Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Lundy. Given the terrible news of another unfolding tragedy off Christmas Island today, will the government consider urgent measures proposed by refugee experts in the region—in particular, to significantly increase Australia's humanitarian intake to show good faith and leadership in the region and to uphold our obligations under the refugee convention?
The government's attention remains fully focused on the welfare of the survivors of the tragedy that is unfolding, and we know that events are unfolding as we speak. Details are slowly coming to light, and all relevant agencies, as I am advised, are engaged in taking action to assist. We will, as we always do as a government, continue to update the parliament and the public as information becomes available.
Here in Parliament House we can observe the opposition offering nothing new in their latest stunt to introduce their old bill in the parliament, but there are of course very positive signs that there is an enormous amount of goodwill at least on the part of some MPs. Conversations have been occurring today. We heard comments last night made by Mr Christopher Pyne MP, who is Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives. On Sky News last night, what he had to say was very different from what Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison have said this morning. Any indication of a willingness to enter talks is welcome, and the government does welcome it. However, in the case of Mr Pyne, the Manager of Opposition Business is not the immigration spokesperson. So the Australian people need the shadow immigration minister or the Leader of Opposition to clarify the position of the Liberal and National parties. Any indication of a willingness to negotiate with the government and return to the table, after the coalition broke off negotiations last year, would be very welcome. We really want to see a breakthrough. The Australian people want to see a breakthrough and that is why the government began negotiations seriously, with goodwill and intent. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I asked the minister whether she would consider the proposals put forward by refugee experts, including significantly increasing Australia's humanitarian intake. Another proposal they have put forward is to establish an Australian ambassador for refugee protection, to assist the government with high-level advocacy in the region. Could the minister respond to both those—increase in the intake and an Australian ambassador for refugee protection? Would you consider both or either of those?
The government fundamentally disagrees with the position of the Greens. We do not believe it is workable and we believe that offshore processing does, by necessity, need to be a part of the whole solution in providing a disincentive for boats to come across the water and, as we have seen in recent times, tragically for lives to be lost. With regard to the question I have been asked—
Honourable senators interjecting—
In regard to the question Senator Milne asked, I am certainly happy to refer those specifics to the minister but it is difficult to answer that question knowing that the Greens do not support offshore processing and a holistic approach, a regional framework to manage people movements in this area with the overriding concern for their safety and the need to create a disincentive for people to use boats to try to come to Australia. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I thank the minister for referring those matters for further consideration but, given the remarks about offshore processing, can the minister tell the Senate why the High Court found that the proposed Malaysia solution was illegal?
I am happy to respond in this way: as part of the regional framework and approach to the management of irregular maritime arrivals, the government firmly believes we need to engage with countries in this region. We did put forward a Malaysia arrangement and the High Court decision, as we all know, prevented us from proceeding with that arrangement. In regard to the way forward, we remain at this stage disappointed in what the coalition has undertaken today. It cannot be described in any other way than yet another shallow stunt that is not aimed at resolving this incredibly serious problem, which is now costing people's lives, whereas the government has continually shown goodwill. We urge the coalition to negotiate with us. (Time expired)