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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8499

Asylum Seekers

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (14:46): My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and it is about the expert panel report on asylum seeker policy. Why is it important for the parliament to listen to the advice of experts and work in the national interest to tackle people smuggling and deter people from taking dangerous boat journeys to Australia?

Opposition members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member for Banks will resume his seat. Before I call the minister—the minister will resume his seat—I will have silence, as I actually did not hear the last part of the question.

Mr Abbott interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition is not trying to help. He is being rather obnoxious, and I take offence. I will ask the member for Banks to repeat the last part of the question. It was not disgraceful. The Leader of the Opposition's very helpful comments might desist in the next couple of weeks, as I am finding them intolerable.

Mr MELHAM: The last part of the question is: and work in the national interest to tackle people smuggling and deter people from taking dangerous boat journeys to Australia?

Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (14:47): I thank the honourable member for his question. I am sure the whole House would like to thank Angus Houston, Michael L'Estrange and Paris Aristotle for their fine work and their very thorough report—three men with very different backgrounds but with one common objective: to find a way to save lives. And, just as the Prime Minister and the government hoped when this report was commissioned, this expert panel of non-political, eminent Australians has presented a new way forward. It presents a new opportunity for this House and, importantly, for the other house to stop the flow of boats and to stop people dying at sea. The time for action was long ago but certainly cannot be delayed any further.

Saving lives has been what this is all about. Nobody could stand at the memorials at Christmas Island, as I and other members have done, and look at those memorials and not be moved to act about the loss of life. Nobody could talk to somebody who has lost their children in a boat tragedy or talked to a child who has lost their parent and not be committed to doing everything possible to save lives at sea.

We want to give more vulnerable people, more persecuted people, the chance of a new life in Australia. Australia already takes more processed refugees than any other country in the world bar the United States and Canada, and our move to increase our resettlement program to 20,000 will mean that we are the second biggest recipient of refugees in the world—a very good thing. But the Australian people rightly want a fairer system and a safer system in providing haven to the world's refugees.

The underlying thesis of this report, as the Prime Minister has said, is that people who arrive in Australia by boat should not be advantaged in their efforts to seek resettlement. Now, that is controversial, but in my view it meets the test of common sense and it meets the test of fairness. I do not think this House or the other house should take the view that people who arrive by boat should be advantaged over those in camps in difficult situations around the world, wanting the chance of a resettlement place in Australia.

It is unacceptable to do nothing. We have to accept this advice and act in the national interest today. And that is why I will move these amendments this afternoon. We would appreciate the assistance of the opposition in their passage through this House and the other house. This is an opportunity that cannot be missed, and we will look to get on with the job not only of implementing the panel's recommendations of increasing the refugee intake and of centres on Nauru and PNG, but also of implementing the arrangement with Malaysia, as recommended. We cannot let this opportunity pass. The Australian people expect no less— (Time expired)