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Monday, 18 October 2010
Page: 440

Mr ABBOTT (Leader of the Opposition) (2:11 PM) —This question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the 106 illegal boats that have so far arrived this year. I further refer the Prime Minister to today’s announcement of an additional 2,300 detention places on top of the 1,000 detention places announced earlier. I ask the Prime Minister: isn’t this proof that the government’s border protection policies have comprehensively failed? How will opening more beds stop more boats?

Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that the government made the announcement today to be transparent with the Australian people about our long-term plans for detention centres. That was why the government today made the statement that I made with the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. In part, we made that statement—and I made it clear in the remarks that I made at the start of the statement—because the opposition loves to run around with spurious claims of secret plans, obviously raising fear and concern in communities about what is going to happen next, so we preferred the path of transparency.

To take just one example of that, the opposition have continued to insist that there is some secret plan to expand Curtin. Let me take the opportunity to say that they are wrong. The federal budget of 2010 funded a detention centre at Curtin with a capacity of 1,200 places. Less than 1,200 persons were initially moved in there. However, of course the relevant department took the prudent steps in designing the centre and putting the infrastructure in place so that the centre could reach its full capacity efficiently. When Minister Bowen became minister, he reviewed the work that had occurred at Curtin and decided to increase the numbers at Curtin to 1,200. That was the first time the department had been instructed to make the arrangements for staffing—and the detention centre manager, Serco, to move more people into the Curtin site. Minister Bowen made it clear in the announcement on 17 September that work had been underway to enable the decision for the extra 600 people to be moved in.

I note all of this became the subject of opposition interest because I was asked during the election campaign about plans to take Curtin to 3,000. There were never any such plans, and today’s announcement puts the matter beyond doubt. The reason we have been transparent and made the announcement today is that obviously these matters do become the subject of community concern. We want to make sure that they get the right information.

On the question of unauthorised arrivals in this country: as the opposition leader well knows, this is a matter that will not be solved by a three-word slogan. He had a three-word slogan during the election campaign; what he lacked was anything that looked like a policy or plan. The government has a policy and a plan. We have a policy for a regional protection framework, we have a policy for a regional processing centre, and the minister for immigration as recently as last week was involved in discussions on those questions in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Dili, and we will pursue that dialogue. It is not correct for the opposition to pretend that brandishing a three-word slogan is a solution. It is not. We will continue to work on the regional protection framework and regional processing centre and in the meantime we will be as transparent as we have been today about the government’s policies and plans.

Mr ABBOTT —I ask the Prime Minister a supplementary question under the new standing orders. Given the urgent need for more detention places due to the failure of the government’s border protection policies, why won’t the Prime Minister pick up the phone to the President of Nauru and reopen the detention centre that was established before with Australian taxpayers’ money?

Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) —Once again, I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question because it shows the trouble you can get into when you sloganise rather than doing the careful work which leads to long-term solutions. The Leader of the Opposition has sloganised about this, where the government have taken a consistent position and we take the consistent position still, which is: we believe there should be a regional protection framework, we believe there should be a regional processing centre, we believe that that regional processing centre—

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order! The Prime Minister will resume her seat. When the House comes to order we will continue. I think we are operating on the basis that if a question is asked and it is being responded to then people should listen. The Prime Minister has the call.

Ms GILLARD —We will pursue a regional protection framework. We will pursue a regional processing centre. We have said that the regional processing centre should be located in a country that is a signatory to the refugee convention. It is central to these arrangements that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees be involved. That is a proper process. We are in dialogue with East Timor, which is a signatory to the convention. We obviously said to Nauru, when it indicated that it may choose as a nation to become a signatory to the convention, that that would be terrific and if it needed any assistance with the technical questions in doing that then we would provide that assistance, but we will keep working, being transparent about these questions as we have today.

Of course, I expect that the Leader of the Opposition will continue with his campaigns about secret plans and his campaigns about fear in the local communities and more generally around the nation—the kind of fear we saw him engage in during the election campaign—and I presume we will see him continue with absurd policies like ‘boat phone’, where he thought that perhaps if he were the Prime Minister, sitting in Kirribilli, he might be in a better position to make an operational decision than a commander on the spot on one of our border patrol vessels and he would take it upon himself to pick up the phone and tell them what to do. Well, we will not engage in absurdities like that.