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Asylum Seekers

My question is to the Attorney-General, representing the Prime Minister. Attorney, today Save the Children and UNICEF revealed that the cost since 2013 of Australia's failed and inhumane asylum seeker policies is $9.6 billion; of course, the human cost is much higher. This includes: the policy of turning boats around; the illegal detention centre on Manus Island, where people are now being held in limbo; and the keeping of people in appalling conditions on Nauru, where allegations of abuse and assaults against men, women and children seeking Australia's protection are widespread and are not being adequately addressed. If the government is not going to dispute the figures released by UNICEF and Save the Children by releasing its own costs based on a transparent methodology, isn't it reasonable for Australian taxpayers to conclude that the $9.6 billion figure is accurate?

Senator BRANDIS

Senator McKim, you talk about the even greater human cost. Let me tell you what the humane outcome of the government's policies has been. When we came into office there were 1,992 children in detention on the Australian mainland. Today, as a result of decisions by Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton, there are now none—not one. Every child that had been in detention when my side of politics came into office three years ago has been released. That, I think, is a good humanitarian outcome.

During the period of the Labor government, whose policies you supported, we know that at least 1,200 men, women and children died at sea. There may have been many more. That is just the 1,200 that we know about. As a result of our policies in the last three years, not one man, woman or child has died at sea.

The PRESIDENT

A point of order, Senator McKim?

Senator McKim

Yes, thank you, Mr President. On the point of order: the question was absolutely explicit. It was specifically around the $9.6 billion and whether or not it would be reasonable for Australians to assume that that financial figure is accurate, if the government did not release its own figure based on a transparent methodology. The Attorney has not come anywhere near that question.

The PRESIDENT

Thank you, Senator McKim. You are correct in relation to your question. The Attorney-General was addressing your preamble. I remind the Attorney-General of the question.

Senator BRANDIS

Thank you very much, Mr President. So, Senator McKim, I think that is a good humanitarian outcome: no deaths for three years, as opposed to 1,200 and more deaths at sea in the previous six years; no children in detention today as opposed to nearly 2,000 children in detention when this government was elected.

The PRESIDENT

Order, Attorney-General. Pause the clock. Senator Di Natale, a point of order?

Senator Di Natale

I suspect the Attorney-General is defying your ruling, Mr President. The question was brought to his attention. He continues to ignore it. I urge you to ask the Attorney-General to address the question of costs.

The PRESIDENT

Thank you, Senator Di Natale. I did remind the Attorney-General. I remind the Attorney-General of the question.

Senator BRANDIS

Thank you, Mr President. There is one other part of your question, Senator McKim, that I would like to address in the time available to me. You made the assertion that the Nauru regional processing arrangements are unlawful. Senator McKim, you know that last year the High Court of Australia—

The PRESIDENT

Order! Pause the clock. Senator McKim?

Senator McKim

In a genuine effort to assist the Attorney, my point of order is that I actually asserted that the Manus Island detention centre was illegal, not Nauru, and he still has not started answering the question, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT

You are now debating the point, Senator McKim. That is not a point of order. There is no point of order.

Senator BRANDIS

I am making the point, Senator McKim, that the High Court of Australia upheld a challenge to regional processing arrangements in relation to Nauru. Senator McKim, this government is very proud of the fact that we have driven the people smugglers out of business, that we have stopped the boats, that we have saved countless lives and that we have released every last child from detention—

The PRESIDENT

Senator McKim, a supplementary question.

Senator McKIM

The $9.6 billion has now been confirmed as an accurate cost by the Attorney. Attorney, I note that in April the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court declared the Manus Island detention centre illegal, yet five months later the fate over 850 people there seeking Australia's protection remains in limbo. Given your policy paralysis, given the massive expenditure of $9.6 billion since 2013, why will you not close the Manus Island detention centre and resettle these people to Australia?

Senator BRANDIS

Senator McKim, the Manus Island regional processing centre is a matter for the government of New Guinea. Senator McKim, you have referred to a decision of the Supreme Court of New Guinea. I do not comment on the decisions of foreign courts. You assert a figure: $9.6 billion. I do not confirm that figure, Senator McKim.

Senator Di Natale

You had the opportunity to reject it; you didn't do it once.

Senator BRANDIS

I do not confirm that figure but, if that figure is correct, I think that would be a price worth paying to save thousands of lives.

The PRESIDENT

Senator McKim, a final supplementary question.

Senator McKIM

Spending $9.6 billion to torture people in foreign countries in Australia's name! What has this country come to? I also note the widespread allegations of assaults and sexual abuse, including sexual abuse of children, released in the Nauru files—

The PRESIDENT

A point of order, Senator O'Sullivan.

Senator O'Sullivan

If the senator is making an assertion that I or any of these people here have been involved in the torture of these people, I ask that it be withdrawn.

The PRESIDENT

There is no point of order. It was not the assertion.

Senator McKIM

Again, Attorney, given your government's policy paralysis, given the massive expenditure and given the fact that your years of inhumanity have failed to deter people seeking asylum by boat in Australia, why will you not resettle these people on Nauru, our fellow human beings, to Australia?

Senator BRANDIS

Senator McKim, I am sorry: I am just not going to let you get away with continuing to utter falsehoods. You asserted in your question that the policies of this government have failed to deter people smugglers and failed to stop the boats. That is simply factually wrong. Since this government's policies came into effect after the election of the Abbott government in September of 2013, not a single asylum seeker vessel—

The PRESIDENT

Pause the clock. Senator McKim.

Senator McKim

The point of order is that the Attorney has misled the Senate. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection made it clear in a media release last week that the people smugglers are still targeting Australia.

The PRESIDENT

There is no point of order, Senator McKim. You are debating the point.

Senator McKim

They are his own words.

The PRESIDENT

There is no point of order.

Senator BRANDIS

Senator McKim, that is not what you said. I am sure the people smugglers are still eager—very eager—to deliver their human traffic to Australia, but, as a result of the decisions of this government, they are being thwarted, they are being beaten and they are not succeeding in their intentions. That is as a result of the decisions this government has made, and, as a result, literally thousands of innocent lives have been saved.

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