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Order In The House -

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(generated from captions) Welcome to Order in the House - in Federal Parliament. A review of the week's business what has happened in some cases. We profoundly regret to processes and legislation You can make changes to policy, without some cultural change. but these will be of little benefit be held to account and sacked? When will a Minister responsible Senator Amanda Vanstone, The Minister, my very strong support. continues to enjoy making decisions for many The era of the select few is now over. in the Industrial Relations system looks at trade union members, When he and his backbench but an enemy to be defeated. he sees not his fellow Australians, dominated the week in Parliament, Immigration matters on a number of fronts. with the Government under fire that some Government backbenchers It started with signs with the party line. may not be happy that we mark the achievements It is fitting

and their children in Australia. of the Vietnamese born community in accepting them. And the compassion of the Australian also need to reflect now, But, we do, I think,

who are still in long-term detention. on the scores of asylum seekers 35 Vietnamese people, Amongst them are

eight of whom are children seeking asylum in this country. who are presently They came by boat, the 'Hao Kiet'. and taken to Christmas Island They were intercepted by the Navy ever since that time in July 2003. where they have been in detention detained on Christmas Island I do not know whether the Vietnamese for refugee status. have a sound claim a fair process and on the evidence. That needs to be determined by But I do ask, 35 women and children and men do we need to keep these in an extended place, period, locked up in a remote place, while that occurs? detention for specific purposes. There is a legitimate role for protect public health and safety Such as, to ascertain identity, people from absconding. and to prevent

mandatory detention system, However, under the current explicit public interest grounds there are no such for deciding whether it is necessary in high security detention. to detain asylum seekers regional and domestic circumstances, In the current international, compelling arguments, I believe, there are for the system to be reformed. pursue that cause vigorously. And I intend to I commend the motion to the house. Mr Speaker, to the Prime Minister - My question is and I refer him of the three-year-old child to the release last night where she has lived all her life. from Villawood Detention Centre, only release children from detention Prime Minister, does the government by headlines in overseas media? when it is shamed and embarrassed Prime Minister, will your Government and adopt Labor's policy, now act with compassion so that children can live outside detention centres? high-security razor-wire the Prime Minister. SPEAKER: The Honourable first part of the question is 'no'. Well, Mr Speaker, the answer to the of the question is also 'no'. The answer to the second part to the Honourable Member, And I'd point out I'm sorry, that... to the Leader of the Opposition, policy, and has been for some time, there is already in the Government's outside detention with their mothers. provision for children to live that has been the case now - Mr Speaker, I think for... that has been the case now Mr Speaker, but I think... I stand corrected on this, I think it has been the case two to three years, Mr Speaker. for some, for some SPEAKER: Order! And in those...Mr Speaker. Not every family and children living in the community faced with the option of the mother chooses to separate themselves male parent in that family. from the, uh, is their decision, Mr Speaker. And that, of course, But, let me take the opportunity to the Leader of the Opposition of saying continues to adhere that the Government

to a policy of mandatory detention. of policy in this country It's been a central element from both sides of politics. We have already taken steps... SPEAKER: Order! in relation to children. so I am advised, The decision taken last night, by the Immigration Department was a decision that was taken of the immigration policy. in its inherent administration I want to take this opportunity And Mr Speaker, of expressing my very strong support of that portfolio, Mr Speaker. for Senator Vanstone's administration for Amanda Vanstone's administration I express my very strong support difficult portfolio, Mr Speaker. of what is a very have not forgotten the flip-flopping The Australian people of the Opposition, Mr Speaker, and the weakness of the Leader immigration policy, Mr Speaker. on border protection and is administering this policy And I believe that the Minister and flexible fashion. in a sensibly...a sensible And she's trying to achieve compassion in appropriate cases the balance between, uh, but also the maintenance and immigration policy - of a very strong border protection underpinned by mandatory detention. the formal policy of the Opposition, Which I understand remains when the occasion strikes it, although it suits the Opposition, to pretend in a narrow cast way of the Australian community to a section

supports mandatory detention. that it no longer the Minister will continue Mr Speaker, a highly successful policy to administer and compassionate manner. in a sensitive is to the Prime Minister My question and I refer the Prime Minister statement yesterday - to Cornelia Rau's a caged animal in detention. that she was treated like of Vivian Alvarez Solon. To the callous treatment referred to the Palmer Inquiry. And to the 32 other cases the time has now come Does the Prime Minister accept powers to investigate these matters? for a Royal Commission with full be held to account and sacked? When will the Minister responsible the Prime Minister. SPEAKER: The Honourable I am aware of the contents Mr Speaker, of Cornelia Rau's news conference yesterday. And I read reports of it, I didn't see it. Although I saw some excerpts from it on television last night. Clearly, the lady has been through a very difficult experience. I've acknowledged that repeatedly. And spokesmen on behalf of the Government, others have acknowledged that repeatedly. We do have an inquiry process under way, and I can repeat what I've said before - that until the Palmer Inquiry has reported, it is not the Government's intention to contemplate other things. When we have Palmer's Inquiry in we can then assess all of the circumstances. And give further attention to what might be done. At this stage, beyond repeating my previous expressions

regarding this lady's, um, treatment, I don't intend to add. And I think the sensible, measured, right thing to do - that I suggest any Government looking at this matter seriously would do, is to act as we have said. Now, in relation to... um, Vivian Alvarez... I would like to take the opportunity as the Leader of the Opposition has asked me a question about her, ..to repeat, of course, that circumstances about it are being referred to Mr Palmer for report and inquiry. And he's publicly indicated how he's going to handle that.

