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Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Page: 2072

Asylum Seekers

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:37): My question is also to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. I wonder if the minister could advise the Senate of the date on which the new five-for-one proposal to take 4,000 asylum seekers from Malaysia in return for 800 sent to Malaysia will take effect?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:38): I have already indicated that the government is in the process of developing the MOU with the Malaysian government. There has been a joint statement already issued between the Prime Minister of Australia and the Prime Minister of Malaysia at the weekend. What I can say, Senator Macdonald, is that it is extraordinary hypocrisy on behalf of the Liberal Party to be arguing the case about increasing the level of support—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Carr, I draw your attention to the question. You have one minute 25 seconds remaining to address the question that was asked by Senator Macdonald.

Senator CARR: What I can indicate to you, Mr President, is the extraordinary hypocrisy for the Liberal Party to be arguing the case about increasing the refugee intake, because at the last election—

Senator Brandis: Mr President, the minister is flagrantly defying your ruling. You pulled him up when he went completely away from the answer to the question and started politically attacking the Liberal Party. You pulled him up and he has treated your ruling with complete contempt.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Ludwig.

Senator Ludwig: There is no point of order in that, in that Senator Brandis simply wants to re-agitate an issue. Of course, that gives him using a point of order as a platform to challenge your ruling. This matter is a matter for the President and the President has ruled on the matter and therefore there is no point of order.

The PRESIDENT: I had drawn the minister's attention quite clearly to the fact that at that stage he had I think it was one minute 20 seconds to answer the question. The minister now has one minute 16 seconds. I draw your attention to the question.

Senator CARR: I am delighted at the prospect of being able to answer this question, Mr President, because in the last election the Liberal Party, who now complain about increasing our humanitarian intake, proposed to increase to 15,000—and they were prepared to double that number in their sleazy deal before the last election.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, I rise on a point of order—that of relevance. My question, as you have accepted and twice pulled the minister up, was clearly about the date upon which this took effect. It did not ask anything about the Liberal Party; it did not ask anything about philosophies or policies. I simply want to know the date on which this will take effect.

The PRESIDENT: I had at the one minute 16 seconds mark drawn the minister's attention to the question. The minister still has one minute and one second remaining to answer the question.

Senator CARR: Thank you, Mr President. What I have indicated is that the government will finalise the agreement with Malaysia in the coming weeks, depending on resolution of certain operational matters. I also indicated that it was a bit rich to argue the toss about increasing the humanitarian target, which we are quite proud of, when the Liberal Party during the last election sought to increase it to 15,000 and double it in their conversations when they were trying to secure a majority in the House of Repre­sentatives—a proposition which would have cost $3 billion. That was the claim when they were discussing the matter with Mr Wilkie—$3 billion to get one vote. And they want to argue the toss about increasing slightly the refugee intake numbers that we are doing at the moment! We see here a little of hypocrisy even by Liberal Party standards that sinks to new depths.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. There is hardly any time left now for the minister to address the specific question that he was asked; that is: when will it begin? The minister has persistently and wilfully disobeyed your ruling in breach of standing order 203. A ask you, Mr President, to deal with the minister under standing order 203.

The PRESIDENT: Minister, you have six seconds remaining to answer the question.

Senator CARR: I have indicated to you, Mr President, that the answer to the question is that we will finalise the agreement with Malaysia in coming weeks and that the Liberal Party are nothing more than hypocrites on this matter. (Time expired)

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:42): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for saying initially that they were in the process of developing arrangements and later then saying that it would be a number of weeks, dependent upon certain operational matters. Thank you, Minister. What this really means is that we have no idea—it could be weeks, months, years. So I asked the minister: what additional steps is the government proposing to stop the flood of boat arrivals who will try to get in in that interregnum—that one week, three months, two years or whatever it is—until this arrangement is finalised?(Time expired)

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:43): The government will continue all its efforts to secure Australia's borders and to ensure that we treat people properly in that process. We are indicating to people who now are contemplating being in the hands of the people smugglers that it is not in their interest to engage in that action by seeking to travel to Australia by boat. We will settle the outstanding matters with Malaysia in the signing of an MOU very, very quickly. We are also in the process of engaging in ongoing talks with the Papua New Guinea government about the establishment of an assessment centre in that country. We have a range of measures, therefore, in place where we are seeking to deal with these matters in a firm but very fair approach to ensure that Australia is able to secure, within its inter­national treaty obligations, proper assess­ments of people seeking to come to this country by irregular movements.

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:44): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I thank the minister. I note that the minister would not assure the Senate that Malaysia would take whoever was sent to them, when Senator Hanson-Young asked, so I asked the minister: why is it that the Malaysian gov­ernment can decide who comes to their country and the circumstances in which they come but the Australian government cannot?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:45): What I can draw Senator Macdonald's attention to is—and I am not quite sure what the nature of the question was—is the fact that the government will be working with the government of Malaysia to ensure that we are able to treat people properly and, as the UNHCR has indicated, that the nature of this agreement, a bilateral agreement, has been negotiated within the broader regional context with the involve­ment of the UNHCR and with the involve­ment of the International Organi­sation for Migration. This is the first time this has happened with respect to Malaysia and we hope that there will be other important actors as well, which will include non-government organisations. So there is a real opportunity here, an opportunity to deal with these issues in a humane and fair but firm way to ensure that the agreement between this government and other countries involved in refugee issues are treated properly. (Time expired)