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Monday, 19 November 2012
Page: 8925

Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (11:23): I would like to thank senators who have made a contribution to this second reading debate on the Appropriation (Implementation of the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers) Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013 and the Appropriation (Implementation of the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers) Bill (No. 2) 2012-2013. These bills seek urgent appropriation authority from parliament for the additional expenditure of money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. These bills require immediate passage to provide additional appropriation to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. These bills address the increased cost of irregular maritime arrivals resulting from higher rates of arrivals, and the implementation of the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, including capital works and services for regional processing facilities on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The total appropriation being sought through these two bills is $1,674,982,000.

Turning to appropriation bill No. 1, the total appropriation being sought is a little over $1.4 billion. This includes $110.6 million for Houston report measures, including $92.043 million to increase the humanitarian program by an additional 6,250 places to 20,000 places per annum from 2012-13. It also includes $8.181 million to increase the family reunion stream of the permanent migration program by 4,000 places, and it contains $10 million to fund capacity building or to add to our expenditure to date on capacity-building initiatives in regional countries. It also includes $1.296 billion to meet expenses arising from the management of higher levels of irregular maritime arrivals and the operational expenses associated with the implementation of the expert panel's recommendations to establish regional processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island. This does include $186 million accrual from 2011-12. Despite claims otherwise by the coalition, the funding sought in these appropriations is consistent with and already budgeted for within MYEFO.

The government will be opposing the Greens second reading amendment. I would like to address the series of four points contained in that amendment. Point (a) relates to the 12-month limit: the Greens, as we have heard from Senator Hanson-Young, are seeking to limit the time of detention. This issue was canvassed quite thoroughly when we originally debated the bills to implement the expert panel recommendations and it certainly would render void the concept of no advantage—people smugglers would be able to point to a limit of 12 months and would therefore again have a product to sell. So this amendment undermines completely the recommendations of the expert panel. As I know my Senate colleagues understand full well, we are committed to the whole package of recommendations by the panel.

In relation to point (b) of the Greens amendment, the bill provides $10 million for regional capacity-building measures. Additional funding for future years will be considered as is appropriate during normal budget processes. It would not be appropriate for any fiscally responsible government to agree to funding of this size in a forum like this. Unlike the Greens, this government has agreed in principle, as I just mentioned, to all of the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers and we will continue to progress these recommendations. Obviously, future consideration will need to work through the budget processes and our normal consideration.

Point (c) of the Greens amendment calls for an independent healthcare panel. I would like to refer the Greens—I am sure they are already aware of it—to the submission by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to the inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs into the Migration Amendment (Health Care for Asylum Seekers) Bill 2012. The department's submission outlines our approach. We as a government are pursuing an oversight advisory model that would include monitoring of mental health. The details and timing of these considerations are, as you would expect, in the hands of the minister. That submission is available on the committee's website and I refer the Greens senators to it for reference.

Point (d) of the amendment relates to contract services. It is important to note that there are available through the AusTender website some versions of these contracts, albeit redacted; we make no apology for not disclosing operational protocols in relation to these contracts and also the breakdown of the costs. We have provided, and will continue to provide, the overarching costs. Also, I note, in the context of this amendment, that some of those contracts are not yet in their final stage but the heads of agreement are, and we discussed those at length at Senate estimates. We provide information on all that wherever we can and wherever possible, as is the nature of our approach. I should wrap it up by saying that that was responding to the second reading amendment and that the government will be opposing the second reading amendment, for the reasons that I have outlined.

In relation to a couple of points raised by Senator Milne, we have not suspended any processing; it is true there are a large number of asylum seekers to be processed, but we continue to do this. We certainly maintain that our processing offshore on Manus Island and Nauru is in line with the refugee convention. In relation to the facts about lost boats, obviously if we are aware of boats we will make available, as has been the practice of the government right from the start, whatever information there is about tracking and issues related to lost boats so that it can be placed on the public record. So I am at a bit of a loss as to that point.

It is only this government, the Labor government, that is fully committed to delivering a proper and sustainable regional solution through the full implementation of the recommendations of the report of the expert panel led by Angus Houston. No-one should doubt the government's commitment to implementing these 22 recommendations and we will persist with it, including the presentation and passage of this bill in the House and now its debate here in the Senate. The aim is to break the people smugglers' business model and help stop people losing their lives tragically at sea on a very dangerous journey. And this is how responsible governments develop policy: by listening to the advice of experts and then acting on the recommendations, and that has included establishing regional processing on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea as soon as practical. We believe that the measures that we are putting in place will be an effective combination. Having an increased refugee intake from offshore and having no advantage for those who arrive by boat removes the attractiveness of attempting the expensive and dangerous journey to Australia. It undermines completely the people smugglers' business model. I have certainly made this point several times in this chamber and it is made consistently in the public debate—and I think that my colleagues, particularly those opposite, understand this full well. The suite of measures in the recommendations is the only way that we will see a reduction in the rate of boat arrivals, and, of course, the immediate implementation of regional processing will help us do that.

