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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12573

Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (16:51): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

There are two bills being proposed at this time: the Appropriation (Implementation of the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers) Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013 and the Appropriation (Implementation of the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers) Bill (No. 2) 2012-2013. These bills seek an appropriation authority from parliament for the additional expenditure of money from the consolidated revenue fund. The funding sought in these appropriations is consistent with, and already budgeted for in, the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

These bills require passage to provide additional appropriation to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. These bills address the increased costs of irregular maritime arrivals resulting from the higher rates of arrivals and the implementation of the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers—the expert panel—including capital works and services for regional processing facilities on Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. The total appropriation being sought through these two bills is $1,674,982,000.

Turning now to the Appropriation (Implementation of the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers) Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013, the total appropriation being sought is a little over $1.4 billion. This includes $110.6 million for Houston report measures, including $92.043 million to increase the humanitarian program by an additional 6,250 places to 20,000 per annum from 2012-2013; $8.181 million to increase the family reunion stream of the permanent migration program by 4,000 places; and $10 million to fund capacity-building initiatives in regional countries. It also includes $1.296 billion to meet expenses arising from the management of higher levels of irregular maritime arrivals and the operational expenses associated with the implementation of the expert panel's recommendations to establish regional processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island. This includes a $186 million accrual from 2011-2012.

This is the only party that is committed to delivering a proper and sustainable regional solution through the implementation of the recommendations of the expert panel, which was led by Angus Houston. As I previously indicated, the funding sought in these appropriations is consistent with, and already budgeted for, in MYEFO. No-one should doubt the government's commitment to implementing the 22 recommendations of the expert panel to break the people smugglers' business model and to help stop people dying at sea. This suite of measures, as outlined in the panel's recommendations, is the only way we will begin to see a reduction in the rate of boat arrivals. That means, of course, immediate implementation of the regional processing on Nauru and Papua New Guinea, which we are doing swiftly and effectively. We already have almost 400 people on Nauru and transfers will begin shortly to Manus Island. Nauru will have a capacity of 1,500 beds. It currently has about 500 places. We expect to see 600 places in Papua New Guinea as work continues on those facilities.

As I referred to earlier, the government has also increased Australia's humanitarian intake to 20,000, providing increased resettlement options for people in need from priority regions in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Last week I announced the make-up of that intake, targeting those most in need, especially vulnerable people in camps around the world. We are providing opportunities for vulnerable and displaced people to pursue safer resettlement options in Australia. We are telling desperate people that there is a better way than taking a dangerous boat journey—a better way as part of an orderly humanitarian program. The messages here are that taking a dangerous boat journey will provide no advantage, that there is no visa awaiting people on arrival, no speedy outcome and no special treatment. This tells the lie to the people smugglers' spin. In the meantime the cost of processing and accommodating asylum seekers is expensive, as it always has been, but the only way to reduce these costs is to have fewer people arriving by boat.

No-one should doubt our commitment to doing that, but it is something that we could do much more effectively with the implementation of the Malaysia arrangement. We know that those opposite so long stood in the way of offshore processing legislation, refusing to let the government implement its border protection policies, because they did not want the government to succeed. We know that the Malaysia agreement can indeed break the people smugglers' business model and it is time to allow it to be implemented. No-one can deny that the combination of regional processing on Nauru and Papua New Guinea, along with transfers to Malaysia, would stop the flow of boats and provide an ironclad deterrent.

There is still some way to go before we see the real effect of the policies the government has been implementing, and people smugglers will continue to test our resolve. But there can also be no doubt that we are starting to see positive, if only early, results. To date the government has facilitated a number of voluntary removals to Sri Lanka, with more than 70 people choosing not to engage Australia's protection obligations and instead return home. More returns are expected—further proof that people smugglers only sell lies and make false promises about what awaits people in Australia.

Debate adjourned.