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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 600

Senator LUNDY (Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Citizenship and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (3:06 PM) —I note with great interest that the coalition members tend to get a bit excited about this issue—in fact the surge of adrenalin that ripples through the opposition benches as they bounce up and down on their seats asking questions in relation to asylum seekers, I think, is highly unbecoming of the opposition and defies the seriousness of the issue that we are contending with.

I think it is also worth noting that I listened carefully to Senator Cash’s contribution today and there was nothing in her statement that offered a policy from the coalition. They are happy to criticise the government but are still only capable of flinging slogans, the latest being this F for failure. I am sure they are hoping for a newspaper headline somewhere.

Senator Cash —Capital F for failure, and in neon lights!

Senator LUNDY —And, as Senator Cash says, that would be with neon lights. This shows the shallowness of the approach, and there is not one Australian who does not understand that we are facing a very difficult challenge. We have faced that challenge for many years now, and one thing the Labor government will not do is indulge in some of the trashy sloganeering that we experienced during the election campaign and that we are dealing with now. It has been thrown across the chamber in question time.

It is important to go through the facts. On 18 October the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship announced the commissioning of two new detention facilities to house irregular maritime arrivals: firstly, a facility for up to 1,500 single men at Northam in Western Australia—and, as my colleague Senator Carr took pains to point out in his response to questions today, at the suggestion of the Liberal Premier of Western Australia—and, secondly, a facility for up to 400 people in family groups, including children, at Inverbrackie in South Australia. The government has also announced expansions to accommodate unaccompanied minors and people in family groups and has identified two contingency sites. These announcements allow for the decommissioning of less suitable temporary accommodation, which the coalition has also criticised, so I would have expected some acknowledgement of the fact that we are ensuring that appropriate accommodation is available to these people.

Another point I would like to make is that the Prime Minister and the minister also announced an expansion of the use of the minister’s residence determination powers to enable placement of unaccompanied minors and vulnerable families into community detention placements on a case-by-case basis through existing powers under the Migration Act. These announcements recognise the importance of balancing mandatory detention of unauthorised arrivals with the humane treatment of those fleeing persecution and seeking protection in Australia. It is important at this point to remind everybody listening to this debate that last year Australia received 0.6 per cent of the world’s asylum seekers and that refugees, including those referred by UNHCR for resettlement, represent only eight per cent of our migrant intake. I further point out that people arriving by boat are less than 1.5 per cent of this intake. So we are talking about a relatively small number of people, despite, as I said, the rather unbecoming excitement across the chamber as they try to whip up fear associated with the boat arrivals. It is important to keep it all in a realistic perspective.

I would also like to touch on the point about consultation with the communities. I certainly understand and appreciate the uncertainty within local communities at Woodside and Northam, but I reiterate that the department and the government are committed to working through all of those issues raised. They are establishing community reference groups at Northam and Woodside, and these reference groups will be important mechanisms in managing the implementation of the new facilities. Senior departmental officials attended a full meeting of the Adelaide Hills Council on the 19th, and they had a town hall style meeting at Woodside on 21 October. The issues that were raised have been responded to by the government and the assurances that the minister has provided, as you have heard from Senator Carr, have been provided to those communities, particularly in relation to housing, security and health and other government services.

In conclusion, there is a system in place to respond to the situation we are facing with irregular maritime arrivals. It is a challenging one for the whole nation, but I would expect less unbecoming excitement across the chamber when dealing with— (Time expired.)