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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3768

Asylum Seekers


Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (15:03): My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. What work is being done in the national interest to tackle people-smuggling and to deter people from taking dangerous boat journeys to Australia? Why is it important to have workable and practical border protection policies supported by other countries in our region, and what is the response to these policies and to other proposals to deal with people-smuggling?


Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (15:03): I thank the honourable member for his question, which goes to what is being done in the national interest to tackle people-smuggling. This week, debate started in the House on the legislation moved by the honourable member for Lyne. That legislation would allow the government of the day to implement deterrence to dangerous boat journeys to Australia. It is legislation that the government will support in the national interest. The bill from the member for Lyne would allow the minister to designate a country if it is part of the Bali process, if the minister is satisfied with the protections and, perhaps most importantly, if the country involved agrees to be a partner with Australia in that endeavour.

It is very important that the country involved agree to receive people transferred. For example, a minister could not be satisfied with the protections in place if that country had not agreed to receive people. Whether people are being removed from Australia by boat or by plane, I would have thought it would be evident to most reasonable people that you would actually have to have the agreement of the country in question.

Mr Morrison: What happens to the people on the boats that don't leave Indonesia, Chris?

The SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cook will remain silent for the balance of this answer.

Mr BOWEN: Even those opposite have recognised this in the past. At the last election, the Liberal Party's policy was that 'a commitment from the return country not to return persons seeking asylum to the place from which they came, claiming to be fleeing persecution, would be key'. That statement would lead you to believe that, if such an agreement could not be reached, nobody would be returned to that country. But, alas, it pains me to say that that appears now not to be the case. We have had a major policy development from the opposition. The Leader of the Opposition is good at saying no, but when a close partner and neighbour says no he appears not to understand the meaning of the word.

The Indonesian foreign minister said in this building last week that it would be impossible and ill-advised to have boats turned around on the high seas and sent to Indonesia. He said, 'That would give you a hint of our approach.' He is right. Hints do not get much bigger than that. Yet the Leader of the Opposition seems to think that this policy is not dead. Apparently it is just pining for the fjords. The policy of turning back the boats is not dead, and the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Cook seem to say that it does not matter what Indonesia thinks, they will send people there regardless. They say they want a foreign and asylum policy that is Jakarta focused. Well Jakarta have told us their focus and their focus is to reject the cheap populism of those opposite, to reject this cheap policy which puts at risk the lives of Australian Defence personnel and—

The SPEAKER: The minister will focus on the specifics of the question.

Mr BOWEN: Australia's asylum seekers. It breaches our international conventions and will never work.