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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2124

Asylum Seekers

Senator CASH (Western Australia) (14:53): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Lundy. I refer to the fact that yesterday, 18 March, was the first anniversary of when the government lost control of the North West Point Immigration Detention Centre on Christmas Island. Minister Bowen stated at the time that general character considerations would be taken into account to deny visas for the perpetrators of these riots. Can the minister confirm that none of these perpetrators has been denied visas by Minister Bowen under the general character test?

Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (14:54): It is no surprise that Senator Cash will seize the opportunity, even when there is no story running, to ask a question about immigration. As usual, the characteristic of the question puts in place a very punitive flavour over those who are spending time in detention centres—and I know that Senator Cash's concern is far from the welfare of those who are in detention. What we have is a situation in many of the detention centres that is challenging when there are large numbers of people being detained. But I would like to assure the Senate that every effort is made to ensure that they come through that detention process as quickly as possible. With the health, identity and security checks that we put in place, what we know is that systematically we are moving people into community detention, through bridging visas, and other things to make sure that those—

Senator Cash: Mr President, I rise on a point of order in relation to relevance. My question actually concerned comments made by Minister Bowen at the time of these riots in relation to the legislation, which specifically provides that the minister is able to deny a visa to particular people under a general character test. I would merely like to know whether the minister has or has not denied visas to any of the perpetrators of the Christmas Island riots under this section of the legislation.

The PRESIDENT: I draw the minister's attention to the question. There are 58 seconds remaining in which to address the question.

Senator LUNDY: I am sure you canvassed this at some length at Senate estimates, though I am very happy to come back to you with the details about the specifics. I suspect that you already have the answer and I am very happy to furnish Senator Cash with the detail in consultation with Minister Bowen.

Senator CASH (Western Australia) (14:56): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to Dr Allan Hawke's testimony to the detention inquiry that 'the primary motive for detainees rioting on Christmas Island was because their asylum seeker claims had been rejected'. I refer also to the fact that, since the Christmas Island riots, the number of protection visas granted to detainees has almost tripled and the acceptance rate of refugee claims has almost doubled. Isn't it true, minister, that the rioters got exactly what they wanted from your government?

Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (14:57): Senator Cash sinks to the bottom of the barrel in the way she asks questions with the punitive characteristics she automatically applies to people in detention. Senator Cash well knows that the processes gone through after those riots were in accordance with policy and the statement that Minister Bowen made at the time. I have undertaken to get back to her on the detail, but I cannot let her question go by without reflecting on the way in which she asks the question characterising every single detainee as having done something criminal. That is not the case. Where people have done the wrong thing, they pay a price for that, and we have been very firm about that. So to come in here and somehow associate your very specific question—which we will respond to—with the fact that the number of people in detenĀ­tion are receiving refugee— (Time expired)

Senator CASH (Western Australia) (14:58): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer to the 89 rejected Sri Lankan asylum seekers who were the first to be transported off Christmas Island to Villawood. At the time, the Minister for Immigration said 'they are not refugees and they ought to leave the country' and the Prime Minister said 'they are currently being processed for return back home'. Can the minister confirm that, two years later, only four have returned home and the rest are still in Australia, including 50 who have been granted permanent visas? Isn't this just another example of how Labor's failed border protection policy is 'once you get here you never have to leave'?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides! Senator Lundy.

Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (14:59): Of course, if the coalition were to agree with Labor's approach and support the proposed Malaysian arrangement, we would not be in the situation we are in with the rising numbers. That is, it is worth making the point—it is not in relation to your question but let me answer the question again—

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I rise on a point of order—

The PRESIDENT: Order! I am going to draw Senator Lundy's attention to the question—there is no need for a point of order, Senator Brandis. Senator Lundy, there has been a question asked; you need to address the question that has been asked, not one that you might choose to answer.

Senator LUNDY: Thank you, Mr President. I take your admonishment, but it was important background to my response to Senator Cash. Senator Cash, I have said I will take the specifics of your question on notice to make sure we get the accurate details to you. I believe this is an area which you have thoroughly canvassed at some length at Senate estimates. If you are still waiting for the department's answer, I am sure it will be forthcoming very soon and we will undertake to provide you with the detail.

Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.