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Christine Milne asks Bob Carr about redefining refugees

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Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:21): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Carr. Minister, given your recent statements that, 'We need a tougher, more hard-edged assessment,' of people's claims for asylum, and further, 'They're people not fleeing persecution,' does this signify a new Rudd government policy to change and narrow the legal definition of 'refugee' designed to slash refugee numbers and push people back with the stroke of a pen?

Senator BOB CARR (New South Wales-Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:22): What an impertinence, coming from a party which has no policy on this or anything else. The position of the Greens is that anyone being brought into Australian waters by a people-smuggler-

Honourable senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT: Order! Both sides, when there is silence we will proceed. Senator Milne, you deserve to be heard in silence.
Senator Milne interjecting-

The PRESIDENT: Yes, I know it is a point of order. Senator Milne, you deserve, though, to be heard in silence. Order, those on my left!

Senator Milne: Mr President, I rise on a point of order relating to relevance. Personal attack is no substitute for answering the question.

The PRESIDENT: On the point of order, Senator Bob Carr.

Senator BOB CARR: It was not a personal attack; it was a political attack on a party without policies.

The PRESIDENT: The minister has been answering the question for a short period of time, but I do draw the minister's attention to the question. The minister still has one minute and 48 seconds remaining to answer the question.

Senator BOB CARR: The fact is that overwhelmingly, if not 100 per cent, people being brought as asylum seekers to these shores are being brought by people-smugglers. That is the transformation, and you will not accept the transformation. That is what has happened. You have now got 100 per cent of this awful traffic in human beings, in unseaworthy vessels, being brought by people-smugglers. These are not cases of people under persecution who have cobbled together, in their desperation, money to buy a fishing trawler and set out onto the high seas; these are people who have been captured by money-making criminal syndicates, and you will not recognise it. That is the transformation. That is the change. The second change is that these are increasingly not people fleeing persecution, because in respect of Iranians, for example, they come from majority ethnic and religious groups. They are paying for passage with people-smugglers. This is a transformation in the evidence before us. As the great Lord Keynes said, unprompted, 'If the evidence changes, I change my opinion.' I say the challenge for those good Australians who have argued a refugee case in the past is to re-examine their position. The evidence before us is they are economic refugees, not people fleeing persecution, and are being brought here by people-smugglers- (Time expired)

Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:26): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note the minister did not say whether the policy is to now redefine 'refugee' for the purposes of taking a new policy to the region. Given that 90 per cent of asylum seekers have been found to be genuine refugees, what evidence, Minister, do you have that Hazaras who arrive by boat are not being persecuted by the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan and are economic migrants, as you tried to claim last night? Are those Hazaras persecuted by the Taliban and are they economic migrants?

Senator BOB CARR (New South Wales-Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:27): That is how deceptive the Greens are. I did not mention Hazaras last night. In the interview I did not mention Hazaras. Look at the transcript. I did not use that word. I referred to the recent spike in Iranian immigration, which is overwhelmingly middle-class Iranians, who belong to the majority religious and ethnic group in that country, who are coming to these shores as economic migrants brought here by people-smugglers. Again, that is the crucial combination based on the evidence before us, which your party refuses to accept: one, economic migration, not people fleeing persecution; and, two, arriving here as part of a commercial criminal enterprise-that is, the criminal syndicate that is people-smuggling. You ignore the evidence. You will not look at the evidence. Your case has faded from under you. (Time expired)

Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:28): Thank you Mr President, for the third time the minister did not say whether or not he is going to redefine 'refugee' for the purposes of slashing the numbers, so I ask: how can the government or you be taken seriously in nominating Australia for a position on the UN Human Rights Council when you are prejudging refugees as economic migrants, acting in total violation of the United Nations human rights convention?

Senator BOB CARR (New South Wales-Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:29): This leader without policies, this leader who refuses to look at the evidence, this leader who ignores the evidence of people-smuggling-just ignores it-

Senator Milne: Mr President, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. As I indicated before, personal attack is no substitute for answering the question.

The PRESIDENT: The minister has been answering for 11 seconds. I do remind the minister of the question.

Senator BOB CARR: My sentence did have subjunctive clauses in it, but I am reaching the core of the sentence, which is that you are not looking at the evidence. The evidence is of people smuggling, economic refugees and a spike in numbers coming overwhelmingly from people who are from majority ethnic or religious groups in the community they come from. The Greens party will not consider that. When people arrive in Australia without authorisation, any claims they make for their reasons to travel to this country are assessed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. If these claims are not covered by Australia's international obligations, they will be returned to their homeland wherever possible. That is why Australia has, and will continue to- (Time expired)


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