House debates

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011; Second Reading

3:29 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to make a statement for the convenience of the House in relation to this bill.

Leave granted.

For the convenience of the House I want to foreshadow government amendments that I will move in the third reading stage. The purpose of these proposed amendments is, of course, to implement the central recommendation of the report published yesterday by the expert panel on asylum seekers, led by retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston. These amendments will give effect to the panel's recommendation that legislation to support the transfer of people to regional processing arrangements be introduced into the Australian parliament as a matter of urgency. The panel went on to recommend that the parliament should be provided with oversight of the minister's decision to designate a country. This would be done by specifying that the designation is a legislative instrument that can be disallowed by parliament. The proposed government amendments will provide the necessary legislative basis for this recommendation.

There have been discussions today between me on behalf of the government and the honourable member for Cook on behalf of the opposition. He and I have discussed the opposition's concern that a legislative instrument should be prospective as well as retrospective and that there should be accountability in instances where a legislative instrument is tabled or prepared in circumstances where the House is not sitting or where the House is not able to consider the matter before the instrument is acted upon. The member for Cook and I have agreed on this amendment on behalf of the government and the opposition. The member for Cook has indicated to me that the opposition will therefore support this legislation.

The amendment goes to the following matters of detail. Before a legislative instrument can be acted upon, one of two things must have occurred—either both houses of parliament must pass a resolution approving the designation or five sitting days must elapse in both houses without either house passing a resolution disapproving of the designation. This means that each house of parliament will be given the opportunity to veto any designation before it comes into effect. The amendment also provides that only one country can be designated in each instrument, so there will be no job lots where multiple countries can be designated in one instrument. Further, the amendment provides that the designations cannot be time-limited, providing ongoing uncertainty of arrangements until the minister determines that a designation ought to be revoked. This means that people smugglers cannot seek to build an expectation that the designation will be coming to an end.

We stand today at a clear point of decision. As I said earlier, the time for action passed long ago. We are committed to implementing these recommendations. I thank the opposition for their indication of support and I thank the member for Cook for jointly preparing this amendment. The Australian people expect nothing less than action, and the people smugglers fear nothing more. For the convenience of the House and for the transparency of the process I table the amendments I will be moving at the third reading stage. The amendments will also be circulated.

3:32 pm

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I commend the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship for the amendments which have been negotiated by the member for Cook and the minister. I thank the government and the Prime Minister for finally, after four long years, accepting one critical element in the opposition's policy to stop the boats. This has been a long, long time coming but if something is worth doing it is worth doing belatedly. It is worth this parliament taking the time to pass the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill and to ensure that offshore processing at Nauru and Manus Island, which should never ever have been abolished, can begin again.

As a result of the climb-down by the government, by the Prime Minister and by the minister, the legislation that this parliament is now debating is effectively the opposition's bill, and that is why the opposition enthusiastically supports it. Back on 13 July 2010 I first said to members opposite that the Prime Minister should pick up the phone to the President of Nauru—23 times before the last election I said that if the government were serious about stopping the boats, the Prime Minister would pick up the phone to the President of Nauru. But the Prime Minister was not prepared to do that. She was not prepared to do it before the election, she was not prepared to do it after the election, she was not prepared to do it when the High Court ruled the Malaysia solution invalid, she was not prepared to do it in January after discussions between the coalition and the government and she was not prepared to do it six weeks ago. On 106 occasions I have respectfully urged the Prime Minister to pick up the phone to the President of Nauru.

After 22,000 illegal boat arrivals, after almost 400 illegal boats, after tragically almost 1,000 deaths at sea and after $4.7 billion has been blown because of the government's border protection failures, the Prime Minister has finally seen the sense in what the opposition has been proposing all along and she has indeed picked up the phone to the President of Nauru—at last. But let us not quibble over a mere four years. Let us not quibble over a mere 22,000 illegal arrivals, $4.7 billion and, tragically, almost 1,000 deaths. Let us thank God that finally this government has come to its senses and admitted that for four years it was wrong.

I listened closely to the minister for immigration in parliament today, and he said with great passion and feeling that no-one could stand idly by and listen to the tales of the survivors and do nothing.

I just wish that the government had had that same view several years ago. The minister for immigration stood before the parliament today and said that it was simply unacceptable to do nothing. He is right. It is unacceptable to do nothing. But, for four years, nothing is exactly what this government has done.

I am grateful the government have at last come to their senses on one element—just one element—of the three essential elements in the coalition's border protection policies. I am genuinely grateful they have come to their senses on one, but I urge them to come to their senses on the other two. I predict that, before this government's term finally expires, they will come to their senses on the other two, because the only way to stop the boats is to do all that the coalition has been proposing and all that John Howard did to successfully stop the boats.

We have had a lot of talk over the last couple of days about the expert committee—the expert committee which has substantially endorsed the coalition's policies, which has green-lighted the opposition's approach and which has comprehensively red-lighted the government's proposed Malaysia people swap. That is not the only expert committee to consider these matters over the years. The coalition had a three-person expert committee which did, in fact, stop the boats. That committee consisted of just three experts: Prime Minister John Howard, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Philip Ruddock, who served as both Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and as Attorney-General. They stopped the boats. That was a committee of genuine experts. If that committee's advice had been heeded four years ago, our country would never have found itself at the tragic pass to which it has now come.

I do not go as far as Neil Mitchell did on Melbourne radio today. I do not say that it is the Prime Minister's personal fault that all these tragedies have unfolded. I am not saying that any member of this House has blood on his or her hands. That would be grievously unfair. If anyone is personally to blame for the tragedies at sea, it is the people smugglers and the evil things they have been doing to prey on the desperation of unhappy people.

But one thing is clear. This government's policy failures gave the people smugglers a business model and, for four long years, this government have absolutely refused, despite repeated entreaties from the opposition, to take the sugar off the table. If there is one thing we have not yet heard from this Prime Minister, either in her cantankerous press conference yesterday or in her ill-tempered performances in this parliament today, it is one word of regret—it is that magic little word 'sorry', which should be spoken by people who genuinely regret the mistakes they have made. This Prime Minister owes that one word to the Australian Defence Force, who have been used as a taxi service for people smugglers; she owes that one word to the people of Australia, who have witnessed the indignities, the trauma and the loss of the last four years; and she indeed owes that one word to the illegal boat arrivals who have suffered because of the policies this government put in place.

It is worth recalling how we came to this sorry pass. Back in 2003 the Prime Minister, then the shadow minister, said:

The so-called Pacific solution is nothing more than the world's most expensive detour sign.

In that same year, she said:

Labor will end the Pacific solution because it is costly, unsustainable, and wrong as a matter of principle.

Back in 2003, she said:

No rational person—I would put it as highly as that—would suggest that in 10 or 20 years we will still be processing asylum seeker claims on Nauru.

Let me repeat that. In 2003, she said:

No rational person … would suggest that in 10 or 20 years we will still be processing asylum seeker claims on Nauru.

Photo of Alby SchultzAlby Schultz (Hume, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Can you repeat that again?

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I accept the admonition of the member for Hume. Had this government not changed the policies that were working, the Prime Minister's statement would have been correct: we would not have been doing it today—because the boats had stopped and they would have stayed stopped. But nine years after the Prime Minister made that statement, that is precisely what this government now wants us to do to try to clean up the mess that this government itself created.

Let us be absolutely crystal clear—this is a mess of the government's own creation. In 2008, the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship said:

Labor committed to abolishing the Pacific Solution and this was one of the first things the Rudd Labor Government did on taking office. It was also one of my greatest pleasures in politics.

Twenty-two thousand illegal arrivals, 1,000 deaths and $4.7 billion later, the Pacific solution is being put in place.

Now, to his credit, the then minister for immigration, Senator Evans, accepts that he got it wrong. He had the decency to tell the Senate that he had got it wrong. And I suspect the current minister for immigration, sitting opposite, has the decency to admit that he got it wrong, because that is what he said to the cabinet back in October last year—that they had got it wrong. So, since October of last year, the minister for immigration has wanted to change policy. All that has stopped the government doing so from that day to this—10,000 illegal boat arrivals and some 338 deaths at sea later—has been the stubbornness and the pig-headedness of this Prime Minister.

As late as last year, the Prime Minister was saying asylum seekers who went to Nauru to have their claims processed ended up being refugees who came to Australia, so it was a detour, not a solution. As late as six weeks ago, the Prime Minister was saying that the experts had looked the Leader of the Opposition in the eye and said to him, 'Nauru will not work.' Now the Prime Minister, in an extraordinarily brazen performance, comes in here and says, 'Nauru will work.' Well, of course it will work. It will work in conjunction with temporary protection visas and the willingness to turn boats around where it is safe to do so. Why didn't this Prime Minister have the decency to come to this obvious conclusion a long, long time ago? What we can say about this Prime Minister is that there is a judgment problem, there is an integrity problem and there is a consistency problem—and a character problem, because even today the Prime Minister did not want to accept that she got it wrong.

This is a monumental change of policy. Let us be under no illusions about the magnitude of the policy change that this government has suddenly, in the last 24 hours, embraced. This is a massive backflip, and, frankly, in the Westminster tradition, a minister or a prime minister who in effect repudiates his or her old policy to embrace a policy that he or she had always rejected would resign as a matter of honour. As a matter of honour, this government should resign. But we do not expect honour from this government. We do not expect consistency and we do not expect competence. I regret to say that a government that could not competently put pink batts into people's roofs is unlikely to successfully put illegal boat people on Nauru. But they will get their legislation, and, if it fails, this Prime Minister, finally, will have no-one to blame but herself.

3:48 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I suppose it is a little bit too much to hope that we could debate the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 and the Greens amendment without those opposite playing party politics, as it has been a touchstone issue for some time. As they leave the chamber, they must do so with mixed feelings about it.

Yesterday we welcomed the report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers. The panel had the very tough task, quite frankly, over the past six weeks to look at all the options to strengthen our migration policy. They came up with a comprehensive list of recommendations to tackle, once and for all, the issue of people-smuggling, and deter people from getting on leaky boats to make that perilous sea journey to Australia. People-smuggling is a vile criminal enterprise that puts people's lives at risk for a profit motive.

All those in this House should be seized of the view that this is the time to act. We have had enough discussion and consultation. We have certainly had a bellyful of party politics. With the advice from the expert panel, it really is time to get on with the job. Failure to do so means more opportunities for people-smugglers to ply their trade, with, inevitably, more people dying at sea.

Deputy Speaker Scott, as you are well aware, my electorate is the most multicultural in the whole of Australia. Many of my constituents, probably the majority, are either refugees or the descendants of refugees. Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, we saw a huge wave of Vietnamese people fleeing persecution, re-education camps and oppression under the Communist regime. Again, in the 1980s, we witnessed the mass exodus of Cambodians escaping the murderous regime of Pol Pot. Since 2003, following the involvement of the coalition of the willing in Iraq, we have seen the flight of Mandaeans, Assyrians, Chaldean Catholics and other Christian minorities from Iraq. The Catholic Church estimates that, since that time, more than one million Christians have fled the country and are now desperately awaiting processing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in camps in Syria, Jordan and Turkey.

