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Tuesday, 25 September 2001
Page: 31361

Mrs DRAPER (2:45 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Will the minister advise the House what steps the government is taking to maintain the integrity of Australia's refugee and humanitarian program in the face of continued activities by people smugglers? Is the minister aware of other policies to deal with this insidious problem?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Makin for her question and acknowledge her interest in these matters over a long period. First, I very much regret having heard some comments and observations, with support, we are led to believe, from the opposition, about the way in which policy is conducted in Australia by this government. In relation to the approach that we take to these matters, I have heard some comments that have suggested that we are reintroducing the White Australia Policy and that it constitutes apartheid. When I hear comments of that sort, I am generous in saying that I think that they are misguided, but pejorative comments of that sort do those who offer them no credit and they indicate a very significant lack of understanding about the way in which Australia, over a long period of time, has assisted and aided refugees.

Refugees who have come to Australia under resettlement programs that have been conducted over many years have come primarily from countries in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans and Asia. They do not come from Europe, in the main, and they certainly do not come from North America. If you were going to constitute policies of that sort and describe them as the reintroduction of a White Australia Policy, nothing could be more misconceived. We have developed a range of measures to ensure that our refugee and humanitarian program continues to operate and to provide resettlement opportunities for people who are in desperate need of resettlement. I make the point very strongly that with 23½ million refugees in the world and with a little over 100,000 resettlement places available, 100,000 places into 23½ million do not go. There have to be some choices, and those choices are not made by identifying people who have the money to travel and are free enough to travel and to engage people smugglers.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The member for Sydney.

Mr RUDDOCK —The choices are made by seeking out those who cannot stay where they are, who are not in a position of safety and security, who cannot return home and who need to be assisted.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The member for Sydney.

Mr RUDDOCK —I tabled last week a paper which I hope honourable members have read, because it outlined very fully the range of measures that we have put into place to deal with these issues. I have been engaged over the last three or so years in trying to get a focus of the international community on what has been happening in Pakistan and Iran. After 20 or so years, a lot of countries were turning their backs on what had happened there, resources were being withdrawn, the UNHCR's budget was contracting, and there were inadequate resources to deal with the very significant problems and to get people back, if that was possible, into situations of safety and security. That approach is one that we have continued to address and have enhanced by the measures that we have announced: we would fund the UNHCR to bring governments together to discuss and find solutions to what has been happening in that part of the world; an extra $4 million to deal with the registration of people, for whom the UNHCR does not have the resources at the moment, in Pakistan; and an extra $10 million to focus on what has been happening in that part of the world, through NGOs and the UNHCR. That was an effective doubling of the support that Australia has been giving to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

We also have sought to deal with pull factors, and pull factors are involved in the legislation that is presently before the Senate. I do not wish to go into the package of measures in any detail, save to say that they are about strengthening the integrity of our border protection arrangements and ensuring that refugee determination procedures here in Australia are equitable; that is, equitable with those people who are languishing abroad— let me make that very clear—not in terms of giving people who are not refugees migration outcomes but in terms of ensuring that people who are making claims in Australia are making claims on the same basis as they would if they were in Indonesia, Pakistan or Malaysia. That is not the situation that obtains at the moment. As I read some of the comments about what we are doing in another place, the focus on the issue of judicial review does not surprise me, but it is a focus by some who are more worried about their income stream than about humanitarian issues when they seek to maintain that sort of system in place, which is ripping out hundreds of millions of dollars here and in other places where people want to test the limits of refugee determination in places where it is comfortable enough to do so.

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for Sydney.

Mr RUDDOCK —I am aware that the measures that we have announced have had the support of the opposition, and I welcome that support. I welcome it on the basis that it is good policy. I would be very regretful if, as has been suggested in other places, the reason the opposition came to a view that these bills should be supported was because they wanted to get off the hook of what they might perceive to be a political problem. I would hope that it is because, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, it is good policy. But I very much regret it when I read some statements, one by the shadow minister which says that if Labor was elected it would implement its own plan if it won office, and I am concerned when I read Senator McKiernan in another place saying:

I give notice now that I shall do whatever I possibly can to get this changed ... when Labor win office at the forthcoming election.

Or when I hear Senator Schacht saying about the bills, `It will not work in a number of ways,' and then going on to say on Adelaide radio this morning, `When we get back into government, we will review any number of areas and make adjustments accordingly.' If this is good policy, support it because it is right and take the credit because it is right, but don't have this idea that you can come in here and say that it is good policy and then have some of your backbenchers and some of your frontbenchers walking away from the commitments.