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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 8219


Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:00): I can advise the House that a major rescue operation is underway right now, 107 nautical miles north of Christmas Island and 100 nautical miles south of Indonesia. As this parliament sits, we have planes in the air and merchant vessels on the scene and HMAS Maitland has arrived. The information I will give the House now is the latest information available. Of course, the information can be changeable; it is always difficult to get accurate information when a search and rescue mission is underway. But I am advised that this morning, at approximately 6.17 am Australian Eastern Standard Time, the Australian Federal Police received a satellite call from a vessel possibly in distress two nautical miles north of Christmas Island. Information about the vessel was immediately passed to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Border Protection Command vessels rushed to the scene but found nothing two nautical miles out from Christmas Island.

I am advised that at approximately 7.30 am the Australian Federal Police received a further call from the vessel, advising that it was actually 107 nautical miles north of Christmas Island. This has prompted a major search and rescue effort, as I am sure the House can imagine. I can advise that a number of merchant vessels responded to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's calls for assistance this morning. By approximately 10.30 am Australian Eastern Standard Time, two merchant vessels had reached the estimated location of the vessel in distress.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority advised that a merchant vessel reported seeing a vessel stopped in the water with people on board wearing life jackets. No people were reported as being in the water. At 11.37 am Australian Eastern Standard Time, the merchant vessel reported that the vessel was sinking and that there were people in the water. I am advised that the merchant vessel did what it could to assist at that point, including deploying its life rafts to render assistance. I am advised that the HMAS Maitland arrived on the scene about an hour ago. I am also advised that a Royal Australian Air Force maritime patrol aircraft carrying life rafts has flown to attend the scene.

I am advised that there are approximately—our numbers obviously can change, but there is reason to believe that there are around—123 to 133 people on board. As we speak, my best advice is that 123 people have been rescued. Clearly, then, the lack of precision about the numbers of people on board does not enable us to be precise at this time as to anyone who is unaccounted for. Standing here in the parliament now, I simply do not know.

Australia has been called on, once again, to lead a very major search and rescue operation. Once again, Australian men and women have raced to help. They have gone to the rescue zone. They have gone in search. Once again, we acknowledge their courage in doing so.

In view of these events and in view of the events of last week, I want to say to the parliament now most sincerely that I believe the time for the party divide on this issue is at an end. We have seen too much tragedy, and I cannot—and I do not believe other members of parliament can—now sit here with the prospect of more tragedy to come.

In these circumstances I have requested that Mr Oakeshott be prepared at this moment to bring on his bill on immigration amendments so that the House can now, I hope, by leave and in agreement, deal with it to finality. As the House may be aware, that bill has finalised its second reading and, consequently, we would just need to deal with the third reading stages of the bill.

I actually think it is of significance to this parliament that this is a bill brought to this place by an Independent member of parliament. Given all of the circumstances here, I, as the Labor leader, would want to walk from this place saying, 'No-one won, no-one lost; we just got something done.' And I think an Independent member's bill gives us all the opportunity to do just that—to go from this place saying: 'No-one won; no-one lost. It wasn't about party politics. It wasn't about who has got what sort of party ticket in their pocket. We just worked together to get something done.'

I have reason to believe that the bill moved by Mr Oakeshott may be in a position to command majority support in this House of Representatives. I seek to have that tested now and the bill dealt with to finality.

To the Leader of the Opposition: I understand that he is of a different view from me on the substance of the policy here, and that is as it may be. But what I can undertake to the Leader of the Opposition is: if Mr Oakeshott's bill passes this House of Representatives—if, indeed, it passes this parliament—then what the government will do on that legislative foundation stone is what the government offered to the opposition some time ago. That is, the government would enact a policy position that the opposition has advocated for quite passionately, and that is the opening of a detention centre on Nauru, as well as the government taking the appropriate steps to enact its arrangement with Malaysia.

I also undertake to the Leader of the Opposition that we would pursue in good faith the review of temporary protection visas and their deterrence value that we offered to the opposition some time back. We would do that in circumstances where we would make all reasonable efforts to agree with the opposition the identity of the reviewer or reviewers and the terms of reference of the review, and that there would be full transparency to the opposition at every stage. That is, we would not seek to have the outcome of that review come back to the government first. On the day I receive it the Leader of the Opposition would receive it too.

In these circumstances, I am now going to ask this parliament, by agreement, to make some procedural arrangements and then I am going to ask this parliament—I would hope by agreement—to give a majority to the bill moved by Mr Oakeshott. Can I also undertake to the opposition that bringing the bill on at this time is not about whether or not we have question time today. If the opposition finalise Mr Oakeshott's bill then I am well and truly content for us to have question time of the usual duration so that the opposition has its ability, as is appropriate, to ask questions of the government in this place.

It is in that spirit and with those words that, at this stage, I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 to be called on and considered immediately.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Is leave granted?

Mr Abbott: On indulgence—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Before I go to indulgence I actually need to know—

Mr Hockey: He's the Leader of the Opposition!

Mr Pyne interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for North Sydney! The member for Sturt! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. Procedurally I have to put the question as it has been asked—before the Manager of Opposition Business gets up. Could the Manager of Opposition Business please resume his seat. Please just let me proceed. Thank you. I am going to ask for consideration from the Prime Minister to seek leave at the end of the Leader of the Opposition's statement.

Ms Gillard: I am very happy to do that, Madam Deputy Speaker, and enable the Leader of the Opposition to make remarks on indulgence at this time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you. We will put the leave question after the Leader of the Opposition makes his statement. The Leader of the Opposition has the call and will be heard in silence.