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Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Page: 2081


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (15:11): On rising to speak on the motion to take note of answers, I am very proud of the fact that this government believes in real regional cooperation on asylum seekers. We know that, ultimately, that is the best way to manage this issue. It is also the best humanitarian outcome, something the Howard government, frankly, was never interested in. I, like most Australians, feel strongly about honouring our international protection obligations, and it is sad to me that Senator Joyce does not seem to take that obligation seriously. I do not shy away from the fact that we must find a better way to support vulnerable refugees. Our resolve to end the dangerous transport of so many vulnerable lives in shonky boats is one that I support. You need look no further than at the loss of nearly 30 lives before last Christmas off Christmas Island.

Malaysia has taken a much greater burden on it as a nation in terms of managing asylum seekers, with an estimated 100,000 people seeking refuge there. A funda­mentally important part of this arrangement is that the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, will be working to process the 800 refugees that Australia will send to be processed in Malaysia and will work closely with us to resettle the 4,000 that will come here as part of this increased humanitarian intake.

In my mind, this is no small thing. I am but one of thousands of Australians who make a small monthly donation to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees fund, which works to support, resettle and process refugees. The UNHCR has a very difficult job and has been encouraging of Australia and other countries seeking to work together to find regional solutions on this issue, to support vulnerable people who need our protection.

Our arrangement with Malaysia is something we have been working on over the last six months as part of a regional cooperation framework. Very sadly, Mr Tony Abbott and Mr Scott Morrison have turned a blind eye to the facts when mounting their scare campaign on these issues. Frankly, I am surprised that Mr Abbott objects to an increase in the humanitarian intake. He showed he was prepared to support such an increase and in fact double the intake to win Mr Andrew Wilkie's support in the House of Representatives.

This government is committed to delivering on regional cooperation. This may be hard—it may be difficult—but ultimately it is the only path which will see better outcomes for asylum seekers throughout the region. We will see better outcomes for people who would otherwise languish in our detention centres. This arrangement is but the first step, and we need to keep talking to countries in the region. It is no easy task. We are working through the Bali process, we are talking to Papua New Guinea and we are working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Such ap¬≠proaches were never a real prospect under the Howard government. Mr Abbott has simple rhetoric—'Stop the boats,' he says—but he has no credible plan to enhance the capacity of refugees to get the protection to which they are entitled throughout the region in an orderly fashion.