In the meantime, as I think the Leader of the Opposition knows, a very experienced Centrelink officer from Darwin has been sent to the Philippines to talk to and offer assistance on behalf of the Government. On Wednesday, the immigration turmoil grew. With a remarkable public apology at a Senate committee hearing and an embarrassing contradiction in policy over a baby born in detention. The Minister, Amanda Vanstone, used a Senate committee hearing to announce new safeguards for detainees. I do want to make it clear that you can make changes to policy, to processes and legislation. But these will be of little benefit without some cultural change. In DIMIA, I envisage this cultural change will include a greater customer focus timeliness, openness to complaints and appropriate mechanisms to identify problem areas. To achieve this, the culture of the department must recognise that complaints are an opportunity to review, to change and improve performance and do things better. We must look at complaints as an opportunity. The Department of Immigration

is in so many, many respects a can-do department, that's how it describes itself to me. It manages a very highly successful and rapidly growing skilled immigration program. One of the best in the world. It delivers the world's third highest refugee and humanitarian intake on a planned basis. Which is, in itself, backed by the delivery of world-class settlement services to new arrivals - that's not in dispute. World class is not something we simply claim for ourselves. It's...an accolade given to us by refugee advocacy groups. In the extremely difficult area of unauthorised boat arrivals and offshore processing, the department demonstrated an excellent ability to meet the Government's policy requirements. Despite being faced with the demands of more than 3,000 unauthorised boat arrivals per year for a number of years. So, as I say, in many respects, the department is a can-do department. Nonetheless, the Government now wants the department to be a can-do department in terms of changing its own culture. To be one that's user-friendly and has an open culture of continuous improvement. And I've asked the department to go back as far as the records allow us to go. And to take out each case, that is released as -

'released not unlawful' and all of them will go to the Palmer Inquiry - every single one of them. And I don't care, and the department doesn't care incidentally - if it's clear on the face of it, there is no problem. Every single case will be looked at separately. Every one of them. Because the department is determined to recognise what problems it may have, and to change. And I am not gonna let it be in that position, and engage in that work and then have further problems arise later. It must start with a clean slate. But even more importantly than that - if there are any cases in that number that have a problem then they have to be dealt with as of right, for the person involved.

So, every one of them we'll go over. We've done the search, we've gone back as far as these records are held and we're referring just over 200 cases. This will take quite a bit of time to look at. But I'm determined that it's done. That Australians can have confidence that every possible error that's been made, however small, will get looked at. Including the cases where we don't think there is one. I too would like to make a statement

about matters that flow from the cases of Ms Rau, uh, Miss Alvarez Solon and others which have been referred to Mr Palmer's, uh, inquiry. I want to start by making two things clear.

First, we profoundly regret what has happened in some cases. We are intensely conscious that our day-to-day business affects people. It affects their lives.

And it's distressing and unacceptable that our actions have, in respects, fallen so short of what we would want and what we understand

the Australian people expect. We are deeply sorry about that. That sentiment I know is widely shared by my colleagues in the department.

This is a group of men and women who work in a department which combines a range of nation-building tasks with some responsibilities which must be among the most difficult borne by any Australian public servant. As the Minister said, they deliver outstanding results in many areas, including migration management, settlement services and entry systems and border control. I know that they will want me to say to the committee that they share a desire to do whatever is necessary to avoid a recurrence of circumstances like those of current concern. That leads to a second point. The department HAS made mistakes. If these mistakes are the result of systems or processes or attitudes, these will be changed. If appropriate, there are also processes under the Public Service Act

which I would ensure are applied scrupulously and fairly. But we must all learn from the mistakes. We're already drawing some conclusions ourselves about these matters and taking action to fix things which have not worked properly. We expect, of course, that Mr Palmer will present findings and recommendations about issues which need to be addressed, and we will work earnestly to act on his recommendations. We're working to understand why processes which work effectively for many have failed in some cases, and then to change what needs to be changed. This is not going to happen with change only in the department's operations and approaches. It will clearly require attention beyond the department, in other areas including national approaches to issues like mental health and identity.

In some respects, including the Senate inquiry into mental health issues in Australia, that's already happening. But in others, particularly the issue of identity, there's a need for concerted action between all jurisdictions. I do not excuse any shortcomings by us in saying that some of the cases under discussion throw into stark relief the broader disadvantages of not having, for example, a single or coordinated national system for registering missing persons. They also, to my mind, illustrate the difficulties which numbers of agencies have because of identity issues, which were core issues in the cases of Ms Rau and Miss Alvarez Solon. There's certainly, as the Minister has indicated, a question of whether more regular and broader use of biometrics should be contemplated, especially to assist in dealing with complex identification cases. We will look to any recommendations Mr Palmer may make in these and other crucial areas. Um, my question, Mr Speaker, is to the Prime Minister. I refer to the Prime Minister's statement when he said in response, uh, to the human rights report that was critical of Australia for keeping children in detention, "We don't like detaining children, we really don't." Is the Prime Minister aware that a baby boy Michael was born into detention on Monday night? How long will baby Michael live behind razor wire... (Some Government MPs make mocking noises) ..and, uh, barbed wire? How long will 67 other children in detention live behind razor fencing and barbed wire? And in the name of fairness and decency will the Prime Minister now act to let these children out of detention?

