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Thursday, 15 May 2003
Page: 14719

Mr SCHULTZ (3:04 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Would the minister advise the House of the benefits to Australia that have resulted from the government's handling of unauthorised boat arrivals? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank the honourable member for Hume for his question. I know the honourable member for Hume would have noticed in the recent budget announcements that, as a result of the handling and the stemming of the flow of unauthorised boat arrivals, there has been a very significant saving to the budget. In fact, the Treasurer now counts me among his friends, because my department contributed in the order of half a billion dollars worth of savings to the budget. That is a very substantial commitment over the period of the forward estimates, and I am told by my colleagues that it is very welcome. Clearly, we have pursued a strategy that was good for the budget, but it was also good for the nation and, I might say, for refugees in the most vulnerable of situations around the world.

I am aware of alternative policies in this area. Indeed, two days ago the shadow minister, the member for Lalor, reaffirmed in this place her commitment—and I am not surprised that she did so—to Labor's policy document on asylum issues and immigration generally. I am sure honourable members will remember that on 12 December 2002 I spoke on these matters in the House, and I went through the nature of the commitments that were being made in that document. They included: very significant changes to the overall migration and humanitarian intake; costs for alternative detention arrangements; monitoring failed asylum seekers; a refugee status determination tribunal; TPV access to settlement services; an increase in core funding to the UNHCR; an inspector-general of detention; a children's commissioner; changes to tax file number systems; green cards; additional staff, particularly for the AFP; an extension of the role of the ambassador for people-smuggling; community hostels; immunisations; expert advisory councils; and a coastguard costing in the order of $600 million.

Mr RUDDOCK —I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition endorses that policy, because what I want to see from the Leader of the Opposition tonight is whether or not in his statement he is going to take into account the $2 billion worth of expenditure that I outlined in my statement in question time on 12 December. We put it down clearly; we costed for you the figures that were there. The challenge for the Leader of the Opposition, if he is going to be serious about putting forward alternative policies and reaffirming them in this parliament, is to reaffirm them in costed terms and to make a commitment in any alternative budget statement that he puts down before this House tonight. We will watch very closely, because any document that is going to be creditable has to take into account the $2 billion worth of expenditure commitments that you allowed the shadow minister to make.