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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 6067

Asylum Seekers

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (14:11): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Carr. Does the government consider that its five-for-one people swap deal with Malaysia is binding?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:11): I thank Senator Ronaldson for his question.

Senator Cash: It should be a very simple yes or no answer

Senator CARR: What was that, Senator Cash?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Carr, ignore interjections and just address the question.

Senator CARR: I will do my best to answer the question. The government is honouring the commitments it has made to increase the humanitarian intake. The rest of the transfer agreement will require the support of the Australian parliament, and the legislation for that is currently being drafted. I understand we are still waiting on the response from the opposition to that. The legislation will require the support of a majority of members of the House of Representatives and a majority of senators. We look forward to hearing what the coalition has to say on the matter.

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (14:12): Mr President, what a remarkable answer to the question. I therefore ask the minister—

Senator Ludwig: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. You have pulled senators from the other side up for making commentary before going to the question. They are serial offenders and I ask that you rule out of order that part of the question which is commentary.

The PRESIDENT: On 24 August this year I circulated a memo to all senators reminding them that it was not proper to preface a question with a statement. It is a ruling that has been given before in this place; it is not something that I initiated. I remind all senators that when they ask their supplementary question it should be a supplementary question without a preface.

Senator RONALDSON: I think I am reading into the minister's answer—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Ronaldson, you have been asked to ask the question.

Senator RONALDSON: I am asking the minister a further question. I am reading into the minister's answer that he believes that the deal is binding. On that basis can I refer him to clause 16 of the deal, which provides:

This Arrangement represents a record of the Participants' intentions and political commitments but is not legally binding on the Participants.

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:15): The question there is somewhat vague. I have indicated that the government's intention—

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: When there is silence, we will proceed will.

Senator CARR: The government's intention is to pass legislation that will enable the Malaysian agreement. So in the same way that we intend to transfer 800 persons to Malaysia, we also intend to take on the 4,000 refugees we are committed to as part of this agreement.

Opposition senators interjecting

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence, we will proceed.

Senator CARR: There is no intention here by the government to indulge the opposition with any suggestion that we are not going to attempt to proceed with this agreement via the necessary legislation. The question of whether or not the legislation is carried by this parliament will require, obviously, the support of the opposition. We have not heard any response from the oppo­sition to that proposition. (Time expired)

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (14:16): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, given that the deal with Malaysia is not legally binding, how can the government guarantee that Malaysia will comply with it or, indeed, comply with any Australian law? What protections do dumped asylum seekers have with the Malaysian government forces—its own law—rather than observe a non-binding arrangement?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:17): We have clearly indicated that we do have arrangements with Malaysia which the government have confidence in. The government have clearly indicated our inten­tion to proceed with that agreement. I might suggest that this is a position which stands in sharp contrast, when we are talking about human rights, with the position the oppo­sition have taken in regard to Nauru.

Senator Ronaldson: Mr President, I rise on a point of order as to relevance. We have a minister who, at best, has been vague, and who, at worst, simply does not understand his brief or the issue. I invite you to ask him to return to the question.

The PRESIDENT: The minister has 36 seconds remaining to answer the question.

Senator CARR: I find it fascinating that the opposition have this preoccupation, as they see it, with their new-found interest in the question of human rights, given that they have been pursuing the issue of Nauru for so long when there was no agreement with—

The PRESIDENT: You need to come to the question, Senator Carr.

Senator CARR: The issue here is that the government intends to pursue the Malay­sian agreement. It is seeking the legislative authority of the parliament to do so. The government is looking to the parliament to pass the legislation which will be introduced next week. (Time expired)