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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2120

Asylum Seekers

Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (14:13): Mr President, my question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. Attorney, your government wants to further punish people who have been found to be genuine refugees by implementing a lifetime ban on them ever coming to Australia. I note that there is still no solution for the people who are languishing on Manus Island and Nauru because of your government's cruel and failed policy. I also note that at least 30 boats have been intercepted or turned back, on your own figures, since your government came to power in 2013. Isn't this latest so-called plan an admission that your much-vaunted Operation Sovereign Borders has failed?

Senator BRANDIS ( Queensland Attorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate ) ( 14:14 ): Senator McKim, not a single boat, not a single people-smuggling venture, has succeeded since the coalition government began Operation Sovereign Borders in late 2013. Not a single vessel has come to Australia's shores since Operation Sovereign Borders began. In the previous 5½ years there were 800. That is not a single boat in the last three years, and 800 in the previous 5½ years. Senator McKim, I regard that as a successful policy.

In the previous 5½ years, prior to the election of the coalition government in 2013, there were at least 1,200 people—men, women and children—who drowned at sea, and those are only the ones we know about. There was an uncountable number. There could have been many more, but at least 1,200 we know about drowned at sea. Since Operation Sovereign Borders, not one person has drowned at sea, so I regard that as a successful policy, too. When the coalition government was elected we found that there were almost 2,000 children in detention on the Australian mainland—almost 2,000—and today there is not one, so I regard that as a successful policy too. And I regard as a successful policy the fact that, as a result of Operation Sovereign Borders, we have been able to close 17 detention centres.

You ask about people on Manus and Nauru. Might I remind you, Senator McKim, although you already know this, that every last one of them was put there by the Labor government of Mr Kevin Rudd.

The PRESIDENT: Senator McKim, a supplementary question.

Senator O'Sullivan interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator O'Sullivan! It is not your turn.

Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (14:16): Attorney, has Papua New Guinea asked Australia to resettle genuine refugees from Manus Island as revealed by the Papua New Guinea foreign minister to Radio New Zealand yesterday, and what exactly is your government doing to close the illegal detention centre on Manus Island and the detention centre on Nauru, where people are being tortured in Australia's name?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:16): First of all, Senator McKim, I reject absolutely and with absolute contempt your suggestion that Australia tortures people. That is disgusting, and I might remind you, Senator McKim, that, when the issue of the offshore processing system was tested in the High Court at the end of last year, the High Court ruled—not as a matter of political controversy but as a matter of fact and a matter of law—that Australia did not operate the Nauru detention centre. That is the law. That is what the High Court has said.

Senator McKim: Mr President, I raise a point of order on relevance. What the Attorney has done is set up a straw man here, and then he is furiously knocking it down. But, in fact, the question was very clear: has Papua New Guinea asked Australia to resettle genuine refugees, as publicly stated by the PNG foreign minister yesterday, and what is the Australian government doing to resettle refugees from Manus Island and Nauru? The question did not contain an assertion that Australia was torturing anybody.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator McKim. Your question did have a serious implication which Senator Brandis also addressed, so he was relevant to that portion of the question. Senator Brandis has been in order.

Senator BRANDIS: As to the statement by the foreign minister from New Guinea, I have not seen it, so I will not be commenting on statements attributed to someone by you that I have not seen.

The PRESIDENT: Senator McKim, a final supplementary question.

Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (14:18): Attorney, isn't it the case that your amendments to the Migration Act may compromise any negotiations your government is having with other countries to accept people from Manus Island and Nauru because of the risk that other governments do not wish to create two classes of citizens in their country?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:18): Senator McKim, I accept neither the premise of your question nor its conclusion.