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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 1288


Ms JULIE BISHOP (2:08 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the statement by the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in Senate estimates that it is the government’s intention to draw asylum seekers into her proposed regional processing centre in East Timor from ‘beyond the region’. How many of the 18 million people, defined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as a population of concern beyond the Asia-Pacific, will be eligible to be transferred to the Prime Minister’s regional processing centre?


Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) —I hope I get the opportunity now to explain to the House what I would have thought was a fairly simple concept. People around the globe get on the move for all sorts of reasons. Some of them come from source countries that are within our region; some do not. They transit through our region and people are aware of the common stopping-off points as they move through our region seeking forward transit and ultimately transit to Australia. The aim of the regional processing centre is to take away the incentive to engage in that forward transit to Australia. It is to take away from people smugglers the very product that they sell. It is to take away from people an incentive to keep moving, and it is certainly there to take away an incentive for people to undertake a difficult and dangerous journey at sea. For the opposition to try and create some nonsense campaign that somehow this is about creating a processing centre for everyone who is on the move around the world is obviously laughable and absurd.

Anybody who has engaged even in the most cursory examination of this issue would know that people move in an irregular fashion around our globe. They go to Europe; obviously they go to Canada—we have just talked about that; some engage in transit in our region; and a far smaller number engage in forward transit to Australia. The aim of the regional processing centre is to take away the incentive for that continued forward transit and to take away from people smugglers the very product that they sell. I understand that this area of policy is complex and it requires determination, but what I can definitely say to this House is that it will never be solved by a three-word slogan. It will never be solved by the Leader of the Opposition’s boat-phone idea, and I doubt it will ever be solved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who stood next to the foreign minister of Nauru, talked about the Nauru detention centre and then said the people of Vanuatu had been very generous in assisting the Australian people. From lessons in geography, let me tell you that Nauru is not a subset of Vanuatu. I would suggest to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition she gets out a map of the region and has a good look.


Ms JULIE BISHOP —Mr Speaker, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to the Prime Minister’s answer. Will the Prime Minister confirm whether Pakistan and Iran will be eligible to send asylum seekers to her regional processing centre in East Timor?


Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) —Countries do not send asylum seekers. Either the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has just revealed a complete misunderstanding of this area of policy or she is deliberately trying to confuse Australians about why people get on the move. People get on the move for a variety of treasons—some of them fleeing war, some of them fleeing poverty, some of them fleeing persecution and some of them engaging in forward movement because they believe they will get better opportunity and prosperity for their families. People move for all sorts of reasons, but their countries do not send them; they get on the move. There is only a limited number who are entitled to be considered refugees under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and they are people who are fleeing persecution. To those people, as a result of our signatory of the refugee convention, we owe some special care and obligations. That signatory of the refugee convention has been bipartisan politics in this country since it was entered into.


Ms Julie Bishop —Mr Speaker, on a point of order, I specifically asked about asylum seekers in Pakistan and Iran. Are they eligible to be transferred to her processing centre in East Timor?


The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister is responding.


Ms GILLARD —That is a reformulation of the question. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition talks about asylum seekers sent by Iran and other places. I am responding to that, the question originally asked rather than it reformulated in view of the error made. So the issue here of course for Australia is we do not want to see people get on boats, we do not want to see people risk their lives at sea and we do not want to see a circumstance where people smugglers have a product to sell. So the idea of the regional protection framework, the regional processing centre, the policy suite and setting here, which we are pursuing in dialogue—and of course the minister for immigration was recently visiting countries in our region, including East Timor, doing just that—is to create a circumstance where there is not an incentive for that forward transit. The government will continue to pursue these policies. We will continue to work through what is complex and requires an integrated policy response. What we will not ever do is succumb to the three-word slogans. What we will not ever do is pretend that a politician sitting in Sydney or Canberra somehow has a better insight into operational decisions than a commander on a patrol boat. With those words I will table an analysis of the deputy leader’s geography in a doorstop on 27 July 2010—talking about Nauru and somehow she thinks it is Vanuatu.


Mr Pyne —On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I would ask you to draw to the Prime Minister’s attention that she should refer to members by their title.


The SPEAKER —Order! All members should refer to members by their parliamentary titles.