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Asylum Seekers: Christmas Island

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (2.36 pm)—My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration. When was the government first made aware of concerns regarding the impact of overcrowding and a lack of resources in the Christmas Island detention facility?

Senator CARR—I understand there was an earlier report to the government, and I am trying to find the date that was provided. I will come back to you on the specific date on which that was provided.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG—Mr President, I am surprised, considering how much this issue is being spoken about by both the government and its own agencies, that the minister does not have that information.

I ask a supplementary question. As a signatory to the refugee convention, Australia is required to assess claims for protection equally, regardless of the mode of arrival. Given the massive cost associated with offshore processing, why does the government insist on maintaining offshore processing regimes rather than processing people’s claims here on the mainland?

Senator CARR—I thank the senator for her question.

It has been the government’s longstanding policy to deal with offshore assessments through a proper process which is consistent with our international obligations. Nothing has changed in that regard and nothing is likely to change in that regard.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG—Mr President, I do not believe that the minister really answered the question.

The question was: what was the justification? Having said that, I ask a further supplementary question.

Given the principle that detention will be a last resort and for the shortest practical time—this is not what happens, of course—does the government now recognise that time limits must be placed on detention to avoid chronic overcrowding and lengthy delays in processing? Will the government consider time limits on detention?

Senator CARR—The government is ensuring that each individual applicant is treated properly, fairly and in a reasonable way while also ensuring that the necessary checks are undertaken in regard to identity, health and other matters that relate to the welfare of the individual and the welfare of this country. Nothing is going to change in that regard. We will ensure that those processes are undertaken thoroughly and that is exactly what the minister is seeking to do at the moment. There have been some delays and the minister has indicated there has been some lengthening of that process due to the number of persons arriving. I think it is appropriate that the minister is seeking to reduce the time people are kept in detention, but nothing will be done which compromises the security of this country or sees the individuals concerned treated in any way which does not ensure that the proper checks are undertaken.

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