about the other two legs of the coalition policy stool, which are turning back the boats where it is safe to do so and also temporary protection visas.
The government later today will seek to introduce amendments that will enable us to commence processing on Nauru and on PNG in the form recommended in this report. There have been good faith discussions between the government and the opposition about these amendments today and I welcome that. It is time to get this done. That is what the Australian nation wants to see.
On the Leader of the Opposition's question, he would be well aware that this report does not endorse temporary protection visas, that this report says it is not possible to turn boats back in current circumstances. Consequently, because those policies have been rejected by this report, they will not be enacted by the government. We will be guided by this report. We have in principle endorsed each and every recommendation in it and we are determined to get on with the job.
I thank the member for Greenway for her question and note that she is back from maternity leave and that baby Octavia is in the gallery watching Mum at work. It is great to see baby Octavia and husband Michael there. How intriguing question time is for young children, we are about to test, I suspect. But it is good to see them in the gallery today.
The member for Greenway, on her return from maternity leave, has asked me a very important question. As I just indicated in answer to the question from the Leader of the Opposition, three eminent Australians who deserve our thanks have delivered a very important report, and the government has endorsed in principle the recommendations of this report.
We are seeking urgently to amend legislation so that we can, as recommended by this report, commence offshore processing in Nauru and on PNG. We are seeking to do that urgently, as recommended by the report. I have today been briefed by the chief of our defence force, who has advised me that, if the parliament works to pass the legislation recommended by Angus Houston and his team this week, it will be possible for the Defence Force to deploy reconnaissance teams on Friday to Nauru and to PNG. The work of those reconnaissance teams would be to scope the task of constructing appropriate facilities in both locations.
I have today spoken to the President of Nauru and the Prime Minister of PNG. I have explained to them the findings of the Angus Houston report and that the parliament is considering legislative amendments this week. I have received from both men an assurance that they are prepared to work with Australia on their nations hosting regional processing centres, as recommended by the Houston report. They have also indicated to me that they would welcome the reconnaissance teams on Friday and that they would be prepared to see early construction works of temporary facilities following the work of those reconnaissance teams. Of course, we need to work with those nations in order to secure a comprehensive agreement for these centres.
That means that if this parliament can act this week then action on the ground will be starting as soon as the reconnaissance teams land into PNG and into Nauru on Friday. I believe this parliament should not fail the test of putting those reconnaissance teams in that position so that we can get on with the job of saving lives at sea, of a better approach to refugee and asylum seeker issues.
My question is to the Prime Minister. I remind the Prime Minister that on over 100 occasions over the past four years the coalition has called on her to swallow her pride and pick up the phone to the President of Nauru to restart offshore processing. Meanwhile, there have been over 1,000 deaths, 22,000 illegal arrivals, more than 8,000 people denied protection visas waiting offshore and a $4.7 billion blow-out in the budget. Why was it wrong to pick up the phone then but not today?
As the shadow minister is well aware, for some time now the government has indicated that it has been prepared to compromise in order to secure offshore processing. In particular, for some time now the government has indicated that it was prepared to compromise and to have a detention centre in Nauru, to embrace that aspect of the opposition's plan in order to see action and change. Whilst the government was prepared to compromise, that was not met by compromise from the opposition; in those circumstances, where the parliament was gridlocked, I asked three eminent Australians to provide a report to chart the way forward, and they have done a very good job indeed.
Consequently, we are now prepared to act. We are prepared to act in the terms of this report. We have been prepared for some time now to have offshore processing. Having received this report, we are now determined to see offshore processing in the form recommended by Angus Houston and his team.
