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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5844

Asylum Seekers

Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:52): My question is to the Prime Minister. Now that Nauru has announced that it intends to ratify the UN convention on refugees while Malaysia will not ratify the convention, will the Prime Minister pick up the phone to the President of Nauru to reopen a centre which is humane, cost effective and proven in the fight to stop people smuggling?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:52): I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question. Welcome back is what I say to him after his recent visit to Nauru. What I would say to the Leader of the Opposition, and I said it some time ago, is that we of course welcome nations in our region becoming signatories to the refugee convention. That is a good thing. We welcome nations doing that. At an earlier point in time when Nauru indicated it might be interested I said we would be more than happy to make available officials to assist in the technical cooperation to get it done. If Nauru does want to get involved in the refugee convention, that is a good thing.

But I would point the Leader of the Opposition to words from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who has said today:

UNHCR would welcome approaches from any state contemplating becoming a party to the refugee convention, but UNHCR's Canberra office is not aware of any formal steps by Nauru in this respect …

If they do take such formal steps, that is a good thing. But, even if they do take such formal steps, that is not a substitute. The Leader of the Opposition is suggesting a detention facility should go there. That is not a substitute for the regional approach we are taking to combating the scourge of people smuggling.

We want to work through a regional approach. That is what the Bali framework was about. Under the auspices of that Bali framework we are negotiating a transfer agreement with Malaysia. The key difference here is that through the transfer agreement with Malaysia we would say to people smugglers—as we are saying now—and to the asylum seekers that they seek to get on their boats: 'If you pay your money and risk your life, you will not end up in Australia. You will end up in Malaysia.' Under the Leader of the Opposition's plan, which is a fundamentally weaker plan, what would happen is that people smugglers would be able to say to asylum seekers, 'Sure, you will have to go to Nauru, but you will end up in Australia.' The majority of people found to be refugees when the Nauru centre was last in operation ended up in Australia. That is the truth of it.

We have a choice here between a regional solution and a one-out plan. We have a choice here between a solution that sends the message to people smugglers, 'If you ply your trade and try to bring people to Australia they will not end up in Australia,' and the Leader of the Opposition's weaker position—

Mr Simpkins interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Cowan is warned.

Ms GILLARD: which is that they will end up in Australia after some time on Nauru. That is the difference between the two positions. Ours is a more effective approach to taking out of the hands of people smugglers that very product that they seek to sell to asylum seekers. The Leader of the Opposition's approach is to say that they have the ability to end up in Australia via a detour to Nauru. That is the difference, and we will keep pursuing the agreement with Malaysia.

Mr Abbott: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

The SPEAKER: Has the Prime Minister concluded?

Ms Gillard: Yes.

The SPEAKER: The Prime Minister has concluded. The Leader of the Opposition will resume his place.