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Thursday, 16 June 2011
Page: 3136


Senator FURNER (Queensland) (16:17): I rise also to make a contribution to today's matter of public importance. Firstly, it is all about solutions. We need to find solutions, and that is one thing this government is doing on this particular issue. We are fixing this issue by working with people in our region. The government have been working hard to implement an effective policy. It is a complex issue, this; it is not a simplistic matter that can be resolved by shifting people off to various parts of the Pacific region. This complex issue of irregular migration cannot be solved by acting alone; instead, it must be tackled by countries forming cooperative arrangements under the auspices of regional and international frameworks.

On 30 March this year, Australia secured an agreement to implement a regional cooperative framework at the Bali Process ministerial conference. At this conference, representatives of the 43 member countries, along with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, agreed to establish a regional cooperative framework to address irregular migration, improve consistency in the treatment of refugees and undermine the people-smuggling trade. Unlike the Howard government and their failed model, we have come up with a solution to deal with this particular problem.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know that a key aspect of the regional cooperative framework is the Malaysian transfer agreement. Asylum seekers transferred to Malaysia will have their asylum claims considered, and those in need of international protection will not be refouled. Those already waiting for an outcome will not be disadvantaged by this arrangement. Asylum seekers transferred to Malaysia will not receive any advantage in the consideration of their claims over the other 93,000 UNHCR registered refugees and asylum seekers already waiting. In exchange, Australia will resettle 4,000 UNHCR mandated refugees, demonstrating the importance we place on assisting those who face the violation of their human rights. The Gillard government have received public support from the UNHCR for this transfer agreement as an opportunity to better protect refugees, and we will assist in processing asylum seekers that are transferred under this arrangement. We believe this transfer agreement will deter people from choosing to arrive by boat. As immigration minister Chris Bowen said on 9 June:

Why would you pay a people smuggler $15,000 or so to come to Australia by boat, only to be taken back to the place where you started the boat journey, which in most cases is Malaysia? So you achieve absolutely nothing.

While the opposition would have the public believe we are being invaded by boat people, they need to be reminded that while they were in government they did not stop the boats. During John Howard's reign as Prime Minister, 240 boats arrived in Australia, carrying 13,600 asylum seekers. Global circumstances determine the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia. When the Taliban regime was brought down in 2001, many Afghanis returned home.

While our Malaysian transfer policy has been well received, Mr Tony Abbott's suggestion to reopen Nauru has not been supported by the UNHCR. UNHCR spokes¬≠person Jennifer Pagonis had said they had 'strong concerns' about Nauru and described the closure of Nauru as 'the end of a difficult chapter in Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers'. Another UNHCR spokesperson said recently:

''UNHCR was not involved and, indeed, distanced itself from any role in overseeing or managing the processing facilities on Nauru under the Pacific Solution. Recent media reports that the centre on Nauru was approved by and run under the auspices of the UN are factually incorrect.''

Minister Bowen has stated that Mr Abbott's solution would not stop boats. He said:

Nauru doesn't break the people smugglers' business model. Nauru, in the absence of other regional engagement, would simply mean that it's an offshore processing centre on the way to being resettled in Australia. The majority of refugees that were processed in Nauru ended up being resettled in Australia under the previous government, so you don't remove that incentive to come to Australia by boat.

Last week, the Leader of the Opposition visited Nauru, but he continues to mislead Australians. He went over there on some false notion of claiming to seek agreement with the Nauru government and to come up with some solution—albeit that he is in opposition—and we know he is misleading Australia on the costs involved and on the suitability of Nauru. Conversely, we have been upfront. We have been upfront about how much the transfer agreements with Malaysia will cost. But Mr Abbott refuses to detail the operational and capital costs required for his Nauru solution. He has spent recent months talking about how Nauru is ready to go and how it could be operational within weeks. But, if the Nauru solution was unsuccessful in the first place, why should we revert to something that did not work? That is the question that needs to be asked here.

Senator Ian Macdonald: It did work, though.

Senator FURNER: It did not work. We are the progressive party in this case. This once again shows how backward the opposition is. It is backward in its failed solution with Nauru. Are we going to let asylum seekers wait for unknown periods of time to eventually be resettled in Australia? No. We are going to treat them humanely. This still provides an incentive for people smugglers to puts the lives of genuine refugees at risk. By sending asylum seekers to Malaysia, it removes the incentive to get into a boat. It therefore breaks the people smugglers' business model completely and ensures the safety of many refugees who fall prey to human trafficking.

The Malaysian agreement will be cost effective in a way which the Nauru solution cannot. It is obvious the opposition leader has not thought through the Nauru solution. Does he know what will happen to the 400 schoolchildren who would have to be removed from the site if the Nauru solution is adopted? You saw the footage on TV where he was touring an existing school in Nauru. What you do with those 400 children to replace them with refugee housing?

Mr Abbott left the task of serious consideration to the shadow Treasurer, who has stated that the capital costs of the Nauru solution would be $10 million. The opposition claims the Nauru solution is more humane; however, the Pacific solution did not stop boats coming to Australia and it did not break the people-smuggling business model. Do not forget Tony Abbott's shallow slogan 'Stop the boats'. We heard about that in the last election. We know it was a shallow political slogan as a cheap example of political gain.

You need only to speak to our brave men and women of the ADF who serve on the Armidale class patrol boats of the Border Protection Command in Darwin to establish what would happen if you stopped the boats. In June-July last year I was fortunate enough to attend a parliamentary defence program along with two opposition members of parliament. They posed the question to our brave men and women on those Armidale class boats during that program about what would happen if we stopped the boats. Obviously the question was clear. It did not take a rocket scientist to work this out. The response was clear and concise and exactly what I thought it would be. The ADF personnel said, 'If you stop the boats, you will have sabotage—you will have people drilling holes in the hull; you will have people taking to the motors with sledgehammers or whatever mechanism possible to disable that boat and make it unseaworthy.' We all know what would happen in that situation. You would not only have refugees at risk but also have our brave men and women of the ADF at risk trying to rescue those people from a boat that is no longer seaworthy.

We will not forget the 'bat phone', or the 'boat phone' as Mr Tony Abbott called it—'Pick up the phone and ring us if you are in strife.' It brings images to my head that frighten me. I can imagine what it would do to the public to have some guy standing there on the other end of the boat phone in his budgie smugglers talking to some captain out in the middle of the Indian Ocean about some refugees. It would be terrifying to think what sort of response people would be giving in that situation. That is the nonsense that Tony Abbott is coming up with, having boat phones and stopping the boats. It is not a viable situation.

As you can see, Senator Fifield's matter of public importance is simply untrue. The Gillard government is working hard to ensure that effective humane policies are implemented to improve protection for those who genuinely seek asylum. Our Malaysian transfer agreement will see 4,000 genuine refugees settled into Australia over four years and those who are transferred to Malaysia will await the outcomes of their applications. The Malaysian government has guaranteed that those transfers will be taken care of.