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Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Page: 2076

Asylum Seekers

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:53): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer the minister to the so-called 'Malaysian deal'. Can the minister guarantee that unaccompanied minors arriving in an unauthorised fashion in Australia will be exempted from the Malaysian deal?

Senator Cameron: You hypocrite!

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, you will need to withdraw that.

Senator Cameron: I withdraw.

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:54): Mr President, I can say that I understand that the Prime Minister has indicated that the details of the arrangements for Malaysia remain to be finalised. When asked about those issues she indicated that that was one of the issues that would be reflected upon when those arrangements were finalised. So that agreement and the MOU will reflect the finalised arrangements in relation to returns to Malaysia. I might point out, though, that it was the Liberal Party that used to detain children in detention centres. This government has ensured that children are not in detention centres but are in alternative arrangements, where they are allowed to live with their families. I think we all support that as a much more humane and appropriate way of dealing with children.

Can I indicate that the minister has also been seeking to make alternative arrangements, particularly for families, with the support of community groups, like the Red Cross, to ensure even better arrange­ments. Given that we are dealing with larger numbers of both accompanied and unaccom­panied minors, we have been looking for better alternatives than existed preciously, and I would just like to acknowledge the work of those community groups, churches, the Red Cross and others who sought to support the government in providing better alternatives for unauthorised arrival families which have children and of course for unaccompanied minors. In terms of the primary point of Senator Abetz's question, those details will be finalised as part of the MOU.

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:56): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I remind the minister that the most children in detention were under the Keating govern­ment and now the Gillard government. I ask the minister: are there any fundamental non-negotiable preconditions for minors and women in relation to the Malaysian deal?

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Abetz, will you just go back? I missed the last part of your question because people on your side were trying to talk over you.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you, Mr President. If I may, I will repeat the question and remind the minister that it has been the Keating and Gillard governments that have had the most children in detention. But what non-negotiable preconditions have been sought from the Malaysians to ensure that minors are protected? It is all well to talk about 'the deal', but surely there must be some fundamental preconditions that are non-negotiable. Are there any such preconditions that have been put to the Malaysians?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:57): As I said, Mr President, I did receive some advice, which was that we will not be taking lessons in compassion from the Liberal Party. Senator, your record on children in detention is an appalling one. Even John Howard was finally embarrassed out of that position. So do not try to lecture me on compassion for children. We actually put in place better arrangements for children so that they receive proper care. What is absolutely central to the arrangement with Malaysia is that the government has made it very clear that there be no refoulement of those who are transferred under the scheme.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Senator, do you want to withdraw that? You do not want to withdraw that. Senator, that stands as a mark about you. (Time expired)

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:58): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. If there are no non-negotiable preconditions in relations to minors, can I ask: are there any non-negotiable prec­onditions that Australia has put to Malaysia in this five-for-one Malaysian deal? Or is everything negotiable?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:59): As the Prime Minister has been at pains to explain, there will be no refoulement. Malaysia will commit to no refoulement of persons who are transferred. A precondition of the arrangement is that those who will be transferred will be treated with dignity and humanity, as they have been under this government and will continue to be so. As a mark of that, we have asked for the UNHCR and the IOM to be involved in the handling of those people transferred to Malaysia. The UNHCR and IOM will not be involved—

Senator Brandis: I rise on a point of order on relevance, Mr President. The question was: are there no non-negotiable conditions? This is all context and background; it is not directly relevant to that which was asked: are there no non-negotiable conditions?

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. Minister, you have 24 seconds remaining to address the question.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Senator Brandis clearly does not listen. The point I was making was that a non-negotiable condition is that there be no reform and that people be treated with dignity and humanity. I was outlining two of those conditions. As I indicated, we have sought to involve other agencies, like the UNHCR and IOM, to ensure that there is appropriate input from those organisations with these arrangements. (Time expired)