Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Page: 36

Senator HUMPHRIES (2:38 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Evans. Following the arrival of yet another boat last night—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells —More than one.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes, more than one. Following the arrival of yet another boat last night, carrying 181 people and four crew, cruising into Christmas Island and actually being intercepted within sight of Christmas Island, when will the Rudd government finally admit that its border protection policies have comprehensively broken down?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —The Rudd Labor government are absolutely committed to strong border protection policies. The fact is that we have invested more in border protection than any other government. What we are dealing with at the moment is a situation where we are seeing record flows of persons out of Afghanistan, which is causing pressure in the form of unlawful movement and irregular flows throughout the world. Australia is getting its share of those people fleeing Afghanistan.

I remind Senator Humphries that last year we had the fourth largest number of arrivals in a calendar year. The previous three record years were under the Howard government, and they were 1999, 2000 and 2001. The reason the numbers arriving decreased after that was that the Taliban fell in Afghanistan and people were no longer found to be refugees and were returned to Afghanistan if they sought asylum. The same occurred in Iraq, following the fall of Saddam Hussein. What we are dealing with at the moment is an international problem of an increased number of asylum seekers, more than 90 per cent of whom still go to Europe.

We have strong border protection in place. We have mandatory detention. We have offshore processing. Working with our neighbours, we are determined to combat this problem of unlawful arrivals. At the moment we are dealing with increased activity. We are seeking to work with our neighbours to try and stop the flow, to try and provide durable solutions for people, both in their home country and in countries of transit. We will continue to provide resources for border protection and resources to try and address this global problem of unlawful and irregular movement.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the detention facilities and related accommodation on Christmas Island have a current capacity of 1,848 people, and given that the latest arrival of 181 and four crew will increase the detention population to more than 1,830—that is, within 20 beds of being completely full—will the government guarantee that no asylum seekers will be transferred to the mainland from Christmas Island before their claims have been determined?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —What I can do first of all is correct Senator Humphries. Your figures are not exactly right. Effectively there are about 1,800 beds. In fact, it is slightly less.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells —You mean we weren’t given the information.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator Humphries got the figures wrong, but I am saying that they are in small numbers. We have remaining capacity at Christmas Island and the capacity is being expanded. More capacity has come online recently and more will come on in the next few weeks. But we have also made it very clear that if we need capacity we will use the other detention centre built by the Howard government, the immigration detention facility in Darwin, to finalise processing. I have made that clear.

It is interesting that today the Liberal opposition announced that you were returning to the Pacific solution, that you were going to again look for third countries to process people in. Nauru is back on the agenda. That is a very interesting development— (Time expired)

Senator HUMPHRIES —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise whether he has received advice about the pressures and constraints on the operation of detention facilities at Christmas Island in the wake of the tenfold increase in the detention population during the last 12 months?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I can advise that we are dealing with an increased number of persons in detention. That is correct. They are nowhere near the numbers that the Howard government had to deal with in a series of camps around Australia, but we are dealing with increased numbers. What we have done is increase the capacity on Christmas Island. We have used the very modern facility, built by the Howard government, which only came online in 2007 as part of the Howard government’s preparedness for the next spike in activity. We thank them for that, because we are sure they would not have built it otherwise. Otherwise you are suggesting that they wasted $400 million to build an 800-bed facility that they were never going to use.

Senator Humphries —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I asked whether the minister had received advice about the pressures and constraints on the capacity of Christmas Island. Could he answer that part of my question, please.

The PRESIDENT —I draw the attention of the minister to the question. You have 23 seconds remaining, Minister.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Thank you. As I said to the senator—and as he knows, because I told him on a number of occasions late last year—we are increasing the capacity on Christmas Island beyond that which was built by the Howard government and commissioned in 2007. We anticipate a capacity of about 2,200 under the current proposals. So, yes, there have been pressures in terms of capacity, but we have expanded the capacity and are coping with the extra demands. (Time expired)