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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5862


Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (16:07): While I welcome this MPI because it gives another opportunity to compare and contrast the proposals from the opposition and the government, I must say it is disappointing to hear more of the same from the honourable gentleman opposite. He had an opportunity, after his trip to Nauru on the weekend, to lay out some more developed thinking about the opposition's approach, to answer some of the questions and criticisms that this side has put to him, but we have heard nothing. Never before have so few travelled so far to say so little as the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Cook on the weekend, going to Nauru. Never before have they gone so far to achieve so few sound bites. This MPI from the honourable member opposite goes through three criteria: proven, more cost-effective, more humane. He wants to be compared to this government. 'Proven, more cost-effective, more humane'—I am more than happy to go through each one.

We heard a bit from the shadow minister just then about the first element. He claimed that their proposals were more proven than this government's proposals. He can put it however he likes, but I would like him to outline where people sent to Nauru under his proposal would be resettled if they were regarded as genuine refugees. The member for Cook can get up at the dispatch box today and say they will be resettled in Australia and New Zealand like 95 per cent of those regarded as genuine refugees were resettled before. Where are they going to be resettled? Maybe they are going to be resettled in Europe, maybe in Asia, but you could outline it. Are you going to get the UNHCR to assist you in resettling people from Nauru?

The honourable member has had the opportunity, over 15 minutes, to explain why this Nauru solution is different to the last Nauru solution. Where would they be resettled? The honourable member for Cook knows that they would be resettled in Australia. He knows—and he loves me using this statement—that that does not break the people smugglers' business model. If people smugglers are able to go to Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq and say: 'Look, you come to Australia and you will be transferred to Nauru. You'll have to wait there awhile You might have to wait 12 months, you might have to wait two years or, as happened before under the previous government, you might have to wait five years, but you are going to get resettled in Australia.

'I still have a product to sell you,' the people smugglers would be able to say, as opposed to the arrangements with Malaysia, where it is very clear in the agreements outlined between the two prime ministers that people transferred from Australia to Malaysia will not be resettled back into Australia. That breaks the people smugglers model in a way the opposition could never have the wit to do. That breaks the people smugglers' business model in a way the Liberal Party never achieved while they were in office.

Then we have 'more cost-effective'. I know the opposition have the odd difficulty when it comes to budget costings. I know they have the odd black hole. But, based on his performance thus far, the member for Cook is no threat to the member for Goldstein or the member for North Sydney in terms of an economic portfolio because his performance on costings is about as good as theirs were. We heard the shadow minister saying: 'It only costs $10 million. That's all Nauru would cost.' He did the nice tour of the Nauru centre, which happens to be a school now, so you would have to transfer people out of the school and rebuild it elsewhere. We had page 34 of the MYEFO outline of capital costs and measures announced since the previous budget for irregular maritime arrivals of $45 million. We had operational costs of $251 million just for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, just the one department—not taking into account the transfer costs, borne by the Navy, of moving people to Nauru and moving people back again when they were resettled; not taking into account the support and administrative costs, borne by AusAID, that were necessary to get Nauru to agree to this arrangement. The department of immigration's costs alone—one government department—were $251 million.

Then we have the final leg of the opposition's claim that somehow the Nauru solution was more humane. I do want to spend a little bit of time on this particular leg of the opposition's attack, because the Pacific solution did not break the people smugglers' business model; it broke the will and spirit of asylum seekers. That is what the Pacific solution did.

Mr Keenan: That is absolute nonsense.

Mr BOWEN: It did not break the business model; it broke the people.

Mr Keenan interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ):

Order! The honourable member for Stirling will remain silent.

Mr BOWEN: That is what the opposition did when they were in office. And the member for Stirling says that is complete nonsense, that is complete rubbish. I am happy to spend—

Mr Keenan interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I warn the honourable member for Stirling.