LABOR MEMBERS: Hear, hear. SPEAKER: The Honourable the Prime Minister. Um, Mr Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the question. Um, I have been informed that the young child born in Perth last night will not, in fact, go back with her parents to... ..or its parents to, uh, the detention... ..to, I think, it was an offshore centre,

but rather will live in community accommodation in Australia. When will they be returned back to, uh, Christmas... I think you indicated earlier. I...just curious about the stay in hospital. SENATOR VANSTONE: I don't know. I suppose that will depend, in part, on medical advice. I don't know what condition the mother's in.

what the hospital thinks is appropriate, no.

Um, and I don't know if the officers know that either. I thought there might have been a departmental, um...MSI that... Um, no... I mean, in that circumstance we'd be following the medical advice and, um, determining it from there. So at the moment, I mean, the baby's only just been born and, uh, um, uh... the mother and child and their welfare will be taken into account in terms of whatever arrangements are put in place, so... CHRIS EVANS: But the process is the child will be returned to Christmas Island with the parents, and be in detention with the parents. STEVE DAVIS: Indeed. VANSTONE: Gee, you wouldn't suggest we'd leave the child behind in Perth, would you? No, I'm just trying to be clear about what... SENATOR VANSTONE: Yeah. STEVE DAVIS: Indeed, if mother, father and child are together in Perth at the moment, and I guess we'd take into account the medical advice and go from there. But when you had the medical advice, you'd return the child... you'd return the family to Christmas Island to rejoin the rest of that group in detention? That would be my expectation. SENATOR VANSTONE: Do you know, if I had nothing better to do tomorrow I'd go through and ask... look at the Hansard and find out how many times you've asked that. But I'll have more to do tomorrow than that. Well, the reason I ask, Minister, is because the Prime Minister said exactly the opposite in question time today. SENATOR VANSTONE: Oh, well... So I'm just trying to clarify what's happening.

Well, that may be the case but I've...as I say, I don't know how many times you've asked that today. Right, well, would you do me the favour and ring the Prime Minister and tell him that? And therefore, he can go to the House and correct the record.

But the Prime Minister, from all the reports I've seen today, he told the House of Representatives that, in fact, the child would not be returned to Christmas Island.

Now, those reports may be wrong but I suggest you might like to give the Prime Minister a call and check with him, 'cause what he's telling and what you're telling the Australian public are two different things. Well, we'll have a look at that. Good. But I make the point, though,

and I'm not sure how many times you've asked that today. Well, the reason we asked again is because the Prime Minister said something different to what you told us two hours after you told us. So we wanted to be doubly sure of our information. Now, it may be that the Prime Minister's been misreported

and the ABC and others have got it wrong. It may be, but we'll check that.

It may be but I'd like you to talk to the Prime Minister so that you can be clear. Well, I'm not necessarily going to talk to the Prime Minister but we'll check the proposition you've put.

Alright, well, either someone's misled us or the Prime Minister's misled the House of Representatives.

So someone ought to fix it. I refer the Prime Minister to the reported intention of the Member for Kooyong

to move a private member's bill

to change the Government's detention system. In a statement yesterday by the Member for Pearce, that "We're not trying to overturn the Government's policy "of mandatory detention. "We're just asking for a more compassionate approach "a more independent approach, greater transparency, "and greater accountability." Does the Prime Minister agree with the Members for Kooyong and Pearce or does he retain confidence in his Minister for Immigration in her view that, "The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs "does an excellent job"? SPEAKER: The Honourable the Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, can I say in reply to the Member for Reid that, um, I have a great deal of respect for both the member for Kooyong and the member for Pearce. (Members interject) And, uh, Mr Speaker... Both of them have, uh... (Noisy interjections) Both of them have made a very... SPEAKER: Order! ..a very impressive contribution... SPEAKER: Order! ..uh, to the deliberations of this party and they've expressed views on a particular policy issue as they are entitled to do inside a democratic party. (Members interject) Mr Speaker, the government's policy on mandatory detention which, together with its policy of returning boats... Mr Speaker, cooperation with neighbouring countries

such as Indonesia and also the use of offshore processing facilities have all combined, Mr Speaker, to end Australia as a destination for illegal immigration and for people smuggling. Mr Speaker, it remains a policy of this government to keep a policy of mandatory detention and, uh, that policy, as it's been demonstrated by the announcements made some two months ago by the Minister for Immigration, that policy will continue to be one where opportunities to administer it in a flexible and more compassionate way will be taken advantage of, and that is an ongoing process. It's not something that is regarded as having been completed. And can I remind the House, as I've been asked a question on this issue, it's my understanding that, as at present, some, um, 1,004 people are in detention. Something in the order of 300-odd of those have been in detention for more than 12 months. Quite a number of those people still have certain legal processes to be exhausted. Some of them, Mr Speaker, are people whose application for refugee status has not been successful. But for a combination of reasons it is not practicable to return them to the countries from whence they came. It is that group that the measures announced by the Minister for Immigration, some two months ago, were directed and, uh, cases and people falling within that group continue to receive the attention of the Department of Immigration. I was asked about my view of the Minister for Immigration. She continues to enjoy my strong support, Mr Speaker. NARRATOR: There was more humiliation when the Immigration Department revealed it knew about the wrongful deportation of Vivian Solon for nearly two years, but did nothing. In August 2003, an email was sent by a mid-ranking Immigration Department official to the Queensland Missing Persons Bureau, revealing her fate. I think we'd all agree it was a fairly explosive finding, and it was not in the normal course of events that the reply said, "Yes, we have found this woman on our records, "she's an Australian citizen and we've deported her." Er...Clearly, not in the normal course of events - something that the office would have been dealing with -

