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Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Page: 3389

Asylum Seekers


Senator CASH (Western Australia) (14:00): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Conroy. Does the minister agree with media reports yesterday which described former Prime Minister Rudd as 'the master and commander of the influx of boat arrivals under Labor'? If not, will the minister now accept that it is Prime Minister Gillard who is responsible for Labor's historic border failures, including more than 44,000 people arriving illegally, more than 1,000 drownings and 724 illegal boats?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:00): I completely reject the premise of the question. If those opposite want to ask a completely political question with no factual substance, they are going to get a completely political answer back. Those opposite are an absolute shambles on this issue. The coalition's two frontbenchers responsible for border protection policy are at each other's throats about what to do with asylum seeker boats found in international waters. The customs and border protection spokesman, Michael Keenan, claims that the coalition will direct naval personnel to take asylum seeker boats back to Indonesian shores. Just a few days ago, he told Sky News—

Senator Cash: On a point of order, Mr President: I raise the issue of relevance. I asked the minister whether it was the former Rudd government's policies or the current Gillard government's policies which were responsible for the grotesque failures of border protection. The minister is giving me a critique of what he believes is coalition policy. I ask you to direct the minister to the question.

The PRESIDENT: The minister is addressing the question.

Senator CONROY: You can see from that bogus point of order that there is no substance to the question. Those opposite are seeking to avoid having to explain what Mr Keenan said on Sky News. This is what he said:

And remember, when it comes to turning these boats back around, it would be sending Indonesian flagged boats with an Indonesian crew back to the Indonesian port from which they’ve left, and there’s absolutely nothing from stopping that.

But the immigration spokesman, Mr Scott Morrison, claimed the coalition will direct naval personnel to leave asylum seeker boats at the edge of Indonesian waters—expecting them to make their own way to shore. You cannot have it both ways. Mr Morrison went on to say:

Well that is not what he said and you should stop verballing members of the Coalition. You should focus—

(Time expired)





Senator CASH (Western Australia) (14:03): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister explain the difference between the Rudd government's policy on border protection and the Gillard government's policy on border protection?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:03): It is very simple. The government's policy is to adopt the Houston report, including the Malaysia solution, which those on the other side have so callously and cravenly, for their own political ends, decided to oppose. Those opposite have no credibility whatsoever. They send the message to people smugglers, 'Come on down!' They send that message to them every time they vote against the Malaysia solution in this building—every single time. They are the lead hypocrites on this.

If those opposite want to stop the people-smuggling rackets, if they want to put the people-smuggling rings out of business, they should adopt the Houston committee report in full. They should not come in here and pretend they are remotely interested in anything other than short-term politics.


Senator CASH (Western Australia) (14:05): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that the minister clearly cannot explain any difference between the former Rudd government's policies and the current Gillard government's policies on border protection, both of which continue to fail to stop the boats, why will the government not reintroduce the border protection policies of the former Howard government, policies which did stop the boats, the tragedy and the chaos?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:05): The world moves on and those opposite simply seek to take cheap political shots. Lives are at risk on the high seas. Those opposite could choose to support the 22 recommendations of the Houston report. They could support putting a stop to those people-smuggling rings. But they are not interested in that; they are interested in their own short-term political 'stop the boats' campaign. Those opposite have moved away from 'we will stop them immediately.' They have moved away from that. That is not their position anymore. When put under pressure, they have to admit, 'Oh no, it might take a little while.' Why do they not just admit that they have been wrong in not voting for— (Time expired)