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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5758

Senator ELLISON (2:43 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Evans. In view of two boat arrivals in the north of Australia in the last two weeks, does the minister agree that the threat from people-smuggling is still present? Further, does the relaxation of mandatory detention and the failure by the government to rule out any changes to the excision of islands and territories send a clear message to people-smugglers that Australia is relaxing its border protection?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Ellison for his question. It seems that Senator Ellison is not singing from the same song sheet as the new spokesperson for immigration, because those are not the sorts of allegations that have been made by the Liberal Party’s official spokesperson. What I can say is that the arrival of two unauthorised boats in Australian waters is of serious concern to the government. It reflects the continuing problem of people-smuggling and attempts by people smugglers to bring people who are unauthorised into this country.

As Senator Ellison would know, these two boats are the first arrivals this year, but last year we had five boats arrive and the year before last we had six. Last year I think we had a total of 148 arrivals in five different vessels. This indicates that it does remain a problem. It does not indicate, at this stage, an increase in arrivals on previous years, but it certainly reflects an ongoing problem, and that is why this government remains absolutely committed to measures that seek to disrupt people smugglers and discourage people from making the journeys, and we will work very closely with our northern neighbours to try to make sure that these activities are not successful. Since taking up the office of Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, I have visited Indonesia on two occasions to work with Indonesian authorities on anti people-smuggling procedures and measures that endorse and build on the measures implemented by the previous government. As Senator Ellison would well know, that involves a range of activities that require a lot of effort, a lot of resources from Australia and support from Indonesia and other countries.

I do not accept that any changes to detention policy in this country have led to an increase in arrivals. First of all, there has not been an increase in arrivals and, secondly, we know that the indefinite long-term detention of arrivals did not prove to be a barrier to people continuing to make the journey. We have maintained the very strong border security measures that were in place on our coming to government. We have maintained the excision of offshore islands. We have maintained the regime that has arrivals taken to Christmas Island and processed on Christmas Island. Those measures remain in place, but we have made some policy changes in relation to mandatory detention. Mandatory detention remains, and all unauthorised arrivals are mandatorily detained and are subject to the health, security and identity checks that are required, and they are processed on Christmas Island.

We have indicated that we are not continuing some of the unconscionable detention practices that occurred under the previous government. Those practices were partly reformed in 2005. We have extended those reforms to have a much more humane detention arrangement, and I thought we had the support of the opposition—until I heard this question. (Time expired)

Senator ELLISON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In light of the minister’s comments that the excision of territories and islands will be maintained, can the minister guarantee that this will remain in place? If not, can he explain to the Australian people how his comments would guarantee that we are not facing a surge in illegal boat arrivals?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —As I said to the senator, there has been no change in the excision arrangements for offshore islands and no change in the processing of arrivals at Christmas Island. The same border security measures are in place that were in place under the previous government. We have sought to reinvigorate efforts to prevent people-smuggling through efforts with our northern neighbours. But are we continuing to confront the same risks that the previous government confronted? Yes. There are a lot of people seeking safe haven in this world. A lot of people smugglers are active. We continue to be vigilant and active to try to prevent this evil trade, and we will continue to take as many measures as we can to disrupt people-smuggling activity.