These Vietnamese, Cambodian and Iraqi people make up a large proportion of my electorate. They understand only too well the refugee processing issues confronting this parliament. There are also those with relatives currently in Syria, where only three weeks ago we heard of death squads being deployed to get rid of many of the Christian minorities in Syria, back over the border—back into Iraq. They want to know that, if they line up and apply for refugee status, they will be treated equally.

The recommendations before us go a long way to doing that. They take away the treatment of those who seek to make a perilous journey by boat and who, at the moment, get preferential treatment over those who line up in refugee camps seeking orderly recognition for their refugee status and resettlement in another country. People in my electorate very much understand that. They also understand the unscrupulous nature of people who exploit refugees for profit when they are experiencing a general level of despair.

This morning in Parliament House we had a visit from members of the Assyrian Universal Alliance. They were here to screen a documentary entitled Defying Deletion, made by Andre Anton, a young American filmmaker. The film depicts the flight of the Assyrian and other Christian minorities and Mandaeans in Iraq. Many of these minorities were forced to flee their homes in Iraq to live in refugee camps in neighbouring Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. The current political turmoil in those countries has placed refugees, particularly in Egypt and Syria, in situations which are possibly even more dire than the ones they fled. Many of these people are on very long waiting lists while they seek to migrate to countries which exercise compassion, countries like Australia.

The panel has recommended that we increase our refugee intake from just under 14,000 to 20,000 per annum, a recommendation we accept. The panel goes on to say that we should have an aim of increasing that to 27,000 over the next five years. That can and will save lives. That can and will give a new chance of life to a number of refugees and their families. That can and will take away the incentive for people who believe that their only option is to take a perilous boat journey to this country.

To put this into some perspective, according to the UNHCR there are currently 43 million people around the world who have been forcibly displaced. Of these, 15 million are classified as refugees, 27 million are internally displaced persons and as many as 12 million are regarded as stateless people—in other words, they do not have a country to call home. Australia has constantly been a strong supporter of international efforts to address the protracted refugee situation around the world. As a matter of fact, as we heard today during question time, Australia is one of the top three countries that accepts refugees on a humanitarian basis. The country which takes the largest number is America, followed by Canada and Australia. Each year more than half the refugees accepted for resettlement under the Australian humanitarian program come from situations I have just outlined. The additional 6,250 places each year in the humanitarian program will allow more individuals and their families a new chance of life.

This is obviously a difficult situation for members of both sides of this parliament. I do not think any members coming to this debate will say that they have not had pangs of conscience and felt the emotion associated with it. Representing, as I do, the most multicultural electorate in the country and many people who are themselves refugees or are directly descended from refugees, I certainly have no inhibition in supporting this legislation as the means of making a start to stopping people from taking the perilous journey, for whatever reason, to this country and as a means of taking away the incentive for people to get on boats to afford themselves or their family members preferential status by coming here as irregular maritime entries.

I do not underestimate regional cooperation. It is absolutely essential in establishing a long-term regime to process asylum seekers and to deter people from taking irregular maritime journeys to this country. It is also essential to attack the issue of people smuggling. I am aware, as are many members of this House, that every vessel we read about, whether it arrives at Christmas Island or somewhere else or sinks at sea, represents at a minimum a $1 million profit for a criminal enterprise. People who are in the business of people smuggling are selling that risk. Refugees pay upfront. They do not take out travel insurance for this journey. They pay somewhere between $8,000 and $10,000 before they get on the boat and there is no guarantee of arriving in this country. For criminals involved in people smuggling this is a lucrative enterprise. If they saw more opportunity in peddling drugs, they would probably do that—or prostitution or something else. We need to treat these people for what they are—that is, outright criminals.

And it is not only Australia that is standing up against people smuggling. We have always had a strong view on this, but we need to do it as a region. Through regional cooperation we must shut down these businesses and the people who make their enterprise out of the misery of others. There can be no other way to go about it.

We all remember December 2010, when we watched the tragic deaths at Christmas Island. There, 30 people—men, women and children—lost their lives. Seven weeks ago another boat, which was carrying over 200 people, left Indonesia and capsized and over 100 people died. Ten years ago, 353 people were killed near Ashmore Reef. Now, this week, another vessel is said to be missing with 65 people on board. But people are still prepared to take the risk, and someone out there is prepared to sell them the ticket.

The amendments before us give the immigration minister the power to transfer to a range of designated countries asylum seekers who arrive at various offshore places for processing while ensuring protection from refoulement and maintaining the core protection safeguards as insisted upon by the High Commissioner for Refugees. We should not come in here to play politics on the issue of refugees. Those opposite should not come in here to crow. This parliament should work with the serious objective of doing something constructive about the issue of refugees. We should not come in here and adopt hard means simply because we can; we should come in here to look at the most appropriate methods available to us to deter and stop people smuggling and people being encouraged to come here by boat.

By increasing our humanitarian intake to 20,000 we will show that this country is—as we understand it to be—very compassionate towards genuine refugees and that we will continue to honour our obligations. It is incumbent upon all of us to address the refugee situation with a view to stopping people putting the lives of their families at risk. But we need to do more. We need to work cooperatively within the region. We must ensure that within our region it is understood that people smuggling is a vile, reprehensible, criminal enterprise and that all of us must work together within our region to shut it down. Just as we work together to combat transnational crime such as drug trafficking: people-trafficking et cetera, we must work together on combined law-enforcement strategies to stop the vile, reprehensible way of life that some people engage in of selling the risk of others losing their lives at sea. (Time expired)

4:03 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

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."

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of John CobbJohn Cobb (Calare, National Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food Security) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the amendment to the amendment be agreed to.

4:18 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

At the end of the last sitting period in this debate on what to do about asylum seekers and the recent upsurge in drownings off Christmas Island, I stated that I was wrong—wrong not to have previously supported an element of offshore processing, wrong not to recognise the potential for a humane regional processing of asylum seekers, as former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke had done following the Vietnam War. Now the opposition are trying to seek a political benefit from this report and this legislation, which we both agree on and which seek in a decent and humane way to deal with these dreadful problems of asylum seekers being lost at sea—67 recently in a boat which has been lost without trace. It is a tragedy for those 67 people and their families.

This parliament cannot let what the coalition wishes to slip down the memory hole be not remembered, about the closure of Nauru. Sharman Stone, the member for Murray and the then spokesman on immigration, on behalf of the coalition supported the closure of Nauru and Manus Island. I would like to read to the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Cook some quotes from their spokesman in 2008 and 2009. On Radio 2SM, the coalition's immigration spokesman said:

The closure of Nauru and Manus Island … of course they had basically—what shall we say—outlived their need … I don't think we need to again have Nauru and Manus Island operating, because we've got of course Christmas Island.

On 16 April 2009, Sharman Stone, as immigration spokesman for the opposition, told the Australian:

We no longer have that requirement because we've got an alternative place, which is excised from our migration zone, Christmas Island.

Of course, so much has changed in the circumstances that Australia faces since both the government and the opposition sought to undo the cruelty of some of the Howard government's treatment of people both onshore and offshore. Let's not have revisionist history. That is what most of the policy of the earlier variant of this government, that of Mr Rudd, and the migration committee which I chaired sought to focus on. We were focusing on the treatment of people in onshore facilities like Woomera, where people had been kept without knowledge of when they would get out and kept under cruel circumstances. The then government's policy attempted to handle those issues. It was looking backwards, not to this future problem of so many people trying to get here by boat.

The veteran—and, indeed, venerated—refugee advocate Paris Aristotle said on Lateline last night and both the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Bowen, and Mr Clare have made clear this morning that Nauru and Manus Island will not be locations for detention centres. Accommodation will be established on these islands for refugees and asylum seekers. The Houston-report-initiated legislation, which has the opposition's support, will seek a regional solution in the vein of those of the Fraser and Hawke governments. Unlike the Pacific solution, under these recommendations, which will be legislated, there will be independent monitoring and oversight mechanisms through a high-level group of experts including cross-party membership and experts from the non-government sector. This group will ensure the monitoring and oversight of offshore processing in these places and their adherence to conditions of any transfer arrangements and international obligations that Australia has.

Despite the hope that we would have an end to political partisanship today, that that compromise would be supported in the parliament, we have seen today also the intransigence of the Greens political party which, having done with attacking the government, has moved on to attack the refugee advocate Mr Paris Aristotle. We remember when, six weeks ago, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was over in the corner of the chamber with the Greens political party working to sabotage compromise in this House. I have a very rare picture of that little conclave. It is a picture you cannot get anywhere on a Murdoch website of the Greens political party working intensely with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to sabotage the proposal for Nauru and Malaysia that had the support of the House of Representatives in the last session. The Greens political party in its zealotry continues to attack Mr Aristotle. He said, rightly, in response to those criticisms:

I'm not sure how many refugees or survivors of torture Sarah—

by which he means Senator Hanson-Young—

has actually worked with over the years. I'm not sure how many people she's managed to get out of detention or the resources she's been able to generate.

Late last year, Senator Hanson-Young, representing the Greens as their immigration spokesperson, said after the Christmas Island tragedy—which moved me to say that I was wrong and moved many members of this parliament and many members of the government across all factions to review their attitude, because we do not want people to drown—'tragedies happen, accidents happen' in explaining the Greens refusal to accept that their opposition to compromise blocked legislation from being passed in this parliament.

There are a number of ironies with this report and with the coalition's support of the compromise that has been put up by the government and that has now been accepted by the opposition. First of all, for those of us who are strong supporters of refugees, of asylum seekers and of people's being treated fairly and justly, this legislation is going to see an increase in the number of people coming to Australia. Our annual intake will increase to 20,000. That is a big plus for those who have a humanitarian view of things and who look at the big picture of the issues involved. The intake will later increase to 27,000. The opposition has signed on to this. I wonder what Ray Hadley and the chorus of right-wing cranks on Sydney radio will think of that.

The coalition has also of course denigrated Malaysia. No-one in this parliament has been as great a critic of human rights in Malaysia as me. I organised for 70 senators and members of parliament to criticise the Malaysian government. I had demonstrations organised against me over Malaysia's abuse of its opposition leader. But, when the Australian government came up with a proposal to transfer people back to Malaysia with an agreement that would have looked after their work, education and health rights and that was supported by UNHCR, suddenly the benches opposite became full of advocates for human rights in Malaysia and of concerns about caning et cetera. We had never heard anything from these people before. I exclude the members for Wentworth and Flinders, who are honourable men and who had spoken before then about Malaysia's human rights.

