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Thursday, 15 September 2011
Page: 6234


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (15:08): There is no doubt that getting on a boat to come to Australia is dangerous, but you really need to look at the coalition's policies to understand the true magnitude of the horror that these journeys entail. Turning boats around at sea—now that is dangerous. We accepted the advice that it was dangerous, and upon our coming to government where was that policy? It was nowhere to be seen. And nowhere should it be seen. But I cannot say the same for the opposition's policies. Turning boats around at sea—what happens then?

Senator Brandis: What's your policy?

Senator PRATT: It is not out policy and it has never been our policy.

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator Brandis interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senators Wong and Brandis, if you wish to have a discussion, leave the chamber.

Senator PRATT: The government accepts the advice that it is dangerous—there is no clear evidence that the opposition does—and there is a likelihood that boats will be sabotaged at sea so that they are not turned around. If you want to be serious about preventing deaths at sea, you cannot even begin to entertain such policies. If Mr Abbott wanted to stop the boats, we would have bipartisan discussions on how to address these issues. That is why it was, indeed, only appropriate to offer a briefing from senior officials to the Leader of the Opposition on all of the advice we have received on effective deterrents to people smugglers. The advice shows that legislative change is necessary.

Times have changed. People smugglers know that if you are sent to somewhere like Nauru and found to be a refugee you will be resettled, and that historically has encouraged people to get into boats. We know that more than 60 per cent of those resettled from Nauru were indeed resettled in Australia and that overall 95 per cent of those were resettled in either Australia or New Zealand after what we know was a very long and distressing period of detention.

So we know it is not going to work and we know it is also incredibly expensive. That is despite the very bold claims that have been made by the opposition that it would be cheaper than the government's Malaysian transfer arrangement. In June this year the member for Cook said Nauru would cost 'significantly less than' the Malaysian arrangement. The opposition leader said that Nauru could end up being 'at relatively low cost'. They got it wrong. In fact, they got it very wrong. It is not cheaper; it is in effect much more costly. High-level departmental estimates show that the coalition's Nauru plan would cost the taxpayer around $980 million—that is, almost a billion dollars—in operational costs alone. Why does it cost so much? Because people are detained there for a long time offshore, outside our boundaries. That is almost a billion dollars and it does not even include the capital.

Mr Abbott made a clear commitment to the Australian people last week that he would act in good faith and not rule things in or out in looking at legislation. He said:

… I think that our country should have the best border protection policy that the government of the day thinks that it needs and I’m prepared to work constructively to give the Government, to restore to the Government, the option of third country offshore processing which it says the High Court and the Solicitor-General have denied to it.

If the opposition are serious about preventing deaths at sea then please: respect your commitments. It would be welcome, given the general huffing and puffing that has come from the opposition on this issue. We know that there are very precious human lives at stake.