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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 3474

Senator ABETZ (2:00 PM) —My question is to Senator Evans, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. Can the minister confirm that during the last five years of the Howard government only 18 boats carrying asylum seekers arrived in Australia? Can the minister also confirm that at last count at least 137 boats have arrived in the 18 months or so since the Rudd government softened the coalition’s stronger border protection laws?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Abetz for the question. I note that, similar to material put out by senators and lower house members from Western Australia, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate chooses his dates very carefully. He chooses the date of the last five years of the Howard government, not the full 12 years. He is selective. He does not want to talk about the 86 boats that arrived in 1999. He does not want to talk about that. Selective memory!

Senator Brandis —Mr President, I know it is early in the answer to be taking this point of order, but the minister has already declared by what he has said that he is not answering the question asked of him. He was asked about the last five years of the Howard government, not 12 years or any other period. He should address the question he was asked.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. Minister, you have one minute 33 to address the question.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I think that Senator Brandis confirms the sensitivity. There is a selective nature to their criticism here. They do not want to talk about the 86 boats that arrived under them in 1999—that Senator Scullion was ushering into Darwin Harbour. They were not landing at Christmas Island; they were coming into Darwin Harbour. Senator Scullion was earning a nice little earner bringing them in, and good luck to him! I understand he did a very good job.

We have had in this country three or four periods of increased boat arrivals over the years. In 26 out of the last 33 years we have had arrivals, but we have had peaks and troughs. Senator, you may want to forget about 1999 to 2001—86 boats in 1999 and 43 boats and 5,516 people in 2001, during the last peak in activity. We have dealt with this problem for 26 out of last 33 years. We will continue to have to deal with it. It presents a challenge in public policy terms. But the difference is we are not going to lock children up behind barbed wire. We are not going to send them off to a Pacific island and lock them up for years as you did. Kids were in detention centres behind barbed wire for more than two years. There is a difference between us and I am proud to say there is a difference, but we both have had to deal with peaks in arrivals and we will continue to have to do so.

Senator ABETZ —Mr President, I think Australians know that we had a problem in the past and that the Howard government fixed it. My supplementary question, and I refer specifically to the minister’s assertion that ‘we are not going to lock up children’, is: is it true that 427 children as of today are in detention as a direct result of Labor’s softened border protection policies? Can he explain where the humanity is in that?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I have noticed in the last few weeks the Liberal Party are getting sensitive about their position on this issue. Suddenly they want to describe their position as compassionate. Last week it was turning back the boats, even though you did not do that after 2003. Now the opposition spokesman is out there talking about how compassionate they are.

Senator Brandis interjecting—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —That is not factually correct, Senator. You are morally bankrupt! Your spokesman, Mr Morrison—

Senator Abetz —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Clearly that assertion by the Leader of the Government in the Senate needs to be withdrawn. To accuse somebody of being morally bankrupt must be a reflection, in any interpretation of the terminology, and should be withdrawn unreservedly.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, you should withdraw that.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —If that is your ruling, Mr President, I withdraw. The Liberal Party now want to pretend that their policies are compassionate. They are clearly not. The reintroduction of TPVs and the reintroduction of the Pacific solution can in no way be described as compassionate. But they are clearly sensitive to these things, so they want to pretend that their policy of detaining children behind barbed wire was more compassionate than this government’s changes. No-one agrees with them; no-one takes them seriously. (Time expired)

Senator ABETZ —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that since Labor softened Australia’s border protection laws up to 170 people have drowned at the hands of criminal people smugglers? Where, Minister, is the humanity in that?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —This represents a new low in Australian politics. The opposition pretend they have better policies in terms of children. We do not put them in detention centres; we allow them to stay with their families. But that is not good enough for you. Now you want to blame the government for the fact that people drowned. How morally bankrupt can the Liberal Party get! You are in a race to the bottom. In a desperate bid to win government, you have engaged in a race to the bottom. I am taking the names of the Liberal moderates up the back because you are missing again. Senator Humphries, where are you? Senator Abetz’s question is below contempt. I think the Liberal Party ought to have a look at how low it is prepared to go. (Time expired)