There are other ironies in the political situation we find ourselves in. People are arriving off the shores of Australia, and the coalition have, through their opposition to the Malaysian suggestions, effectively blocked any immediate action that would deal with these problems. Nauru will take some weeks or months to get up and running. The effect of the cacophony from the opposition and their mates in the Murdoch press and the Sydney hysterical radio is to block any immediate action of the kind that this government had proposed—again, a wonderful triumph for the member for Cook.

The other political irony in this situation is that the conservative ranks normally rail against judicial activists in all jurisdictions and in all kinds of courts taking public policy and changing it beyond what parliaments might do. Of course, the conservatives have sought to benefit from the unexpected decision of the High Court on this issue. Normally, especially if it affected them, they would have been railing against the judicial activists on the High Court.

Again, when we look at the government's responsibility on issues of immigration, foreign affairs and defence, we remember that over the last decade we have voted 152 times with the coalition on matters of national security or the national interest. On Malaysia we asked the coalition to vote with us once. Of course, they put the political benefit of playing to the hysteria about refugees and asylum seekers above that.

Now they are crying for the Navy. We all know that Admiral Griggs and the Navy said that the policy of turning back asylum seeker boats to Indonesia without the support of Indonesia, as Mr Houston clearly outlines in his report, would put lives at risk. I say we have to be prepared to separate the contrived populist talkback hysteria from the facts.

Following the increasing number of deaths at sea and the increasing arrival of boats, this government has shown that it is flexible. We must not succumb to the lies, however, that distort the foundation of this debate and opportunities for reasoned compromise. Despite the parochial ranters who talk about refugees flooding our country, in fact asylum seekers are deducted from the 13,700 people slated by our immigration program to come here under humanitarian refugee quotas.

I am pleased we have accepted the in-principle recommendation to increase Australia's humanitarian program to 20,000 places per annum. We are committed to taking more refugees and, as the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has said, we will be one of the highest ranked countries in the world through the effect of our policy. We will be welcoming more refugees than practically any other country. It should be a point of pride to Australians that others wish to come to Australia and start a new life. We are a country of immigrants. We cannot stand by while people drown at sea.

Again, it is extremely ironic to me that it has not been put up, in the debates that one sees in the populist media ranting about these boat people, that the minister for immigration has produced a report that shows that people arriving under the humanitarian and refugee program are the highest achievers for Australia after two or three years of residency. They are the highest achievers. Of course, it is quite logical because these people, coming from the circumstances that they do, seek to benefit in a wonderful country like Australia and they struggle and strive the hardest. It is not surprising at all. It is not the kind of hysteria that the coalition has sought to benefit from and to use to sabotage previous suggestions and the minister for immigration's proposals on Malaysia.

The recommendations of the Houston report are measured, responsible and pragmatic. They accept that Australia alone cannot solve the asylum seeker flow in South-East Asia. There must be a comprehensive regional system in the vein of the Fraser and Hawke systems. We have to work with Indonesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea and indeed Malaysia, as the Houston report very clearly says, towards achieving these ends. Of course, we have to work with settlement countries. It is not simply a matter of working with countries where these people come. We have to work to make sure that all of these people have a place, like the Vietnamese refugees, where eventually they will be able to go to.

Six weeks ago we offered a compromise on Nauru. We said to those opposite that we were willing to put Nauru on the table. We compromised, expecting a little give from those opposite. Now we have the recommendations of an expert panel. Despite agreeing to back the recommendations of the independent panel, we have the coalition glorying with their friends in the media in the so-called embarrassment to the government. I agree with the Prime Minister. If this compromise is what is necessary to deal with the new circumstances then it is what we have to do. This report and this policy are driven by humanity and fairness. They are driven by the need to find a solution to act. Through this legislation we have done so.

4:33 pm

Photo of Warren TrussWarren Truss (Wide Bay, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

Australians will certainly be scratching their heads today in a combination of sadness and frustration. More than four years after overturning the asylum seeker policies of the previous government, Labor has outsourced its decision-making responsibility to a panel. After four years of intransigence, hollow pride and avoidable deaths at sea, the government has now accepted that panel's recommendation to return to the nub of the Howard government's Pacific solution.

This government and this Prime Minister's judgement in a policy vacuum that has precipitated this disaster is at the forefront of people's minds. How could the Prime Minister have got this so wrong? After Mr Angus Houston handed down his 22 recommendations, most of which support or adopt coalition policy, this Prime Minister capitulated to adopt all the recommendations without reservation. What was wrong is now right. What could not be done now can be done—and, of course, must be done. After 1,000 deaths at sea, 22,000 illegal arrivals and a $4.7 billion budget blow-out, something has to be done. Even this government now seems to have realised that fact.

All of the angst, the cost and the turmoil of boats at sea, let alone the lives lost, could have been avoided if Labor had listened to the coalition in the first place. When Labor came to office, the people smuggling trade had stopped. They inherited a policy that was working and they turned it into a failure, a monumental policy failure. This is far worse than the pink batts, the overpriced school halls, the NBN and all of the waste and mismanagement. In this instance, so many lives have been lost. So much policy failure has been delivered to the Australian people. Labor stopped offshore processing, they abandoned temporary protection visas and they stopped turning boats around when they came to office—and the results have been disastrous.

The Prime Minister today was implying that it was the previous Prime Minister that had taken these decisions, and of course that is true. But I refer her to her interview with Laurie Oakes on 27 June 2010 in which the Prime Minister said:

I was the substantive author of a policy paper which became Labor's policy.

So back in June 2010 the current Prime Minister was taking credit for this policy; now she seeks to distance herself from it.

Labor put the people smugglers back into business. They gave them a business model, and the vile trade in the lives of people got underway and it grew stronger and stronger. The people smugglers knew that this government was weak and not prepared to deal with the issues but prepared to allow this appalling trade to continue.

The Australian people were crying out, 'Enough is enough,' for quite some years, but the government was not listening. If the Prime Minister had not been so belligerent and entrenched in what was clearly a rolling disaster, the human tragedy and massive cost of Labor's failed border protection policies could have been avoided. For four years the Prime Minister and Labor insisted that offshore processing at Nauru would not work; now they have embraced it. For four years Australia's borders have been open to incursions at will by people smugglers and their despicable trade in human misery. Lives have been lost, Australia's reputation with its neighbours has been trashed and the costs have grown by hundreds of millions, then by billions, as Labor completely lost control of this issue. After all that time and the moneys lost, yesterday Angus Houston's expert panel gave the green light to Nauru and the red light to Malaysia and the people-swap deal. The panel certainly also rejected the Prime Minister's rhetoric on Nauru.

However, I want to note the efforts of the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. The Houston report does give him some vindication. If media reports are to be believed, 10 months ago Minister Bowen took these very proposals to the Prime Minister and cabinet but was thrown out on his ear. Within Labor, he was ahead of his time but I guess three years behind recognising his government's policy failure. In question time today the minister was complaining about the current policies resulting in people jumping the queue for a refugee place in Australia. But the government were the ones who changed the policy to provide incentives for queue jumping. Now the minister says that this is unacceptable, but they put in place the changes of policy that delivered these disastrous results.

Australians have to wonder why it has taken the government four years to act, let alone the suggestion that almost a year ago these same proposals were put to them and they turned them down. Why the pretence that Nauru would not work? Why the wild claims that it would cost billions to reopen? Why the stubbornness that has done so much damage to Australia's reputation while fuelling the pull factors underpinning the people smugglers' trade? Why all that when Angus Houston's report says Nauru is the way to go and the government so readily now accepts it?

The stubbornness that rejected Nauru is the same stubbornness that is still rejecting other proven elements of the coalition's successful formula to turn around the people smuggling trade. The government has not accepted temporary protection visas, for instance, which are an absolutely key element of removing the incentive for people to come to Australia. The coalition's goal has always been to restore the integrity of our borders and immigration program and to uphold the fairness principles which are important to all Australians.

The reopening of the Nauru processing centre is not enough in itself to stop the people smuggling business. It is important to use Nauru as an offshore processing centre, and we chose to use it because there is a pre-existing facility there. The Nauru government is keen for that centre to be reopened. It is now going to be reopened, but it is not going to be called a detention centre anymore; it is just going to be 'accommodation'. They are the same buildings, but this time it is just going to be accommodation. It is also going to be a 'regional processing centre'. It is still the same island, but for some reason or other now it is a regional processing centre. In reality, it is going to be home for a lot of people for a very long period of time.

It is important to note that in what Labor are now proposing, and the minister said it again today in question time, they do not want any advantage to be given to those people who have arrived illegally by boat. So they are going to have to stay at Nauru, Manus or other offshore detention centres for as long as they would otherwise have spent in a United Nations refugee camp. We all know that there are more than a million people in these sorts of camps around the world. People are spending 10 years or more in these immigration centres. Is it Labor's plan that people are going to live in Nauru for 10 years so that there is no artificial advantage given to them in their entry to Australia? It would have been so easy to reintroduce temporary protection visas, which would have achieved the same objective, the same disincentive, without having to have people live on an island for 10 years away from family and friends.

It is important to put disincentives in place. They need to be strong because this trade is indeed vile and it needs to be stopped. The reality is, however, that that could have been done and was done under the previous government through the use of temporary protection visas and the other elements of our policy platform. Labor instead issued permanent visas to asylum seekers instead of the temporary protection visas that we applied. The temporary visas allowed for repatriation. Australia's obligations under the refugee convention are to give safe haven to people who are at risk of persecution or injury in their home country. This obligation does not extend to the country of haven being required to accept these people permanently. Once their home country has become safe and peaceful again, there is no reason why they cannot be returned to their homeland. Labor's decision to stop issuing temporary protection visas was the biggest single factor that reignited the people smuggling trade.

By the end of 2001 the coalition had introduced offshore processing at Nauru and Manus and temporary protection visas and had initiated policy to turn back boats where it was safe to do so. In the previous three years, 12,176 people had arrived on 180 boats. By 2002 the people smuggling trade was broken. In the six years after these measures were introduced only 272 people turned up on 16 boats. There was only one boat arrival in total between 2002 and 2005. Since Labor changed the policy in November 2007, 22,518 people have arrived in Australia on 386 boats. It was the Prime Minister who was fond of saying, 'Another boat, another policy failure.' Under Labor there have been 386 policy failures. Since the Prime Minister herself came to office, 15,169 people have arrived illegally in Australia. That is 246 boats on her watch—246 policy failures.

It is important to note that when the Howard coalition government succeeded in stopping the people smuggling trade it did not put an end to refugees coming to Australia. Those people brought into Australia by people smugglers were taking places in Australia's annual refugee quota which otherwise would have been allocated to those who had been assessed as genuine and most needy by the United Nations. Some of the people had been waiting in refugee camps for more than a decade and at last were given entry into Australia. Indeed, the Howard years enabled the most significant refugee intake into Australia in the modern era, and there are many genuine refugees from around the world who owe their current lifestyle and safety in Australia to the cessation of people smuggling in 2002.

