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Asylum Claims

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (3.45 pm) - I move:

That the Senate -

(a) notes:

(i) the recent decision by the Rudd Government to suspend the processing of asylum claims from Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals for 3 and 6 months respectively, and

(ii) in 2009, Australia received just 1.6 per cent of all asylum claims lodged in the world's 44 industrialised nations, with less than half of this number arriving by boat;

(b) recognises that this new policy is in breach of Australia's international obligations under the:

(i) United Nations Refugee Convention,

(ii) United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and

(iii) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

(c) congratulates the joint statement from 45 non-government organisations from 16 countries, in condemning the Australian Government's decision to suspend the processing of asylum claims for Sri Lankans and Afghans; and

(d) calls on the Government to immediately reverse its suspension of asylum applications, restoring the right of people seeking protection from persecution to have their claims assessed in a fair and timely manner.

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland - Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) (3.45 pm) - by leave -

The suspension of processing of asylum by Afghan and Sri Lankan citizens does not breach Australia's international obligations. Having sought and obtained legal advice, the government is satisfied, in particular, that the suspension does not breach either the Racial Discrimination Act or the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

The suspension is being applied to asylum claims by Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals for reasons that have nothing to do with race. The reasons for the suspension relate wholly to the objective country circumstances in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

Suspending the making of refugee status assessments for a time is not prohibited by the refugee convention. There is no provision of the convention that requires countries to establish any particular procedure for assessing refugee claims or that requires assessments to be conducted in any particular time frame.

Upon lifting of the suspensions, refugee status assessment will be conducted in the usual way, and persons determined to be refugees as a result will be given protection in accordance with the provisions of the convention.

The best interests of children are a primary consideration under the Rudd Labor government. It has been a long-held Labor policy that children will not be held in immigration detention centres. Upon coming to government, Labor has acted on this promise.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (3.46 pm) - by leave -

How cowardly! The Rudd Labor government, who came to power on a promise to introduce a more humane, fair and transparent immigration detention system, make changes to their policy and then they are not honest about the condemnation that that policy change has had internationally as well as domestically.

They deny that they detain children, despite the fact that we know that they do on Christmas Island. They pretend that they do not breach international obligations that Australia has signed, yet we know that they do.

You are living under a total cloud of denial. This is the Rudd government, who promised a more humane approach, who promised to treat vulnerable people with respect and dignity, who condemned the locking up of children, who condemned indefinite detention and who said that detention would be a last resort.

All of the seven principles, bar one, which was keeping mandatory detention, that the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship announced last year have gone out the window - because we are in the lead-up to an election.

It is totally shameful. If you are going to change your policies, be gutless and spineless, and not stand up for what is right, at least be honest about it and stop pretending you are otherwise.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Hanson-Young's) be agreed to.

The Senate divided. [3.52 pm]

(The Acting Deputy President - Senator RB Trood)

Ayes............ 6

Noes............ 36

Majority......... 30

Question negatived.

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