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Thursday, 15 September 2011
Page: 6233

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:02): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (Senator Carr) to questions without notice asked by Senators Brandis and Cash today relating to asylum seekers and the Malaysian agreement.

Once again, we saw in the Senate this afternoon the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship in this chamber incoherent and utterly incapable of justifying this government's incompetent, failed and cruel border protection policy—a policy which replaced an effective policy administered by the Howard government and which, in the name of false compassion, regenerated the people-smuggling business so that in the last three years some 11,000 human souls have put their lives and their children's lives in peril and sought to make the dangerous journey from the southern shores of Indonesia to Australia.

According to reliable reports, the caucus itself was told on Monday morning by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Bowen, that the government estimated that some four per cent of people who set to sea on these leaky boats—encouraged to do so by the Australian Labor Party's weak border protection policies—lose their lives, drown. So not only do we have the horrible scenes we saw on the shores of Christmas Island last December, where some 50 people drowned, but, according to the government's own advice, hundreds more in the last three years have drowned because they have been encouraged to believe that they can make this hazardous journey. Four hundred and forty human souls have lost their lives to incompetent, morally vain policies.

Last Wednesday, the opposition accepted the Prime Minister's offer of a briefing with departmental officials. These are the officials upon whose advice the Prime Minister has repeatedly declared—as she did in the House of Representatives once again yesterday—that the government relied for its policy and, in particular, for its belief that the solution to the problem of its own creation was the so-called Malaysia solution. Mr Abbott and I and our staff, and Mr Morrison, who was on the telephone because he happened to be in Christmas Island at the time, participated for more than an hour in this briefing led by Mr Andrew Metcalfe, Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. It was not a confidential briefing, and for that reason I am at liberty to reveal to the Senate what was said. Almost nothing was said about the High Court's decision of 31 August. That part of the discussion took all of five minutes. For more than an hour, Mr Metcalfe and his officers explained the rationale of the Malaysia solution. We talked about it for that length of time. Towards the end of the meeting, I said to Mr Metcalfe, who was sitting across the table from me: 'Andrew, where does this figure of 800 come from? How was it derived?' He said to me words to the effect, 'Well, that's our best estimate of the number of people we think it would take to break the people smugglers model, if they are seen to have failed in their attempts to get to Australia and are sent instead to Malaysia, where the conditions are far less congenial.' I said, 'But, Andrew, where does the figure come from? What is the basis of the 800?' and he was unable to answer my question. I said to him, 'It's just conjecture, isn't it?' and he looked at me and replied, 'It is just conjecture,' quote unquote. So there we have it. I do not criticise Mr Metcalfe. Like all senior public servants, he does his best. That is his best advice. But we now know from the government's principal policy adviser that the very basis of the Malaysia solution is conjecture. It is a hope, it is a guess; it is not evidence based, it is not empirically derived. On that slender thread lies the entire government's immigration policy. (Time expired)