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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2109

Asylum Seekers

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:16): My question today is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. Attorney-General, today, represented here in the chamber and, of course, around the building, are hundreds of grandmothers from around Australia. They have gathered in this place to lobby your government around the treatment of—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Why didn't they do this when Labor had 2,000 locked up?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I will take that interjection, Mr President, and suggest that the senator might want to behave a little better in front of the grandmothers!

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! On both sides! Get to your question, Senator Hanson-Young.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Attorney-General, there are nearly 100 children in Australia right now who are waiting in fear of being deported back to detention in Nauru. They wake up every day with the fear of being put on a plane. Will you resist sending them and instead let them stay in Australia?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:18): Thank you, Senator Hanson-Young, and can I acknowledge the presence of so many Australian citizens who have come to parliament today and who have taken an interest in this important issue.

Can I say to them, through you, Mr President, in reply to Senator Hanson-Young that today there are 34 children in detention—34. During the period of the Labor government 8,000 children were held in detention at one time or another—a figure that peaked in July 2013 at 1,992 in that month. One thousand, nine hundred and ninety-two children were held in detention in July 2013 of the 8,000 who passed through the detention network during the period of the Labor government.

And you, Senator Hanson-Young, chastise this government for a policy failure. If you want to see a policy failure, I suggest, Senator Hanson-Young, that you consider the 8,000 children who were in detention during the six years of the Labor government; that you consider the more than 1,200 people—many of them children—who drowned as a result of that policy failure and compare that to the 34 children, many of them babies, who are in detention now. The story of this government is that the record number of children held in detention inherited from the previous Labor government has reduced and reduced and reduced to the point where today the case load has been almost reduced to nil.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:20): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I remind the minister of the Prime Minister's statement that 'one child in detention is one child too many'. There are hundreds of children who are currently on Nauru, held in indefinite detention. Will the Attorney-General please explain to the grandmothers here today how long the children currently on Nauru will remain there?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:20): Senator Hanson-Young, I did try to explain to you last month when the High Court handed down its decision in which the offshore detention regime was challenged unsuccessfully that a majority of the judges of the High Court concluded as a matter of fact and as a matter of law that the detention arrangements in Nauru are not conducted by the Australian government. That is not a matter—

Senator Di Natale interjecting

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Di Natale, you may scoff at the decision of the High Court but we on this side of the chamber respect the decisions of the High Court. It is a fact, Senator Di Natale that a majority of the justices—four of the seven—decided as a matter of fact and as a matter of law that the Australian government does not conduct the offshore arrangements in Nauru. We are responsible for 34—that is the case load within the Australian system.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:21): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the Attorney-General's last response—

Senator Conroy: Are you already testing out what a government frontbench seat feels like?

Senator Di Natale: Have you got one for me?

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Hanson-Young, commence your question again.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. Given the Attorney-General's last response, could the Attorney-General please clarify if he believes the children on Nauru are simply not his concern, not his worry and that he just does not care?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:22): Senator Hanson-Young I was trying to explain to you—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Why are you so racist about Nauru?

Senator BRANDIS: in as simple terms as possible that we have had this matter tested—

The PRESIDENT: Excuse me, Attorney-General. Senator Macdonald, you will need to withdraw that remark.

Senator Ian Macdonald: I withdraw.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Macdonald.

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Hanson-Young, I was trying to explain to you that this issue that you raise was tested, argued and finally determined by the High Court last month. A majority of the judges—four of the seven—reached the conclusion, as a matter of fact and as a matter of law, that I have referred you to. In relation to what Australia is responsible for, Australia is responsible for and has been responsible for, in the life of the coalition government, dealing with the legacy caseload inherited from the Labor Party, under whose administration 8,000 children passed through the detention network in six years, a number that peaked at 1,992. There remain only 34.