Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011; Second Reading
I commence by thanking Minister Bowen for the opportunity to speak to him overnight and to meet with him this morning and for his making available the officials who have been working on the matter before us in the 24 hours since the handing down of the Houston report. The amendments that the minister flagged for a third reading amendment later are the product of those discussions. I thank the minister for his undertaking that if, over the course of this debate, any minor technical difficulties arise with the amendments they can be addressed in the same spirit in which we have been able to reach our agreement today. I hope that such difficulties do not arise—and I suspect that they will not—and I thank you again, Minister, for your undertaking.
The coalition supports the minister's amendments as flagged and will support them in this place and in the other place to ensure that the bill passes both this House and the other house. We will do this to ensure confirmation of the ability of a government to undertake offshore processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea through the establishment of a legislative instrument. The coalition, by way of affirmation in both houses, will support the creation of this instrument immediately the minister creates it to ensure that there is no legal doubt about the ability to process people offshore in Nauru. We have sought the creation of this legislative instrument for a very long time—for four years—and I will comment on that later. But first I will turn to some specific comments about the nature of the amendments.
I thank the minister for his agreement to having amendments here to deal with the fact that, from now on, only one country at a time may be designated in each separate instrument for offshore processing and that the arrangements with a country so designated, because there are the obvious provisions to repeal any such designation, would not be time limited. Most importantly, these amendments, as agreed between the coalition and the government, ensure that the parliament now will be the arbiter of protections whereas previously the government had stripped out protections for offshore processing from the Migration Act and replaced them with nothing at all. These amendments ensure that, case by case, countries to which offshore arrivals are sent will be approved by this parliament. This means that a very heavy burden of responsibility now falls on this parliament.
Previously there were the section 198A protections in the Migration Act. These were introduced by Mr Ruddock, the member for Berowra, when he was minister for immigration to ensure that people who were processed offshore had legally binding protections. If anyone doubts that those protections were legally binding, they need only look at the High Court decision of last year which proved that they were legally binding because the Malaysian people-swap—that abominable arrangement—was ruled out by the High Court on the basis of the insufficient nature of the declaration which made Malaysia, and particularly the people-swap arrangement, available to the government.
This bill now, as amended, does not provide for the Malaysian people-swap. The coalition does not support the Malaysian people-swap. The Houston panel said very clearly yesterday that the Malaysian people-swap's protections do not measure up. That is something that they have said. It is something the High Court has said. It is something the coalition has said, consistently, and that is the reason why the Malaysian people-swap, and the previous decision of the government to seek to impose that on the parliament in the previous arrangements and in the previous construction of this amending bill, was rejected by the coalition. The proxy bill put forward by the member for Lyne was rejected for the same reason.
The amendments we have before us enable this. So a heavy duty falls on this parliament to ensure that there are protections in place, and that the protections are examined; and the government should stand warned that the coalition will scrutinise the protections very carefully if they seek to bring countries forward to be designated in this way. I have indicated that we support offshore processing in Nauru. We implemented offshore processing in Nauru and PNG, and we will support the declaration, the designation, of those countries under the amended provisions in this act.
That is consistent with the Houston panel recommendations because they say that the parliament should have the reserve right under the provision to allow or disallow the legislative instrument that would authorise particular arrangements in a specific location outside Australia. So, under these amended provisions, the parliament, by affirmation of both houses, must approve a country for offshore processing, as we call it, or if the five sitting days pass from when that designation is laid both on this table and in the other place and there is no disallowance then that will take place. This means that the parliament decides; that is a significant protection that we have sought to have included, and I thank the government for including it.
I make this point: the government has accepted finally, after four years, that it is time to go back to processing in Nauru. It is just one of the provisions and measures that we have been asking—pleading with—this government to restore from the Howard government days. You cannot expect Howard government outcomes on border protection if you do not restore the Howard government policies. So the government can choose which measures it implements, and it can implement whatever it chooses to do, but, if it does not restore the policies—and all of the policies, in our view—that the coalition has advocated, then it cannot expect the results that came from the coalition's policies and have been proven to have come from the coalition's policies.
What is interesting about many of these measures is that the Prime Minister herself has supported them in the past. I go back to what the Prime Minister said on 3 December 2002 about turning the boats around: 'We think turning boats around that are seaworthy, that can make the return journey and are in international waters fits with that.' Fits with what, you ask? 'The Navy has turned back four boats to Indonesia. They were in a seaworthy shape and arrived in Indonesia. It has made a very big difference to people smuggling that that happened.' This Prime Minister supported turning boats back when she was in opposition but she rails against it here in this place now and continues to refuse to restore those measures.
