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Thursday, 9 February 2012
Page: 583

Senator CASH (Western Australia) (15:06): I move:

That the Senate take note of the minister's statement.

This is not the first time that I have had to stand in this place and raise the issue of the failure of the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and his department to provide answers to questions that were placed on notice at an estimates hearing. This occurred last year. Exactly one year ago today, I stood in this place and asked for an explanation of why answers had not been provided to all of the 445 questions on notice from the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in the Immigration and Citizenship portfolio asked during the supplementary budget estimates hearing in October 2010.

And here we are again today asking for the same explanation. We receive an explan­ation yet again from the minister as to why he and his department continue to fail to meet deadlines that are set not by those of us on this side of the chamber but by the relevant Senate committee. I am heartened that in Minister Ludwig's explanation to the Senate he said that the department and the minister will endeavour to provide all out­standing answers by the next Senate estimates hearing—because, as senators in this place know, the next Senate estimates hearing of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the Immigration and Citizenship portfolio is on Monday. So, yes, it would actually be nice if the department could put its resources together and provide the Senate with the answers to the questions on notice.

Of the 271 questions put on notice by me—and the reason I have to put them on notice is that, during the estimates hearings, the department fails to provide adequate answers to questions—during the October 2011 supplementary budget estimates hear­ing, as at the beginning of February 140 remained unanswered. Of those questions that I have received answers to, every single one was received outside of the deadline set by the Senate and was answered in an inefficient manner.

I do note, however, that since I raised this issue with both ministers' offices earlier today there has been a flurry of answers being sent to my computer, so I can only assume that perhaps the answers have actually been sitting on the minister's desk all the time and the minister had simply not got his act together and provided them to us. I accept that the explanation given by Minister Ludwig today was in his role as the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. The blame for the failure to provide answers to questions on notice needs to be levelled squarely at the minister for immigration, Minister Bowen, and his department.

The failure to provide answers represents yet another failure of the Gillard Labor government not only to senators but to the Australian people in what we on this side consider an extremely important portfolio area. As I have said in this place before, and as Senator Abetz said yesterday, since the inception of the Commonwealth in 1901 the first responsibility of the Commonwealth government has been the security of the nation. You need to ensure the security of the nation's borders. There is no higher priority for government, but it seems that those on that side of the chamber do not see immi­gration and citizenship and the protection of our borders as a priority at all. This is yet again highlighted not by a first failure to provide answers to questions asked during Senate estimates periods but by the continual failure by the minister and his department to meet deadlines that have been set by the Senate. The minister and his department were well aware that the time period for providing answers to these questions had expired.

Minister Bowen needs to understand a very crucial thing: every senator as an elected member of this Senate has funda­mental constitutional and other rights conferred upon them which they are entitled to exercise in this chamber. One of those fundamental rights is that we are entitled to ask questions of the government and, in asking those questions, senators on this side, senators on the other side and senators from the minor parties are entitled to receive answers to those questions in a timely manner. It is an absolute indictment of the minister for immigration and of the minister's department that, nine weeks after the due date for answers to these questions, answers are still outstanding.

Question agreed to.