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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8533

Senator HUMPHRIES (2:10 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Evans. I refer to comments made by the Minister’s caucus colleague and Labor MP, Julia Irwin, that she is ashamed of Labor’s border protection policies. Does the minister agree with reports over the weekend that:

There is widespread agitation on the Government back bench, for example, over Rudd’s apparent absence of a clear policy to deal with an increase in asylum seekers?

Does the minister agree that the Rudd government is losing the support of its own party over the chaotic handling of its immigration policy?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —It is very rare that you get such dorothy dixers from the opposition. Of all the weeks in this parliament that you want to have a discussion about the internal affairs of political parties, this is one week you are very welcome to have it. There is only one major political party in this parliament in total disarray and in open rebellion against its leader, and it is not the Labor Party.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr President, on a point of order on the grounds of relevance: the minister has been going for 27 seconds now and has not got anywhere near the question that was asked of him. I ask you to bring him to order. He should know better. He has been around long enough and you would think that the Leader of the Government in the Senate would know what it was all about.

The PRESIDENT —Order! This is not a debate. You have made your point of order, Senator Macdonald. Twenty-seven seconds have been taken off the clock—

Senator Conroy —Mr President, on the point of order: I think you were correctly pointing out that only 27 seconds had elapsed before Senator Macdonald once again stood up and wasted time with a spurious point of order. There is no substance whatsoever to his point of order and I ask you rule it out of order.

The PRESIDENT —As I was about to say, 27 seconds have been taken up in the answering of this question. There is one minute and 33 seconds remaining. I draw the minister’s attention to the question.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I understand Senator Macdonald’s sensitivities about these issues. There are sensitivities on that side, but they asked the question. The Labor government is united in its position in relation to these matters and in fact most of the media commentary I read on the weekend talked about how united the Labor Party was. All sorts of commentators were talking about how much the Labor Party had maintained discipline and unity on a very difficult issue, one that we worked through in policy terms throughout our period in opposition and one on which we are very confident about where we are in terms of getting the balance right. But if we want to talk about internal disunity, it is on show from the Liberal opposition writ large this week.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! I need silence on both sides. Interjections across the chamber are disorderly. When there is silence, we will proceed.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I do not understand what happened at the Liberal Party tactics meeting this morning, but clearly they are totally confused. If you want to talk about unity on issues of immigration, I might point out to the Liberal opposition that they are actually again in total disarray on those issues. Whenever we have had a vote on those issues in the parliament in recent times, Liberals have crossed the floor. So to come into this parliament and try to point out concerns about the Labor Party’s position, given their history and given where they are now, is absolutely ludicrous and just shows how out of touch they are and how they have lost any connection to reality.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Apparently Julia Irwin is a black sheep. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. How does the minister explain the comments made by a male Labor backbencher—who for some strange reason wishes to remain anonymous—that he does not know what the government’s policy is ‘because there is no policy’? In reference to the Prime Minister, this anonymous backbencher says, ‘How would I know when he does not know either?’ Will the minister now agree that the government’s mishandling of the Oceanic Viking fiasco is not only causing unrest at Christmas Island—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! I need silence on both sides so that I can hear the question. Continue, Senator Humphries.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Will the minister now agree that the government’s mishandling of the Oceanic Viking fiasco is not only causing unrest at Christmas Island but also causing unrest within his own party?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —Why Senator Humphries bats on with this ludicrous proposition I do not know. He ought to complain to the tactics committee about being handed such rubbish. While the Liberal Party are in total disarray and are totally humiliated as a political force in this country, while people are backgrounding against their leader and while the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate is in total rebellion and outright revolt against his own leader, coming in here and asking me questions about differences of views in the Labor Party is a complete joke. I do not respond to allegations in a newspaper about someone saying something anonymously, Senator. But I do know that all the senators opposite are wandering around in total rebellion, constantly undermining their leader. They ought to have a look at their performance as a political force rather than trying to raise something with us that they read in the paper.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister now concede that Labor caucus is right to be alarmed that 53 boats have been intercepted since August last year and, apart from special deals as each new boat arrives, that the government has no credible plans to bring the situation under control?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —Not only do they have no right to be alarmed; they are not alarmed. They know we are dealing with a serious public policy challenge—a challenge that has confronted Australian governments over many years.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! When there is silence we will proceed. Senator Evans.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —This government are united and focused on the public policy challenge, unlike the Liberal Party opposite who are as divided on border protection policy as they are on climate change. They are totally divided on these issues. We have seen people crossing the floor on these issues in recent times—a great credit to them. They reject the alarmist approach that the Liberal Party have adopted—the attempt to try and promote fear rather than rational debate. We are seeing it again in the climate change debate. When they get their act together, when they actually can work out what their position is, then they can come and debate us on public policy matters. Until then, they are a joke among all those interested in politics in this country. (Time expired)