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Thursday, 17 June 2010
Page: 5781


Mrs MARKUS (3:26 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Home Affairs. I refer the minister to the fact that, since the introduction of the assessment freeze for Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers on 9 April, 31 boats and 1,418 people have arrived. Given that boats are arriving at the rate of more than three a week and people at the rate of more than 630 a month since this decision was taken—an increase of more than 200 per cent on last year—does the minister stand by the government’s budget forecast of a 60 per cent reduction in boat arrivals in the next financial year?


Mr BRENDAN O’CONNOR (Minister for Home Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for her question. I am still waiting for the relevant shadow minister to ask me a question on border protection and on this particular issue this year. As the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I said on 9 April, we had been looking at whether there were changed circumstances in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. As a result and based on the advice we had received, the government made the very important decision to suspend the processing of people seeking asylum from those two countries.

As was said at the time, we did not suggest that the boats would necessarily stop. We understand—as does the opposition if they are fair dinkum—that this issue is driven primarily by international factors. That is what was said by the previous government and that is the case now. As a result of conflicts around the world and within our region, because of violence in Afghanistan, because of the conflicts within Sri Lanka, we have seen an increased number of vessels seeking to come to our shores. That is why this government has dedicated more resources than any other government when it comes to protecting our borders. As a result of that—here comes big mouth.


Mr Morrison —Mr Speaker, on a point of order that goes to relevance: the minister was asked whether he stood by the 60 per cent decline—


The SPEAKER —The member for Cook will resume his seat.


Mrs Irwin —If you are going to write the question, why don’t you ask the question?


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Fowler will leave the chamber for one hour under standing order 94(a).

The member for Fowler then left the chamber.


The SPEAKER —The House will come to order. The minister is responding to the question and I indicate that this has traditionally been an issue that has seen a lot of emotion in the House. I think that, if people have very firm views on this subject, they should perhaps sit there quietly and take a considered reflection on the matters at hand. The minister has the call.


Mr BRENDAN O’CONNOR —As I was saying, this government has dedicated more resources to deal with this matter than any previous government. If we were to accept the logic of those opposite that there was an increased number of arrivals as a result of something that was done by this government then one would have to conclude that the Howard government did something in 1999, because the greatest surge of arrivals in our history happened under the previous government. That is the reality. They like to pretend otherwise, but the greatest number of arrivals and the largest year of arrivals, as the former minister for immigration and the former Attorney-General know, happened under the previous government. We know that this is a complex issue. Everybody in this House, if they want to be fair dinkum, knows it is a complex issue.

In relation to the question that has been asked, of course we are working very hard with our neighbours within the region. We are working very hard with transit—


The SPEAKER —The minister will resume his seat. The member for Goldstein on a point of order.


Mr Robb —Is this budget a house of cards or do you stand by the number?


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Goldstein knows that he approaches the dispatch box for a point of order; he does no go to the dispatch box to make a point. He will leave the chamber for one hour under standing order 94(a).

The member for Goldstein then left the chamber.


Mr BRENDAN O’CONNOR —We know this is a very difficult issue. That is why we are working very closely with transit countries and source countries in the region and that is why we have been working very closely, for example, with the Indonesian National Police. I can say that, as far as reducing the flow of those seeking to come to our shores goes, we have had a disruption of almost 5,000 within Indonesia and other countries, preventing them from embarking on perilous journeys. That is because of the good work that was undertaken by the Australian Federal Police in conjunction with the Indonesian National Police. We will continue to do whatever we can to tackle this very complex issue.

Can I say in conclusion that it is entirely phoney for those opposite to pretend that this issue can be resolved with a silver bullet. I know there is a myth that has been perpetuated by the opposition, but the facts are these: the actual decline in numbers that occurred 10 years ago happened because of the greatest repatriation of asylum seekers since World War II, when 4.3 million people returned to Afghanistan in six years and many returned to Iraq as a result of changing circumstances. In the end, this matter will be solved through regional cooperation and global cooperation of transit countries and source countries. That is why I am confident that we will be able to resolve this matter through the efforts of our agencies and the cooperation of those countries within the region.