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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 479

Senator BRANDIS (2:24 PM) —My question is to Senator Evans, representing the Prime Minister. I refer to the answer given yesterday by Senator Carr to a question from Senator Cash, concerning the Curtin detention centre, when the minister stated:

I am advised that work was undertaken at Curtin during the election. It related to stage 1 accommodation for approximately 600 detainees then at the centre.

I refer also to the answer given yesterday in the other place by the Prime Minister on the same subject, when she stated:

During the election campaign, works were occurring at the Curtin detention centre, and I refer to the detail of those works. They were stage 1 accommodation for the approximately 600 detainees then at the centre.

Are both of those statements accurate in all respects?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I am not quite clear what Senator Brandis is seeking to establish but it seemed to me those statements were consistent.

Senator Brandis —Are they accurate?

Senator CHRIS EVANS —My understanding is that, during the period of the election campaign, work was going on at Curtin base to accommodate the provision of the base to a maximum of 600 persons; persons were already being accommodated there but there was further work securing them. The key point of yesterday’s debate was an allegation by the opposition that somehow authority had been given for extensions to capacity at various bases without public announcement. I think the answers that were given yesterday confirmed the longstanding practice taken by this government that when extensions to detainee accommodation were required, a decision, when taken, was then publicly announced. That was certainly my practice.

I think the information yesterday reflected the fact that those decisions, when taken, were publicly announced and that the new Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Bowen, announced—I think on the 17th; certainly since he took over the portfolio—further decisions in relation to accommodation. I think both the Prime Minister and Senator Carr were trying to be helpful in conveying that information, and that is what they sought to do.

Senator BRANDIS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister assure the Senate that no works for stage 2 accommodation at Curtin detention centre were either tendered for or undertaken during the period of the election campaign?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) —I can only say that any government decision in relation to extension of detention facilities would be taken by government in the normal way and announced. Those announcements have been clear. The decisions have been clear. We have been totally consistent in that regard. There was a lot of speculation around the extension of facilities during the election campaign, as there had been previously, because every time the department went, under normal circumstances, for contingency planning to look at a site or consider alternative accommodation there was community discussion and invariably press coverage. But that is different from government making a decision to increase accommodation capacity, and when those decisions were taken they were announced.

Senator BRANDIS —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I note the minister’s failure to provide the assurance sought. Can the minister confirm that contractors and subcontractors undertaking or tendering for work at the Curtin detention centre during the period of the election campaign were required to sign confidentiality agreements?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) —I cannot confirm that. I am sure the arrangements were in accordance with normal departmental arrangements, but I cannot confirm that for the senator.

Senator Brandis —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I asked the minister a question. He said that he was unaware. In these circumstances it is appropriate for a minister to take the question on notice if he cannot provide an answer here and now.

The PRESIDENT —That is a further supplementary question that was by way of interjection across the chamber which I cannot possibly respond to. I did hear the interjection, but it is a further supplementary question which you are now asking. I would expect that you would need to convey that to the minister.

Senator Brandis —I merely point out that in circumstances of this kind the custom is for the minister to take the question on notice.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order there, but I have made it clear that the minister had sat down. He had completed his answer. The issue that you raise was by way of interjection. I did hear the interjection, and the minister, I know, did not respond to the interjection. I know that I encourage people around this chamber on both sides not to respond to interjections, but if the minister decides to take that up, that is a matter for the minister in the conduct of his role as a minister.