not the sort of reply they would normally have sent. MAN: That's quite true, Senator. Yes. So, as I say, it's fairly explosive stuff. It must have been, er... self-evident to the officers that it was highly unusual and, er... and, er...highly controversial information. I'm just trying to guess... MAN: Which they then shared. Which they shared, to be fair to them, shared it, it seems, openly with the Queensland Missing Persons Bureau, which, um... So one can't claim there was a cover-up,

as they sent off the email saying, "Yes, we found her. "We deported her a couple of years ago." SENATOR VANSTONE: Without having spoken to the officers, and we've been asked not to do that, I have to say, on the face of it it's inexplicable. If... And I certainly don't want to pre-judge anything, because I don't know any more than

what I've been told off the paper record, but... as you say, if you were going to try to cover it up,

presumably it wouldn't give such an overt and direct answer... SENATOR EVANS: ..to an outside organisation. To an outside organisation. And presumably, if I might say... ..it would be equally...er... a surprise to receive such an email as it would to find yourself in the position of wanting to send one. SENATOR EVANS: The officer just gobsmacked me. I'd heard the rumours and heard the suggestions of this, but to hear it read out like that, I almost fell off my chair! SENATOR VANSTONE: Yeah. But, I mean, the answer was apparently, um... ..well, I wasn't there - I can't say freely given,

but obviously it was given. And I don't know...I can't say what the Queensland Police did when they got that. But I will be very interested in what Mr Palmer has to say, because of the explicit nature and direct nature of the reply to Queensland Police, but the apparent failure to send it any further up

er...leaves me completely perplexed. My question is to the Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister confirm that evidence to the Senate Estimates Committee yesterday showed that on 21 August, 2003, an email from DIMIA to the Queensland Missing Persons Bureau detailed that Vivian Solon Young had been deported, and that she was an Australian citizen. Can the Prime Minister confirm that despite the fact that DIMIA clearly knew that Ms Solon Young had been deported, when her husband contacted Senator Vanstone's office on 4 April this year, he did not receive the courtesy of a call back from DIMIA, and was not provided with any information about his wife. SPEAKER: The Honourable the Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, I'm not going to try and confirm any one of those particular things. No - the reason I'm not going to do it is that I've not had the opportunity today of reading the transcript of the evidence, and I would point out, with respect, er...and I hope, courtesy to the Leader of the Opposition that he has just as much capacity as I do to read the transcript of evidence given before the Senate. I am aware of claims that have been made about an email being sent from somebody in DIMIA to somebody else, suggesting that there had been an illegal deportation. Clearly, these are serious matters, and they will be examined by the Palmer inquiry. Mr Speaker, my question is directed to the Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the office of the Minister For Immigration was contacted by the husband of Vivian Solon Young on 4th April, 2005, in an attempt to find out what had happened to his wife?

Can the Prime Minister also confirm that Senator Vanstone's chief of staff, Dr Nation, instructed that the search for Vivian Solon Young be conducted in secret,

and the details not be released to the public?

SPEAKER: The Honourable the Prime Minister. Well, Mr, erm...Mr Speaker, in relation to the first part of the question, I refer the Honourable Member to my previous answer. In relation to the second part of the question, I will see if there is anything further I can provide to the House by way of information. Is the Prime Minister aware of media reports that Mr Palmer believes he cannot properly enquire into over 200 cases of wrongful detention, and Mr Palmer believes that open inquiry with judicial powers to compel and protect witnesses is required. Is the Prime Minister also aware Senator Vanstone has not ruled out a judicial inquiry? Given this new information, will the Prime Minister now immediately establish a judicial inquiry? SPEAKER: The Honourable the Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, the answer to that question is no. MEMBERS: Awwww! My question is to the Prime Minister. Given that the administration of the Department of Immigration

appears to have collapsed, and given that there are now more than 200 legal Australian residents who have been wrongly detained or deported, and given the revelation that Senator Vanstone's senior adviser attempted to keep the circumstances

surrounding the deportation of Vivian Solon a secret, will the Prime Minister now sack Senator Vanstone and establish a Royal Commission to sort out this mess? MEMBERS: Hear, hear! SPEAKER: The Honourable the Prime Minister. Well, Mr Speaker, let me just spend a moment in answering that question. Firstly, can I say, in regard to the last part of the question, I do not intend to relieve Senator Vanstone of her responsibilities... MEMBERS: Hear, hear! ..Mr Speaker, and it remains the case that as far as future action is concerned, I will await - as I've said in the past - I'll await the outcome. But, Mr Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition has raised the question of the 201 cases, and if I could take a moment of the House's time, I think it may be interested in the background of these. I've been informed that during the period July 2000 to April 2005, over 88,000 people were located and detained by DIMIA, as suspected unlawful non-citizens or working in breach of their visa conditions. Now, can I say, in defence of... INTERJECTIONS SPEAKER: Order! Can I say, in defence of the department, that the department was doing the job that it's charged under the legislation for doing, Mr Speaker. We've often heard from the Opposition about enforcement action in relation to non-compliance with people who overstay their visas or illegal immigration, and surely nothing critical can be said of the department for doing its job. Now, Mr Speaker, of these 88,000 cases, Mr Speaker, some 201 individuals fell into the category where a person's release from detention is recorded in the system as "Released as not unlawful'.

