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Monday, 11 May 2015
Page: 2734

Asylum Seekers


Senator BUSHBY (TasmaniaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (14:27): My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Abetz. Can the minister advise the Senate of the benefits of stopping the boats both in terms of lives saved and an orderly and defensible immigration program?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:27): I thank Senator Bushby for his question. Thanks to the success of Operation Sovereign Borders in stopping this criminal trade the government has been able to announce additional savings measures of $500 million. Even more important than the financial dividend is the humanitarian dividend. We do not have men, women and children drowning at sea, we have smashed the people smugglers' business model and we can now provide refuge to those most in need.

Only one people-smuggling venture has reached Australia since Operation Sovereign Borders began turning back the boats. There has only been the one and it carried just 157 illegal maritime arrivals. That was compared to 534 boats loaded with 35,000 people in just the last 18 months of the Labor government. Over the course of the Labor government we saw 8,400 children arrive by boat, their young lives put at risk by making that dangerous journey. At the height of their immigration failure, Labor's mishandling of border security resulted in almost 2,000 children in detention. Under us this has now reduced to only 120, but we agree that is 120 too many. Our strong and effective policy has allowed the coalition government to empty and close many of the 17 additional detention centres opened by Labor at great cost to the Australian people.

We have now got a proper border security policy. Our borders are stronger. Countless lives have been saved and our costs are down. Under the coalition you get good humanitarian policy with good economic policy.


Senator BUSHBY (TasmaniaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (14:29): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given these important benefits, can the minister advise the Senate whether he is aware of any plans to reopen detention facilities and of the impact of any decision to do so?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:29): I was interested to read in Senator Bushby's and my home paper, the Hobart Mercury, last week that the shadow minister for immigration, on a visit to Pontville, was 'very warm' about the idea of reopening the Pontville detention centre as a reception centre. We know from Labor's recent foray into recommencing transportation to Van Diemen's Land that this centre cost more than $50 million—$112,500 per detainee. Health costs were more than $4 million, and more than $1 million was spent on flights from the far north all the way to Tasmania. Make no mistake: Mr Shorten's frontbencher wants to send the clear message to the criminal people smugglers that they will be back in business under Labor, including another detention centre opening in Tasmania.


Senator BUSHBY (TasmaniaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (14:30): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate how the savings from such measures can be spent to the benefit of taxpayers, particularly in my home state of Tasmania?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:30): Budgets and policies are about choices. The $500 million additional savings in the 2015-16 budget are on top of the $30 billion of savings over the forward estimates. This is money that could be better invested in supporting the priorities of Australian families, which we will have more to say about later this week. But, from a Tasmanian perspective, every dollar spent on the Pontville detention centre was a missed opportunity to invest that money in upgrading the Midland Highway or the Hobart airport or in funding irrigation schemes. These are all things this government is able to deliver as a result of better management of taxpayers' dollars. Make no mistake: every single dollar that was wasted by Labor propping up the criminal people smugglers was a dollar not able to be spent on education, health, roads or the people of Tasmania.