It is interesting that Mr Houston has belled the cat on the untruth that has been put around by members opposite that it is impossible to turn back boats where it is safe to do, members who said, 'It is impossible; it just physically cannot be done.' Well, Mr Houston has made it very clear that it is capable of being done, and that is what in fact is in his report. It is a practical possibility. It can be achieved. And it will be achieved under a coalition government if we are elected.
The other point on temporary protection visas is that the Prime Minister has also supported that. At that same press conference on 3 December 2002—she was busy that day—she said: 'The proposal in this document, Labor's policy, is that an unauthorised arrival who does have a genuine refugee claim would, in the first instance, get a short temporary protection visa.' Temporary protection visas were the policy of the Prime Minister when she was in opposition, just like processing in countries that were signatories to the UN convention. But, in government, she rejects these policies and, as a result, we have the results that we have on our borders today, and the cost and the chaos and tragedy that has occurred over all those years.
So we call on the Prime Minister to fully restore the policies that worked, and our second reading amendment is tabled for that purpose. I call on the government to do it because, as I said, you cannot expect Howard government results on our borders if you do not restore Howard government policies. The government will be held accountable for their failure to restore the full suite of policies and for the results that occur on their watch.
You cannot airbrush history. I know the Prime Minister would like to do that. It would be great, I suppose, if every day was day zero and nothing that went before mattered anymore and nothing you said before mattered anymore. But it does matter, and trust in a Prime Minister and in a government is heavily tied to this. This is a Prime Minister who has had every position on this debate imaginable and has been the single largest failure on our borders in our nation's history—no-one has done a worse job than this Prime Minister on our borders.
If we look back over the time that we have had, over all the occasions, as of today we have seen 22,518 people and 386 boats.
Since the coalition's compromise was rejected in this parliament six weeks ago, 2,815 additional people have turned up over that time in 47 boats. If you go back to the single assessment system, where this government has given total access to the courts for appeals, 98 boats and 6,606 people have turned up since then. If you go back to the community release, 'let them in, let them out', policy of last November, since then 127 boats and 8,960 people have turned up. Since the Malaysia people swap failed in the High Court, over 10,000 people and 146 boats have turned up. Since the Christmas Island riots started in March 2011, 175 boats and 11,949 people have turned up. Since SIEV221, 187 boats and 11,866 people have turned up. Since the East Timor announcement—which is still apparently government policy but which has never since seen the light of day—242 boats and 15,756 people have turned up. Since the asylum freeze back on 9 April 2010, 280 boats and 17,690 people have turned up. And, since the abolition of temporary protection visas, 386 boats and 22,518 people have turned up. In addition to that, there have been $4.7 billion worth of budget blow-outs, and more than a thousand people, based on what the minister said on the weekend, have perished at sea and 8,100 people at least who have been waiting offshore have been denied protection visas. That is a heavy cost.
That is a heavy cost: to wait four years for this Prime Minister to pick up the phone to the President of Nauru. It took four years. It took 22,000 people turning up. It has taken 8,100 people who are waiting offshore being denied a protection visa. It has taken over a thousand people perishing at sea. And the Prime Minister finally picks up the phone to the President of Nauru. It would have to be one of the most costly phone calls a Prime Minister has ever made.
I think those listening have a question: how well will a government implement a policy that they do not believe in? And they clearly do not believe in this. How well will a government—a government that have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do one of the three measures, at least, that are required—do that? How can they be trusted? How can they be trusted not only in its implementation but beyond on this issue?
The Australian people know where the coalition stands on this issue. We have always stood on the same ground. We have always held the same policies. We have stuck to our principles and we have stuck to the things that we know work practically. The Prime Minister and this government have been on every page of this book except the one that is titled with the word 'success'. When it comes to border protection, that is what people want. Whatever politicians talk about in this place has very little to do ultimately when it comes to what the Australian people are looking for. They want to see those boats stop. They know they stopped under the Howard government's policies, and they want to see those boats stop again. A coalition government will restore all of those policies, not because we are dragged kicking and screaming to do it but because we believe in them. We believe they are the right thing to do. We believe they are the compassionate thing to do to stop people getting on these boats and risking their lives, and we will do it. I move an amendment to Mr Bandt's second reading amendment:
That all words after "House" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
(1) notes that the Government has accepted the Coalition’s policy of offshore processing of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island; and
(2) calls upon the Government to implement the full suite of the Coalition’s successful policies and calls upon the government to immediately:
(a) restore temporary protection visas for all offshore entry persons found to be refugees;
(b) issue new instructions to Northern Command to commence to turn back boats where it is safe to do so;
(c) use existing law to remove the benefit of the doubt on a person's identity where there is a reasonable belief that a person has deliberately discarded their documentation; and
(d) restore the Bali Process to once again focus on deterrence and border security."