In other words, their presence in Australia was not found, after investigation, to be unlawful. That represented 0.2% of people located as a result of the compliance action, Mr Speaker. (Woman interjects)

Now what the Minister did, so far from covering it up... ..what the Minister did was to instruct the department to go back over the available records, to find the 201 cases where people had been released,

and, in order to find out whether that 201 included any Rau or Alvarez-type cases, referred all of them to the Palmer Inquiry. Now, that is NOT, can I say in defence of Senator Vanstone, that is not the behaviour of a Minister who is trying to cover something up, Mr Speaker. And I might say... SPEAKER: Order! ..in relation to the 201 people, half of them were detained for very short periods of time, and, Mr Speaker, establishing a person's identity and resolving a person's lawful status in Australia can be difficult for a number of reasons, and misleading and false information often provided by people can further complicate and prolong the issue, Mr Speaker. The Opposition cannot have... SPEAKER: The Member for Chisholm! It cannot, quite rightly, call, Mr Speaker, for an immigration system that makes sure that people who are illegally in this country are dealt with, and then in the next breath, make a sweeping, inflated condemnation... SPEAKER: Order! Members on my left! ..of the department. Mr Speaker, I remain of the view, and it remains the Government's position, that we will allow the Palmer inquiry to run its course, and when we have a proper analysis of the fact, then, and only then, will I and the Government give consideration to what further action might be taken. The Prime Minister, in his answer to my last question, stood up here as though everything in DIMIA was perfect - it was entirely understandable that 200 people who were Australian citizens or legal residents ran foul of the processes ought to be perfectly normal, and it was perfectly acceptable that that should happen. Well, Prime Minister, all I can say is, you weren't watching Mr Farmer before the Senate Committee yesterday. You weren't watching your Minister before the Senate Committee yesterday. They weren't saying, "Oh, what a perfect performance this is." They were saying, "Oh, God, how could this happen?" "How could this have come about?', and in the case of the Head of the Department, "Yes, indeed, I'm sorry that this sorry state has emerged." And it is a sorry state indeed! MEMBER: That's right! But it's not Mr Farmer who should have his head in his hands. It is the Prime Minister who should have the Minister's head on his table! MEMBERS: Hear, hear! That is what should have happened here. And the Prime Minister has been defending this vagueness, this pathetically inadequate, in power terms, inquiry, this completely hopeless response... MEMBER: Careful, mate! ..completely hopeless response to what is obviously a serious cultural and administrative problem inside DIMIA. And the Prime Minister has had plenty of opportunity to act. It's not as though this fell out of the trees yesterday. This has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks, getting worse and worse and worse, as the Government's responses got weaker and weaker and weaker to the various propositions that have been put to them, not simply by we on this side of the House, but by the community more generally and by the media. To the point where we saw the sight yesterday of the Prime Minister standing up in this place,

asked a question about the fate of a baby, as to whether or not the baby would be...would find himself in detention with his parents immediately after his birth, the Prime Minister had got up and said something quite emphatic about that - "No, that wouldn't occur." The Minister, minutes later - not MINUTES later, actually, an hour or so later - er...was there before the Senate Estimates saying, "Well, of course, the baby will be returned to detention, "along with their parents." and then taking a 20-minute toilet break while she got her head set right by the Prime Minister at that point of time. We have got a policy which says you don't put those babies in detention. You look after them properly outside of it. We have a policy which says, make absolutely certain you've processed at least 90% of these people within 90 days, and if you haven't, and you are in a situation where you need to sustain them in detention, do it where the onus goes onto the department to demonstrate they are likely absconders, if that is to occur. We need a Board of Protection in policy which includes I don't blame the Liberal Government for mandatory detention. It was put in place in the time of the Keating Government. And it was put in place for a number of purposes. One of them... One of those purposes WAS a deterrent purpose. was a health-protection purpose. Another of those purposes was a security-protection purpose. But there was always the assumption that there was competent administration! Always the assumption that you would proceed with these cases and this situation as rapidly and as humanely as possible. Now, the time has come for the Government to face these facts, and to deal with it legislatively themselves, and if they cannot bring themselves to it, to let Mr Georgiou do it himself. And I'm sure the Immigration Department has made mistakes, which has been acknowledged both by the Minister, and by the current Head of the Department. But that department is charged, Mr Speaker, with the responsibility of enforcing policies

that I had understood enjoyed bipartisan support in this country, Mr Speaker. And it is not a criticism of the Immigration Department

to say that they have been out there trying to make sure that people who've overstayed their visas or are here illegally, are dealt with in accordance with the law. And the 201 cases that the Minister referred, Mr Speaker, represented, in my view, an attempt by her to be totally open and totally transparent, Mr Speaker. The plight of Australia's drought-stricken farmers was considered by Cabinet early in the week, and the Opposition probed the issue in question time. Does the Deputy Prime Minister recall telling the 'Weekend Australian', on 14th May this year, that the drought, and I quote, "could knock up to 1% off economic growth." Given this statement, why did the Deputy Prime Minister sign off on a Budget that forecast 5% farm product growth, and slashed exceptional circumstances spending from $132 million to $59 million

