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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2950

Mr BOWEN (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) (3:51 PM) —At the outset I think it is appropriate, given that these issues have been raised, that I put on the record my appreciation and the government’s appreciation and acknowledgement of the work of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Serco and the Australian Federal Police in managing the very serious incidents—riots and protests—at Christmas Island over the last week. I think it is appropriate that that is put on the record. Sometimes staff of departments are criticised, and there is a place for that, but it is also appropriate that we thank them. And I do thank them at the outset of this debate.

There are legitimate issues for discussion in this very complex policy area, and it is right that they be raised. I will not take a lecture from members opposite on the issue of riots in detention centres. I will not take a lecture from members of the Liberal Party. The member for Cook in a short acknowledgment said, ‘We had issues too.’ He quoted issues in detention centres about protests, escapes and fires over the last couple of years. He said in a dismissive note, ‘Of course there have been incidents before.’ He did not talk about the riots and protests at Baxter. He did not talk about the riots and protests at Woomera, Curtin, Christmas Island and Nauru. He talked about some people walking down the street; he did not talk about the 480 people who left detention centres in one go under the previous government.

Mr Morrison —We acted.

Mr BOWEN —He says, ‘We acted,’ and those protests, riots and fires started as early as 2000 or 1999. He says, ‘We acted.’ I am not going to take a lecture from the member for Cook on those issues.

The member of Cook raised a number of issues, and I am happy to deal with them one by one. Let me deal with the last: the matter he referred to as spin doctors. He says the government’s answer is to hire more spin doctors, more media advisers, through the newspaper. He says we have just created six new positions.

Mr Morrison —You’ve advertised them.

Mr BOWEN —He says, ‘You’ve advertised them.’ It is very important not to mislead the House. Let me explain to the member for Cook how the Public Service works. When somebody leaves a position, they tend to be replaced. When they are replaced, there tend to be advertisements, so not every advertisement in the newspaper is a new position. In fact, of the six positions advertised this week, four are existing positions. The member for Cook could have given me a call. He could have put in an FOI. He could have asked. The member for Cook says there are six new positions, and it is wrong.

I feel obliged to share with the House the budget of the national communications branch of my department: $2.98 million in the year 2010-11.

Mr Christensen —That’s all right.

Mr BOWEN —The member for Dawson says, ‘That’s all right.’ It is a lot of money and it is exactly half the amount we inherited from the previous government—not exactly half but around half: in 2007-08 it was $4.23 million and in 2006-07 it was $3.8 million; more than the current budget of the national communications branch.

If the honourable member for Cook wants to start this debate, I do not think this is essential to the debate. I do not think this is a key point, but if the honourable member for Cook wants to raise matters, he needs to be sure of his facts. He needs to make sure when he says things to the House that he is correct.

The member for Cook also raises the matter of character and, again, he has been unsure of his facts. He has been wrong. The member for Cook said in the House the other day, as I mentioned during question time, that the minister’s power to deal with character issues is not appellable; it cannot be appealed to the courts. All he had to do was lean across to the man sitting next to him, the former minister for immigration, who had his decisions on character matters appealed to the courts and had a particularly disastrous result because proper and due process is very important in these instances. I am very clear. I have said previously that I will take character into account in these processes. I am more than happy for the member for Cook when that has happened to then question me about how that occurred. I am more than happy for the member for Cook, if he is still in his current portfolio, to ask me how they were dealt with and what the result was. He can try and pre-empt the decisions all he likes.

He makes the point that character issues should be taken into account, and I agree with him. He might ask the member for Berowra, the member for Menzies or Senator Vanstone how they took character into account when considering matters at Baxter, Woomera and previous riots, protests and fires, and the millions of dollars worth of damage caused in those incidents. He could ask them how they took character into account, but I would say each case is taken on a case-by-case basis, as is appropriate.

The member for Cook raises the matter of the counts at Christmas Island and the face-to-file checks. As I made clear last night, the initial check indicated that everybody had been returned and the numbers were appropriate. Then there were some anomalies identified through the face-to-file check. They have been further checked, and I can advise the member for Cook and the House that I have been advised by the department of immigration, the Australian Federal Police and Serco that those matters have been resolved and everybody is in the detention centre—

Mr Morrison interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—The honourable member for Cook has had his opportunity.

