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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2142


Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (15:35): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, to a question without notice relating to asylum seeker policy.

We found out today why it is called 'question time', not 'answer time'. It is simply not good enough for the Attorney to refuse to answer reasonable and legitimate questions about the absolute disarray that is this government's border policy as it relates to people seeking asylum in Australia.

I want to go to a couple of matters. Firstly, the Attorney refused to engage in any way on statements made by the Papua New Guinean foreign minister yesterday. I want to put very clearly on the record what Mr Rimbink Pato, the foreign minister of Papua New Guinea, said yesterday, which has been reported by Radio New Zealand and others. The Radio New Zealand story starts like this:

Papua New Guinea's foreign minister has appealed for international help in resettling—

Australia's—

refugees held on Manus Island.

It goes on to say:

PNG's government says the Manus Refugee Processing Centre is undergoing the final phases of shutting down according to Supreme Court orders.

I will leave the quote there to make sure that this chamber understands the seriousness of the matter. The Manus Island detention centre is, according to the PNG government, in 'the final phases of shutting down'. The question to the government remains: what is your plan, if indeed you have one, to deal with the many hundreds of people who are currently on Manus Island, the overwhelming majority of whom have been found to be genuine refugees?

Foreign minister Pato said that so far 583 asylum seekers have been determined to be refugees, and I understand that the assessment is ongoing for others. He went on to say that the vast majority of them do not want to settle in Papua New Guinea. The story contains the following quote from Mr Pato:

… we're faced with a stalemate, and therefore we're asking the international community, of course we're asking Australia as well, because it's really Australia's problem that we have shared under the arrangement with the Commonwealth …

We have a situation where, according to the PNG government, Manus Island is in the final phases of closing down in accordance with a decision of the Papua New Guinean Supreme Court; we have that government's foreign minister describing the situation as 'a stalemate'; and we have the government of Australia, in the person of the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, refusing even to engage on the issue.

This government has a shameful record of cruelty and failure in its treatment of asylum seekers, and it has hit a new low, because in a desperate attempt to reabsorb votes from One Nation the government is trying to create new punishments against people who have broken no laws whatsoever. It is an escalation of a cynical race to the bottom which sees our fellow human beings again being used as a tool for seeking domestic political advantage. These are our fellow humans who have reached out a hand to our country to ask for our help. This government in the main, with lock-step support from Labor, kicks them in the teeth, and has done so time after time, while they ask for our help.

We know, as the UNHCR has made plain, that the proposal the government is currently flagging runs contrary to international law and our obligations under the refugee convention. It is worth pointing out that this government's policies are in absolute disarray. They are an abject failure at the humanitarian level, with people facing almost certain harm because of conditions we have created. The widespread abuse that this government tries to cover up is all at massive human and financial cost.

Question agreed to.