only five days before he made this statement? SPEAKER: The Honourable the Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Sp... SPEAKER: Order! Mr Speaker, if we'd been able to predict confidently that the drought would have broken, there'd be a record wheat crop - growth would have been even higher! MEMBERS: Hear, hear! Doesn't any Prime Minister know that the white Budget document, Budget paper number 1, says, "The forecasts for the rural sector are predicated on an assumption "that average seasonal conditions will prevail in 2005-6." Does the Deputy Prime Minister also know that the blue Budget document, 'Building Stronger Communities', says "Many parts of the country "are still gripped by drought." Now, which is quite right, Deputy Prime Minister, the blue book or the white book? Is the Government's confusion the reason why farmers have waited so long for assistance? SPEAKER: The Honourable the Deputy Prime Minister. (Members shout across the floor) SPEAKER: Order! The Honourable the Deputy Prime Minister. MEMBER: Come on - get on with it! Mr Speaker, there is no confusion. SPEAKER: Order! Mr Speaker, quite plainly, as I indicated earlier, to the extent that we get a seasonal break, the impact on the economy will be minimised, or, put the other way around, the sooner it breaks and people get an opportunity to put their crops in, harvest crops, turn stock off, the better the growth forecasts will be, Mr Speaker. It is quite obvious that many people are still in drought. The Budget fully provides for them. That provision is uncapped and it's going out at the rate of about $4 million a week. But, Mr Speaker, it is also the case that, as every farmer knows,

even as we speak, if we got good rain within the next few days, a lot of the pain we unfortunately anticipate might happen, and which we are making provision for, may not yet happen. Now, I would hope that everyone in this place would join me in hoping that over the next few days, the weather forecast might turn around, we might get good rain, we DO yet get a good wheat crop and cereal crop, Mr Speaker, and in that sense can I say to you that with the best will in the world,

you cannot accurately foretell what is going to happen in rural and regional Australia! Does the Minister recollect his March 2001 statement headed, "Truss offers way forward on exceptional circumstances policy"? Or perhaps his May 2002 statement headed,

"Federal Government seeks to make EC's Court fairer." Or perhaps his April 2004 statement headed, "National drought policy: the way ahead" or May 2004, "Progress on drought reform", or July 2004, "Truss welcomes EC drought reform support", or December 2004, "Headway made on streamlining EC", or perhaps even his April 2005 statement headed, "Drought reform policy breakthrough." When will the Minister stop just issuing press releases and get farmers the help they desperately need? The Honourable the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Mr Speaker, can I welcome the fact that for the first time in a very, very long time, we at last have a question from the Opposition about something to do with rural Australia.

The drought that's been going for three to four years has finally dawned on the Leader of the Opposition. So welcome to the world. The reality is that this government has done more than any other to reform exceptional circumstances assistance and would have done a lot, lot more if it had got a bit of cooperation from the Labor States, most of which are now walking away entirely from their drought assistance. The Victorian Government is a classic example. And if the Leader of the Opposition wants to show some compassion for farmers, I suggest he first call some of his State colleagues and ask the Victorian Government why they terminated all of their drought assistance the moment their State election was over. Why did they cancel their assistance

as soon as their State election was over? Why have Queensland and South Australia and Western Australia reduced their effort? The reality is that we have sought to make significant reforms to the system. We've got little or no cooperation from the States. But in spite of that lack of cooperation we've acted unilaterally to significantly improve the level of support available to farmers. And we've done that by allowing such things as predictive modelling so declarations can be made earlier.

We've changed the arrangements of boundaries for areas so that people are not locked out just because they're on the wrong side of the line. We've provided more generous and timely assistance when the States wouldn't cooperate. We acted unilaterally to provide assistance in December 2001...2002, so that farmers were able to get immediate assistance. So even though we have tried and still tried

to develop in cooperation with the States a drought reform system that delivers meaningful assistance in a timely way, when the States haven't cooperated we've still gone ahead and done our share and worked very hard with Australian farmers. And I think we saw it here again today, the old State-Commonwealth debate - if you're in the State Parliament, the Commonwealth are the ones that are on the wrong side of the fence

and if you're in this parliament, it's 'Blame the States Day'. I don't think that does the Minister for Agriculture much good by coming out with that debate again and again and again, but to overcome that, the Commonwealth should take full control of exceptional circumstances. It can do that. It has the funding arrangements to do it. It's intimated in a range of policy decisions in recent weeks that it can put certain conditions on the granting of monies to the States. Now if it feels strongly enough about drought in this country - the worst drought in living memory - maybe it's about time they started to put some of those conditions on the release of other monies to make up for what it believes - the Commonwealth, I mean - believes should be made available by the States and remove the tennis match. I think the Commonwealth is more than happy with having the tennis match there so it can play its anti-Labor games, but I don't think the farm sector is particularly interested in the games that people play in this place. This has been the worst drought in living memory. When you look at support and you break down the figures, other than unemployment relief which is... ..which all Australians are entitled to if they're not earning an income. Other than that, this worst drought in history, where people are assuming that there's millions of dollars gone to the farmer sector, there's been $237 million in the last three years in interest rate support. They're the figures that I can obtain and I can stand corrected. Since the GST came out in 2001, when the building industry cried that the price of houses were going to go up 10% - there was an industry problem - that was recognised by the Government. Since then the building industry have received $5.2 billion in support - over $1 billion annually, by way of the first home owners grant. Now I'm not whingeing about the first home owners grant... (MP interjects) Hear, hear. Excellent point! Member for Kennedy will have an opportunity to speak... .. but people shouldn't come in here and they shouldn't say in the press that the farmers of Australia are ripping the taxpayer off. Deputy Speaker, we are in the process of addressing the most long-running drought of all time - certainly in my time. It's a big statement to say that this is the greatest drought of all time. I don't actually remember the one that finished in 1902,

