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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7677

Senator ELLISON (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Evans. I ask the minister: is the International Organisation for Migration wrong when it says the Labor Party’s relaxation of border protection policies has resulted in a dramatic surge in people smuggling into Australia?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank the senator for the question. I suppose I start by saying that it is based on a wrong premise. There has been no relaxation of border security measures. What the Labor Party has done is continue and enhance border protection measures. We have maintained the patrolling of the Navy, Customs and other agencies in our northern waters. We have maintained the policy of excision of offshore islands, and we have maintained a system where mandatory detention of unauthorised arrivals is in place and unauthorised arrivals are processed on Christmas Island. The border security measures that were used under the Howard government remain firmly in place. In fact, we have taken a range of measures to increase our capacity to provide strong border security.

I think the senator’s question goes to changes in policy which saw the ending of the Pacific solution and the ending of temporary protection visas. They were two measures that operated under the Howard government that were highly controversial and were regarded internationally as a stain on Australia’s reputation. We campaigned on the basis of abolishing them, and we have met our election promises to do so. I note that the Liberal Party has not opposed those changes and has not promised to reintroduce either the Pacific solution or TPVs. I would be interested if Senator Ellison is suggesting that, because that is certainly not what the current spokesperson has said. I do not think IOM’s analysis of changes in Australian policy reflects issues of border security; it reflects issues to do with the treatment of asylum seekers when in this country. (Time expired)

Senator ELLISON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note the minister’s comments in relation to Navy and Customs. Given revelations last week that the Navy has cut its patrol boat fleet to half over the Christmas period and that the number of personnel on active duty will be around only 320, what assurances has the minister sought from the Australian Customs Service that they will not be standing down any of their fleet or personnel over the Christmas period? I ask this in view of the minister’s comments and the fact that he announced that he would be having an investigation into the latest arrival off the coast of Western Australia over the weekend.

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I do not have details on Customs staffing over the Christmas period, but I have no indication that there is any change to their arrangements. But I will take that part of the question on notice. Certainly, in terms of the Navy, I have been assured by senior Defence personnel that the arrangements they are putting in place for stand-down in the Navy over the Christmas period to provide some relief to Navy personnel who have been working at a very high tempo for a very long period of time are that there will be no diminution of border patrol activity over that period. There will be no reduction in our capacity for border protection over the period in which there is some stand-down of Navy personnel. I have received that assurance from Defence. I assume and am confident Customs will continue their normal operations, but I will take on notice the exact question because I have not specifically got information in answer to that question. (Time expired)

Senator ELLISON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer to the fact that the most recent suspected illegal boat arrival into Western Australia on the weekend came so close to Australia that the boat was actually first spotted by campers and then intercepted by state, not Commonwealth, authorities. Doesn’t this confirm that Labor’s new immigration policy, mixed with its diminished border protection, is an open invitation to people smugglers and it is sending them a green light?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank the senator for the question and notice that he did not address my invitation to tell me what current Liberal Party policy was. I await that with anticipation. What we know is that there was an unauthorised arrival off the Western Australian coast a couple of days ago, and we will obviously be getting further information. It is assumed at the moment that they were of Sri Lankan nationality. I would remind the senator, who is a former minister in the Howard government, that there have been two arrivals of Sri Lankans direct from Sri Lanka in recent times. This is the third arrival. It is not a usual occurrence, but it is not the first occurrence of Sri Lankans arriving on the Western Australian coast undetected. As I said, we have had two previously. But it is obviously of serious concern. I have asked for a report as to why they were not spotted or located earlier, and I am very keen to receive that information. (Time expired)