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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11276

Mr ZAPPIA (4:46 PM) —I welcome this matter of public importance because this is a debate that needs to take place, but it needs to take place in an honest and constructive way. It is a debate that all Australians should be engaged in because we are debating a matter which affects the lives of real people—real children, real mothers and fathers. These are real people who find themselves in traumatic and vulnerable circumstances. They are real people whom people smugglers are exploiting and whose lives are being placed at risk.

We are confronted with a complex worldwide problem and one that is deserving of bipartisan support as we work through it—a problem where, according to the UNHCR, at the end of 2008 there were 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including 15.2 million refugees. We are confronted with a global problem that will not be resolved by rhetoric and political point-scoring but by considered and measured strategies that produce the best long-term outcomes for refugees and for the countries that asylum seekers want to settle in. Those strategies will best be achieved by cooperative arrangements with the international community and, particularly for Australia, by cooperative arrangements with our regional neighbours.

In recent times the situation in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka has resulted in an escalation in the number of people who have been displaced from their homes—people whose lives are at risk, who are living in atrocious conditions and who are desperately wanting to find a new home. Attempts by the coalition to ignore this reality are politically motivated. The increase in unauthorised boat arrivals to Australia in recent times is consistent with increases in asylum seeker numbers being seen around the world. We require a global response to refugee matters that is humanitarian and that is consistent with UNHCR principles, in conjunction with international counter-people-smuggling strategies; a global response that ought to attempt to stabilise and secure those countries from where people are fleeing. These are the long-term objectives towards which we should all be working and the objectives I believe that are underpinning the government’s response.

Since World War II, three-quarters of a million refugees have settled in Australia; 150,000 of them arrived during the Howard government year and nearly 15,000 of those arrived as boat people. It was not the Howard government’s Pacific solution that resulted in a decrease in refugees and unauthorised boat arrivals but a decrease in refugees leaving Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka after 2001. In fact, between 2001 and 2003 numbers dropped significantly. Between 2005 and 2008 the number of refugees leaving those countries, from which most refugees are coming, rose once again.

These are the facts—not the rhetoric. That is why in the budget the government allocated an additional $654 million to combat people smuggling. That is why the government recently increased its core funding to the UNHCR by $4.4 million, to $14.3 million, and provided another $2 million for the UNHCR’s protection, assessment and outreach program in Indonesia. This is in addition to another $5 million that was provided to the International Organisation for Migration for its Indonesian activities.

I listened to the debate and the contributions from members opposite. What struck me was that on one hand they would have you believe that they are the party of compassion and fairness but that on the other hand they are the party that had the tough policies that stopped people coming to this country as refugees. At the same time the Leader of the Opposition asserted that it was the Howard government’s soft policies in 2005 that took children and women away from the detention facilities and away from detention.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. KJ Andrews)—Order! The time allotted for this discussion has now expired.