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Monday, 7 September 2015
Page: 6071

Asylum Seekers


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:25): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. There are now 60 million displaced people worldwide, the largest number since World War II. Four million Syrian refugees are now displaced as a result of the conflict in Syria. Half of those people are children. It is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. Given those circumstances, why has the Prime Minister responded by saying that he will not increase the current humanitarian intake beyond the paltry 18,000 that was announced last year, meaning that not one additional refugee will be settled in Australia?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:26): Thank you for that question. It is a very important question, and I am indebted to you for raising it. The Prime Minister has sent the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to Europe overnight to confer with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Guterres, on how Australia can do more to deal with what you correctly describe as an unfolding humanitarian crisis. As you note, it is the case that Australia has announced already that it will be setting aside 4,400 places in our refugee and special humanitarian programs for Iraqi and Syrian citizens affected by those conflicts. Currently there are 13,750 places in the humanitarian and refugee programs. That will be increased to 18,750 places in 2018 and 2019. However, there is one premise of your question that I do not accept. You say that is a paltry number. It is per capita the highest number in the world. My source is the UNHCR Projected Global Resettlement Needs 2016 document, which tabulates the proportionate contributions of all the nations in the world to resettlement needs. We are all moved by this crisis. The Australian government has moved swiftly to see what more we can do, but do not make light of what we already do.


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:28): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees recently declared that when it comes to global displacement we are witnessing a paradigm change dwarfing anything we have seen before. Considering that there is a shortfall of $810 million in the UNHCR's capacity to deal with the Syrian crisis, will the Prime Minister commit additional funds to support the efforts of the United Nations to address this crisis?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:28): Yes. In fact, since 2011 Australia has provided $155 million in humanitarian assistance for the Syrian crisis, and one of the matters that my colleague Mr Dutton will be discussing in Europe is other ways in which Australia can provide more assistance to deal with this crisis. All of us in this chamber know that the demands of people displaced from various trouble spots in the world is greater than the capacity of prosperous nations to absorb them. We must prioritise. That is why the Australian government has made a decision to recast its priorities to put the needs of the Syrian and Iraqi asylum seekers at the top of our humanitarian and resettlement programs. Those are the matters that were discussed— (Time expired)


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:29): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that dropping bombs on IS targets does nothing to address the primary driver of this crisis—that is, the Assad regime—given that it will not make Syrians safer, given that it will not make Australia safer, given that it will instead fuel extremist hate, given that it will continue to lay the groundwork for future terrorist activities, will you now rule out any aerial bombardment of Syria?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:30): Senator Di Natale, I know that you feel passionate about this and I respect your passion.

Senator Wong interjecting—

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Wong, I thought you might have enough respect for the topic not to interject. Senator Di Natale, Australia is doing what it needs to do—it is reprioritising to ensure that these people are at the top of our humanitarian and refugee resettlement priorities.

Senator Di Natale: Mr President, I raise a point of order on relevance. The question asked specifically whether this government would rule out aerial bombardment of Syria.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Di Natale. I will let the minister continue. I think the minister is being relevant to the question.

Senator BRANDIS: It is a reprioritisation within a program that is already, per capita, the most generous in the world, according to the UNHCR itself.

Senator Di Natale: Mr President, I raise a point of order. My question did not go to the issue of the humanitarian intake. It went specifically to any commitment to aerial bombardment of Syria. That was the question. He has not addressed that issue.

The PRESIDENT: I draw the minister's attention to the full extent of the question.

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Di Natale, the displacement does have a cause. It is caused by circumstances in Syria and northern Iraq. With respect, Senator, it is foolish for you to suggest that ISIL has little or nothing to do with these circumstances. (Time expired)