We have almost 400 people on Nauru currently and transfers will begin shortly to Manus Island. Nauru will have a capacity of 1,500 beds; it currently has about 500 places. We expect to see 600 places in Papua New Guinea as works continue on the facilities there. We are providing more opportunities for vulnerable and displaced people to pursue safer resettlement options in Australia and we are telling desperate people that there is a better way than taking a dangerous boat journey, a better way as part of an orderly humanitarian program. I remind my colleagues that we have increased that humanitarian program substantially. In fact, it is the greatest increase ever implemented and we are now proudly saying that, if you look at the number of humanitarian entrants on a per capita basis, you see we are the best-performing nation in the world in this regard.

The message here is that taking a dangerous boat journey will provide no advantage, that there is no visa awaiting people on arrival and that there is no speedy outcome or special treatment. This gives the lie to the people smugglers' spin. It exposes what they are offering as a complete sham. I think in the meantime we understand that, given the costs of processing and accommodating asylum seekers, it is expensive. It always has been. But the only way to reduce these costs is to have fewer people arriving by boat.

If the coalition were really concerned about the costs of processing and accommodating boat arrivals, it would not have for so long stood in the way of offshore processing legislation. We know why those opposite stood in the way of offshore processing, refusing to let the government implement its border protection policies. It was to score what can only be described as cheap political points. They do not want the government to succeed as it is not in their political interests, so I reject completely the accusation that somehow we are acting in an unprincipled way or in an inconsistent way. Yes, we took issue with the coalition government over their implementation of these policies and we understand very clearly that, if we were to play politics with this issue, it would come to a bad end for every party involved and, as we have seen in the past, there would be no solution.

The government have taken the politics out of this issue. We have called on the advice of an independent expert working panel and we stand here putting forward our proposals on that advice and on evidence based advice to the parliament. I find it quite offensive to hear the arguments, particularly from the opposition, that are embedded in some challenge to Labor's principle. Our principle is to have a workable solution. This is in the national interest and it is certainly in the interests of those asylum seekers whose lives are at risk because of what they are being pitched by people smugglers. I think the coalition had one little moment of bipartisanship when they supported the legislation that gave form and life to the expert panel recommendations. They should remember that time and that tiny window of bipartisanship, which, frankly, now seems just like another effort of expediency in giving expression to their view through the course of this debate. Since then they have reverted to type. If you review the comments of Senator Cash earlier on, it is opposition for opposition's sake.

Those opposite are not interested in a durable solution. They choose not to see the merit in having a regional approach. I think they understand that we are well on the way to finding a durable solution with the implementation of the expert panel report, and they are concerned that this will render them completely ineffective in the debate. Indeed, I would suggest that they already are ineffective. Opposition for opposition's sake does not work for anybody, and it certainly does not work on very challenging problems such as the one we are addressing.

We know that the game-playing by the opposition is pretty well entrenched in their outfit. We know this because there is a very firm piece of evidence, and that of course is the Malaysia arrangement, a key recommendation of the panel report. We know that the Malaysia arrangement can indeed break the people smugglers' business model, and it is time to allow it to be implemented to build on what we have already built with offshore processing. No-one can deny that the combination of regional processing in Nauru and PNG, along with returns to Malaysia, would stop the flow of boats and provide that ironclad deterrent. So I call upon the opposition to reconsider their position on Malaysia. They have nowhere to hide on this. They say Malaysia is not a signatory, but in the same breath they clamour for returns to Indonesia, which is not a signatory. So there is inconsistency there. But there is consistency, however, with us because we see it as a regional approach. This is what is required. We cannot manage this international challenge as a single isolated country; we need to work within our region.

These bills support the government's measures to reduce the rate of boat arrivals through a proper and sustainable regional solution. As such, they deserve widespread support, albeit begrudgingly—and I understand that. Finally I refer to comments by Greens senators. We have been criticised in this debate from the far Right and from the far Left. I understand their concerns, but I also believe that our policy, at its heart, is based on good evidence and principles that we have maintained. I commend these bills to the Senate.