Mr BOWEN —who should be in the detention centre now those final checks have been done. I am more than happy to advise the House of that.

The member for Cook, quite rightly and appropriately, raises the issue of the opposition’s alternative approach. I think the member for Cook and I would agree on some things in this House. I think we would agree that the appropriate way of dealing with pressures on detention is to break the business model of the people smugglers. I think we would agree on that. I think the member for Cook would say, ‘Yes, that’s right.’ He has different terms for it, as he is entitled to. He says, ‘There’s sugar on the table. You’ve got to remove the sugar.’ That is a different way of saying the same thing. The member for Cook likes to say that. Let us go through the member for Cook’s policy prescriptions. He raised it.

Mr Morrison interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I remind the honourable member for Cook that he is still under warning.

Mr BOWEN —He said, ‘We have a suite of measures.’ He is right about that: there are a number of measures on the table from the opposition. I have never said, as he alleged I had, that there is only one measure. Whenever you ask the member for Cook about the solution to any problem in the world, he says, ‘Nauru.’ You could ask him the solution to global warming and he would probably say, ‘Nauru.’ You could ask him the solution to famine in the world and he would probably say, ‘Nauru.’

Nevertheless, I recognise that he has a number of measures on the table. Firstly, he has the detention centre, the offshore processing centre, at Nauru. He says that that would somehow reduce the incentive to come to Australia. He says that a detention centre at Nauru would create uncertainty as to the result of your claim for asylum in Australia. I thought: Okay, let’s have a look this. How would that work when you take into account that, of those who were settled out of Nauru, 96 per cent were settled in Australia or New Zealand?

The member for Cook says, ‘This would create uncertainty. This would stop people coming.’ It was so uncertain that 47 got settled in other countries—that is true. Out of the thousands of people, 47 people were settled in other countries; 96 per cent were settled in Australia or New Zealand. A detention facility at Nauru, with all due respect, would be another Christmas Island—an offshore excised place, a different country, but with the same result of people being processed and settled in Australia. He says, ‘Take the sugar off the table. You’ll have to spend some time in Nauru, maybe 12 months, and then you end up in Australia.’ What is the difference between being processed in Nauru, Christmas Island or Curtin? I am not sure, but the honourable member for Cook seems to think it would make a difference.

The member for Cook needs to answer some questions. Who would run the Nauru processing centre? Would it be the International Organisation for Migration? Has he been to Geneva and met with them and asked them if they would run it? Has he met with the UNHCR and asked them to run it? Or would it be run by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship? If, for example, the member for Cook tried to get an international organisation to run it and those international organisations said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding! We tried that last time. It was a disaster. We’re not going to associate our name with that sort of project,’ he would have to run it himself through the department of immigration, and we all know the legal implications of that, following the recent High Court case.

With respect, the member for Cook then talked about temporary protection visas in point 2 of his suite of measures, as he likes to call them, and he is right. He says: ‘We would introduce temporary protection visas.’ What is the impact of uncertainty there? How does that take the sugar off the table? Consider this: of the 9,043 people granted temporary protection visas, 8,600 were then granted permanent residency—95.1 per cent. So you have 96 per cent of the people at Nauru making it to Australia and 95 per cent of the people who got temporary protection visas were given permanent residency.

Mr Morrison interjecting

Mr BOWEN —You are saying it is not true. You do not think that 95 per cent of the people who got temporary protection visas ended up with permanent residency in Australia? That is a very interesting approach.

Mr Morrison interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—The honourable member for Cook has had a fairly good go. He will now remain silent.

Mr BOWEN —I am more than happy. He is making some fine interjections which I would like on the record, but I do respect your ruling and the office that you hold, Mr Deputy Speaker. What would be the impact of the temporary protection visas? We should check the history and see the impact. The member for Cook very proudly says, ‘Temporary protection visas, after they were introduced, reduced the number of boats arriving in Australia.’ He says the number of boats fell.

