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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16394

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (2:47 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Would the minister advise the House on the number of visas granted under Australia's orderly refugee and humanitarian resettlement program so far this year?

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order!

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON —Thank you, Mr Speaker. How does this compare with the previous year? Would the minister also advise the House on application rates and outcomes onshore?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank the honourable member for Blair for his question, because Australia has a very charitable involvement—

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister has the call.

Mr RUDDOCK —I reiterate what I said: Australia has a very charitable role in terms of resettling refugees in its refugee and humanitarian program. Something of the order of 12,000 places each year have been allocated. Of course, that program in the past has been reduced because of onshore claims—and I think members are well aware of that—but as at 31 May this year 9,811 offshore humanitarian visas had been issued. That comprises something in the order of 3,976 refugee places and 5,835 places in the special humanitarian program; 45 per cent of those went to people from Africa, 24 per cent to people from the Middle East and nine per cent to people from south-west Asia. That is a 50 per cent increase in the number of offshore humanitarian visas granted for the same period last year. Why has this happened? It has happened primarily because we have seen no boats arriving in Australia—none of substance—since December 2001. We are now able to offer more places to those who never have a chance to engage people smugglers and who confront us. We see those people coming through this program, with poor nutrition and high infant mortality, from camps around the world.

As a result of our policies, we have also seen a significant reduction in onshore protection places. This year 824 visas have been issued, and that is a 75 per cent reduction on the 3,776 onshore places that had been issued at the same time last year. Applications from people in Australia are also down significantly for this year. To the end of May they were down to 4,518. I have never seen figures of that order in the time I have been minister, and I cannot remember when they have been that low before. It certainly compares very favourably with 8,122 for the same time last year.

Who are the winners in relation to this? The winners are refugees in the most deplorable situations abroad and, of course, the Australian taxpayer. We have been able to return something in the order of $467 million over four years as a result of the reduction in the number of unlawful arrivals. Contrast that with the programs that are spoken of by our opponents opposite, who want to set up a coastguard at a cost of half a billion dollars. They have other measures that add up to something in the order of $2 billion. While we have been delivering savings, they seem to be out there wanting to spend again.