Speech to Parliament: Coalition Silence on Asylum Seeker Policy

I offer some simple statistics. In the two weeks prior to the federal election, 26 August to 7 September, the number of asylum seeker boats that arrived in Australia totalled four—four boats. Why is that? It is quite simply because Labor implemented a policy of a regional resettlement arrangement, a cooperative arrangement with an important partner in Papua New Guinea that sent a strong message to people smugglers and those seeking to come here by boat that if you come here by boat you will end up being processed in Papua New Guinea.

It was a clear signal that the policy worked. Over the last two weeks, how many boats have come to Australia? There is a total of five that we know of that have been reported in the media. And how is cooperation with one of our nearest and dearest partners going on this important policy issue? It is going remarkably well!

This is an absurdity. This policy has become an absurdity. Here we have a minister of the Crown responsible for this particular area of policy refusing to answer questions regarding our nation's border security, regarding our nation's security policies, regarding our nation's immigration policy, regarding our nation's foreign affairs policy and regarding our nation's fiscal policy when it comes to relations with asylum seeker issues.

This has affected the confidence of the Australian people in this parliament. It is an abysmal absurdity and a contempt for the procedures of this parliament, because under the Westminster tradition it is question time in which a minister is accountable to the Australian public, to the people, for the department and the policies that are administered by that particular minister.

That is not occurring under this government, under this minister. We have seen that contempt continue over recent days with this minister refusing to comply with an order of the Senate to produce documents relating to on-water operations in his policy area and his department since the election, refusing to comply with an order of the parliament. The contempt continues.

Many Australians may not think that this is such an important thing, but it is in this respect. Public funds have been expended on this policy. Taxpayers' money has been expended on this policy, and those opposite are refusing to tell the Australian people how that money is being spent and indeed whether or not that money is being effectively spent and whether or not that policy is being effective.

The period set aside for accountability in this parliament on questions of expenditure is being ignored by the minister and ignored with the implicit approval of the Prime Minister. He refuses to answer questions regarding the cost of this policy. He refuses to answer whether or not this policy is actually working.

It was reported by News Limited this week that a Customs boat had to rescue 40 asylum seekers after the Customs boat had attempted to turn that boat around and tow it back and it broke in half. This was ignoring the warnings of the previous government about the failings of this policy, ignoring the warnings of the Navy.

What is reported is that that occurred—risking, I might add, the safety of our naval personnel. It is a very important issue for the Australian public. What was the response of the minister when he was asked by the shadow minister to confirm or deny that that event actually occurred, that Australian naval personnel were put in harm's way in implementing a policy of this government? His answer was that he refused to tell the Australian public—an insult to the parliament, an insult to the people of Australia.

What is the reason that the minister has given? He says that this is a military operation. He says that this will compromise the security of the operation. I draw to the attention of the parliament this fact: since 2001, dedicated Australian service personnel have been serving in Afghanistan, serving our nation, putting themselves in harm's way.

After Labor came to government we instituted a policy of reporting to this parliament on an annual basis on the success of those operations, on the expenditure that was undertaken in that particular military operation. But this government is refusing to come into this parliament and report to the Australian people on the success or otherwise of another military operation. Shame on you for showing utter contempt for this parliament and disrespecting the Australian public.

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