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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 5054

Asylum Seekers

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:00): My question is to Senator Evans, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to the Leader of the Government in the Senate's address to the Refugee Council of Australia on 17 November 2008, when he was the immigration minister, in which he said:

Labor committed to abolishing the Pacific Solution and this was one the first things the Rudd Labor Government did on taking office. It was also one of my greatest pleasures in politics.

Given the Prime Minister's statement yesterday, why did the government demonise Nauru for four years? And does the government now acknowledge that its decision to close the Nauru detention centre was a mistake?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:01): I thank Senator Abetz for the question. I do not know whether those are exactly accurate remarks but I suspect they are, and I did have great pleasure in abolishing the Pacific solution. I continue to have the view that the approach taken with the Pacific solution, as with putting terrible conditions on people through TPVs, as with making people pay for their detention, was punitive and wrong. I think that is the wrong approach. Having had a chance to look at the Houston report today as I was travelling—

Senator Cormann: I remember you saying offshore processing was wrong.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Senator Cormann, do you want to have a go? I am happy to point the finger at you again, Senator Cormann.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Cormann and Senator Evans. Interjections are disorderly.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: As I was saying, it was a regime based on punishment and trying to convince people that if you hurt them they would stop coming. Having read the Houston report, it recommends a very different approach. I had the pleasure of talking to Paris Aristotle—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Evans, you just might resume your seat. It might be much easier.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: I had the advantage of talking to Mr Paris Aristotle, a member of the Houston review, this morning. He pointed out to me the very strong differences in approach in terms of using Nauru and Manus Island for the detention of people seeking asylum. I just make this point: the Pacific solution was premised on a belief that you should tell people they could not possibly resettle in Australia and to leave them to rot as a signal. That is not the approach that has been recommended here and it is not the approach in the legislation. (Time expired)

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:04): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given the government has now adopted one element of the Pacific solution—namely, reopening Nauru and Manus Island—will it now also adopt the other elements of the Pacific solution that proved so successful in stopping the boats: reintroducing temporary protection visas and turning around the boats when it is safe and possible to do so?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:04): The government has sought to implement the recommendations of the Houston review. Despite attempts by the opposition to misinterpret what has been said, I have read the report—unlike many opposite, I suspect—and that is not what the report says at all. The government has not been able to get its preferred option through the parliament. We therefore had the Houston review make a set of recommendations. I am impressed by the work they did. The central message in their response is to look at a no-advantage principle. I think that is a very interesting way of trying to bring together the various balances one has to draw in these matters, by focusing on a no-advantage principle—that there is no advantage in seeking to come by boat, but that you will get fair treatment and you will get an opportunity to apply for asylum.

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:06): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Just to clarify: is it the government's position that it will not turn around a boat even if it is safe and possible to do so? If so, why?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:06): The senator continues to misrepresent what the report says. I will look to find the actual quote.

Senator Abetz: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. My supplementary question did not refer to the report at all. What I am seeking is the government's position.

The PRESIDENT: Order! There is no point of order at this stage. The minister has 49 seconds remaining.

Senator CHRIS EVANS: The obvious point to Senator Abetz is to say that we have adopted the recommendations of the Houston report. That will form the basis of legislation being introduced in this parliament, I think, later today. The senator and all senators will get a chance to debate that legislation if it is passed by the House of Representatives. It makes clear that it is not possible to turn boats around when the conditions are such as they are. Indonesia have made it clear they will not accept the turnaround of boats. The Indonesian government will not accept it. That is a very, very clear problem, and the report refers to other issues which make it unsafe and impossible in the current circumstances. I suggest you read the report.