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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10801

Asylum Seekers

Mrs D'ATH (Petrie) (14:07): My question is to the Prime Minister. How will the government continue to ensure the integrity of offshore processing of asylum seekers? What process will the government undertake to pursue legislation on offshore processing in the national interest?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:08): I thank the member for Petrie for her question. It invites me to talk about the government's policies for offshore processing. It also invites me to talk about the process the government has been involved in, particularly since the High Court case was announced. Since the High Court case was announced, the government has worked to bring legislation to this parliament which would enable executive government to make decisions about offshore processing—that is, to bring legislation to this parliament that would give this government and future governments the same freedom of action the Howard government had when it determined that it would have asylum seekers transferred to PNG and Nauru—one of those countries being a refugee signatory country and one of those countries not being a refugee signatory country.

In the process since, we have sought to keep the opposition advised and informed. First there was a question of what the High Court case meant. So the government obtained the opinion of the Solicitor-General on the High Court case—in fact, two separate opinions: its meaning in general and its meaning in relation to unaccompanied minors—and released them publicly. At that time, the Leader of the Opposition was saying, 'If the government have legal advice, let them release it,' and we did. Then, of course, the Leader of the Opposition was saying that he was trying to work with me at that point:

I am trying to give her—

the Prime Minister—

the chance to give this country a border protection policy. The ball is in her court, I hope she’ll return it.

Then I wrote offering a briefing and the Leader of the Opposition wrote back saying he would like to have that briefing, and it was made available for him in Brisbane at his request.

Mr Pyne: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I fail to understand how the Prime Minister can directly, relevantly answer a question on the government's policy on offshore processing when there is not a government policy on offshore processing.

The SPEAKER: Order! That is not a point of order; that is a debating point and the member for Sturt is warned. The only permissible point of order concerns whether the Prime Minister is being directly relevant to the question, and she is being directly relevant. The member for Sturt is warned.

Ms GILLARD: Then, having facilitated that briefing, the Leader of the Opposition sought a briefing on the legislation, so we made that available at his request in Melbourne on Friday evening. Then he demanded publicly a meeting between him and me to discuss this question, and we facilitated that request and had the meeting yesterday. Then, out of that meeting, the Leader of the Opposition said he would consider the new amendments the government had put to him, new amendments which were worked through because he, amongst others, had expressed concerns about the question of protections. At every stage the government has sought to work with the opposition and to give the opposition its ability to work in the national interest. At every stage we have sought to put the politics to one side and to work with the opposition on restoring to executive government the powers it needs for offshore processing.

We have responded to every utterance of the Leader of the Opposition. A policy briefing—he wanted it; it was given. A legal briefing—he wanted it; it was given. A meeting with me—he wanted it; it was given. Amendments to the legislation on better protections—we worked on those amendments and those amendments were made.

In response to all of that and in complete denial of the national interest, the Leader of the Opposition went out yesterday and announced that he was on a strategy to end offshore processing in this country. He made that announcement publicly with no advice to me, no coming back to the government and no genuine intention to ever work in the national interest. All of this conduct by the Leader of the Opposition is because he has judged his political interest in front of the national interest. He is terrified that the Malaysia arrangement will work and that is not in his political interest. He wants to see more boats.