As the member who asked the question would be well aware, Angus Houston and his team are recommending an integrated package. They are recommending a package that has a different approach to Nauru and PNG than that taken in the past. In particular, they are very clear on the need to ensure that there are no incentives for people to get into boats, and consequently they have made a recommendation, controversial in the eyes of many, that you equalise times on Nauru and Manus Island to the times that people would have experienced in processing and resettlement if they had not got on a boat. This different approach to Manus and PNG is part of an integrated package, which includes lifting the number of refugee places for refugees who are resettled in Australia and a different approach to family reunion, building on the work already done for the Malaysia agreement. This is a comprehensive report with an integrated package of recommendations, and that is why the government has endorsed it in principle as a whole.
I would say to the opposition that they have the opportunity today to work with the government to enable offshore processing to start on Nauru and in PNG. The Australian public do not want to see further politicking on this; they want to see action. We are prepared to engage in further compromise in endorsing in principle the recommendations of the Houston report. I know we are working in good faith with the opposition. I think that is a good thing in Australia's national interest.
My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and it is about the expert panel report on asylum seeker policy. Why is it important for the parliament to listen to the advice of experts and work in the national interest to tackle people smuggling and deter people from taking dangerous boat journeys to Australia?
The member for Banks will resume his seat. Before I call the minister—the minister will resume his seat—I will have silence, as I actually did not hear the last part of the question.
Mr Abbott interjecting—
The Leader of the Opposition is not trying to help. He is being rather obnoxious, and I take offence. I will ask the member for Banks to repeat the last part of the question. It was not disgraceful. The Leader of the Opposition's very helpful comments might desist in the next couple of weeks, as I am finding them intolerable.
I thank the honourable member for his question. I am sure the whole House would like to thank Angus Houston, Michael L'Estrange and Paris Aristotle for their fine work and their very thorough report—three men with very different backgrounds but with one common objective: to find a way to save lives. And, just as the Prime Minister and the government hoped when this report was commissioned, this expert panel of non-political, eminent Australians has presented a new way forward. It presents a new opportunity for this House and, importantly, for the other house to stop the flow of boats and to stop people dying at sea. The time for action was long ago but certainly cannot be delayed any further.
Saving lives has been what this is all about. Nobody could stand at the memorials at Christmas Island, as I and other members have done, and look at those memorials and not be moved to act about the loss of life. Nobody could talk to somebody who has lost their children in a boat tragedy or talked to a child who has lost their parent and not be committed to doing everything possible to save lives at sea.
We want to give more vulnerable people, more persecuted people, the chance of a new life in Australia. Australia already takes more processed refugees than any other country in the world bar the United States and Canada, and our move to increase our resettlement program to 20,000 will mean that we are the second biggest recipient of refugees in the world—a very good thing. But the Australian people rightly want a fairer system and a safer system in providing haven to the world's refugees.
The underlying thesis of this report, as the Prime Minister has said, is that people who arrive in Australia by boat should not be advantaged in their efforts to seek resettlement. Now, that is controversial, but in my view it meets the test of common sense and it meets the test of fairness. I do not think this House or the other house should take the view that people who arrive by boat should be advantaged over those in camps in difficult situations around the world, wanting the chance of a resettlement place in Australia.
It is unacceptable to do nothing. We have to accept this advice and act in the national interest today. And that is why I will move these amendments this afternoon. We would appreciate the assistance of the opposition in their passage through this House and the other house. This is an opportunity that cannot be missed, and we will look to get on with the job not only of implementing the panel's recommendations of increasing the refugee intake and of centres on Nauru and PNG, but also of implementing the arrangement with Malaysia, as recommended. We cannot let this opportunity pass. The Australian people expect no less— (Time expired)
My question is to the Prime Minister. I remind the Prime Minister that just six weeks ago she rejected the coalition's call to reopen the Nauru processing centre, saying, 'The experts have looked the Leader of the Opposition in the eye and said to him, "Nauru will not work."' Does she stand by that statement?
The member backs in the point I was making in answer to the earlier question, which is that the government were well and truly prepared to compromise in the last parliamentary session in order to secure legislation so that we could commence offshore processing. We were prepared to compromise. That is the history of this matter, but I do not think the Australian people are interested in who said what. They are interested in action. They are interested in change. They are frustrated when they look and do not believe that the people in this parliament have been able to work together to get change.
