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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 7792

Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (11:19): I reiterate to the Senate the integral nature of supporting this motion, which is to designate the Independent State of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country. I would like to address the amendment put forward by the Greens and the reasons the government will not be supporting this amendment.

The government is taking action recommended by a panel of experts. We have agreed in principle to implement all 22 recommendations of the expert panel's report on asylum seekers, and this is how responsible governments develop policy: we listen to the advice of experts. Those recommendations include regional processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea as soon as is practicable. The government believes that the measures it is putting in place as recommended by the panel will be effective. The combination of an increased refugee intake from offshore and no advantage for those who arrive by boat removes the attractiveness of attempting the expensive and dangerous boat journey to Australia. It is important to note, and in the context of this debate I remind my colleagues, that the expert panel report does not recommend temporary protection visas, a measure that in the past, contrary to what we have heard today, saw some 95 per cent of refugees permanently remain in Australia, and makes clear that tow-backs create risks to the lives of Australian Defence Force personnel and would only ever work with an agreement with other countries, something that Indonesia has made amply clear will not happen.

Through the course of much of this debate we are faced with opposition for opposition's sake and we as a government are doing our level best to take the politics out of this issue. As we have said consistently, there is still some way to go before we see the real effects of these policies but we are starting to see positives such as the recent voluntary returns of Sri Lankans. We know people smugglers will continue to test our resolve, but no-one should doubt the government's commitment to implementing the 22 recommendations of the expert panel. We believe that it is only through doing this, through responding to that expert advice diligently, that we will be able to end the appalling trade of people smuggling and help stop people dying at sea. People arriving by boat without a visa after 13 August 2012 run the risk of transfer to a regional processing country. That is clear.

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fawcett ): Order! I remind senators that the minister has the right to be heard in silence.

Senator LUNDY: The government has already transferred a significant number of people to Nauru and such transfers will continue to take place over the coming weeks and months. Indeed, the principle behind this policy is that saving lives is paramount. Contrary to the Greens' accusations levelled through the course of this debate, transferees will not be left on Nauru and Papua New Guinea indefinitely.

Senator Hanson-Young: How long, then?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson-Young, I remind you that under standing order 197 you may only interrupt another senator on a point of order or a matter of privilege.

Senator LUNDY: As I was saying, to have an effective policy it is necessary, as we know by the panel's advice and recommendations, to have a no-advantage principle for people seeking asylum—that is, for those seeking asylum they are not given any preferential treatment in processing their claims as a result of travelling irregularly by boat to Australia. This means that people who arrive in Australia by boat should not be resettled any faster than refugees waiting in refugee camps around the world. If the government is going to invest in a regional process, it is fundamental that asylum seekers should be required to access that process and not seek an advantage by travelling to Australia irregularly by boat. It is important to remember that irregular maritime arrivals would have been waiting long periods in the region for processing and provision of a durable outcome to this very difficult problem. We are not adding to that time, only reinforcing the principle that there will be no advantage gained in paying a people smuggler to bring them to Australia and, most importantly, risking their lives and perhaps the lives of their loved ones in that process.

These measures are in conjunction with the unprecedented rise in the humanitarian intake to 20,000 people. This will include refugees who have been waiting for a number of years in the hope of resettlement in Australia. It is also important to note that the panel has also recommended circumstances in which people spend time waiting in Nauru and Papua New Guinea be different than when asylum seekers were processed there in the past. The intention is that the facilities will be open, there will be appropriate mental health arrangements and transferees will have access to education and vocational opportunities. So I refute many of the propositions put forward by the Greens in the debate today about the treatment of asylum seekers on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea.

This motion seeks to implement a key and urgent recommendation of the expert panel report. As I stated a number of times in my opening comments and at the beginning of my closing remarks, this motion is about the designation of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country. The government's policy will be a clear demonstration that people can pursue regular options and be safely referred to resettlement countries like Australia as part of an orderly humanitarian program while at the same time providing no advantage to those who arrive by boat. Together, these things will undermine the people-smuggling trade. For these reasons the government will be opposing the amendment put forward by the Greens. I commend the substantive motion to the Senate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fawcett ): The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Hanson-Young be agreed to.