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Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Page: 832

Senator HUMPHRIES (2:55 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Evans. I refer the minister to recent figures from the UNHCR which show that asylum applications in Australia increased by more than 25 per cent in the nine months to September last year, whilst global applications have increased by only five per cent. Given that Australia has had a surge five times greater than the international increase, will the minister correct the record and reverse his and the Prime Minister’s repeated claims that the arrivals are due to so-called push factors rather than the pull factors in Labor’s open door policy?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank the senator for the question. I would remind him, though, not to just believe the shadow spokesman’s press releases but to actually go to the original sources before he quotes information. Then he would not be so badly misled. The senator, if he actually had the UNHCR document, would realise that the figures were not complete for 2009, that the figures used by the shadow spokesman were incomplete, only had three-quarters of the year for most of the major receiving countries and basically were totally dodgy. If you want to come into this place, Senator, and make claims, wait until you have got the annual figures. But, no, you want to make claims based on incomplete figures. So the assumptions in the senator’s question are wrong, dead wrong, because he was not able to rely on full figures for the year and sought to believe the dodgy figures provided by the shadow spokesperson in order to try and get a media run.

The first point is that the figures are not the annual figures. It looks like, on present indications, that the rate of asylum seeking around the world will be approximately the same as it was the previous year, based on forward projection of those figures that were available for only the first three-quarters, which are for some of the larger countries. So first of all the figures are dodgy. Second of all the argument that somehow the application rates are the same around the world of course is a nonsense. They vary according to the populations fleeing and their normal countries. As the senator would know, when the Howard government was dealing with a large increase in arrivals in 1999-2001, it was dealing largely with people from two source countries, Afghanistan and Iraq. Those countries, at the time, were seeing a lot of people leave. Those are the sorts of things that influence application rates. But the key point is: the figures the senator quotes are not complete and he misrepresents the position in the claims he makes. (Time expired)

Senator HUMPHRIES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister concede that the rate of applications in Australia greatly exceeds the number of applications being made on average around the world? If so—if there is a disparity between Australian applications and global applications—will the minister concede that the Rudd government’s border protection and immigration policies have manifestly failed and are in fact encouraging illegal boat arrivals, with 14 arrivals this year alone?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —Again we see the senator trying to make a cheap political point without going to the facts. I refer him to the comments made just the other day by Ms Erika Feller, the UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner, Protection, who is visiting Australia. She said, as to the real cause of arrivals here:

The instability in places such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka does impact greatly on the numbers of people moving to and through this region, including Australia.

That is what the UNHCR’s senior representative said. There have been increases in the numbers of Afghans and Sri Lankans seeking asylum. Many of those have gone to Europe. I think the current numbers reflect that over 90 per cent of the Afghans have headed for Europe. We have had our share of Afghans fleeing the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. (Time expired).

Senator HUMPHRIES —I ask a further supplementary question. Why will the minister not confirm that the rate of applications to Australia for asylum is greatly in excess of those averaged around the world for global applications? When will he concede that if that is the case—and he has not denied it—the evidence of pull factors in Australian government policy is contributing to a failure of Australia’s border security?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I do not have the time to take the senator through all the issues but since 2006 the number of claims by Afghans in industrial countries worldwide has increased by 185 per cent. We have had our share of those applications but the vast majority have gone to Europe. There has been a pipeline from Afghanistan to Australia since the time of the Howard government. Where were the arrivals coming from in 1999 to 2001, Senator?

Afghanistan has been a source of arrivals to this country. There are large numbers of Somalis on the move, who tend to go to countries other than Australia. So the figures differ in terms of the source country and the traditional routes that people take. You well know that. I refer you to Minister Ruddock’s press releases at the time that explained those things in the period 1999-2000 and 2001-02. You understood it then. You choose not to understand it now for cheap political point scoring. (Time expired)

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.