but it must have been pretty horrific. Deputy Speaker, I guess we are having to make the incredible effort we are as a nation. I actually did hear the Member for New England

make a couple of incredible statements a while ago - one, that we should take absolutely no notice of what the States do. The only reason this Government is in a position to do more... ..more than the over $1 billion already committed is because we are good managers and if we simply let the States opt out of every single responsibility they want to opt out, we're not going to have the money to do the sort of things we're doing and that we will announce shortly in terms of helping people in country areas and through drought.

And it's a ridiculous thing to say

that we should take no notice of what the States do. Of course we have to make them play their role. It's quite...actually I'd like to read out to you a comment by the State Minister for Agriculture in NSW by a press release that he put out... Member for New England had his opportunity. ..press release that he put out prior to going to Parkes last Tuesday and when he said, "My message to the farmers of Parkes, "and indeed farmers right across this State, is clear. "The State Government has spent $150 million so far "and we will keep spending." They certainly will, Deputy Speaker, in fact, in the Budget put down, I think, today at 12:00 by Andrew Refshauge, the State Treasurer they are going the put...they have budgeted for about $16.5 million for the next, not one year, Deputy Speaker, for the next two years, which is a huge effort. You've got to congratulate them. In actual fact, Deputy Speaker, in the next fortnight, the Commonwealth Government will spend as much as the NSW Government in the next 12 months. The Honourable Member for Brand, in question time today, outlined their lexicon of press releases about action on drought reform. Well, what does the President of the NSW Farmers say about how the Government has handled this particular area of policy? And the parliamentary secretary ought to know, because he's a good mate of the NSW president and he comes himself from the stable of the NSW Farmers Federation. What he said was, "The current policy is a shambles." After 11 years of your administration, your own has said that it is a shambles. He went on to say in a press release on Thursday April 14, in response to the drought round table, he had this to say - "Here we are a year later and no closer to a long-term solution. "On top of that, if you consider that it has been 10 years "since drought reform was originally initiated, "it is unbelievable to think that there has been such little progress." I don't have to say anything, your own have said it. Your own condemn you. Now, a matter for the historical record is that at the last election, the Minister for Agriculture stole a whole range of policies from the Labor Party. He stole our policy on the mandatory retail grocery code of conduct. He stole our policies on quarantine. He stole Labor's policy on the national livestock identification system and he stole our policy on live exports. I only have one regret - I only have one regret - that he didn't steal our policy on drought. Because if he had have - if he had have stolen that policy, then the NSW Farmers president would not have made that statement condemning your administration, that he did on April 14. Moses said, "There are seven bad years - "seven good years followed by seven bad years, "and we've got to put away in the seven good years." And that's what dams are about, Mr Acting Speaker. That is what allowing our farmers to make a profit so they can put money aside - that is what it is about. The seven good years followed by seven bad years. Mr Acting Speaker, if I could make another biblical reference to the good Lord himself, when he spoke about the talents. Now, God has given this country great talents. He has given us 126 million megalitres of water. But for some reason, we want to do 60% of our farming

off 20 million megalitres of the Murray-Darling and none on 126 million megalitres in the northern half of Queensland, Mr Acting Speaker. This seems to me to be crazy. Just a few little bits of concrete across here, that'll take a little tiny bit of floodwater and put it back this way, Mr Acting Speaker, that solves the problems you've got on the Murray-Darling. It solves your problems. There's no great difficulty about this. God has given these talents to us. NARRATOR: The Government unveiled the long-awaited details of its workplace relations shake-up, which is said to dramatically alter Australia's industrial relations landscape. All members will know that the Australian economy has performed very strongly in recent years. Australians have enjoyed higher living standards from a combination of prudent economic management, strong jobs growth, higher real wages, low inflation and interest rates, lower taxes, increased family benefits and improved government services. And while this Government is very proud of this record, the reality is that Australia must press ahead with economic reform if we are to prosper in the 21st century. We on this side of the House do not believe that the reform tasks coming out of workplace relations has been completed. We have not developed reform fatigue on this side of the House, Mr Speaker. We do not believe that the lemon has been squeezed dry in industrial relations reform. Mr Speaker, as in the past, our future living standards will rely largely on the productivity of our workers and their workplaces. This Government trusts the employers and employees of Australia to make the right decisions in their interest and in the interests of their nation. The measures I outline today represent the next logical step towards a flexible, simple and fair system of workplace relations. Australia must take this step if we are to sustain our prosperity, remain competitive in the global economy and meet future challenges, such as the ageing of our society. The essence of these reforms is to further promote and facilitate the making of agreements

at a workplace level.