Mr BOWEN: I am happy to spend a little bit of time on this, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I do not think the member for Stirling is aware of the history. He is not aware of the amount of time that people spent in Nauru. He may not be aware that one of my predecessors as minister for immigration, Senator Vanstone, instigated and commissioned a report into the psychological damage of people who were kept at Nauru to advise her as to what to do with the people who were left on Nauru. This report does not make pretty reading. I will not tolerate the shadow minister for immigration or the shadow minister for customs saying that their solution was a humane one because it is nonsense, and anybody who read this report would be disabused of that notion. For example:

The nature of symptoms shown maintains that the depression will produce an inevitable cycle of further deterioration. The most important symptoms in this regard are hopelessness, worthlessness, self-blame, cognitive impairment, withdrawal and sleep disturbance.

It goes on:

Instead, frustration and anger are turned inwards against themselves, and this is contributing to a risk of self-harm and suicide.

The report goes on:

While the group considers the level of risk with regard to mental health, it is clear that the current environment and circumstances are dominant contributors to their condition.' It further goes on: 'The fact that the OPC operates as an open centre makes little difference to the mental health of residents. The mental health of the residents will continue to deteriorate rapidly while they remain in the OPC. These migrants have been suffering from their mental health cases for several years already and are deemed to be highly vulnerable to do self-harm if they continue to stay in the offshore processing centre in Nauru.

It goes on:

The IOM mental health team have given them all necessary services that they would be needing, but despite the availability of the advanced psychiatric medications frequent monitoring of behaviour and safety prevention provided these patients, and even the availability of a psychiatrist for 24 hours, are not enough to treat their mental health cases.

This is their more humane solution. This is what the opposition are so proud of. Those are people who were resettled in Australia. After being told to wait on Nauru they were eventually resettled in Australia. They did not break the people smugglers' business model; they broke the people. These are people who are still under psychological care in Australia today. Let's not have these crocodile tears from the opposition about a more humane approach.

What we do have with Malaysia is an arrangement whereby people will be transferred from Australia to Malaysia with the agreement of the Malaysian government. Therefore they are people who will be treated with dignity and respect and in accord with human rights standards. That is perhaps why the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has seen the benefits of this arrangements. We know the opposition, including the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, have been out there trying to claim, falsely, that the Pacific solution somehow had the support and involvement of the UNHCR. It did not. The Malaysian agreement entered into by the government has been developed in consultation with the UNHCR. That is perhaps why we have seen the UNHCR spokesman say:

To us, it's a real commitment by Australia in burden-sharing with a country like Malaysia that is now coping with a large number of refugees and asylum seekers.

We think the agreement has the potential to enhance the protection for refugees in Malaysia, as well as the region as a whole.

If it realises more resettlement opportunities for refugees, this would be a positive outcome.

There are plenty of statements on the record from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees about the benefits of the arrangement with Malaysia, as opposed to the UNHCR's views about the previous government's approach.

We had the Deputy Leader of the Opposition say on 27 May of the former government's centre on Nauru, 'It was auspiced under the United Nations and the IOM and we were responsible for the health, the education, the recreational facilities and all the support they received.' We had Senator Birmingham say just last week it was 'overseen and approved' by the UNHCR. Let's see what the UNHCR actually had to say about the previous government's record. On the day the Nauru centre closed, the UNHCR said,

UNHCR had strong concerns about the 'Pacific Solution' …

                     …   …   …

… in our view, today's closure of the centre on Nauru signals the end of a difficult chapter in Australia's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Many bona fide refugees caught by the policy spent long periods of isolation, mental hardship and uncertainty - and prolonged separation from their families.

Just this week the UNHCR said this:

UNHCR was not involved and, indeed, distanced itself from any role in overseeing or managing the processing facilities on Nauru under the Pacific Solution. Recent media reports that the centre on Nauru was approved by and run under the auspices of the UN are factually incorrect.

That bells the cat for the claims of the opposition.

