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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11225

Asylum Seekers

Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (14:08): My question is to the Prime Minister. What steps is the government taking in the parliament to protect offshore processing of asylum seekers? Why is it important for this issue to be resolved in a timely manner?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:08): I thank the member for Greenway for her question. As the parliament meets today, Australians are paying attention to what happens in this parliament; and so are people smugglers. They are looking to see whether or not this House of Representatives today sends a message of resolve to protect Australia's borders or whether it sends a very different message.

A little bit earlier this week the opposition appeared to understand that dealing with the amendments to the Migration Act was indeed a matter of some urgency, and they appeared to understand that it was the kind of matter on which the government and the opposition should work together. So, for example, we have seen the shadow minister for immigration, who represents the opposition on the question, saying in this place and beyond that they would be prepared to work with the government in order to deal with this legislation in an expedited way. Of course, that was the position of the opposition until it came to the moment to get it done; but now it is clear that the opposition will filibuster this bill, that they will drag it out and that they want to make sure that the message sent to people smugglers is that Australia is open for business. The opposition want to see more boats arriving on our nation's shores for the sake of their base political interests.

I am asked what the national interest requires in this circumstance. The national interest requires that executive government have the power it needs to implement the offshore processing arrangements that it believes to be the best. Throughout this whole issue, the government have never sought to say to the opposition that they should endorse the government's plan. But what we have said to the opposition consistently is that they should pass amendments to the Migration Act which would put this government in the same position that the Howard government was in, with the freedom to act that that implies. Instead of that, the Leader of the Opposition has engaged, of course, in reckless negativity every step of the way. He has been asked to choose between the national interest and his personal political interest, and on every occasion—including today—in the handling of this debate his personal interest has come first.

That is not leadership, and on an issue of this importance it is not what should be dominating the views of the opposition. What should be dominating the views of the opposition is ensuring that government can act to protect our borders and that our government can act to protect genuine refugees. The Leader of the Opposition at every stage has had the best of the expert advice to government, but despite that he continues to peddle a solution that he has been advised will not work. He continues to deny the expert advice that Malaysia is the strongest deterrence message we can send. Why is he doing that? It is not because he is confused; it is because he wants to send a green light to people smugglers because he wants more boats.