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Thursday, 15 September 2011
Page: 6223

Asylum Seekers

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:30): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Carr. I refer the minister to the Prime Minister's statement in the House of Representatives yesterday about the Malaysian solution:

The arrangement remains for the transfer of 800 people. We have the clearest possible advice from the experts that advise government that it is the plan with the maximum deterrence effect.

Is the minister aware that at the briefing given to the opposition in Brisbane last Wednesday, the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Andrew Metcalfe, told Mr Abbott, Mr Morrison and me that the government's estimate that the removal of 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia was the number it would take to break the people-smugglers' business model was 'just conjecture'? Does that not mean that the government's entire border protection policy is based on nothing more than a guess?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:31): I thank the senator for his question. I can reaffirm that this government remains committed to breaking the people-smuggling syndicates. We are committed to stopping people from getting onto boats to make what I trust everyone in this chamber acknow¬≠ledges is a very dangerous journey to Australia. We are committed to an orderly migration program. That is why the government remains fully committed to the Malaysian arrangement which provides a genuinely effective plan to remove the product that people smugglers are selling—that is, a ticket to Australia.

The alternative policy is that of turning back the boats. The government's policy is a way of showing that we do not want people to undertake this journey because of the enormous dangers there are to human life. That is precisely what the expert advice has provided to the government and that is precisely what the expert advice has provided to the opposition. Now we have the Leader of the Opposition claiming that the expert advice of 800 transfers is just conjecture. The arrangement that has been publicly available is clear: Australia will transfer up to 800 people to Malaysia. The advice that the government has is that should the arrangement work, as the government expects it will, the deterrent effect of transferring people will be very strong and it would mean that the number may not be reached at all. That is the advice that has been provided to the opposition and, if the opposition do not want to follow that advice, that is a matter for them.

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:32): Mr President, I have a supplementary question. If the government is so confident of its policy, why does it continue to refuse to release the departmental advice, including the legal advice, upon which the policy was based?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:33): I do not know what the government can realistically or reasonably do, other than provide the very best advice that we have—that is, the same advice that we have—to the opposition, and it has been provided. And what is more, I understand that the Leader of the Opposition has accepted further legal advice, which will take place tomorrow. What else can the opposition realistically expect in those circumstances? Why don't they actually listen to the advice? Why don't they actually take notice of the advice, instead of treating this the way they treat scientists, the way they treat economists, the way they treat public servants—that is, ignore their advice when it does not suit them. In fact, those opposite are more than happy to verbal them when it suits them as well.

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:34): Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. How can the public have any confidence in border protection measures based on policy advice which its own departmental secretary concedes was conjecture and legal advice which the High Court found was wrong?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:34): I can only reiterate that the government have provided the best advice that we have available to us—that is, through the department of immigration. We have provided the best advice we have from the Solicitor-General. We have seen a similar attitude expressed by the opposition in regard to scientific advice when it comes to climate change. We have seen it in regard to economic advice when it comes to the question of managing carbon pricing. What we have is an opposition that has already determined its position, an opposition that has already asserted that it knows better in these things, and it chooses to ignore that advice.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! I have not stopped the minister answering the question. I have asked him to resume his seat because of the noise going across the chamber, which we know is disorderly. Minister, you have 19 seconds.

Senator CARR: The government has publicly released the advice of the Solicitor-General. The immigration department officials have been made available to the opposition and, as I understand it, further legal expertise is being made available. (Time expired)