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Thursday, 15 May 2008
Page: 2008

Senator ELLISON (2:03 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Evans. As the minister is no doubt aware, the threat of people-smuggling in the region remains high. I refer the minister to his statement this week that said:

... from early 2008-09, people found to be refugees will receive a permanent visa, regardless of their mode of arrival.

Does the minister agree that this statement sends a clear message to people-smugglers that Australia’s borders are open for business?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank the senator for his question, although I think it again indicates a worrying trend—that the Liberal Party are going down the path of fear and fear mongering in the Australian community. Senator Ellison well knows that the Rudd Labor government remain absolutely committed to strong border security measures. We have made that very clear. We have maintained the excision arrangements; we have maintained the strong border security patrols by Defence, Customs and other law enforcement agencies; and we have continued to work very closely with the Indonesian government and other near neighbours on the issue of ensuring that people do not seek to sail to Australia in leaky boats, putting their lives at risk, and enter Australia unlawfully.

Senator Ellison is also aware that, immediately on becoming minister, I went to Indonesia to have those discussions and to strengthen those relations. He is also well aware that, when he sought to do a similar trip, we provided as much support as we could to ensure that occurred, because it is important that we send the message to the region that there is a bipartisan approach from the government and the alternative government to strong border security and to deterring people from leaving to seek arrival in an unauthorised way in Australia, and that we send a very strong message to people-smugglers that they ought not try to ply their trade. We have received great cooperation from the Indonesian government in fighting people-smuggling. There have been a number of really encouraging developments in that regard in recent times, including the arrests of a couple of people-smugglers and a lot of effective work in dealing with people-smuggling activities.

There is no doubt that we still face the prospect of more unauthorised boat arrivals in coming months. This is the season for that activity to occur. There are huge pressures on populations of displaced persons throughout Asia and the Middle East. There is a potential population of people prepared to seek refuge who may embark on journeys with people-smugglers.

What I announced this week was that we were abolishing the temporary protection visa regime. We are very proud of that, because it was an inhumane treatment of people found to be refugees by international legal principle. The previous government maintained a Pacific strategy—a means by which people were detained in foreign countries in camps designed to send the message that people could not enter this country unlawfully. It was a cruel and ineffective policy.

Senator Kemp —Rubbish!

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Well, that is interesting. When we abolished the Pacific solution, what did you say? Not a peep! None of you defended it. The shadow minister did not defend it. You snuck away because you knew it was wrong. Those of you of better principle knew it was wrong. I have not heard any of you defend the Pacific solution. Where have you been for the last three months? Hiding in shame!

Senator Minchin —Mr President, I rise on a simple point of order. I ask you to request the Leader of the Government in the Senate not to shout and yell in this chamber. I wonder if you could also ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate to direct his remarks through the President and not directly across the chamber.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, I would remind you to address your remarks through the chair.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Thank you, Mr President. So the Liberal Party have failed to support the policy they supported in government and I took that as a good sign. But this question indicates that they are reverting again to cheap politics to try to demonise people, rather than try to develop a system that provides strong border security but humane treatment for those who the former government found to be refugees. (Time expired)

Senator ELLISON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note the minister’s answer and it gives no confidence at all that his statement has not compromised the strong bipartisan commitment to the border protection of this nation. Can the minister guarantee that there will be no increase in unauthorised arrivals as a result of the statement made by him? I will quote it again:

... from early 2008-09, people found to be refugees will receive a permanent visa regardless of their mode of arrival.

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —What I can guarantee is that there will be strong border security under the Labor government but more humane treatment of those who arrive. Is the shadow minister aware that, of the 11,000-odd TPVs his government issued, 9,800 or so eventually got full protection in this country? Of all the hundreds of people they put on Nauru, the vast majority ended up settling here. Their rhetoric was one thing; the reality was another. All the TPV regime did was make those people suffer with the uncertainty of their future for years. I brought an Afghan man, Mohammed, up here today. He was one of those people. For five years he was left to wonder what his future might be. For five years he was not allowed to travel, get settlement services or reunite with his family. That is what you presided over. We are very proud we abolished the TPVs, but we will maintain very strong border security. (Time expired)