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Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10490

Asylum Seekers

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (14:50): My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. What did the Prime Minister mean by the statement that she made on 6 July last year in relation to offshore processing, where she said:

I would rule out anywhere that is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

Prime Minister, what did you mean?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:51): I thank the member for his question. Obviously the refugee obligations are important to us. They are important to this country. When we deal with countries that not only are signatory to the convention but are implementing the convention, we can be sure that convention obligations are being abided by. Through the remarkable negotiating strategy of the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, we are now in a position to say refugee convention obligations—most important of all, the obligation of non-refoulement, of making sure that people are not returned to a place of persecution—can be achieved in Malaysia. In addition to that we can see in Malaysia the processing of claims and we can see people's humanitarian needs dealt with. The member, I accept, is genuinely interested in this. I accept that genuine interest. I say to him and to the Leader of the Opposition, and anyone else opposite, that if they are concerned about these questions I recommend that they ring the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, ask them their attitude to the Malaysia arrangement and ask them their attitude to Nauru. I think if those opposite bothered to make that call what they would find is that the UNHCR is prepared to be involved in implementing the arrangement with Malaysia, whereas the UNHCR is not prepared to be involved, in any way, in—indeed it is quite condemning of—an arrangement with Nauru. For those who are concerned—I accept that there are many genuinely concerned about our obligations under the refugee convention—I suggest they ring the United Nations agency charged with making that convention live and breathe and ask them about the alternative propositions here: Malaysia versus Nauru.

But let me come back to what I have said at other points in question time and what I said consistently last week, which is that at the end of the day this is not a debate between two contending policy propositions; this is a debate about whether or not executive government should have the power it needs to make the arrangements it believes fit.

Mr Morrison: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The Prime Minister was asked about her own comment that she would not send anyone to a country that was not a signatory to the refugee convention. What did she mean by that?

The SPEAKER: The Prime Minister has the call.

Ms GILLARD: At the end of the day the legislation that will come before the parliament is not about Malaysia and it is not about Nauru; it is about executive government having the power to determine the offshore processing arrangements it believes are appropriate. I say to members opposite, who now apparently have a new-found love for the refugee convention, that members opposite made arrangements to process asylum seekers on Nauru when it was not signatory to the refugee convention. It may be that some time in the future a government wants to go down a comparable path to the path that the Howard government went down when it initiated processing in Nauru—that is, a non-signatory country, and that is relying on a memorandum of understanding.

My point to those opposite is that if it was good enough for them to seek to have that power and to exercise it in government, what on earth can justify denying it to this government or governments in the future through a proper amendment to the Migration Act? This proper amendment to the Migration Act deals with core obligations under the refugee convention.