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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8615

Asylum Seekers


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:49): My question is to Senator Brandis, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Yesterday, during a meeting with our Prime Minister in Malaysia, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, personally called on Malcolm Turnbull to reconsider Australia's policy of turning back asylum seeker boats. This follows requests from the Indonesian government to cease the dangerous practice. Could the minister please explain to the Senate whether the government will consider these appeals from both the United Nations and our neighbours in Indonesia to cease the tow-backs of asylum seeker boats?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:49): No, we will not, and there is a reason why we will not: the policy has been successful. As a result of that policy—a policy that I know has been opposed tooth and nail by the Greens—we have stopped the people-smuggling trade. We have stopped the penetration of Australia's maritime borders by people smugglers. We have saved countless lives. On the most conservative estimates more than 1,200 people, many of them innocent women and children, drowned at sea during the period when our borders were out of control, and some 50,000 people arrived in Australia illegally.

Senator Hanson-Young, we have absolutely no intention of reversing the policies which saw that evil trade stopped and returning to policies that saw those lives lost, that saw the loss of control by Australia of its borders. We are proud of the humanitarian achievement of saving all of those lives. We are proud of the release of all the children who have been released from detention—an issue about which you have spoken often and eloquently, Senator Hanson-Young, but about which we can point to actual results.

Because of the policies that you supported in previous years, the number of children in detention peaked at 1,992. As a result of the policies of this government, which you so decry, the number of children in detention today is 109. That is one-twentieth of the number of children that were in detention as a result of policies of which you approved, Senator Hanson-Young. We will not be going back to the bad old days. We will not be embracing those failed policies—not for a moment.


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:51): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister said that the boats had stopped. I would like to ask the minister if he can please explain the sighting of a boat just three days ago, when a refugee boat reportedly made it to within 200 metres of Christmas Island. Could the minister explain why this boat was there, how many people were on it and where it is now?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:52): Senator Hanson-Young, as you know, the government does not comment on operational or on-water matters. But what we can comment on, what tells the story in words more eloquent than yours or mine, is the outcome. We have stopped this trade—50,000 people in five years; most of them, by the way, women and children undertaking this hazardous journey involuntarily; more than 1,200 lives lost as a result of policies which failed. Policies, by the way, which those who were their authors now acknowledge failed because the Labor Party, in opposition, have now moved closer to the government's position, a position we called for for many long years. So we will not, on this side of the chamber, be going back to the failed policies that saw thousands of children in detention and hundreds upon hundreds of lives lost. (Time expired)


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:53): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. This is a photograph of the boat that was found off Christmas Island. Could the minister please explain why this boat was not stopped and where it is now?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson-Young, would you place that down, thank you.



Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:53): Senator Hanson-Young, if in years gone by, you had held aloft a photograph of every boat that penetrated Australian borders there would not have been enough question times in the six years of the Labor government for all the individual boats that penetrated Australia's borders. The Australian people know, and even the Australian Labor Party now acknowledge, that those policies were a failure, that our government's policies are a success—

Senator Hanson-Young: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I simply would like to know where the boat in this photo is now and what has happened to the people on board?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson-Young, your question was disorderly in the manner in which you asked it by displaying prompts in the first instance. There is no point of order. Attorney-General, have you completed your answer?

Senator BRANDIS: Mr President, I was in the middle of saying to Senator Hanson-Young that the Australian people know that as a result of our successful policies, the people-smuggling trade has been broken, the boats have stopped and innocent women and children are no longer in peril of being drowned at sea. Senator Hanson-Young, you seem to regard that as a bad outcome. Shame on you.