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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 3230

Senator HUMPHRIES (2:52 PM) —My question is to Senator Evans, as Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. Can the minister confirm that the cost of charter flights to and from Christmas Island has now trebled in just 10 months to $8.2 million, or $134,000 a flight? How much further can the Australian taxpayer expect that Labor’s failed border protection policy will blow out?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I can confirm that the government provided Senator Humphries with a detailed breakdown of the cost of flights to and from Christmas Island at estimates, last fortnight of the parliament. I can also confirm he was not interested enough to ask any follow-up questions at the time and we went home early. So that was his level of interest in the issue at the time. But can I just make the very clear point that the Rudd Labor government does believe that the excision and mandatory detention of offshore arrivals is important as part of Australia’s risk management of unauthorised boat arrivals. We accept that there is a cost to the Australian taxpayer from running that system, just as the previous government accepted it.

What the charter flight costs reflect is the increased numbers of asylum seekers who we have had to deal with. The last time we had to deal with this issue was between 1999 and 2001, when the Howard government spent $1.5 billion on processing irregular arrivals. They had 12,000 people arrive in three years—more than 240 boats—and what did they do? They increased the detention capacity and they had to increase resources to deal with that increased number of arrivals. That was the third period when we had a large number of arrivals. We are currently dealing with the fourth. So it is true that the costs have gone up in accordance with those needs, and it is true that operating a detention centre on Christmas Island adds to your transport costs. Senator Minchin and the Howard cabinet built it there, we use it and there is no doubt that the transportation costs are higher as a result of where the detention centre is located.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister concede that at the present rate of arrivals more detention places will be necessary? In that regard, will the minister categorically rule out reopening the Baxter detention centre?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I think that is a Greens question, but I can tell the senator that there are no plans to open the Baxter detention centre. We have made it very clear that we are increasing the detention capacity on the mainland. We have also made it clear that we are looking at alternative accommodation arrangements to meet the profile of the asylum seekers we are dealing with. Our most pressing need is to find accommodation for families, because we will not ship them off to a South Pacific island yet unnamed. The Liberal Party have announced they are going to continue to detain children on offshore islands. You are going to lock kids up in detention camps on offshore islands, if you can find one to take them. We are trying to provide appropriate accommodation for families, not locking them up—and, Senator, families are not going to Curtin, so catch up with the news.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that the minister cannot offer a categorical assurance that the government will not reopen the Baxter detention centre, will the minister now concede that the government’s border protection policies have all but collapsed and that another classic Rudd government backflip is in order?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I am not sure there is much of a question in that. I am not sure what the senator’s concerns are, given he was part of a government that operated Baxter. Is he saying we ought to reopen it or that he is opposed to it reopening? I am not quite clear. But, Senator, as I understand it, you are looking for a Pacific island somewhere. You are in search of an island on which to lock kids up behind barbed wire again and you have not found one yet, but what we know is that all the policy thinking you have done since the election is to say, ‘We’ll put Philip Ruddock in charge again.’ Philip Ruddock, by the way, has not ruled out coming back as immigration minister if the Liberals are successful at the next election. But the extent of Liberal Party thinking on this whole issue is to say, ‘We’ll go back to the future.’ That history included locking children up for years on end in detention centres on Manus and Nauru. If the question is whether we are going to do that, no.