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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7622


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. Given the minister’s refusal or inability to rule out bringing the 78 attempted—


Senator Cameron interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! I need to hear the question, Senator Cameron.


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Given the minister’s refusal or inability to rule out bringing the 78 Sri Lankans on board the Oceanic Viking to Christmas Island during question time yesterday, I ask the minister once again: will you rule out bringing the 78 Sri Lankans on board the Oceanic Viking to Christmas Island?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I have made it clear on a number of occasions this week in the Senate that the Australian government responded to a rescue call and a request from the Indonesian government to go out and rescue these 78 persons who were at risk from drowning at sea. I am not sure whether the opposition is suggesting that we should not have dispatched the Navy and the Oceanic Viking—I do not think so.


Senator Abetz —Just answer the questions.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator Abetz, I will, if you will just belt up for a second.


The PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator Minchin —Mr President, on a point of order: there were two breaches of the standing orders there. One was that the Leader of the Government did not address his remarks through the chair and the other was that his remarks were unparliamentary. I ask you to rule on that matter.


The PRESIDENT —There were actually three breaches of the standing orders, Senator Minchin. The first was the interjection and the others were the comments that followed. I think we can do without those comments during question time. Whether it be interjections or people responding to interjections, it does not help the conduct of question time in any way. Senator Evans, be cautious of the way in which you address the question, and I remind you that you now have one minute and 28 seconds in which to answer the question.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —I am happy to withdraw the remark. I am, though, concerned that we have proper consideration of what is a serious issue of a rescue at sea: 78 people’s lives were at risk. The Australian government, responding to the request to the Indonesian maritime safety authorities, went in and saved those people’s lives. Following that rescue at sea, the Indonesian government indicated that they were prepared to have those people disembark in Indonesia because they were rescued in an Indonesian sea rescue zone. They agreed that these people ought to be disembarked in Indonesia. That agreement has been confirmed by the President of Indonesia and we have been in the process of seeking the safe disembarkment of those passengers in Indonesia. Negotiations are continuing to effect that disembarkment, but it is our intention and the agreement with the Indonesian government to see those persons disembark safely in Indonesia. We have made that clear and we are working with both the Indonesian government and the passengers to ensure that there is a safe landing and that those people are cared for once they disembark in Indonesia. We think that is the appropriate course of action.


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given Minister Tanner’s refusal to rule out paying 78 asylum seekers to leave the Oceanic Viking, will the minister now on behalf of the government rule out paying the 78 asylum seekers to disembark from the Oceanic Viking?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —Mr President, I do not really understand the basis of the question. There is no suggestion of anyone paying people to disembark from the Oceanic Viking. There is a negotiation between the Indonesian government and the Australian government to ensure the safe disembarkation of those persons. That will obviously involve discussing with them their future and ensuring that they are confident of disembarking safely and being processed by the UNHCR if they seek to make asylum claims. There is no suggestion that people will be paid to disembark. Other than that, there will be a proper orderly disembarkation of these people who have been rescued at sea by the Australian authorities. That is our firm intention and that is the agreement with the Indonesian government.


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. What has been the total cost to Australian taxpayers of the Oceanic Viking’s 11-day stand-off?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I am happy to seek to get some of that information for Senator Fierravanti-Wells. I make the point, though, that the alternative cost was the death of 78 people. The cost of the Oceanic Viking was in going to a rescue at sea. You have to answer the question: do you oppose the rescue at sea of those 78 individuals? The cost of the Oceanic Viking is the cost of the rescue of people in fear of death.


Senator Fierravanti-Wells —Mr President, a point of order: I asked the minister a very direct question and that was: what was the total cost to Australian taxpayers of the 11-day stand-off? I did not ask for a diatribe, again. I asked him a specific question. Could you direct him to answer the question.


The PRESIDENT —Order! I cannot tell the minister how to answer the question. The minister is answering the question. The minister has 26 seconds left.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —The opposition may not like the answer, but that is the answer. The cost of the expedition of the Oceanic Viking will be provided in due course, but you have to decide whether you would prefer to see 78 people die. This government decided that we would act in the proper, moral and humanitarian way. You cannot have it both ways. The Liberal Party have to decide whether they should support the rescue or not. (Time expired)