Australia has a history of generously accepting refugees. Many Australians can trace their ancestry to a generation that came into Australia to seek a new life and escape persecution in other parts of the world, and in doing so they have made a valuable contribution to the growth and development of modern Australia. Australians remain ready to accept our share of refugees from the trouble spots of the world, but the public also expect that those who come to Australia will be properly screened to ensure that they are not a threat to the peace and safety of our own country.

Julia Gillard has been proved wrong on Nauru, and she is still wrong on TPVs and turning the boats around. As Angus Houston says, it can be done. The coalition has consistently argued for proven policies that work to strengthen Australia. Our policies on the borders, offshore processing at Nauru and Manus, TPVs and turning the boats around when safe to do so are proven to work. The coalition understands that the Howard government's solutions worked then and they will work again now.

In October 2009 I raised concerns about 25 people who had died trying to get to Australia since Labor signalled its new open-door policy on border security. That was way back in October 2009. I proposed that that should have been enough deaths for Labor to rethink its failed strategy. The response from the Deputy Prime Minister, who is now the Prime Minister, was savage. She accused me of a vile and despicable slur. Today, having acknowledged that her policies have failed, I sincerely hope that no more lives will be lost. Yet I fear that, unless TPVs and the turning-boats-around feature of our former policy are included in the new regime, there will still be people who continue to make the perilous journey to Australia.

The amendments that the coalition is proposing are essential to help deliver the effective deterrent that is going to be necessary to stop this trade. Whilst the opening of Nauru, Manus and other places will make a difference, an improvement that the opposition of course will support, unless the policies of the Howard government are embraced in full, there will not be the final solution that we all want. Australia is prepared to accept people who are suffering persecution in their own country and to give them an opportunity to make a home here in this country, but, as John Howard said, we have a right to choose who comes to this country. In association with the United Nations, that can be done in a constructive and effective way to deliver a fair immigration policy in this country.

4:48 pm

Photo of Dick AdamsDick Adams (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question of asylum seekers has been a vexed problem for all developed countries for decades. It has posed huge challenges for the world's destination countries, including, of course, our own Australia. These countries struggle to maintain a balance between controlling national borders and offering protection to millions of displaced people. Just think of when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was established in 1951: there were approximately 1.5 million refugees internationally. At the end of 2010 there were an estimated 43.7 million forcibly displaced people, including 15.4 million refugees, 837,500 asylum seekers and 27.5 million internally displaced persons. It is a lot of people.

We have recognised as a government that, with the magnitude of these global trends, the number of people seeking asylum in Australia is small compared to those in Europe and other parts of the world. But we have had a long history of accepting refugees, including thousands during and immediately after World War II. They have contributed hugely to the development of our nation, and some of us are much better people because we grew up with migrant children and went to school with them.

However, there is a great deal of confusion, I find, about the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee. Often the terms are used interchangeably and incorrectly. An asylum seeker is someone who is seeking international protection but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined. But a refugee is someone who has been recognised under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees to be a refugee. The definition of refugee does not cover individuals or groups of people who leave their country only because of war or other civil disturbance, famine or natural disasters, or in order to seek a better life. It is only the fear of persecution and that they cannot return safely to their homes in prevailing circumstances that make them a refugee. These definitions are important if we are to put sense into what the government is trying to do to prevent people launching themselves into leaky boats and risking their lives to maybe claim asylum here in Australia.

The confusion about the difference between these, and their legal status, arises from those arriving by boat doing so without a valid visa or any other appropriate authorisation, whereas most, though not all, who arrive by air and then seek asylum usually enter on a valid visa. When unauthorised boat arrivals are intercepted in Australian waters, the passengers are transferred to Christmas Island in order to establish their reasons for attempting to enter Australia without authority.

There is a view that asylum seekers, particularly those who arrive in Australia by boat, are 'jumping the queue' and taking the place of more-deserving refugees patiently waiting resettlement in refugee camps. And, as per the figures I quoted earlier, there are a lot of people in camps seeking to be assessed as refugees. But the concept of an orderly queue does not accord with the reality of the asylum process. Very few are registered with the UNHCR. Fewer than one per cent of the world's refugees may be resettled in any given year. Refugees do not have a right to be settled and states are not obliged under the 1951 refugee convention, or any other instrument, to accept refugees for resettlement. It is a voluntary scheme coordinated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which, amongst other things, facilitates burden sharing amongst signatory states.

Although Australia is very willing to take in refugees—we certainly do our share and always have done so—we cannot take them all, nor should we. Every country has an obligation to assist the displaced, and although some of them have less than ideal conditions they are often a lot better than those in the places they left.

There needs to be a regional solution—this has been started for some years now—where all countries can assist in resettling or repatriating the millions of people in our region who require it. Only by negotiating and discussing issues with our neighbours and working with them will we find an ongoing solution. The government is introducing legislation to enable the transfer of irregular maritime arrivals to third countries for processing of their asylum claims. This is a means by which boat arrivals can be stemmed so that people do not risk their lives only to find they will not necessarily be able to stay in Australia.

In world terms, the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia is quite small. But there have been a number of political problems that have resulted in a threefold increase in boat arrivals, and this has been exploited by the other side of the House and by other political parties. This has also led to the tragic loss of life due to people smugglers luring people onto boats without their having knowledge of what was before them. However, I think the crunch time now has come and there is a realisation by all parliamentarians that we all have to act and make decisions if we are to prevent more deaths at sea. It is not easy for some MPs, which I readily accept, and I know it is very difficult for my own colleagues to accept what is in front of them, but we have to bite the bullet now to achieve that. On the government side of the House we have had to endure a bit of ribbing from the opposition, but they have also given a lot of ground, allowing all possible options for offshore processing. They are also agreeing to a greater number of places under the humanitarian program.

The report of the expert panel on asylum seekers, now known as the Houston report, produced some recommendations that are aimed at better achieving a way forward that shifts the balance of risk and incentive in favour of regular migration pathways and established international protections as against high-risk maritime migration. I thank the three men for the good work they have done for their nation. I believe the acceptance in full of these recommendations will ensure that the government of the day can determine the border protection policy it believes is in the best interests of the nation.

We also remain committed to increasing the humanitarian program to 20,000 places per year, with a minimum of 12,000 places to be allocated for the refugee component, which would double the current allocation. But we cannot take all the refugees around the world who are hunting for new homes. When I was in Iran a few years ago I visited one of their refugee camps. They told me they had over two million refugees coming through their country at that time. I watched as hundreds of buses were loaded up with displaced persons. They were given a few sets of clothes, a 20-gallon can of water per family and some simple food and then were put on the buses and sent back over the border to a site in Afghanistan where it was deemed safer than where they had come from.

I was briefed in Cyprus more recently on the many thousands of illegal immigrants coming through from the Turkish side into the Greek side. The Cypriots were desperately trying to sort out what to do with them.

Most of them were trying to get to the European continent and were just using Cyprus as a jumping point. It caused all sorts of difficulties there. Malta has had to cope with thousands of people coming in from Libya, with all the troubles going on there. They are two small islands that have had to cope with excessive numbers of illegal arrivals. We are fortunate that it is not as easy to get to Australia as it is to get to some other parts of the world that displaced persons try to get to. Even so, we must do our bit because Australia might not always be the end destination; it might be Nauru or Malaysia or Indonesia or other countries in South-East Asia if regional arrangements are put in place. It is only this regional solution that will give us the proper solution in the long run.

People smuggling is a criminal act. It exploits and takes money from desperate and frightened people. We should treat those people smugglers and their criminal actions with the contempt they deserve. I understand around 1,000 people have died at sea trying to get to Australia in recent times. That demonstrates why we need to pass this legislation. We must stop the people-smuggling trade, and under this legislation there will be no advantage for people trying to get to Australia in leaky boats. There is a no-advantage test in this legislation—there is no advantage in trying to get to Australia in a boat illegally. This legislation will give people an opportunity to be processed where they are. We will increase the number of people able to come and we will give them every opportunity, but there is no advantage in their trying to get on a boat and come across the sea, endangering themselves and their family. That is the message going out in this legislation. Hopefully it will save people's lives and put an end to this dreadful trade, taking away these dreadful people who exploit others trying to find a way forward in their lives.

I believe, now that the legislation is finally coming to parliament, there is a desire by just about everybody—not everybody, of course—to solve the dilemma we have found ourselves in. I support the legislation.

5:03 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Justice, Customs and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

We are dealing with an issue that has clearly been Labor's biggest policy fiasco and debating the reintroduction of migration measures that Labor were so proud to abolish four years ago when they came to office. Even during that four years the consequences of that decision were obvious to anybody with a passing interest in this issue. Surely this is evidence that this is their most serious policy misstep, a policy they have clung to for far too long when all the evidence showed us how it was encouraging people smuggling. As the Leader of the Opposition said in his comments, it is the people smugglers who have on their hands the blood of those people who have lost their lives making this very dangerous journey. Sadly it is the government that has refused to take action after it was its policy decisions that resulted in a surge in people smuggling.

People smugglers are vicious criminals. The member for Fowler correctly said that they would probably be engaged in smuggling other contraband if they were not involved in smuggling people, and they care absolutely nothing for the lives and welfare of the people they put on the high seas in rickety boats in extraordinarily dangerous conditions. You hear stories about people being abandoned mid-journey. We should never fall for the trap that they are somehow modern day Oscar Schindlers, rescuing people—they are vicious criminals who must be closed down in the interests of Australia and also in the interests of the people they are smuggling.

We need to be clear that this is not an area of public policy where any good deed goes unpunished. No good intention goes unpunished. People smugglers see our idea of compassion as a business opportunity and they see what is a natural Australian desire to help vulnerable people as just another weakness that they can exploit. We must acknowledge this reality if we are going to effectively close down this evil trade. The great tragedy of Labor's policy since the government changed in 2007 is that they have let pride and politics get in the way of recognising what their decision when they came to office unleashed.

I want to go through some history up to the point of our dealing with this government backflip today. I am not doing this to say 'I told you so' or anything like that; I am doing it because it makes the point that what we are discussing here today is a step in the right direction but sadly not the whole solution. We need to encourage the government to take the further steps that it needs to take to bring down the wall on people smugglers and drive them from their evil trade. We need to understand why we are here—why is it that we have had an upsurge in people smuggling; why is it that we have had 22,000 people arrive illegally; why is it that we have had these tragedies at sea; why is it that the Australian taxpayer has been shelling out literally billions of dollars to deal with this failure?

Australia has, for a long time—for many decades—faced the problem of people arriving in Australia illegally. We faced it in the seventies under the Fraser government and they dealt with it—although of course that was a regional problem. We faced an upsurge again in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Howard government was in office. When people smugglers are successful in smuggling people down here, success breeds success. So what started as a trickle became a flood—to the point where the government knew action was needed to stop this from happening. They took a series of decisive yet controversial measures, one of which was known as the Pacific solution. Those measures unarguably and unambiguously closed down people smuggling.

