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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10074

Asylum Seekers

Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:24): Mr Speaker, I have a supplementary question to the question of the member for Macquarie. How can the Prime Minister reconcile her statement a moment ago that the 800 figure was the best advice that the government had with the concession of the secretary of the immigration department in his briefing to me last week that the 800 figure was 'just conjecture'.

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:25): The Leader of the Opposition has either misheard or misconstrued or is misrepresenting what I just said.

Opposition members interjecting

Ms GILLARD: I am taking the question seriously and I will answer it, so maybe the opposition might want to cut the abuse and listen to the answer.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER: The House will come to order. A question has been asked and the Prime Minister is responding.

Ms GILLARD: We are discussing a matter of national interest and I presume all members of the House would be interested in this discussion. I may be wrong about that, but I will assume that all members of this House have an interest in securing Australia's borders and in the best possible policy in relation to refugees and asylum seekers.

In response to the question of the Leader of the Opposition, I was asked by the member for Macquarie about whether we had an arrangement for 800 or whether we had extended it. I confirmed it was an arrangement for 800. I then went on to explain what I believed to be the merits of that agreement—that we had the best possible advice that the Malaysia agreement provided the best possible deterrence. I did not put that specifically about the figure and that is what the Leader of the Opposition has either misheard, misconstrued or is seeking to misrepresent. The Leader of the Opposition knows from the briefings he has received that the advice to us from the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and more broadly is that they believe the Malaysia arrangement has the maximum deterrence.

Mr Abbott: Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I asked her the basis on which the figure of 800 was chosen. Was it just conjecture?

Government members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! I did not hear the Leader of the Opposition's point of order, but it could only be on direct relevance. I am listening carefully to the Prime Minister's answer.

Mr Crean interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! I indicate to the minister for regional Australia that when I talk about haranguing it is not just haranguing from my left.

Mr Dutton: Hear, hear!

The SPEAKER: The member for Dickson should not take too much comfort. The Prime Minister has the call and all I have indicated is that I will listen carefully to her response. In no way have I indicated that I believe that she has not been anything but within the standing orders.

Mr Albanese: Mr Speaker, a point of order: I would ask that the Leader of the Opposition be directed under standing order 64(a) to refer to the Prime Minister by her title.

The SPEAKER: All members should refer to other members by their parliamentary titles.

Ms GILLARD: On these important questions of national interest, and in answer to the Leader of the Opposition's question, the Leader of the Opposition has received a briefing from the secretary of the department of immigration and others. That briefing has made clear to him their advice, and their advice is that, out of the options that government has at its disposal, Malaysia is the option with the maximum deterrence effect. I understand that on this question of national interest the Leader of the Opposition may well come to a different view. That is a matter for him. Executive government—this government—is determined to implement the Malaysia arrangement and to start a processing centre in accordance with our understandings with the government of PNG. I do not ask the Leader of the Opposition to endorse that. I do not ask him to stop criticising it. I do not ask him to do anything in relation to that other than what he has done for many weeks now, which is to indicate that he does not believe in it, does not support it, does not agree with it and is full of criticisms of it. He should continue to do that if that is what he has come to in his mind as the best decision in all good conscience.

What I am asking of the Leader of the Opposition is that, when amendments to the Migration Act come before this parliament—which this executive government does require in order to implement the arrangement with Malaysia and the centre in PNG, and which an alternative government, were one ever elected which had the Nauru proposal as its policy, would need to implement that policy to put it beyond legal doubt and to make modifications in relation to unaccompanied minors—he support that legislation. Behind all of this partisanship is one central fact: the government believes in and wants to implement offshore arrangements in relation to refugees and asylum seekers. The Leader of the Opposition wants to implement offshore arrangements in relation to asylum seekers. In order to do so in a way which is beyond legal doubt the Migration Act needs amending, so in the national interest I believe we should be able to agree on that.