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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5521


Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (11:49): I will use the limited time available to add my support to the government's Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2012. At last Australia is back on track to restoring the integrity of Australia's border protection and, importantly, removing the incentives for people to risk their lives and the lives of their families by undertaking risky journeys by sea in search of a better beginning. Let me be clear: I wholeheartedly endorse the historical fact that Australians have been willing, over many years, to give sanctuary and hope to those fleeing persecution. Australia's record of providing hope to those seeking asylum is well documented and one that we can be proud of.

I have sympathy for the recommendations in Air Chief Marshal Houston's expert panel report that propose to increase Australia's humanitarian program to 20,000 places per annum and that a minimum of 12,000 places should be allocated for the refugee component, as well as the report's emphasis on asylum seeker flows moving from source countries into South East Asia. But I direct my remarks to the expert panel's recommendations concerning offshore processing at Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and at Nauru.

In 2002, I had the opportunity to visit both Manus Island and Nauru with the then Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the member for Berowra, and the then opposition spokesman for immigration, today's Prime Minister. For me the experience was powerful. It was formative in shaping my attitudes to border protection policies. There were some elements I was unable to accept, most particularly the policy at the time to detain women and children. It is a testimony to the government at that time that it was quick to read, respect and respond to the growing community discomfort with the detention of women and children. That same responsiveness has been absent in the government's desire to respond and put in—

Debate interrupted.