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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10806

Asylum Seekers

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (14:23): My question is to the Prime Minister. In the decade after the Vietnam War, Australia took in around 90,000 Vietnamese refugees and their families, many of them boat people. We did not tow them back out to sea and we did not send them to other countries. We took them in here and it was a resounding success. Prime Minister, if the government and the opposition do not reach agreement, will plan B be a policy of processing refugee claims onshore?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:23): I thank the member for Melbourne for his question. In terms of the history of some of these big waves—and he refers to some of the big waves that have involved refugees and asylum seekers from Vietnam—successive Australian governments have had to deal with these questions. There was a big wave in 1976 and there was a second big wave in 1989 that involved mainly Cambodian, Vietnamese and Chinese nationals. Since 1990 we have seen refugees and asylum seekers on the move around the world and in our region from the Middle East, and since 2008 we have mainly seen people from the Middle East and South-East Asia.

The member has specifically asked me about the question of Vietnamese asylum seekers. Overwhelmingly, they were brought to Australia from offshore under the Comprehensive Plan of Action. That is, it was a regional solution that our region worked on to create a circumstance where people would be able to have their claims processed offshore from Australia but developed nations, including Australia, would step forward and take a fair share of the caseload of those refugees. We have done so, and many of us would represent electorates in this place that are home to either refugees from those original waves or their sons and daughters, and they have made a remarkable contribution to this country. We get the opportunity on various days of celebration for the Vietnamese community to make that point directly to them and their community leaders.

I believe this causes us to consider that the appropriate way of dealing with refugee and asylum seeker questions is to work in the region, and that is what this government has done—we have worked in the region. We went to Bali when the countries of our region came together and we negotiated a new regional framework. That was very important. That new regional framework spoke of transfer agreements, and under the auspices of that new regional framework we have negotiated the arrangement with Malaysia which we have the clearest possible advice has the maximum deterrence effect.

I understand the member who asked me the question is of a different view on a number of these issues. That is, of course, his right in this place of democracy where people will come and put different views. But I believe every member of this parliament, including the member who asked me the question, needs to consider the national interest as the government presents amendments to this parliament to enable this government to process asylum seekers offshore and to transfer asylum seekers offshore. That obligation is on all of us. It is certainly on the Leader of the Opposition, which is why when he turned his back on the national interest yesterday he was doing the wrong thing by the people of Australia. He ought to reconsider the nation's interest.