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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 7294

Asylum Seekers

Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:24): My question is to Senator Brandis, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to the recent actions of the doctors at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne who have taken a brave stand against the inhumane and bipartisan policy of detaining children and their families in detention centres. Australian doctors have been placed by this government in an untenable position. By simply protecting the interests of their patients and doing their jobs, they are now regarded as criminals. My question is a straightforward one. Minister, do you believe that these doctors are acting in the best interests of their patients? If not, what expert medical opinion do you base your response on?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:25): I do not offer expert medical opinions because I have no expertise to offer expert medical opinions. I would always hope that medical professionals would act in accordance with their best professional judgement. But, from the media reports that I have seen of the action at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, the medical staff concerned seem to me to be making a political rather than a clinical point.

Senator Di Natale, you want children out of detention; so do we. We have done something about it. Senator Di Natale, may I tell you that there are today 1,800 fewer children in detention than there were when the coalition government was elected a little more than two years ago. Fewer than 200 children remain in detention; almost 2,000 children were in detention under the policies that you supported. So, Senator Di Natale, I understand your concern as a medical professional yourself—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Senator Di Natale, a point of order?

Senator Di Natale: I would just ask Senator Brandis to reflect on the statement he just made; that the Greens 'supported a policy of having children in detention'—

The PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order.

Senator Di Natale: I suspect that is misleading the parliament and he might want to reframe his statement.

The PRESIDENT: That is a debating point. If you feel you have been misrepresented, there are opportunities to raise that at a different point in the program. Senator Brandis, you have the call.

Senator BRANDIS: I simply make the point to you, Senator Di Natale, that there are now fewer than 200 children in detention. When the coalition was elected, little more than two years ago, there were almost 2,000 children in detention. The regional processing framework, which was the policy of the previous Labor government as well as the coalition government, has been an essential element in deterrence, in persuading people not to undertake the perilous and treacherous voyage by sea which saw more than 1,000 lives lost, many of them children.

Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:27): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. We now learn today that the government has once again had to bring another asylum seeker, a woman known as 'Abyan', who was brutally raped to Australia for medical treatment. Can the minister confirm firstly if this is the case? Secondly, does this government intend to send her back to Nauru, where she will no doubt be faced with the men who violently assaulted her and have not yet been brought to justice?

The PRESIDENT: Just before I call the Attorney-General: that supplementary question does not directly relate to the primary question. I will allow the minister to answer what part of the question he deems he would like to answer. I call the Attorney-General.

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:28): Senator Di Natale, I have seen a media report to that effect. I have not verified the report, so I will ask the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection whether in fact what you have put to me is the case.

Senator Di Natale: A point of order on that. The second part of my question was whether the government intends to return her to Nauru, and that was not answered.

The PRESIDENT: I did indicate to the minister that he could answer what portion of that question he wished to. It was not strictly a supplementary question to the primary question. Senator Brandis, do you have anything further to add to your answer?

Senator BRANDIS: No.

Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:29): Mr President, I seek a further supplementary question. Given that it is very clear now that we cannot provide appropriate or adequate medical care to women like Abyan or to the many children who are now in Nauru, will this government now commit to supporting the long-held Greens position that it is not appropriate—and simply untenable—to keep children and their families in detention centres where they are being harmed?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:29): Senator Di Natale, as you would no doubt be aware the government of Nauru has announced that the boat processing facility on Nauru will become an open centre and that, as I understand the position, is occurring this week. That being the case, there is nobody on Nauru in detention. Those people have sought refuge and—as you would know, Senator Di Natale, because I know you follow this area of policy very closely—a party seeking refuge does not have the choice of the ultimate place of refuge, but what they seek is refuge from the place to which they are fleeing. Nobody suggests that the nation of Nauru is a nation from which people themselves need to seek refuge, so these people are being catered for by the government of Nauru—(Time expired)