If you look at the empirical evidence, you cannot argue against that proposition. From 2002 onwards, after those decisions were made and implemented, illegal boat arrivals averaged three per year. When the government changed in 2007, there were four people on Christmas Island. Those policies, which were unarguably successful, which achieved the policy result we were seeking—closing down people smuggling—were, at the time, deeply controversial in the Australian community. Very importantly, they were criticised very heavily by the Labor opposition at the time.

I will highlight to the House the sorts of things Labor were saying at the time—in particular, the sorts of things this Prime Minister was saying. She was, at that time, the Labor opposition's immigration spokesperson. In 2002 the Prime Minister, in her capacity as the opposition spokesperson, said:

The so-called Pacific solution—

which was offshore processing on PNG's Manus Island and in Nauru—

is nothing more than the world's most expensive detour sign. It does not stop you getting to Australia; it just puts you through a detour on the way while Australian taxpayers pay for it and pay for it.

She went on to say:

To that end Labor has given the following commitments. Labor will end the so-called Pacific solution—the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific islands—because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle.

Earlier in 2002, she had said:

The so-called Pacific solution—stripped of the other policies that the government has scrambled around and tried to put in place since the Tampais really no more than the processing of people offshore in third countries. It is a policy that Labor does not support, because it achieves nothing and costs so much in so many ways—in money, in goodwill in our region and in division in our community. I would like briefly to take the House to the three principal problems with the so-called Pacific solution: costs, unsustainability and the fact that it delivers no outcomes.

I could go on with other quotes—not only from the current Prime Minister but also from other members of the opposition—criticising the Pacific solution, even though it is empirically impossible to argue that it did not do what we wanted it to do, which was to stop people smuggling. In particular, I have one here from when the Prime Minister, then the opposition immigration spokesperson, was talking about the arrival of SIEV4—suspected illegal entry vessel 4. We are now up to SIEV386.

When SIEV4 arrived, the then opposition spokesperson, Julia Gillard, now our Prime Minister, said that the arrival of SIEV4 asylum seekers in Australia had made a mockery of the expensive Pacific solution and that the so-called Pacific solution was nothing more than a very expensive detour sign. This is reminiscent of other comments she had made. I think it is fair to say that the government's heart is hardly in offshore processing, and I think that is the problem with some of what we are discussing today.

Needless to say, when Labor came to office, this is one promise they did make good on—they did abolish the Pacific solution in August 2008. The then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship was quoted as saying that it was his proudest moment in politics. The abolition of these successful policies which had stopped people smuggling was the then immigration minister's proudest moment in politics. He said that the policy in relation to offshore processing in Nauru was not only 'morally wrong and outrageously expensive—it failed.' When they abolished the Pacific solution, he said:

Australians can feel confident that we have in place and will maintain strong border security measures.

This happened in August 2008. But literally the next month, in September 2008, the people smugglers were back in business. They watch what is happening in Australian policymaking and they know a business opportunity when they see it. The Labor Party provided that business opportunity and the people smugglers restarted the following month. Subsequently, it has got worse. People started arriving in September 2008, it got worse in 2009, it got worse in 2010, it got worse in 2011, and this year is the worst year for illegal arrivals on record—and we are only in the middle of August.

It is clearly obvious to anybody with a passing interest in the facts that, when Labor abolished these policies in August 2008, the consequence of that decision was to put the people smugglers back in business. Yet it has taken four years for the government to acknowledge that. During those four years, we have had arguments from government ministers—the minister at the table for one—along the lines of: 'There is nothing we can do. It is just push factors. There are things happening in the world. We can't address them. We are just going to have to accept that people smugglers are going to bring people down to Australia illegally.'

When we used to raise this issue in the parliament at question time, the government benches would whistle. The idea behind that was that somehow we were dog whistling—appealing to what they see as the darker nature of their fellow Australians. That says a lot about the way they see their fellow Australians. They said that it was dog whistling. You do not hear that any more. Somehow, according to the government, raising this issue was illegitimate—it was not a legitimate issue for us to be concerned about. They implied that we should not be concerned about people smugglers bringing people to Australia and that we should not be concerned about the consequences for Australia. They have abandoned those arguments after being mugged by reality.

That is the history of this issue. For four years, as the problem got worse, the government have looked around for excuses and to deflect attention from the bleeding obvious: that abolishing the Pacific solution, that abolishing temporary protection visas, that refusing to turn boats around—even though that was their stated policy prior to the 2007 election—has allowed people smugglers to sell the amazing product of permanent residence in Australia and that those people smugglers have been making literally millions of dollars on the back of Labor's failed policies.

That is how we find ourselves here today with this monumental backflip. But the Australian people have to be asking themselves, 'Why has it taken us so long to get to this point?' How bad did things have to become before Labor faced the reality of what they unleashed in 2008? This is absolutely Labor's biggest policy fiasco. The fact that we are debating this bill today is a testament to their complete lack of judgment on these issues. Sadly, this lack of judgment is still on display because, whilst accepting the need, finally, for offshore processing in Nauru and in PNG, and abandoning the reality of their Malaysia solution—which I do not have time to go into but the flaws of which were obvious to most members of this House—they are still not going all the way. They are still refusing to embrace the full suite of policies that would have the desired and required effect, which is stopping people-smuggling. They are adopting just one of the three elements of the coalition policy that we must adopt if we are serious.

We must turn boats back around when it is safe and appropriate to do so. The Australian Navy has done it more than half-a-dozen times. Other navies around the world do it. The Sri Lankan Navy is doing it as we speak, as is the US Coast Guard. Importantly, the Houston report, as the report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers is now being called, said that it is feasible to do it and that it would act as a deterrent if it were done. Now, that is different from what the government have been saying. They have been saying, 'It's impossible; the Navy can't do it,' even though it has done it before. So the Houston panel has said explicitly that it is possible and, if it were done, it would act as a deterrent.

What the government have said is that they do not believe that, at the moment, all of the conditions are in place for that to happen. But, surely, the challenge for the government is to go out and make those conditions happen, to go out and talk to our regional neighbours, to get over the remaining hurdles, to make sure that we can turn the boats back around when it is safe and appropriate to do so, and to acknowledge that if we do so it will be a significant deterrent. It was a significant deterrent in the past. Nothing could undermine people-smugglers more, when they go out and try and sell their product, than people understanding that if you get on a boat and you are intercepted by the Australian Navy you are not going to be taken directly to Australia; you going to be turned back around to return to the port from which you came.

The final part of our suite of policies that must be embraced is temporary protection visas, and it needs to be embraced for two reasons. Again, it is a very powerful way of undermining the people-smugglers' business model, and surely the whole purpose of our policies is to do everything we can to undermine that. A temporary protection visa system does that because it takes away the product they are selling, which is permanent residence in Australia. People-smugglers could no longer say, 'If you pay me $10,000, I can get you to Australia and you can stay there.' People will know they might get to Australia but they will not get permanent residence. Of course, being a refugee is not necessarily a permanent condition. Conditions in home countries can change; Sri Lanka is probably a reasonable example of that. If conditions in your home country do improve, then you should be able to return, once the Australian government have provided the protection that we are obligated to provide.

The government's policy, sadly, only goes a third of the way that we need to go. It is a step in the right direction, but we must go further. They must embrace the whole suite of coalition policies if we are to smash people-smuggling. (Time expired)

5:19 pm

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have read the report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers from cover to cover. I have had a look at what Mr Houston has said in his report and I have seen what has happened here. It was this government that appointed the expert panel, because we believed that due to the pig-headedness of other people we could not get a reasonable, fair and intelligent solution. We also said that we would support the recommendations of Mr Houston and the rest of the panel, and that is exactly what we have done. What we have seen today as a result is a hysterical carry-on from those opposite, saying, 'We've won!' That is absolute rubbish. They have not won; no-one has really 'won'. We all have to sit here and chew a little bit of broken glass and accept some modifications to what we believe in to actually get a solution that saves lives. Having read through the report, I think they have done a pretty good job and they have got it right.

Earlier today, I listened to the gloating from the Leader of the Opposition, carrying on like he had won Tattslotto, because he believed he got everything he wanted. It reminded me of a long time ago, when I was down at the shop, and this bloke walked up to me and said, 'You know, that Abbott's a show bag: he's overpriced and full of crap.' I think today—

Photo of Sharon GriersonSharon Grierson (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would caution the member, and we will address members by their correct titles, thank you.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I shall.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Casey, Liberal Party, Deputy Chairman , Coalition Policy Development Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

We will do a bit better than that, Madam Deputy Speaker—

Photo of Sharon GriersonSharon Grierson (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

And I will ask him to withdraw.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Casey, Liberal Party, Deputy Chairman , Coalition Policy Development Committee) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw 'Mr Abbott'. I will say 'the Leader of the—

Photo of Sharon GriersonSharon Grierson (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think you will just withdraw unconditionally.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw the whole statement. But I will say that I think the gentleman that spoke to me was wrong, because I do not think that there are any circumstances in which you could say the Leader of the Opposition was overpriced. I think he is cheap, as cheap as you can get. That is what we have seen in the carry-on today, in the way that he believes, 'We've got success. We've got Nauru.' Now, Nauru in its Pacific solution form was nothing like what is being proposed by the expert panel—nothing like it at all. If anyone on the other side had actually taken the time to read the report, they would know that what the expert panel have recommended is nothing like the old Nauru proposal. It is not a detention centre. In fact, Mr Aristotle said on Lateline that what is proposed is a very different arrangement from the Pacific solution. He said:

… we're not recommending opening detention centres.

That is what he said, but if you listen to those opposite, that is not what they want to hear. They make up things out of the report. They must have their own copy of the report, a copy they have written. If you compare what they are saying with what is written in this report, it does not make sense. The report says that people would not be in arbitrary detention, that they would have to return to the accommodation in the evenings but that it is not intended any of the proposed transfer facilities would be detention centres. That is very important.

The Nauru and Papua New Guinea solution is a short-term arrangement. This is about getting something to happen quickly to stop people risking their lives on unseaworthy boats coming to this country. The panel also says we should get on with the Malaysian solution. If you listen to those opposite, you would know that they said Malaysia was redlighted. That is factually incorrect. I challenge those on the other side to show where in the report it says that. It does not say that; it says that that is a medium-term solution, that we have to strengthen what we have, to get it all in place with a proper legal framework around it. At the end of the day, the goal has to be a regional solution. It is something we do not attack on our own; it is something for which we need the support of our neighbours. That is pretty much what the report says because the most important priority is to prevent people risking their lives to come here.

We also hear those on the other side carry on about the TPVs, as though they are the great white hope of the world. Nothing in the report talks about TPVs because we know that they did not work. They encouraged women and children to get on boats and that was evident throughout the years. We also heard about how Howard's Pacific solution ended boat arrivals. I am sure George Bush would have coughed into his coffee if he had heard that this morning because it was the effort of NATO and other countries around the world to bring stability to regions affected by wars that slowed the process down. That of course all gets forgotten in the cheap little play that happens when those on the other side pretend they have some big win out of nothing.

No-one wins with this sort of stuff. We have to get on with the job. The Prime Minister said that and Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has said we have to get a result. We put up the option of offshore processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea a while ago but it was not backed by the stubbornness of the opposition, who do not really care what happens to people. For them, it is just a game to try to gain a vote

Photo of Ms Julie BishopMs Julie Bishop (Curtin, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Don't be disgusting!

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a fact. How many members of the opposition formed a committee to work together to find a solution? Two, and what happened to those two? You physically restrained one from crossing the floor. This is not about you trying to find a solution; this is about you trying to find votes. For the last hour we have heard rubbish about this. There are 40 members who wish to speak on this legislation. This is just a gloat. Not one speaker has been able to, nor will they be able to point to where the report says that what they said is right. I am happy to give the next speaker a copy of the report, to read what it says.

We hear about turning back the boats. The Leader of the Opposition says, 'I don't care what the leader of Indonesia says; 'I'm going to turn back the boats,' knowing full well he cannot do it. That is right: you shake your head and say no because he cannot do it. The Leader of the Opposition is going to Indonesia, one of our closest neighbours and trading partners, to say, 'I don't care what you say; I'm going to turn the boats back.' That is an absolute furphy. The Navy have said no, the former Chief of the Defence Force has said no, but you get up and say, 'We can do that. We are so much better than the rest of the world, those of us in the Liberal opposition.' Even though the Indonesian government reiterated on 10 July that they would not permit boats containing asylum seekers to be turned around, Tony Abbott says the coalition government will turn them back without permission.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Casey, Liberal Party, Deputy Chairman , Coalition Policy Development Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

You are cheaper than a $2 shop.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If you want to talk about cheap, talk about your politics. The cheapness we have to put up with today is listening to what comes from those opposite, which means nothing. We know that national policy settings alone cannot resolve the challenges the world faces in relation to asylum seekers. We know that that cannot be done. That is why the report strongly talks about a regional framework, as agreed at the fourth Bali Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crimes held in March 2011. The regional framework provides a very productive way forward and the principles that underline the RCF and the guidance provided for practical arrangements developed in it are further explored when you look through attachment No. 6 to the report.

The report is very comprehensive in the way it deals with all the issues at hand, understanding what goes on. You have a collective group of people who are very intelligent and level-headed. They are not political. They are out there to do a job. They have done a fantastic job in the six weeks since parliament came to a grinding halt on this issue. We should wholeheartedly support the recommendations in the report, to get on with something and to deliver it straight away, to find some way to get through this and, going back to what I said, to stop people getting on to boats to risk their lives to come to this country.

How we can do this is something we should all be working at, as genuine human beings. Increasing our humanitarian intake to 20,000 places per annum with a minimum of 12,000 places for the refugee component of the program is a big step going forward. We on this side support 20,000 places—it is in our platform. We also support the move to get to 27,000 places in five years. This problem is not Australia's alone. There are millions of displaced people around the world who fear persecution and are not able to return to their homelands. Our country is a safe haven where they can enjoy a life with opportunities and freedom. We should wholeheartedly support this report. We should not pontificate, wasting time for the next four or five hours. We should get on with the job. We should agree to the amendments put forward by the minister to get this solution under way as quickly as possible.

5:30 pm

Photo of Ms Julie BishopMs Julie Bishop (Curtin, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Over the last two days we have witnessed the public humiliation of a government that is too arrogant, too stubborn and too stupid to acknowledge its abject policy failures and to admit that it was wrong—dreadfully, manifestly and tragically wrong—and too craven to say sorry to the Australian people for its policy failures. Over the last four years the Australian public has witnessed one of the greatest policy failures in a generation. This government changed the laws which had provided a solution to the problem of people smuggling and then put in place policies which encouraged criminal syndicates of people smugglers—indeed, gave them licence—to restart their trade, which had been dismantled. The government then saw the recommencement of the people-smuggling trade with boats arriving day after day, month after month and wave after wave. On this government's watch there have been over 22,000 boat arrivals, 1,000 deaths at sea—that we know of—and a cost blowout of $4.7 billion. A government like this should be condemned rather than stand up here seeking congratulations for grudgingly accepting what the coalition has advised, asked and pleaded that the government do over the last four years—that is, pick up the telephone, speak to the President of Nauru and reopen the processing centre on Nauru. That is what they are going to do today—put through legislation to reopen the very same processing centre on Nauru which was opened under the previous government.

The Prime Minister admitted today in question time that she was the substantive author of Labor's failed former policy. In fact, back in 2010, the Prime Minister boasted to Laurie Oakes on the Nine Network that she was the substantive author of the policy paper which became Labor's policy. With what appears in retrospect to be gallows humour, her policy was called 'Protecting Australia and Protecting the Australian Way'. In October 2002, the now Prime Minister, proud to be the author of a policy that was going to close down Nauru, called the processing centre on Nauru an 'unsustainable fiasco'. Labor, on coming to office, implemented this Prime Minister's policy. It dismantled the Howard government's policies, which had worked to stop the boats. It closed down Nauru and trumpeted this as some sort of great policy win. It abolished temporary protection visas. It dismissed the policy of turning back the boats. Together, all those Howard government policies had very effectively worked to stop the boats.

We warned time and time again that this was sending the wrong message; that the people smugglers would take heart from Labor's position; that the people-smuggling trade would restart; that people would take the terrible journey and come by boat; and that there would be consequences, including deaths at sea. In response we were lectured, we were hectored, we were verbally abused, we were told that we were wrong and we were accused of being inhumane. But we understood that it was not humane to allow people smugglers to lure people to take the dangerous journey across the sea and, in the case of nearly 1,000 people that we know of, be lured to their deaths.

Remember when the Prime Minister, when she was the shadow immigration minister, put out a press release entitled 'Another boat, another policy failure' upon the arrival in Australian waters of just the third boat in three years? Since then 360 boats have arrived—and, by the Prime Minister's own benchmark, that is 360 policy failures. Under the Westminster system of ministerial responsibility, heads in this government should have rolled. Ministers for immigration should have resigned—first Senator Evans and now, I am sorry to say, the minister at the table. The member for McMahon should have resigned under the Westminster system of ministerial responsibility. He offered his resignation when he was rolled in cabinet for putting up the very proposal that the government has now accepted. He put up his proposal last October, and over 300 deaths have occurred since that time. If this Prime Minister had accepted the advice of her immigration minister last October, the tragic events that we have since seen would not have occurred. This minister, having been rebuffed in that way, should have resigned. The cost blowout alone should have triggered ministerial resignations. There has been a $4.7 billion cost blowout as well as 1,000 deaths at sea and the complete decimation of our border protection system. Also, the government has had to open detention centres across Australia after the Prime Minister solemnly promised the Australian people at the last election that she would not be doing so.

But, above all, this was the Prime Minister's policy, and her stubbornness—indeed, her arrogance—since 24 June 2010, when she knifed a first-term Prime Minister to take his job, when she said that a government had lost its way and named border protection as one of those areas. It was at that time that she should have rejected utterly her policy, or the document of which she was a substantive author. She should have then accepted responsibility for her policy mistakes, she should have apologised and she should have accepted the advice of the coalition that the Nauru processing centre should be reopened, temporary protection visas should be reintroduced and the Navy should be directed, in circumstances where it was safe to do so, to turn back the boats.

Indeed, the Prime Minister should have resigned over this shameful affair. But she will not resign. The Prime Minister has no shame, no sense of decency and no sense of responsibility. The Prime Minister, as the national leader of this country, should steer Australia's moral compass. She should provide guidance and direction and leadership. Yet from every perspective, at every step of the way on this shameful journey during this Prime Minister's watch, she has failed each and every standard that the Australian people should be entitled to expect of their national leader.

It takes a special kind of arrogance to stand there, as the Prime Minister did in question time today, and adopt the brazen sophistry that we witnessed, trying to claim that somehow the Houston panel had not repudiated the Prime Minister's policies, and trying to argue, quite deceptively, that the recommendation to reopen Nauru and Manus Island was not an endorsement of the Howard government's policies. It is Nauru! It is where it always was—same postcode, same phone number. And when I asked the Prime Minister to apologise, to say sorry, for what has occurred on her watch—the tragedy of the thousand deaths at sea and the breakdown in our border protection system, which is one of the fundamental responsibilities of a national government—she pointedly, deliberately, wilfully refused. And that is what is so dispiriting from the coalition's perspective: the Prime Minister's graceless and churlish response—again on the attack against the opposition and still seeking to score a point. Rather than address her need to say sorry, she patronisingly told me to go and read the Houston report—as if I had not read it! And she sought to blame others, including, might I point out, her nemesis, the former Prime Minister. She sought to blame the former Prime Minister for adopting a policy that she was the substantive author of when she was in opposition.

The litany of failures is a sad and sorry tale. The Prime Minister said, back in June 2010, that a first-term Prime Minister had to go because the government had lost its way on border protection and she was going to fix this issue with her East Timor solution. And remember that shameful episode where the Prime Minister said she was not talking about East Timor and then had to admit that she did mention East Timor and then had to admit that she had not spoken to the appropriate people in the government of East Timor and then tried to walk away from her policy? As Laurie Oakes so famously described it, she was silly and shifty and slimy and slippery, and, he said, it was a bad start to her prime ministership. Well, Laurie Oakes was prescient. In fact he has defined her prime ministership. And, all the while, as the Prime Minister was trying to say that East Timor really did agree to a processing centre when we all knew that East Timor did not, she was insulting Nauru—refusing to pick up the phone to speak to the President of Nauru, who had offered to host a processing centre. This Prime Minister did not even have the grace to contact him.

Speaking of damaging our relationships with our neighbours, Labor seems to have turned this into an art form. Remember the Oceanic Vikingdebacle? Remember the stand-off at Merak and the arrogance of the then Labor Prime Minister in dealing with Indonesia and then running a commentary of his conversations with the President of Indonesia through the media? Should the coalition be so honoured as to be elected as the next government of this country, we will work quietly and diligently, behind the scenes, not with a running commentary through the media, with the government of Indonesia, and we will repair the relations with Indonesia that have been so damaged by this government—not just through its appalling handling of the border protection and asylum seeker issues but also through that shameful episode of the banning of the live cattle export trade which affected the livelihoods of thousands and thousands of Indonesians, let alone Australians in Northern Australia.

