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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10080

Asylum Seekers

Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (14:51): My question is to the Prime Minister. What did the government ignore in the expert advice of officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade earlier this year that was later cited by the High Court in its judgment that raised concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers in Malaysia?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:51): The question simply is not right. The member is misrepresenting the situation, but if the member is in any way interested in expert advice then I would suggest that he get across the expert advice that is being provided to government and to the opposition. Can I say generally to the opposition, I understand that there will continue to be political contest about the nature of policies and plans in the area of refugees and asylum seekers. So be it. That is what the House of Representatives is for. We will in that political contest refer to the expert advice that supports us. The opposition may choose not to rely on that expert advice. That is a matter for it. What this parliament will be called upon to determine is the legislation and how it should read. Facts are facts and you cannot wish them away. The Solicitor-General has been clear that for offshore processing to proceed, whether that offshore processing is in PNG, in Nauru or whether there is the Malaysia transfer agreement—

Mr Abbott interjecting

Ms GILLARD: The Leader of the Opposition is saying, 'That is not a fact; it's an opinion.' It is a fact that the highest legal officer who advises government gave this advice. That is fact and you cannot wish that fact away. The Solicitor-General has advised government that to put offshore processing beyond doubt, even it were occur in Nauru, as the Leader of the Opposition prefers, the legislation needs amending to ensure that such arrangements could include the transfer of unaccompanied minors. If you do not make that amendment then you run all of the legal risks. Then what do you do? You send a message to people-smugglers to fill boats with children. These are facts. They cannot be wished away. They cannot be denied. They must be dealt with.

The only thing we are asking the opposition to do as we absorb these facts together, and the Leader of the Opposition gets the opportunity to have briefings in depth, is to put the law in an appropriate state—

Ms Julie Bishop interjecting

Ms GILLARD: Exactly. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, 'Put the law back as it was.' Yes, put the law back so executive government is in the position that the Howard government believed itself to be in in relation to offshore processing and this government believed itself to be in in relation to offshore processing before the High Court case. Then, having amended the law, we will implement the Malaysia arrangement and one with PNG, the opposition can knock themselves out with criticisms of that arrangement, we will have the election in 2013, and the Australian people can make a decision between the government's policies and plans and the opposition's policies and plans. What the opposition should not do, in my view, is refuse to amend the legislation and in doing so deny themselves the legal foundation stone for the policy that they say they support. So this is the decision for the parliament. Legislation will be introduced next week. The Leader of the Opposition will get briefings on Friday afternoon. I think it is a very good thing that he is availing himself of those briefings. I am pleased we were able to negotiate and get a time that works for everybody on Friday, and I trust that he will seriously consider the advice and information that he receives during that briefing in the national interest.