Mr Keenan —That is exactly what happened.

Mr BOWEN —That is exactly what happened. My old friend, the member for Stirling, comes in and says the number of boats fell. Well done. The number of asylum seekers went up. After the introduction of temporary protection visas, 8,000 people came over the next two years, but it is okay because they came on bigger boats! The number of boats went down, but the number of people went up—

Mr Keenan interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Stirling will also remain silent.

Mr BOWEN —and the proportion of women and children taking that dangerous journey on boats went up. Before the introduction of temporary protection visas, 13 per cent of people who arrived in Australia by boat were women and children. After their introduction, it was 48 per cent. So, if we are concerned about women and children on boats, I am not sure temporary protection visas are the answer.

So here we have a suite of measures. Measure No. 3: turn the boats back. That was a triumph in the election campaign. The ‘boat phone’—remember that?—Admiral Abbott, at Kirribilli House, on the phone saying, ‘Turn that one back’; ‘Don’t turn that one back.’ That is what we had. The member for Cook has to explain this: if his policy is to turn the boats back—he said it would be in limited circumstances, where it did not cause danger; I respect that—perhaps he could share with the House what those limited circumstances would be. What would be the circumstances when the lives of our naval personnel and the lives of the asylum seekers would not be put at risk? The other thing the member for Cook might like to explain is this: he says he is going to turn them back, but to where? The member for Cook might say, ‘Indonesia’—the logical place to turn them back to. The Indonesian government has said, ‘Not on your nelly. You’re not turning them back to us.’ When the member for Cook made his announcement and the member for Warringah, the Leader of the Opposition, made his announcement during the election campaign that we would turn the boats back to Indonesia, the Indonesian foreign ministry said, ‘We think not. Not to us.’ Minister Natalegawa, the Indonesian foreign minister said:

… simply pushing back boats to where they have come from would be a backward step.

So I am not sure where he would return them.

Then we have point 4 of the honourable member for Cook’s suite of measures. I have to say, this one is probably my favourite. This is about the number of visas that would be made available to offshore entry and onshore entry. He says, ‘We would limit the number of visas available to people who arrive in Australia by boat’—to, I think, 3,750. What would this create when you think about it? You would think, ‘Okay. Let’s have a look at this idea. Maybe this has got some merit. We’ll consider it.’ The member for Cook would say, ‘If you are one of the first 3,750 people to arrive in Australia by boat, you get a visa. If you are the 3,751st, sorry, you stay in detention’—unless he would abolish mandatory detention. I am not sure that is his policy. That is a rolling detention crisis if I have ever heard one. The first 3,750 get a visa and the rest have to wait. Don’t you think that would create quite an incentive to be one of the first 3,750? Don’t you think we would have quite a rush to be part of that process? Don’t you think we would have people saying, ‘Let’s get on a boat and make sure it is in the first few months of the year to make sure we’re one of the 3,750’?

That is the suite of measures that the honourable member for Cook refers to. I refer to it as a suite of fraudulent policies which would have no impact and may have a negative impact.

Mr Morrison —You’ve got 30 seconds to give us your policy.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The honourable member for Cook remains under warning.

Mr BOWEN —The member for Cook needs to be held to account and he needs to explain how these so-called policies would work, because we says, ‘We have the policies that work.’ They do not work, because they do not match the people smugglers’ business model. They do not remove the incentive for onward movement, or secondary movement, which the honourable member for Cook correctly refers to as the movement through the Asia-Pacific region. I will tell you the way to stop onward movement; I will tell you the way to reduce the people smugglers business model and eliminate it: you enter into a regional solution for a regional problem.

Mr Morrison —We agree.

Mr BOWEN —The member for Cook says, ‘We agree.’ He thinks the region is Iran and that we should have a transfer agreement with Iran. We do not have that approach. We have the approach that we live in the Asia-Pacific region and we will enter into an Asia-Pacific regional partnership, because an international problem needs a regional solution and an international solution, not harsher punitive measures in the hope that they work and in the hope that they will make a difference, which they will not. (Time expired)