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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6232

Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (11:42): At the outset, I welcome the shadow minister's support for the strengthening of the skilled migration program. It is the first time he has indicated that. It has been a little over a month since the budget and it is the first time the shadow minister for immigration has talked about the immigration program. We see lots of press releases on his website but nothing about the immigration program. Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to think that the shadow minister for immigration should have a position on the immigration program and I welcome the fact that we now have one. That is a very good thing. I know he finds it difficult to complete a sentence without the word 'boat' in it, but I think he managed to get through an entire set of questions without mentioning that word, which is a major achievement for the member for Cook. I welcome that and I welcome the fact that he actually talked about skilled migration.

In relation to the honourable member's questions, as the honourable member is well aware, the government has announced an in-principle agreement with Malaysia. The government has announced a commitment to enter into a bilateral arrangement at the prime ministerial level. There have, of course, been intensive discussions prior to that announcement and after that announcement about the implementation of the various matters which the honourable member refers to.

I can say to the honourable member that the costs outlined do go to the transfer costs. The Australian government will of course cover the costs of transferring people from Australia to Malaysia. We will also be working with the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration as well as the Malaysian government on appropriate care for people as they get transferred into Malaysia. That does not mean, of course, that the Australian government would have some ongoing role—he mentioned meals et cetera—over a long period of time. That would clearly not be the case.

In relation to the honourable member's question about the Auditor-General, the Auditor-General is of course welcome to examine all matters in relation to government expenditure, as the honourable member well knows. I dare say the Auditor-General may well look at this matter as the agreement gets implemented, which I would welcome. Further details will be released, as is appropriate, once the arrangement and the operational guidelines and documents are released by the Australian government and the Malaysian government in consultation with the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration.