Monday, 22 September 2014
Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014. What self-congratulatory twaddle from those opposite! What self-serving hypocrisy from those who seek to rewrite history, to ensure that history records events in their disputed way and to ensure that they do not accept any responsibility for their actions in the last term of parliament.
The member for Banks spoke about a mark of shame. Through you, Chair, let me tell the member for Banks about a mark of shame: when your side refused to back our attempts to get an agreement with Malaysia, the then leader of the opposition, now Prime Minister, maligned the Malaysia government and then apologised later—as is his wont. His wont is to go out, make his political line—it does not matter who he offends—and seek forgiveness later. He maligned the entire Malaysian government and the Malaysian people over the arrangements over there and, as a result, he ensured that we were unable to get an agreement in place that would have helped to break down the way in which people smugglers were plying their trade. What happened as a result when we did not get the Malaysia agreement up? Six hundred and eighty-nine people lost their lives. If you want to talk about a mark of shame, when will they step up and apologise for the fact that they were culpable in voting down a system that would have ensured that we would have less people arriving here?
The hypocrisy is astounding. When we put the Malaysia agreement up, the then opposition, the coalition, claimed that it was not right to put in an agreement in place with a country that was not a signatory to the UN convention dealing with refugees. So we then put an agreement in place with Papua New Guinea that has allowed, singularly, the greatest reduction in the number of boat arrivals. But when we first brought down the details of an agreement in July 2013, it was resisted by those opposite. In fact, the then opposition foreign affairs spokesperson suggested that we were completely outsourcing our decision-making processes and our foreign aid to Papua New Guinea only to have the then leader of Papua New Guinea, Peter O'Neill, forcefully repudiate that claim. Those opposite worked so hard to prevent that agreement from getting in place. Now that is in place, they want to claim all the political kudos for something that has been effective—and demonstrably effective—in slowing those arrivals and in ensuring that people smugglers do not have the ability to lure people to take the dangerous two-day trip from Indonesia to Australia.
Speaker after speaker opposite have tried to claim that the government have been able to stop the boats as a result of their policies. What stopped the boats, principally, has been the PNG agreement. It has not been the way in which those opposite have been able to hold press conferences. Instead of being up-front and transparent about what is going on, they hide all the evidence about what has happened.
Mr Tudge interjecting—
The member opposite, the parliamentary secretary, asks whether we have apologised. Go to the records. You voted in support of those changes. Why do you not ever get up and say, 'We did vote for those changes in 2008-09 when they were put through'? The member for Aston wants to try and rewrite history yet again and try and airbrush their voting record. Sorry, champion, you cannot do that, because the record is clear: you voted for the dismantling of those laws as well.
In voting down the Malaysia agreement, you also did a deal with the Greens. You have this love-hate relationship with the Greens: one minute you love them, one minute you hate them. You did a deal with the Greens and, as part of that deal to stop the Malaysian agreement from going ahead, you agreed that you would lift the humanitarian intake from 13,000 to 20,000. That is what you agreed. You got your vote, and you got your way. As a result of us not getting the Malaysia agreement in place, 689 people lost their lives at sea as a result of what was going on.
Having been to Christmas Island myself and having spoken in this chamber a number of times about the way in which that episode moved my entire approach and view of the way we needed to manage this issue, and having said that we needed to do what we did to ensure that people did not make that trip, we then had the situation where the lure of going from a humanitarian intake of 13,000 to 20,000 was put in place as a deal. What was the first thing the government did when they got into office? They reneged on the deal. Along with the Greens, they reneged on the deal to lift the humanitarian intake. They talk now about how they are prioritising and looking after people that are waiting for humanitarian entry. Why didn't they stick to the deal to grant more people access and why won't they, to this day, support the opposition's calls to lift the number of people allowed in from 13,000 to 20,000? They simply will not.
As is always the case with those opposite, particularly through the tawdry display we saw in the last term of this parliament, they put their political interests ahead of the national interest. They put their own political gain ahead of us being able to have a system in place that would stop this. From their perspective, they did not want to see a slowdown at all. They did not want to see us stop the boats—their mantra when they were in office. They wanted to be able to do whatever they could to thwart our ability to stop this. It is a shameful period. I am not going to have members opposite get up and say it is a mark of shame against us. What is a mark of shame is the complete frustration that they were happy to see happen as a result of blocking arrangements that we put in place. It is worthwhile noting the chatter that was picked up through the intelligence community—people had basically turned up to people smugglers wanting their money back when they heard that the Malaysia agreement was being proposed. Those opposite saw the numbers drop and knew that this was going to have an impact. The coalition knew that the Malaysia agreement was going to have an impact and that is why they worked so hard to stop it.
Mr Tudge interjecting—
I come back to the point that you supported it as well, because, member for Aston, you picked up the community view about that, but you try to airbrush it as so many things—you try to airbrush that out.
The key thing that needs to be remembered is that we were prepared to take these steps in the national interest. They were important. When the High Court made its decision, we attempted to make changes, which then saw the coalition do everything they could to frustrate our ability to do so. Unlike when we were in opposition, under the Howard government, when we worked with those opposite on elements of this, they refused to extend the same commitment to work with us.
What do we have from those opposite? What we have is a refusal to be up-front with the Australian people about what is going on. We have to wait for High Court decisions, as we did with the 158 Sri Lankan nationals sitting on a vessel in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Those opposite were refusing to provide those details, saying that it was an on-water operation and that they did not regard it as being in the domain of the Australian people to know what was going on. They refused to provide facts about what was going on. That is despite the fact that, in every question time, the immigration minister was at the dispatch box claiming credit for what had gone on, when in fact the foundation stone of that result was the Papua New Guinea agreement. The immigration minister was suddenly MIA when it came to explaining why we had 158 nationals sitting out in the Indian Ocean. There was no response, no explanation as to what was going on, what was happening with these people. They were sitting there for over four weeks. I think it was six or seven weeks before they were transferred. The government was attempting to get agreements with India and other nations to accept the people on that vessel. It was completely hidden from view. There was no transparency, no openness, no fact, no detail. If there is an opportunity to get to the dispatch box and claim credit for something or to try to extract some sort of political gain, they are there; but if it is about being up-front with people then they are completely invisible and refuse to answer questions. It is simply not good enough.
Rightfully, there are questions to be asked and answered about the way in which the management of these facilities overseas is being conducted, to ensure that there are proper processes in terms of investigation, and again we do not see that happen at all. There is certainly lightning-fast movement to try to extract some sort of political gain, but there is not an equivalent response in accepting responsibility for the decisions that are made. From our perspective, if the nation's parliament is to work together truly on these issues, it should work on them; it should prioritise the protection of people's lives, it should prioritise the orderly movement of people and it should prioritise the integrity of the system. But it should certainly not abrogate its responsibilities in the quest for political gain on this issue. When we were trying to deal with these very difficult issues, to have those opposite run the way that they did was a complete mark of shame on them and a complete failure on their part to prioritise what needed to be done at that point in time.
I know that I speak on behalf of the member for Wakefield and certainly the member for Moreton—who, along with me, were involved in investigating the tragedy that occurred on Christmas Island in 2010—in saying that we changed our views on these matters. We thought we needed to work together to stop that, but clearly those opposite were not interested. Now we have this procession of self-congratulation, with a failure to accept responsibility for what they have done and a failure to acknowledge that principally the big moves in being able to stop and to stem that tide have come from the Papua New Guinea agreement and the resettlement agreements that we have over there, and that should be acknowledged. As much as some of the decisions that we took in government may have caused grief, and certainly were not necessarily met with widespread agreement by Labor supporters—I understand why people would feel like that—from my perspective I have always thought the priority should have been the maintenance of life, the protection of life, and to ensure that people did not drown, but that we also found a way to liberate people from camps where they had been stuck for years. People have reflected on constituents living in their electorates who have gone to citizenship ceremonies and have made very productive and positive contributions to Australian society.
From my own point of view, I have spoken with people who had been stuck in camps where they had seen 10 years of their lives pass completely by and had no prospect of being picked up, liberated and given a second chance. I have seen them in my area, where some of their proudest moments as new communities have been to congratulate others—for example, the first amongst them to get driver's licences, the first amongst them to get mortgages or the first amongst them to see their children accepted into schools and into higher education. These are moments of great pride for them, and we have been able to see them come here and be saved from the despair of those camps. That is what we needed to prioritise, and certainly it should be the way in which we work. I would hope, too, that we would be able to find, for instance, an ability to free people who are stuck in Lebanon at the moment and who have no prospect of returning to Syria. And why would you force them back to that quagmire and that terrible situation? We should be able to find a greater place for them in our humanitarian intake. And as the opposition leader has rightly said, and I think a lot of us support it, we should lift the intake so that we can extend to them the ability to get out of there and have a positive start in our country.
There are ways we can move forward on this, ways we should move forward on this. But, again, it also requires those opposite to accept responsibility for what they had done, for their part in thwarting our ability to improve the situation, to stop people losing their lives at sea. We should not have seen that happen, and they should accept their part in it.