Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. Minister, we have just seen Labor and the coalition vote on legislation to expel refugees, including children, offshore with no protections and no time limit. One member of the coalition has labelled this as 'open-ended exile'. The question to the minister is: does the government agree with the coalition that 10 years is an acceptable length of time for refugees to be dumped on Nauru or Manus Island?
Thank you, Mr President. I am glad to see you are not impersonating Senator Parry; you have far too much hair! I thank the senator for her question. The key point to make is that the Houston committee reported to parliament the result of their extensive inquiry to try to find an appropriate response to the increase in boat arrivals we have seen in the last couple of years. It is the case that the government, following that report, endorsed its recommendations. It is true to say that some of those recommendations were not easy for either of the major parties in this place to support, but, given the strength of the report and the fact that they came up with what they see as an integrated and comprehensive response which focuses on a regional cooperation and protection framework, the government has brought legislation—
Order! Senator Joyce, after I had asked for silence you deliberately carried on and that caused another person to interject. Interjections on both sides are disorderly—let me make that point. Senator Hanson-Young is entitled to hear the answer to her question without other senators intervening across the chamber to carry on their own discussion.
That package will come to the Senate either later today or early tomorrow and we will have a chance to debate that legislation. It is important to understand that one of the key points former CDF Houston and the committee made is that this is a question of being hard-headed, not hard-hearted, and that there should be no single focus for policymaking but rather an attempt to find an integrated strategy that deals with the issues we are facing but also maintains Australia's reputation as a nation generous towards refugees. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. With all due respect, Minister, there was a very specific question asked. Does the government believe it is acceptable to detain people in Nauru and Manus Island for up to 10 years? That is what the coalition has said is acceptable; that is what Mr Morrison says your legislation does. Does the government agree?
We can debate the detail of the legislation when it comes into the parliament, but the basis of the Houston report and the amendments we are pursuing is to shift the balance of risk and incentive. It is very much about trying to shift that balance and lead to something that will favour regular migration pathways. There is no question that some of the implementation arrangements of this program will have to be followed—
Government senators interjecting—
The key point I am trying to make is that the report sought to give effect to two key principles, in my view. One is the no-advantage principle, which is that there be no advantage, in seeking to come here by boat, over the processing arrangements that would apply more generally before people undertook that journey, and the other is the principle that we ought to be hard-headed but not hard-hearted.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The minister is representing the Prime Minister. The legislation is in the House of Representatives. We are entitled to hear an answer. Is it or is it not 10 years of indefinite detention?
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. From the lack of an answer from the Minister representing the Prime Minister, it seems it can only be assumed that the government, the Labor Party, now agrees that 10 years is just not tough enough. Ten years is not tough enough! Is there a limit to the cruelty that this government is prepared to inflict on vulnerable refugees and children?
Senator Brandis interjecting—
As I said earlier, I think the Houston report and the legislation seek to establish two important principles, among other initiatives, and I do not think the sort of emotive language that the senator uses helps in what is a very difficult public debate. I know the passions are high about these things, but while I am on my feet I would say to the senator that I thought her attack on Mr Paris Aristotle the other day was disgraceful. Given that Mr Aristotle has been one of the largest contributors to assisting victims of torture in this country and has worked with refugees for over 20 years, I thought to have his name besmirched because you did not like the report was an outrage.
I remind the Senate that Mr Paris Aristotle was the person who helped negotiate people off the Oceanic Viking and he spent weeks trying to assist those people. I think when we are debating the report we ought to debate the facts and the public policy questions that confront the parliament. (Time expired)