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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12761


Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (11:33): I bring the debate on the Appropriation (Implementation of the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers) Bill (No. 1) 2012-13 and on the Appropriation (Implementation of the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers) Bill (No. 2) 2012-13 to a close. I thank those members who have made a contribution.

These supplementary estimates appropriation bills seek authority from the parliament for the expenditure of money from the consolidated revenue fund to provide additional appropriation to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. The total additional appropriation being sought through these bills is just under $1.7 billion. These bills provide $668.6 million to implement the recommendations of the expert panel on asylum seekers, led by former Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, including funds for capital works and services for regional processing facilities on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

I turn to note a few things in reply to the comments of those opposite. The member for Cook had quite a bit to say about the cost of opening Manus Island and Nauru—and it is expensive. This government has always said it would be expensive. I remember the shadow minister for immigration saying that it would cost around $10 million. The Leader of the Opposition said that it would require some emergency gardening, and that was all that was required to get the Nauru facility up and running, which was always patently false. The member for Cook engaged some costings, and I have had a fair bit to say about those elsewhere in terms of their veracity. They were patently false as well.

Of course, the government have always recognised that opening Manus Island and Nauru would be expensive. We have taken the view that—given the opposition's refusal to allow the passage of the Malaysia agreement, which was always our preferred policy response and which would be done more cheaply and more effectively—we would open the Manus Island and Nauru detention facilities as part of the suite of measures recommended by the expert panel. But, of course, it was always going to be very, very expensive. Funding sought in these appropriation bills is consistent with MYEFO and already budgeted through that process.

I will also briefly to respond to the member for Cowan, who just spoke. He said a number of things that are not particularly germane to the appropriation bills but, given he raised them, I will respond. He said that only Sri Lankans are being sent to Nauru and that a constituent had told him that. But he could have checked with me, because that is patently false. It is also sending out a very bad message for him to say that in the national parliament. It is sending a message to people who are not from Sri Lanka that they would not be sent to Nauru. For his information, there are currently 19 Iraqis, 24 Iranians, 58 Afghans and 43 Pakistanis on Nauru.

We have also removed more than 70 people from Australia since the announcement that we were implementing offshore processing. During the same time frame, after the Howard government had introduced offshore processing, they had not removed anybody from Australia. So 70 is a relatively small number compared to the number of arrivals—I accept that—but it is more than the Howard government had achieved at the same time and does show and underline the fact that people smugglers are selling lies.

I also want to raise that the member for Cowan criticised—and the member for Cook, I am sure, did as well—the government's decision to increase the humanitarian intake to 20,000. The member for Cowan said it was an additional 25,000 places. It is not. It is 20,000 in total, not an additional 25,000. Nevertheless, he said this was a bad thing. He spoke throughout his speech about consistency and how the opposition was consistent.

He seems to have forgotten his leader, standing at that despatch box and saying that the Liberal Party, if it attained government, would increase the refugee and humanitarian program to 20,000. That was a couple of months ago. The Leader of the Opposition, the member for Warringah, stood at that despatch box and made that commitment, and now the member for Cook and the member for Cowan are saying how terrible it is that the government has increased the humanitarian program to 20,000. Let us not hear this argument about consistency when you have a Leader of the Opposition who stood there and made that commitment a couple of months ago. I understand that they have now ripped that commitment up—it only lasted a day. Nevertheless, I will not have this lecturing from the opposition about consistency in this area.

Finally, the member for Cowan raised the issuing of visas in relation to the Christmas Island and Villawood disturbances. I remind him that this government changed the law to strengthen the character test. Since then, I have denied permanent visas to four people under that character test in relation to offences committed in detention. Having done that, I remind the opposition that they were in office for 12 years and they had riots at Woomera and Baxter and elsewhere. I ask this question of the House: how many permanent visas were denied to people convicted of offences in those riots? I will give the House a clue: it is a round number. It is zero; zero is the number of visas denied by the previous government. I have denied four permanent visas, and there are other people in the courts whose cases will come to me for decision if and when they are convicted. There are more people there to be dealt with under that process.

We heard some particularly inaccurate statements made by honourable members opposite. Nevertheless, I acknowledge the opposition's support for these appropriation bills. They are necessary to implement the recommendations of the Houston panel and because of the increased number of arrivals that we have seen in recent months. I therefore commend the bills to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.