Then of course there was the Malaysia solution—always flawed, fundamentally wrong—that stripped away the human rights elements of the Migration Act. One of the most ridiculous aspects of the Malaysian solution was that it was capped. Eight hundred boat arrivals were to be sent to Malaysia; we would receive 4,000 in return. And this was meant to be over a four-year period. At that current rate of arrivals, 800 boat arrivals, it would have been over in a couple of days—let alone the fact that the High Court found it to be illegal.

I will never forget when, over Christmas and New Year, the minister for immigration, who is at the table, the then minister for foreign affairs, the member for Cook and I met to discuss a way through. This is the coalition sitting down with the government last year trying to find a way through. We said: 'Please, contact Nauru. Open a detention centre on Nauru. They have offered; they are willing to do it. We can do it now. You don't need legislation. You can do it now.' And we were rebuffed. Even now, the Prime Minister refuses to accept the coalition's advice, our experience, on these matters.

To stop the boats you need offshore processing—on Nauru and Manus Island—and we thank God that they have accepted our advice on that. But you also need temporary protection visas, and you need a public willingness to direct Northern Command to turn back the boats where it is safe to do so. Inch by inch, we have managed to drag this Prime Minister to a point where she has accepted one-third of the coalition's policy. Two-thirds remain. How long will it take? How many tragedies will we have to witness before the Prime Minister embraces the coalition's policies?

Six weeks ago the Prime Minister tried to force the Oakeshott bill—I will call it that for shorthand—through the parliament and, during that episode, she demonstrated yet again that the job of Prime Minister is beyond her. If ever the Labor caucus needed to act in Australia's national interest, if ever it deemed it could do so, it would be to rid this country of a shameless and unworthy Prime Minister who has presided over a shameful policy disaster.

5:44 pm

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

We know that approximately 600 people—not illegal immigrants or unauthorised arrivals, as some choose to label them, but 600 human beings—have died trying to get to our shores in recent years. That is probably just the tip of the iceberg, because we can reasonably assume that many more boats have sunk without even coming to the attention of the authorities, let alone being subject to any sort of rescue attempt. In fact, probably over a thousand asylum seekers have lost their lives in recent years on the sea leg between transit countries, Indonesia in particular, and Australia. That is a thousand or more dreams of a better life extinguished—bodies smashed against the already bloodstained rocks, last breaths gasped in a frenzied panic as parents struggled to save their children from their watery graves.

This is not a border security problem. This is a humanitarian crisis, and it escapes me how anyone in this place could seek to implement any solution not underpinned by our lucky country's moral framework and our obligations, both written and implied, as one of the original signatories to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Yet here we are, at it again, debating the dubious merits of yet another migration legislation amendment bill designed to solve the 'problem' of asylum seekers. Well, if asylum seekers are in fact a problem, as some people clearly think, then it is not because asylum seekers are some kind of border security concern, but rather it is because they are the faces of a humanitarian crisis of enormous dimensions and sometimes seemingly unfathomable complexity.

The recently released findings of the expert panel have a ring of familiarity about them, including, as they do, the tired policies of the so-called Pacific and Malaysia solutions. But countless questions must hang over this proposed return to Howard era asylum policies, and one of these must be: how can we, as a nation and a parliament, accept an immigration detention regime which we know makes people mentally ill and, for some, attempt suicide? Expert panel member Paris Aristotle was interviewed on ABC's Lateline on Monday night, and he argued that the expert panel had made additional recommendations to ensure that the Nauru and Manus Island centres do not systematically cause mental illness and chronic depression in detainees. But the government is proposing, and the opposition is set to support, the imprisonment of desperate people for extended periods of time on small islands in the Pacific. Many of these unfortunate souls will be alone, as they will have been forced to flee without their families. Moreover, with the proposed changes to the family sponsorship arrangements, many of these asylum seekers will have simply no way of knowing if they will ever see their families again. Some will never even know whether the wives, mothers, sons and daughters they left behind are alive or dead. The reality is that there is no way to imprison asylum seekers for what must seem to them like an eternity without a significant risk of chronic ongoing detriment to their mental and physical health.

This is one of the reasons why my position has always been clear: opposition to mandatory detention and opposition to offshore processing. My voting on this issue is consistent. Yes, I did vote in support of the member for Lyne's bill six weeks ago, but that was only because the government had the numbers regardless of my vote, and, by voting the way I did, I was able to secure a 12-month sunset clause to ensure that the parliament—this parliament—would be forced to re-examine the issue. My concern to try and get such a safety net built into the member for Lyne's bill was not without good reason. Let us not forget that Greens Senator Hanson-Young agreed to support the opposition amendment at the time, which would have cut out Malaysia but ensured offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island, in return for the promise of an increase in the humanitarian intake to 20,000 asylum seekers. But, frankly, with these sorts of deals being cut at the time, I was hardly going to miss an opportunity to let the member for Lyne's bill pass without a sunset clause forcing a review, if I could help it.

And, yes, I did also try and bring on the opposition bill six weeks ago, but that was only to keep the parliament sitting in the hope that the political impasse could be overcome at that time. I certainly would not have supported the opposition bill had it come to a vote. Perhaps, if just enough members in this place had stayed at work that morning, rather than having gone home to bed, we would have come to a solution eventually far sooner and in doing so prevented more deaths. Perhaps the boat feared sunk in recent weeks with the loss of more than 60 asylum seekers would not have been despatched, and none of those unfortunate souls on board would have had to drown, if we had just tried harder six weeks ago.

The expert panel's recommendation to continue to pursue the so-called Malaysia solution also beggars belief. We have a legal and ethical responsibility to protect those seeking asylum on our shores, and shipping asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors, to Malaysia to rot for years in overcrowded refugee ghettos, unable to work and deprived of basic rights, is simply unconscionable. The promise of some minor additional safeguards to this so-called Malaysia solution is no way to go, because the government's Malaysia agreement has clearly been rejected by both the people and this parliament, and it is clearly time to think of something new.

For all the political rhetoric surrounding this expert panel, the song remains the same. Instead of reaching out to explore new attitudes and new solutions, it is simply a case of new names being devised to dress up the failings of the past. That said, I do welcome the expert panel's specific recommendation to greatly expand Australia's humanitarian intake of refugees across the board. This will ensure that more people are resettled in Australia and that others will spend fewer years waiting in desperate conditions in refugee camps shut off from the eyes of the world.

I do not doubt the good intentions of all the members of the expert panel, but I do believe they missed a unique opportunity to go much further in this regard. With a chance to fundamentally influence immigration policy for the better, the panel have been mute on several key shortfalls. For example, Australia currently links onshore arrivals with its quota of offshore humanitarian arrivals. Therefore, whenever an asylum seeker arrives in Australia by boat or, more frequently, by plane, one less refugee waiting in UNHCR camps will be resettled in Australia. This policy is not grounded in logic and is highly unusual internationally. All it does is feed into divisive rhetoric about queue jumpers.

I call on this parliament to reach for compassion, empathy and a policy that respects asylum seekers. Some members have called for an end to the fighting on this issue and asked other members to lay down their swords. I, for one, will not stop fighting while ineffective and cruel policy is formed in the name of politics so that the claim can be made that there has been a result. I will not lay down my sword until compassion is restored to this issue. This is not about border security; this is a humanitarian crisis.

I will not stand in this place and support a reform or this bill, the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011, which seeks to restore a policy that pretends to be the best possible compromise, when it is merely a politically expedient compromise. When people's lives are at stake, I will not put my support behind legislation that takes us back to the time of the Howard-era Pacific solution with some modifications that make it even worse. The Australian public unambiguously rejected the Pacific solution at the 2007 federal election. How quickly we have forgotten.

5:54 pm

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not wish to delay the House unnecessarily tonight by speaking to my full time, but there are some important points that I would like to make in relation to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. I would like also to place on the record some of my views in relation to the government's latest reversal of policy.

When this government came to power in 2007 it was met with a solution to the border protection crisis, namely the Howard government's policies since 2001, and it set about creating a problem. Four years later, the government has announced, today and yesterday, a humiliating reversal of its 2008 changes to the Howard government's policies. We saw in question time today, as we have seen in all of the Prime Minister's media statements and press conferences, absolute hypocrisy and cant from the Prime Minister about this reversal of policy. The public are not stupid, yet in the last 24 hours the public have been treated like mugs by this Prime Minister as she tries to convince them that it is she and her government that have come up with a solution to the border protection crisis. If you had listened to the Prime Minister today and yesterday you could be forgiven for thinking that these problems—the 22,000 boat arrivals in the last four years, the almost 1,000 deaths that have occurred at sea, the $4.7 billion blow-out in the budget because of the government's border protection policies—were all the fault of someone else. You could be forgiven for thinking that they are simply events that transpired on her watch and that she is now acting to resolve. But the public know the truth. The public know that the policy that was seen to be a tough border protection policy, and which was unpopular in many quarters of the Howard government, worked.

In 2008, the government said that it took great pleasure in dismantling those policies. Now, in a humiliating backdown four years later, the government has reversed the bad decisions that it made in 2008. But it has not gone far enough. With the opposition's support it will be able to reopen offshore processing on Nauru and on Manus Island. Those facilities should have remained open, in spite of the fact that they were virtually empty by the end of the Howard era. That policy option should still have been available to the government. But there are two other very important legs to the three-legged stool that is the coalition's border protection policy—that is, the return of temporary protection visas and turning back the boats where it is safe and possible to do so. Without the other two legs to the stool this policy will not work to deter people smugglers, because the government put the sugar—the product that is permanent residency—back on the table in 2008. That is why the people smugglers have a product to sell. Until the government takes that product off the table, the people smugglers will continue to have a product to sell. The Prime Minister and her government are entirely responsible for putting the people smugglers back in business. They were out of business in 2007, when it came to encouraging people to come to Australia. They were put back in business by this government's dismantling of the three-legged stool of temporary protection visas, turning back the boats where possible and offshore processing.

Listening to the Prime Minister today, one could understand why the Australian public have stopped listening to a Prime Minister who can never be straight with the Australian public.

Other members of the Labor Party have admitted that they got it wrong. This Prime Minister will not do so. This Prime Minister will not apologise. This Prime Minister will not accept responsibility. Under the Westminster system, in any government where there has been such a humiliating reversal of fortune and such a humiliating backdown on government policy, the head of the government should resign out of shame and say to their cabinet colleagues: 'I led you down the wrong path. We created a problem with our solution, and my head must roll.' I know that is what many members of the Labor Party caucus and the Labor Party cabinet must be thinking. The Labor Party caucus and cabinet must be wondering why it is that the Prime Minister can stand up here at question time and, dripping with hypocrisy, try to blame someone other than herself for this disastrous government policy of the last four years which has had such catastrophic effects on so many people.

The Australian public know who was responsible and at the next election, whenever that is held, the sophistry of the Prime Minister, who attempts to always say that black is white, when people know exactly what it is, will be rewarded with the result that the government deserves, which is, hopefully, to be thrown from office, and people who have in the past managed a proper government will be given the opportunity to again be the adults in the room to competently run government policy.