Only through this will the full potential for productivity gains in the Australian economy be realised. The Government's reform proposals include - new arrangements for setting minimum wages and conditions, a more streamlined process for the making of workplace agreements, both individual and collective, greater award simplification and a more focused role for the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, major liberalisation of the unfair dismissal laws, which have held back job growth in Australia and finally, the goal of a national industrial relations system, one that reflects the competitive national character of the Australian economy in the year 2005. MEMBERS: Hear, hear! Australia's continued prosperity hinges squarely on a flexible and dynamic labour market. It is the single most important determinant of our ability to secure future productivity gains from higher skills, new technology, competition and open trade. Members will know that in 1996 the Government introduced significant reforms to free up Australia's labour market. These reforms simplified an overly-proscriptive awards-based system and gave Australian employers and employees greater choice

in negotiating working conditions. They have helped us sustain productivity growth

and higher living standards over the last nine years. Unfortunately however, the Government was not able to persuade the Senate to go further with reforms that would have truly brought our workplace relations system into the 21st century.

That is why the Government is now asking the Parliament again to consider a range of workplace relations reforms. This package embodies one of the great pieces of unfinished business

in the structural transformation of the Australian economy. Let's cut through all the spin and camouflage - the verbal camouflage of all of this - what does it mean? it means that families will be worse off. That is what all of this means. What all this amounts to - what all this amounts to - is collapsing the right of ordinary Australians to collectively bargain, to make it harder and harder for them, to remove from them union protection where the Government can do that and particularly where the workforce is at its weakest. It is to gut the processes whereby minimum wages are set

and other awards are built on top of those minimum wages, it's of a piece for the Government that if its own views had been accepted by the IRC on minimum wages, those on our lowest incomes

would now be more than $2,000 a year worse off.

That's what this is about - to deal with the process which has created something that the Government doesn't like underpinning the whole wages system, but that underpins family life in this country - that's what gives it certainty. The third thing that it's seeking to do is to gut the idea of an independent umpire - something that Australians have striven to have protected in our unique industrial relations system over the course of more than the last century. It is to ensure that that independent umpire can not act as an umpire over good faith bargaining, ensure that good faith takes place in bargaining with an independent umpire to adjudicate on that. But above all, what its intentions are and whether it succeeds in these intentions will largely depend on the character of the economy at the time. But what it's intentioned to do is this - and that is to exercise downward pressure on wages. That's what its intention is. It may not be able to achieve that because the economy at the time, the lack of skills in the community, may in fact send wages through the roof at any point of time. But when that situation or in particular industries it does not obtain - the objective here is to exercise downward pressures on wages. What all of this adds up to is more uncertainty in family life. What this adds up to is a - what it will add up to - will be a reasonable confusion and concern in the minds of ordinary Australians as to whether in their most important endeavour, into which all their creativity in many cases goes in the world of work, they are going to have a level of protection that they're used to, they are going to have the level of the capacity they now have to look their boss in eye and be unafraid when questions are discussed about the lifestyle and the conditions that ordinary Australian workers can front. This is about a material undermining of democracy as it is about a material undermining of people's capacity to enjoy a decent and improving life. Can the Prime Minister guarantee that the following allowable matters will not be stripped from awards as a result of the Government's proposed review of allowable matters? Penalty rates, allowances, redundancy pay, type of employment, such as full-time employment, casual employment, regular part-time employment and shift work and loadings for working overtime or for casual or shift work? Will the Prime Minister guarantee that no individual Australian employee will be worse off as a result of these proposed changes? SPEAKER: The Honourable the Prime Minister... Can I, Mr Speaker, simply say to the Member for Perth

as I said to the Leader of the Opposition, my guarantee is my record, Mr Speaker

and, and let me, let me - let me add a few more things. SPEAKER: Order! Let me add a few more things. I talked about...I...we've - we've talked about the 14.1% increase in real wages. Can I remind, Mr Speaker... can I remind those who sit opposite, that the OECD recently found in its Taxing Wages report that on a purchasing power basis, the disposable income of the average Australian production worker, the average Australian production worker, is the highest in the OECD, Mr Speaker -

second-highest rather, in the OECD. And according to the recent NATSEM survey, the strongest growth in private income over the period from 1994 to 2002 was enjoyed by low-income households in Australia, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: The...Prime Minister resume your seat, the Leader of the Opposition? Speaker, it's a question of relevance. We asked in the question from Mr Smith, a set of questions on penalties, allowable matters - we await an answer, Mr Speaker. SPEAKER: The Prime Minister is answering the question - the Honourable the Prime Minister. Well, Mr Speaker, I'll continue that not only have the real wages and incomes of Australian workers gone up but more than 1.6 billion new jobs have been created and our unemployment rate has fallen to a near 30-year low of 5.1%. Mr Speaker, Australians have become more wealthy with real wealth per person having risen by more than 80% in aggregate under the Coalition. SPEAKER: Prime Minister resume his seat. The Leader of the Opposition? The question was about penalty rates and allowable matters. We want guarantees on it... The Leader will resume his seat. The Prime Minister is coming to the question.

Well, Mr Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition - the Leader of the Opposition and the Member for Perth have asked me questions that go to the living standards of Australian workers, Mr Speaker and I am pointing out that those living standards have risen over the last 9.5 years and at a rate that diminishes to a very great extent the performance of the former government and I say to the rather excitable the fulminating Leader of the Opposition, I would say to him that as these reforms are implemented, there will be continuing increases in the living standards of Australian workers. NARRATOR: The Senate will be occupied with Budget estimates. Closed Captions provided by Captioning and Subtitling International Pty Ltd