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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 208

Asylum Seekers


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (15:00): My question is to the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. I refer the minister to media reports of the arrival of a boat with Somali asylum seekers on board on Monday evening in Darwin. Can the minister confirm this latest arrival of asylum seekers in Australia?


Senator CASH (Western Australia—Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women) (15:00): I thank Senator Sterle, a fellow senator from Western Australia, for this question. On 7 September this year, the Australian people voted overwhelmingly for the election of an Abbott government. They voted overwhelmingly in relation to a number of policies and one of those policies was the failure of the then—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence on both sides, Senator Cash, continue.

Senator CASH: As I stated: the Australian public voted overwhelmingly on a number of policies, but in particular they sent a very clear message to those who now sit on the opposition benches that they had failed when it came to protecting Australia's borders. The Australian people therefore gave the Abbott government a very clear mandate when it came—

Senator Sterle: Mr President, I rise on a point of order: the minister has not even gone anywhere near my question. What I asked was: can she confirm there was an arrival of asylum seekers on a boat in Darwin Harbour Monday evening?

The PRESIDENT: Order! The minister has been addressing the question for 54 seconds. The minister still has a minute and six seconds remaining. I am listening closely to the minister's answer. The minister needs to address the question. I call the minister to answer the question.

Senator CASH: In relation to the mandate that the Australian government has now been given, it is to implement our policies—our strong and proven policies—in relation to border protection. And in that regard—in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders—both the minister and the Prime Minister have made it very, very clear that, to this end, we will be conducting weekly briefings in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders. Unlike those on the other side—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence we will proceed.

Senator CASH: Unlike those on the other side, as evidenced by their complete failure in this policy area, we understand that the more information in relation to operational matters that you provide to the people smugglers—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Wait a minute, Senator Conroy. You have not got the call, and you have colleagues who are trying to call over you. It does not help.

Senator Conroy: Mr President, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. It is absolutely contemptuous of this chamber to hide behind the defence that they are not going to admit whether or not a boat arrived in the harbour on the basis of operational matters. It is a contempt and it cannot be allowed to stand as an excuse for not answering a question to the chamber and to the people of Australia who are demanding to know, 'What is that large piece of wood in Darwin Harbour?'

The PRESIDENT: Order! I am listening to the minister's answer. The minister is addressing the question but I cannot instruct the minister how to give a particular answer and I have said that consistently in this chamber over a long period of time.

Senator CASH: Unlike those on the other side, this government understands that it is our role as a federal government to make the job of people smugglers a lot harder and not sell out Australia to people smugglers. In that regard, the next briefing in relation to the status update will be provided on Friday, consistent with— (Time expired)













Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (15:05): Mr President, I do have a supplementary question; I do not expect an answer after that performance but I will give it a go. Can the minister confirm that there were 19 asylum seekers on board the boat which is reported to have arrived at Fort Hill Wharf in Darwin Harbour and that these asylum seekers have been transferred to the Blaydin Point detention centre?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaAssistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women) (15:06): As I stated in my previous answer, this government has a policy whereby it will be providing weekly briefings in relation to boat arrivals. The next briefing on behalf of this government will be this Friday.

Senator Kim Carr: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I appreciate that you cannot tell a minister how to answer a question, but it is clearly a contempt of the Senate to refuse to answer a question.

The PRESIDENT: Order! There is no point of order.




Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (15:07): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Why is the minister providing Australians with less information about this latest arrival than is available through the media?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence we will proceed.



Senator CASH (Western AustraliaAssistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women) (15:08): In relation to the supplementary question I can report to the Senate that to date the government in the reporting period to 8 November has conducted eight weekly media briefings. As required, we have provided additional information in relation to specific incidents. But if the senator is so interested in information, let me give the senator some.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! On both sides! I am listening to the answer that Senator Cash is giving.

Senator CASH: In the 51 days prior to the start of Operation Sovereign Borders, 2,311 people arrived in Australia illegally by boat. Since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders under this government on 18 September 2013 there has now been a 76 per cent reduction in the number of illegal arrivals coming to Australia—a 76 per cent reduction. We do not resile from the strong policy stance that we are taking.

Senator Abetz: Mr President, I ask that all further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.