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Asylum Seekers

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (2.20 pm) - My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. Firstly, I congratulate the government on the appointment of the first female Prime Minister of Australia. I think it is a historic day.

Senator Ian Macdonald - When are the Greens going to appoint a female leader?

The PRESIDENT - Order! Just ask the question, Senator Hanson-Young. Ignore the interjections. When there is silence we will proceed.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG - Given that this is the last parliamentary sitting day before the three-month suspension of claims for asylum by Sri Lankan nationals is up, I ask the Minister whether under this new leadership the government will lift the suspension on 9 July or seek to extend it.

Senator CHRIS EVANS-I thank Senator Hanson-Young for the question and I thank her for her congratulations to the new Prime Minister. I hope that Senator Brown is not worried by this upsurge in female participation and leadership in the parliament. Can I say in answer to the -

Senator Bob Brown - Mr President, I raise a point of order. Can I reassure the minister he has no worries -

The PRESIDENT - There is no point of order, Senator Bob Brown.

Senator Bob Brown - and from the party with a majority of women in this parliament -

The PRESIDENT - Senator, there is no point of order. Senator Evans, continue.

Senator CHRIS EVANS - I hope that was not a sign of sensitivity; I hope I have not hit a nerve, Senator Brown. I do appreciate the congratulations and I will pass them on to the Prime Minister. The substance of the question is what the government will do in terms of its asylum pause on persons arriving from Sri Lanka as unauthorised boat arrivals.

As I have indicated publicly, both then and subsequently, the three-month pause is due to be reviewed no later than 8 July. The cabinet will consider the effect of the pause and other advice relating to unauthorised boat arrivals from Sri Lanka and other advice about developments inside Sri Lanka, particularly in terms of the treatment of those of Tamil ethnicity and whether or not conditions are improving for those  persons and whether that might be impacting on asylum claims from those Tamils who have been resident in Sri Lanka.

That decision in terms of the suspension will be taken by the cabinet. As I say, the deadline for review is 8 July. The cabinet will make that decision. We will consider all that information in making that decision. So I just assure the senator that the review will occur as indicated at the time of the announcements.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG - Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. Given the new Prime Minister  has acknowledged that a number of election commitments have not been met, does the minister now accept that the suspension policy is a breach of the commitment to detention as a last resort?

Senator CHRIS EVANS - Simply, no. That is not the case at all. You ought to read the policy more carefully because you will note that the first point in our detention policy is a commitment to the mandatory detention of unauthorised boat arrivals. I know you do not support that policy, but that is the policy we took to the election.

It is a policy we have continued to implement as a government. We mandatorily detain all unauthorised arrivals for the purposes of identity, security and health checks. We allow people to have their claims assessed against the refugee convention if they seek to make those claims. So those election commitments have been honoured and will continue to be honoured.

As I said, I think you misread the commitments we made. We have made it very clear that we maintain a strong commitment to mandatory detention of unauthorised arrivals.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG - Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the new Prime Minister has acknowledged that a number of election commitments have not been met, does the minister now accept that the suspension policy is in breach of a promise to end indefinite detention and the detention of children?

Senator CHRIS EVANS - Again, no, Senator. I just do not think there is any logical connection between the statements you make. What we announced was that we would pause the consideration of asylum claims for three months and six months for Sri Lankan and Afghan arrivals respectively. They will still have their claims assessed against the refugee convention.

What we know is that country information from both countries is changing. There are a number of reports due which will give us a better insight into changing conditions. What I can say is that, of those claims currently being considered, we have seen a large increase in rejections particularly of Afghans but also of Sri Lankans who have been found not to be refugees. They are subject to appeal decisions.

We have got a formal review process. Children continue to be treated appropriately by this government and not put in detention centres. It is a policy decision that we took and that we have honoured.

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