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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 954

Senator CASH (2:54 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Carr. I refer to the evidence given by Andrew Metcalfe, Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, in Senate estimates last week, where he said in relation to the government’s proposed East Timor regional processing centre:

… one of the issues you raised earlier, about pull factors or a magnet factor, is the sort of thing that you would actually need to work through quite carefully such that the place would not become a magnet in itself.

Will the minister admit that the government’s current policies will make it inevitable that an East Timor regional processing centre will become a magnet for asylum seekers?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank Senator Cash for her question. I listened carefully to the evidence that was presented at the estimates committee—

Senator Cash interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Cash, it is not a debating time. You have asked the question. Senator Carr, you know what the question is; you need to address the question.

Senator CARR —I listened carefully to the position that Mr Metcalfe presented to the committee and I do not agree with your interpretation of what he said.

Senator Cash —Well, you wouldn’t, but it’s the fact.

Senator CARR —Senator Cash, I will do my best to answer your question, but given that you feel the need to offer me further advice on what you actually mean by it perhaps I should turn to some of your colleagues, because I know that the views you express are not shared by your colleagues. I do not believe that Senator Trood, Senator Humphries or Senator Payne—

Senator Brandis —Mr President, a point of order on relevance: once again, the minister is not addressing the question. He was asked whether or not the effect of the proposed processing centre would be to be a magnet for asylum seekers. He was quoted some remarks by the secretary of the department. What he asserts may be the opinion of opposition senators on the matter has no bearing on the question he was asked.

Senator Ludwig —On the point of order, Mr President: irrespective of the point made by Senator Brandis that it has no bearing, the minister can address the subject matter of the question and he is doing that. In doing that, if he raises the opposition and their position as part of the subject matter, that is still within the relevance of the question. He is directly relevant to the question that was asked.

The PRESIDENT —The minister still has one minute and 18 seconds remaining. I am listening closely to the answer that is being given by the minister and I draw the minister’s attention to the question.

Senator CARR —I was making the point that not everyone in the opposition has the sort of reactionary views that Senator Cash has. Not everyone sees the world in such hysterical terms. Senator Cash has a particular interpretation of what Mr Metcalfe said at the estimates committee. I disagree and I know a number of her colleagues from her own side disagree. We have indicated the regional protection framework and the regional processing centre is all about breaking open the people-smuggling rackets, because what we want to do is to ensure that we are able to provide people with a very clear understanding of our determination to stop people smuggling. We have all said and always said that this is not an easy process and there is no quick fix involved. Rather than engage in simplistic slogans and very poorly argued positions, we are committed to working cooperatively with regional partners to develop a sustainable regional response to what is a very significant regional problem. We are not alone in the world in dealing with this problem and we are turning to others to work with them to find a solution to these questions of people smuggling. Senator, it is unfortunate that you have such poor hearing—  (Time expired)

Senator CASH —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that when the Howard government lost office there were zero children behind bars and currently under Labor there are 1,065, when will this government show some leadership and compassion and stop this travesty?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The government’s performance on this question stands in very sharp contrast to the callous disregard shown for the rights of children under the previous government. The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship assured the parliament very recently that the government will meet its commitment to ensure that we do remove the majority of children from detention by June of this year. Our focus is on ensuring that the youngest unaccompanied minors, families with young children, single parents, pregnant women and other particularly vulnerable families are given the benefits of ensuring that we get them out of detention centres. Our priorities will then extend to older unaccompanied minors and other family groups, in that order. This is a rational approach to what is a serious problem, but you certainly will not deal with this question— (Time expired)

Senator CASH —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the arrival over the weekend of boat No. 209, will the minister concede that the government’s failure to re-open Nauru, the fact that its proposed regional processing centre will become a magnet for asylum seekers and its softening of the strong border protection policies of the Howard government will continue to give people smugglers the green light?

Senator Cormann —Two hundred and nine policy failures.

Senator Cash —It could be 210. I haven’t checked in the last hour, so I will stand corrected, Minister.

The PRESIDENT —That is disorderly. You have asked your question.

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The problem for the opposition is that they think that by talking in these simplistic slogans they are going to be able to have a serious policy response to the issue. The Nauru solution failed and it is not an option in the current circumstances. It simply does not meet our international obligations and it is not appropriate to deal with what is quite a serious problem in these circumstances.

Senator Abetz —There’s a brief coming your way.

Senator CARR —It is very simple, Senator Abetz.

The PRESIDENT —Interjections do not help at this stage. Minister, continue.

Senator CARR —The hysteria that the opposition is seeking to wind up on these issues does no service to them or to this country. These are matters that require sustained and careful consideration. Sloganeering will not deal with the situation. Senator Cash, you are amongst the best at it but, unfortunately, that is not of any service to this country. (Time expired)

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.