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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10800

Asylum Seekers

Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:00): My question is to the Prime Minister. I remind the Prime Minister that Nauru, a country that has signed the UN convention on refugees, is ready, willing and able to reopen the Australian built offshore processing centre from today. Why won't the Prime Minister swallow her pride, pick up the phone to the President of Nauru and restart offshore processing right now?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:01): There is a very clear reason for that: the government has been advised that it will not work and that it will cost $1 billion, and I am not intending to waste $1 billion of taxpayers' money on an outcome that we have been advised will not work. The Leader of the Opposition takes constant reckless attitudes to taxpayers' money. That is how he has got himself into a $70 billion black hole. Presumably, he now wants to make that a $71 billion black hole. But, as the Leader of the Opposition knows because we have made the relevant briefings available to him, we have the clearest possible advice from the same experts who advised the Howard government that Nauru will not work and that it is an incredibly costly solution costing up to $1 billion.

The Leader of the Opposition has come in today with this fig leaf because he knows that the Australian people can see that, when he was challenged yesterday to rise above the politics of the moment and deal with an issue in the national interest, he was apparently unable to deal with a question in the national interest. Given a choice yesterday between the nation's interest—that is, working to ensure that our nation can process asylum seekers offshore—or taking his narrow political interest, he chose his narrow political interest over the national interest. I think Australians are looking at this parliament and at the Leader of the Opposition, and Australians want to see us work together to ensure that there can be offshore processing and work together beyond politics-as-usual to resolve this issue and put it behind us. The Leader of the Opposition in turning his back is not turning his back on me; he is turning his back on the nation's interest. He ought not to do that. He should reconsider the reckless path he set himself on yesterday.

Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:03): Mr Speaker, I ask a supplementary question. How can the Prime Minister say that Nauru will not work when it did? How can she say that Malaysia will work when it has not?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:03): The Leader of the Opposition comes into this place day after day and the one constant thing is that he denies that facts are facts. He asked for a briefing from the government's advisers—the same people who advised the Howard government—and, when he received that briefing, he was told by those advisers that in their professional and considered opinion Nauru will not work. That is because people smugglers, having seen the example of Nauru once—and, of course, when it was first instituted it had shock value, and many people believed that people who went to Nauru did not have the chance of coming to Australia or going to a place like New Zealand—know for certain that the way in which Nauru worked was that people were processed there and resettled here and in New Zealand. Consequently, they are able to say to the people on whom they try to prey, 'If you are processed in Nauru, you will eventually get to Australia.' That is the message that has been sent up the people-smuggling pipeline.

Opposition members interjecting

Ms GILLARD: The former minister for immigration is now yelling that somehow that is all our fault. But the truth is that that is the outcome of Nauru, and people smugglers now know it. The professional advisers to government have said to the Leader of the Opposition that they do not believe that Nauru will work and that it will be incredibly expensive—it will cost up to $1 billion. In contrast, those same expert advisers who advise us and who advised the Howard government have said to us and to the Leader of the Opposition that they believe that the Malaysia arrangement has the strongest deterrence message associated with it—that is, it has the best chance of being the policy that will work.

Why would the Leader of the Opposition, if he were motivated by the national interest, deny this government and this parliament the ability to put in place legislation which will enable the nation to put into place the policy that we have been advised has the best chance of working? In all of this, the government has never sought for itself greater freedom of action than the Howard government had when it was in office—a time during which the Leader of the Opposition never concerned himself about questions like the refugee convention. He never thought about it once when the Howard government was putting people on Nauru.

So let us be really clear about what is going on here. The national interest requires us to work together to amend the legislation. It requires us to have legislation which will enable us to put in place the policy which we have been advised will be the most effective. There is only one reason that the Leader of the Opposition did not agree to that yesterday, and that is he is terrified that the Malaysia arrangement will work. What he wants to see for this country is more boats because he believes that will serve his political interest. I say again: the Leader of the Opposition is not turning his back on me; he is turning his back on Australia's interest and he should reconsider this reckless, negative position.