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Tempers fray at Senate Estimates -

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Tempers fray at Senate Estimates

Ashley Hall reported this story on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 08:14:00

PETER CAVE: Senators and government officials have again worked well into the night as they pore
over details of the federal budget.

One of the committees attracting the most attention has been grilling Immigration Department
officials about the Government's asylum seeker strategies.

As Ashley Hall reports from Canberra, the strain of a long couple of days is beginning to fray
tempers.

ASHLEY HALL: The strain was particularly evident when the West Australian Liberal Michaelia Cash
asked the secretary of the department, Andrew Metcalfe how much money has been spent in the past
few years providing internet services to detainees in immigration detention centres.

ANDREW METCALFE: Take that on notice Senator.

MICHAELIA CASH: Is it just that time of the night, we're just not going to provide any more
information or we actually have no idea?

ANDREW METCALFE: Senator, it is a very detailed question to expect a ...

MICHAELIA CASH: It is a lot of taxpayer money that has been expended.

ANDREW METCALFE: A great deal of taxpayer money and you'll get an answer on notice, Senator.

MICHAELIA CASH: Will that be before the due date or six months after the due date?

KATE LUNDY: There is no need to be sarcastic Senator Cash.

MICHAELIA CASH: Mr Metcalfe is not having a bad go of that tonight.

KATE LUNDY: The officers are doing their very best to answer all of your questions.

ASHLEY HALL: Senator Cash went on to say she's been disappointed at the length of time it's taken
the department to respond to questions on notice from previous hearings.

ANDREW METCALFE: What I can say is that we provided all of the answers before the committee
hearing, Senator.

MICHAELIA CASH: Yeah, Friday night at what time were the last few sent through?

ASHLEY HALL: The question of detainees' telecommunications access also sparked a heated exchange
between Senator Cash and Senator Kate Lundy, the parliamentary secretary for immigration and
multicultural affairs.

KATE LUNDY: You are trying to cast aspersions on the character of asylum seekers generally by
continually raising the issue of access in child pornography in the absence of any evidence what so
all.

MICHAELIA CASH: Not at all.

KATE LUNDY: Have you received allegations to that effect?

MICHAELIA CASH: As I said, the good news about estimates is ...

KATE LUNDY: You haven't, have you? You are just casting aspersions by asking questions of that
nature.

MICHAELIA CASH: The good news about estimates is I get to ask the questions.

ASHLEY HALL: Senator Lundy struck back though, when asked a general question about how the
department measures the success of resettlement programs.

KATE LUNDY: There has been some deliberate misleading about the statistics as reported. The detail
of the report shows 11.7 per cent of humanitarian entrants are unemployed and looking for work or
not looking for work and what that 85.5 per cent figure reflects is that anyone in that household
may be in receipt of a Centrelink payment and that includes for example a teenager receiving
Austudy.

ASHLEY HALL: And Senator Lundy got help from a Labor colleague, Senator Mark Furner in driving home
the point.

MARK FURNER: I'm just wondering where those vexatious claims are coming from.

KATE LUNDY: My understanding of course is that the Coalition put out a press release. It was either
a deliberate attempt to portray humanitarian entrants as somehow over-reliant on Centrelink or it
was a mistake.

MICHAELIA CASH: I am happy for you to make statements in relation to how you think a press release
was wrong.

KATE LUNDY: I thought I was very generous in ....

MICHAELIA CASH: No, you don't know why the Coalition issued that press release and I can assure you
that it wasn't for the reason you stated.

KATE LUNDY: I'm relieved.

PETER CAVE: Senators Kate Lundy and Michaelia Cash, ending Ashley Hall's report.