The Australian government have been prepared to compromise, and we are prepared now to endorse in principle the full set of recommendations of the Houston report.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The Prime Minister was asked a very simple question: does she stand by her statement six weeks ago that the experts have looked the Leader of the Opposition in the eye and said to him, 'Nauru will not work'?
As I was just about to say on the question of processing on Nauru, the government received advice about what the impact of having a detention centre on Nauru would be if it took that step. We received that advice; the Leader of the Opposition received that advice. The advice from the Houston report takes a different approach. The advice from the Houston report does not recommend one strategy; it recommends an integrated package. The aim of the integrated package is to ensure that if people risk their lives at sea, if people give their money to a people smuggler, they get no advantage from it. So one element of that integrated package is a regional processing centre on Nauru which would operate in a different way than detention centres in Nauru have operated in the past, and, in particular, the operation in Nauru would have built into it the same amount of waiting time to get a resettlement opportunity as people would have experienced before they risked their life at sea, before they gave a people smuggler their money. That is the difference: the breadth of the package, the interlocking nature of the recommendations, and the change to the recommendations about what should happen on Nauru and on PNG.
The real question before the parliament today is not these political calibrations as they are being played out now and as they were played out yesterday by so many politicians who wanted to front a television camera to tell the TV audience who had won and who had lost. That is not what the Australian people are looking to us to do. (Time expired)
Point No. 2: the government, the Australian people and the opposition have now received this report of three eminent Australians. I would recommend that many members of the opposition who are catcalling now actually spend the time to read the report. It is apparent from their interjections that they have not done so and that they do not understand. I hope that no-one is interjecting with disrespectful comments about the work of the panel. The work of the panel is high-quality work. It is a set of recommendations that the panel itself says are an integrated package. The panel itself says the recommendations needed to be put together as a whole. The panel itself recommends a new approach to offshore processing. These are Australians to be respected, and what is also to be respected is the desire of the Australian people to see the politics end and the action begin so we are saving lives at sea. I would urge the opposition to consider that seriously and with generosity.
My question is to the Prime Minister. Under John Howard's Pacific solution, refugees were detained on Nauru for many years, in some cases for as long as four years. Under your new Pacific solution, how long will refugees be detained on Nauru? Will there be legal guarantees that refugees will not be detained for as long as or even longer than under John Howard's regime?
I thank the member for Melbourne for his question. He is going to an aspect of the Houston panel's work which I know lots of people find very, very challenging. It has been the subject of discussion between members of the government who are finding it challenging. It is a challenging recommendation. Angus Houston and his team are asking us to take some advice, including from UNHCR, to work out what kind of time people would have waited to be processed and get resettlement opportunities if they had not moved—if they had not paid a people smuggler, if they had not got on a boat—and to use that time so that people in Nauru and PNG do not get a resettlement opportunity before that time has expired. That is a challenging recommendation, but I think people can see the policy merits of it, as pointed out by the panel, which are to ensure that people do not get an advantage from having risked their lives at sea, with so many people of course losing their lives at sea, or from having paid a people smuggler.
To the member for Melbourne: we in the government are of course going to work this through to ascertain what the appropriate time is. In doing that, we will be guided by the advice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We cannot today, having received this report at 7 am yesterday, give the member for Melbourne or anybody else in the parliament a concluded view about that. We will need to work with UNHCR, as recommended by the panel, to work out those times that people are likely to be on Manus Island or on Nauru. I know the member for Melbourne is likely to have a very different view from me, but I would say to him that when we are seeing so many people lose their lives at sea we have got an obligation to act. Some of that action does challenge people, but I believe the panel has charted a comprehensive way forward, and that is why the government has provided in-principle support to each recommendation, including that one.