Here we have a situation where the opposition says: 'We will reintroduce Nauru. Don't worry about the fact that people arrived after Nauru and then ended up in Australia and it did not break the people smugglers' business model.' Then they say: 'Let's reintroduce temporary protection visas. Don't worry about the fact that the number of people, most particularly the number of women and children, getting on boats and coming to Australia after the introduction of temporary protection visas went up over the next two years.' Then they say, 'Let's turn back the boats.' So we have these crocodile tears about people being transferred to Malaysia. I wonder what protections the opposition would put in place for people who are turned back to Indonesia. I bet they would have none. It is okay to turn the boats back and not accept any more refugees as part of the process. It is okay to unilaterally turn a boat around on the high seas and send it back from whence it came, to Indonesia, without having a regional agreement to do so. But it is not okay apparently for this government to enter into an arrangement with another country under the Bali process in consultation with the UNHCR which ensures better protection and takes more refugees as part of the process. What hypocrisy from those opposite who say, 'We will turn around the boats,' and then come in here and cry crocodile tears about what happens to people when they are transferred to another country.

We have entered into an arrangement that means people will be treated in Malaysia in accordance with the agreement between the governments, which means that they will not be treated as illegal migrants. We know the opposition thinks this is a plan which just might work because the opposition has suggested something similar. Let us not forget that last November the shadow minister for immigration, the member for Cook, in his Lowy Institute speech suggested Australia 'trade off … taking more refugees out of the camps in countries of first asylum' and he mentioned particularly Pakistan and Iran. He now claims that he was not talking about an agreement which would have Australia taking more refugees. He claims now that he was talking about a one-for-one swap. I wonder why he said this proposal would involve Australia taking more refugees. It does not sound like a one-for-one swap. He also says now, 'I was not talking about Australia managing it; I was talking about the UNHCR managing it. I was talking about a UNHCR arrangement.' There is not a word here about that other than to say the UNHCR would be invited as observers. He also very clearly proposes a bilateral arrangement between the Prime Minister of Australia and President Ahmadinejad, hardly a recommendation that could be seen as protecting people's human rights and ensuring that they will be treated with dignity and respect.

We have two alternative proposals before the House and before the Australian people. The opposition would send people to Nauru—presumably 1,500, which was about the capacity last time. There is no detail about where they would be resettled if they are regarded as genuine refugees, no detail about how they would be returned to their country of origin if they are not genuine refugees given the fact that Nauru has said that they would not support involuntary returns of anybody kept in Nauru, no detail about how the damage inflicted last time as outlined in those psychologists' reports would be avoided next time, damage to families and children included, no regional framework, and no UNHCR involvement despite the misleading by those members opposite. Or we have the arrangement with Australia and Malaysia as part of the Bali process in consultation with the UNHCR, which engages Malaysia, increases our humanitarian intake and means that, even if we transfer 800 people from Australia to Malaysia, there will be 3,200 people transferred in net terms who are able to resettle in Australia—4,000 souls who are able to say that they have a better life in Australia as part of a regional agreement. That is something that this government should be proud of and is proud of.

I understand that the opposition is devastated that this just might work because it would take away their sound grabs. It would take away their opportunity for cheap point scoring. They would be an opposition in search of a new narrative.

Mr Keenan: Try to secure a deal before you start crowing.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! I remind the honourable member for Stirling that he is under warning. I think he might hope to get the call. He cannot if he is out for an hour.

Mr BOWEN: I am happy to defend and protect the honourable member for Stirling. He is one of our greatest assets as well as being a fine gentleman.

Government members interjecting

Mr BOWEN: There might be a bit of disagreement on this side of the House. We have a model which breaks the people smugglers' business model. We are actually able to say very clearly, 'If you come to Australia you will be returned to Malaysia ' The opposition says, 'You will be taken to Nauru—or maybe Iran. But if you are taken to Nauru then there is a fair chance that you will be resettled in Australia, because that is exactly what happened last time.' The member for Stirling now has the opportunity to outline the new arrangements and where people will be resettled after Nauru. If he does not, we can assume that they will be resettled in Australia just like last time. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: As the chair has shown great restraint towards the honourable member for Stirling and he is still here he now has the call.