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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1913

Asylum Seekers

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (14:15): My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. Can the minister advise why there have been no transfers of asylum seekers to the Manus Island processing centre since 9 February, despite the fact that the centre is at less than 60 per cent of capacity and more than 850 people have entered Australia illegally on 17 boats since that last transfer?

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (GortonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (14:16): I thank the honourable member for his question and his interest in what is, of course, a very important centre and indeed something that is being implemented as a result of the recommendations of the Houston panel. This is a very important centre, and I think it is important to note that we engaged fully with the government of PNG to establish a memorandum of understanding to ensure that we could provide a deterrence for people who get on unseaworthy vessels. These centres, both the one in Nauru and the one in Manus Province, are important as part of the combination of reforms that are required to deter people from endangering their lives at sea. I managed to visit the facility some weeks ago—and, I understand, I was followed not long after that by the member for Cook—to see whether in fact the temporary facility was operating effectively—and it was operating effectively. I met with all of the service providers who are doing a good job in what are challenging circumstances, and indeed I met with the transferees themselves. I gave them a very, very clear message that of course they will be treated well, but we are going to ensure that the no-advantage principle as recommended by the Houston panel is realised.

Mr Morrison: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order on specific relevance. I asked why there had been no further transfers since 9 February. Why have there been no transfers?

The SPEAKER: The member for Cook will resume his seat. The minister has the call and will refer to the question before the chair.

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: I am happy to do that. This centre is very important, as I say, in ensuring we provide a deterrence to people getting on unseaworthy vessels.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: I do not know why it is funny when I am talking about people dying at sea. I met with the minister for immigration, who is also the minister for foreign affairs, when I was in PNG, and I made it very clear that we will work together to ensure that transferees are going into the centre appropriately. What we have done to date is transfer people into that centre, which I believe and the government believes will deter people from getting on unseaworthy vessels. We will continue to work with the PNG government. It is the host country and, indeed, the primary government making decisions in relation to these transferees. I can assure you of this: we will continue to transfer people in consultation with and, ultimately, by the authority of the PNG government to ensure that there are fewer opportunities for and chances of people endangering their lives at sea. We will continue to do that not only in Manus Province but also in Nauru.

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (14:19): When was the government advised by the government of Papua New Guinea that transfers of asylum seekers to Manus Island were to be indefinitely suspended, as I was advised by PNG officials when I recently visited Manus Province?

The SPEAKER: I am assuming the question was for the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. The minister has the call.

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (GortonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (14:19): A rookie mistake. Can I just respond to the shadow minister by explaining that I, unlike the member for Cook—

Mrs Griggs interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Solomon is warned!

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: I have not even got half a sentence out. I am happy to answer the question. Unlike the member for Cook, I actually met the foreign minister and minister for immigration and discussed this matter. I did not meet a public servant and raise this matter. I met with the minister in the PNG government responsible for the transferees, and we—that is, the PNG government and the Australian government—have made very clear that we are still committed to transferring people. That undertaking was provided to me by the foreign minister at a meeting that I held with him in Moresby on the day that I was there. So I would have to suggest that the member for Cook should make certain whether in fact the advice he received is correct or not, because the advice I received directly from the government and from the foreign minister was that we would continue to proceed in the way in which we have, which is notifying the government of PNG when we transfer and having them of course agree to that transfer, as is appropriate.

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (14:20): Madam Speaker, I ask a further supplementary question. When were the transfers suspended and why, and when will those transfers commence again?

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (GortonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (14:21): I have just made clear that the foreign minister of the PNG government has indicated to me in a conversation we held in PNG that the transfers will proceed. Now it is quite customary—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: It will proceed. It is quite customary for us to ensure that we get the approval of the government. There is no indefinite suspension is my point. The foreign minister has always been asked about the transferees when we do that. That is an operational matter in which they are engaged, and I made it clear and it was affirmed by the foreign minister that we will notify them when we transfer people. But there is no indefinite suspension. You are wrong.

Mr Pyne interjecting

The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business is warned! The member for Cook is seeking to table a document?

Mr Morrison: I seek to table the visit program prepared by the Australian High Commission which details the Australian officials who were present when that advice was given to me by the PNG government and Australian officials, including DIAC.

The SPEAKER: Leader of the House: is leave granted to table the document? Could you please come to the dispatch box and advise the House.

Mr Albanese: No. That is absurd.