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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 77

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (2:44 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. My question relates to the group of people in the Baxter detention centre who are reportedly engaged in a hunger strike. Can the minister detail how many people are involved in the hunger strike currently and how long it has been going? Is it the case that the hunger strikers have been imprisoned in immigration detention in Australia for over three years so far? Will the minister consider exercising her discretion to enable these people's claims to be reconsidered rather than refusing to consider them while the wait continues for court decisions to be concluded?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Senator, I do have a brief here. It is just that the numbering is not making it easy for me to get to that. In general, I am aware of the situation you are talking about at Baxter, of a number of people who are allegedly not eating, and of what those people want. The details, however, of their health I do not believe I have. In fact, I am sorry; I have been caught by a bad numbering of my files so I am unable to give you what details I have, but I will get them for you later. It jumps—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator VANSTONE —Opposition members can express some dissatisfaction about that; I am sorry about that too. It is just that I could not find the number at the time. Senator, the basic proposition I put to you is that going on a hunger strike is not advisable to anybody and it is certainly not a way to get an immigration matter reconsidered. We will not give in to this type of, in effect, bribery by anybody. People who want their claims considered would do well to go off such hunger strikes and have their matter heard in a sensible and reasonable way. We did not give into the alleged hunger strike on Nauru last year, and we will not be setting a practice of doing it on this occasion.

Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I acknowledge the minister's difficulty and would appreciate it if she could provide more detail to the specific questions that I have asked. Perhaps to ensure that there is no misunderstanding, in asking whether or not the minister would consider exercising discretion in relation to these cases I am not in any way suggesting she should do so as a result of the hunger strike; I am merely trying to get an indication from her as to whether or not such a course of action is actually possible. When detainees are repeatedly told that there is no prospect of their claims being considered and they just have to wait an indeterminate length of time for a court process to finish, they can form an opinion that there is no hope and no alternative, and they can take these very inadvisable actions like hunger strikes. Given that the minister has previously exercised discretion while court cases have been under way, is it the case that the minister can do that in this situation? (Time expired)

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Senator, I would not answer even if the brief were here. In relation to that part of your question, I would not answer it other than with respect to each individual, because these matters are considered on a case by case basis. There may be a few circumstances—none come to mind, but I am not denying there are any—where, even though a matter is still on foot, you would give consideration to some alternative claim. You say there is no hope; but the people in Baxter have had their claims heard—and in many cases have had them heard and heard again and again—and are appealing and taking every possible legal mechanism to stay in Australia. The fact that they need to appeal again and that they have been there that long is an indication that in previous hearings they have been rejected, so let us just get that perspective on it. I will have a look at the matter. I will have a look at each of these individual ones. If there is anything that I think merits them being considered while they have got a matter on foot, I will of course reconsider it. If there is not, I will not. (Time expired)