This government has been dogged by incompetence, but border protection is the greatest example of the manifest incompetence which affects this government. I feel sorry for the minister for immigration because I know that last October the minister for immigration begged the cabinet to reverse its policy, to save lives and stop people making the perilous journey across the seas by doing exactly what is said in what the Prime Minister has hidden behind—the fig leaf of the Houston report that was announced yesterday and today.

In our government we had an expert panel: it was called a cabinet. It was led by Philip Ruddock, Alexander Downer and John Howard. They introduced the policies that stopped the boats. This government dismantled those policies, and the boats flowed again. This Prime Minister has manifestly failed to display the leadership that is necessary and expected from the Prime Minister, particularly on border protection. The Prime Minister has never been able to hold a consistent line on border protection. Before the 2007 election, she talked about the Labor Party bringing back temporary protection visas. Then they abolished temporary protection visas. She still has yet to bring back the third element of the coalition's policy, which was temporary protection visas. She said that they would never send potential refugees and asylum seekers to countries that had not signed the UN convention on refugees. She announced before the 2010 election that that was why they were choosing East Timor for a processing centre, because it was a signatory to the UN convention on refugees. Then her policy prescription was to send refugees to Malaysia, which is not a signatory to the refugee convention.

She told the Australian people before the 2010 election that there would be no more onshore detention facilities. We now have them at Northam and there are expansions at Curtin; the Scherger air base; Inverbrackie, in my electorate; Hobart, in Tasmania; and in the electorate of my neighbour the member for Mayo. All across Australia, detention facilities have been opened and expanded in spite of the Prime Minister's promise that that would not happen. She took great pride in the dismantling of the so-called Pacific solution, only in the last 24 hours embarrassingly and humiliatingly embracing it in a desire to stop the boats from coming, for the sheer purpose of having some fig leaf to hide the government's embarrassment about its manifestly unsuccessful border protection policies.

If that is not enough, when we were in government—and I was in government in the Howard era—the now Prime Minister and her front bench attacked and vilified Philip Ruddock, Alexander Downer and John Howard. They vilified them for border protection policies that worked. They attacked them personally and vindictively on a very regular basis in this place and in the media. They called them immoral, heartless and a failure and said that the Nauru border protection facility was an expensive failure and a disaster. In fact, Kevin Rudd described the Christmas Island detention facility as a great white elephant that would stand empty when the Kevin Rudd government was elected. Of course, we now know that it is so full that they have had to expand detention centres across Australia and have had to return to the successful Howard government policies.

I could speak at great length—endlessly—about the perfidiousness of this Prime Minister and her government. I could talk about all the comments the Prime Minister has made over the years about how the Nauru solution was costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of policy. But I do think the best comment from Julia Gillard was the one from 2003 that the Leader of the Opposition quoted today, when she said, 'Can anyone in this place really imagine that Australia will be processing asylum seeker claims on Nauru in 10 years?' That was in 2003. The tragedy of it is that if the Howard government policies had remained in place she would have been right. We would not have been processing asylum seekers on Nauru because there would not have been any arriving, as there were not by the end of the Howard era. In those seven years, from 2001 to 2007, hardly any boats arrived.

The humiliation and great irony for the Prime Minister is that it is in fact because of her government's policies and the dismantling of the Howard government solutions on border protection that we will be processing asylum seekers in Nauru again in 2013, exactly 10 years on from the Prime Minister's fateful remarks in 2003. If anyone has been hoist with their own petard, it is this Prime Minister. The Australian people know it, and no amount of sophistry, hypocrisy or cant can change that simple fact.

6:07 pm

Photo of Louise MarkusLouise Markus (Macquarie, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Movement of refugee and migrant populations throughout the Asia-Pacific is not a new or insubstantial issue. The Asia-Pacific region currently has 3.6 million refugees, accounting for 24 per cent of the world's refugee population. The migration flows that occur in our region are heavily weighted by movement through irregular channels, principally within the region itself. The inevitable by-product of this large-scale, unregulated and dangerous movement of people is an increasing death toll and the development of criminal people smuggling networks that seek to exploit vulnerable people.

Based on the record number of boats, the record number of refugees and the very sad record number of deaths that occurred this year alone, you would think that this government would admit that it was wrong in undoing the proven measures of the Howard government. But this is a very stubborn government and a very proud Prime Minister, and they will not admit their wrongdoing. Instead of moving on and implementing the coalition's proven border protection policies, which they dismantled, Gillard has chosen to adopt the policies of the Greens and further soften our borders. This further demonstrates that the Greens-Labor alliance is counterproductive to our nation's growth and prosperity. It places unnecessary burdens on our Defence personnel and it puts at risk the lives of refugees who are taking extreme measures to gain access to this great nation.

Due to the current conditions that have been brought about by the ongoing poor policy decisions of this government, too many lives have been lost and too many others are in danger. This is the same situation this parliament was faced with in June. It has taken this government six weeks and a panel to realise what the coalition has known for years. Since November 2007, when Labor was elected to government, there have been a staggering 386 boats, 246 of which have arrived under the current Prime Minister. Alarmingly, more boats have arrived under the Gillard government than arrived during the 11 years John Howard was Prime Minister. There were 239 boats in 11 years under sensible and comprehensive policy, as opposed to 246 boats in just under two years. This demonstrates that the Gillard government's strategy has not worked.

As the shadow minister said yesterday, it makes you wonder just what could have been avoided if this government had listened to the coalition and the High Court and simply put back in place policies that would have provided a real deterrent for those people who are taking their lives in their own hands and braving the sea on a rickety boat. The coalition understands the need to protect the lives of these refugees, protect the integrity of our borders and deliver fairness to those who seek lawfully to come to Australia. Clear and sustained policymaking both in Australia and bilaterally at a regional level are required to change the balance of risk and opportunity.

The Houston panel report has endorsed in very large part the approach that the coalition has been advocating. It has given the green light to Nauru and the red light to Malaysia. Fundamentally the report states what the coalition has said all along. That is, firstly, that Australia needs a comprehensive suite of policies to deter these people, these families, these men, women and children, from taking their lives into their own hands and braving the sea to travel here illegally and through harsh and unforeseen conditions. Secondly, the only viable way forward is one that shifts the balance of risk and incentive in favour of regular migration pathways and established international protections and against high-risk maritime migration.

Putting the partisan politics of this tragic situation aside, I believe it is central to this debate that we consider the human rights elements of offshore processing—basic rights that would not be protected under the Malaysian solution. The government continues to debate and stall on this issue, speaking of these refugees as nothing but mere tokens, or pawns lost in a political chess game. These are people, members of families, women and children. Even if they have sought asylum in Australia through unlawful means, that does not mean that we should send them to a country like Malaysia where their basic human rights would not be protected. There is nothing ethical about that. There is nothing ethical about the historical Labor policies of people swapping. These are human lives and they should be treated with dignity. I am grateful that the report goes some way to recognising that. Malaysia as it stands is not a solution; it should never have been targeted as an option. It says a lot about this government's stubbornness and its ethical compass for it to have even put this on the table to begin with.

In regard to Malaysia, the High Court advised the government of all of these details in August last year. The coalition has repeatedly told the government that Malaysia is not a humane solution, and now the Houston report has confirmed and repeated this advice. It is astounding the number of times that this government needs to be told that the Malaysian solution was not and is not an ethical or humane answer to this ongoing problem before it receives the message. It is yet another example of how disconnected the Gillard government really is. Think of the number of lives that have been lost. Think of the number of warnings and the amount of advice the Gillard government has received. Think of the inaction and the consequential injustices that have been put on those seeking asylum as a result of this government. The 'all talk and no action' strategy has cost hundreds of refugee lives.

Meanwhile, millions of people, many of them unprotected children, wait in refugee camps all over the globe. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are currently 42.5 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, including refugees and asylum seekers. As a consequence of the ongoing boat arrivals, Australia continues to give second priority to the desperate need of the people in these refugee camps, people who have sound, regularly executed claims to seek asylum in Australia.

The government is favouring those who seek asylum illegally over those who seek it legally—those who cannot afford to pay people smugglers thousands and thousands of dollars to get on a boat.

Since October 2009, 604 people have died seeking to reach Australia by irregular maritime channels. As stated by the report, those who survive the sinking of these unseaworthy boats must live with their memories for the rest of their lives—the cries of lost fellow passengers forever sketched in their memories. Personally, after being involved in the inquiry into the tragedy that occurred at Christmas Island, I believe that the parliament need to do everything we can to deter these vulnerable people from getting on these boats to begin with. The misery that I witnessed was not the inevitable by-product of the desire felt by many from around the world to strive for a better life in Australia. Until this government dismantled them, strong, functional and highly successful immigration management policies protected both the security of the Australian border and the physical safety of the many people willing to go to great and dangerous lengths to reach this country. Those 604 deaths are the direct result of the ideologically driven, blind and pointless abandonment of effective policies.

People smuggling is not, as members of the Labor government would lead us to believe, simply a matter of impoverished fishermen accepting a pittance from several families in order to ride to Christmas Island. It is a sophisticated, ruthless, extensive international criminal operation. Like all major criminal enterprises, people smuggling has its large and small players, each performing their own roles. But each and every person involved in these operations gains financial reward from taking advantage of supremely vulnerable people, and each participant in the fulfilment of these operations is responsible, by some measure, for the death of every single one of those 604 people. The current ineffective policy of this government has created a situation where often lethal enterprises are allowed to flourish and ruthless criminality is developed and sustained.

The tireless effort that the Australian Navy are investing in order to assist with this issue should also be noted. Our Defence personnel continue to do a tremendous job in protecting our borders but are continuously burdened by a bad government that has forced them to run a taxi service. Sadly, the continued record number of boat arrivals demands even more taxpayer dollars to be thrown at Labor's border crisis. People recognise that the unprecedented rate of illegal boat arrivals is placing a significant strain on our Navy. As I have said, people smugglers run a smart operation. They know that if they put out a distress call, be it in Australian or Indonesian waters, our Australian Navy personnel will answer the call. It is in our very nature to help each other out—we always have. This criminal ring is taking advantage of our compassion and Labor's inaction on our borders, and the Prime Minister is sitting back and has watched it happen.

Australian maritime ships are spending an unprecedented amount of time out at sea rescuing those seeking asylum. This is the right thing to do, but when our ships do take the opportunity to return to the nearest port in Darwin they regularly need to turn around to rescue yet another boat. Because of this, they face harsher conditions and risk running out of supplies to go and rescue the boats that continue to come. This is just another example of this government's perception of our Defence Force and, in my opinion, the vital services that they provide to our nation. We have seen ongoing cuts to Defence spending, the removal of the Australian Defence Force travel allowance and now our Navy being treated with a lack of respect. Prime Minister, why do you continue to cut and punish the members of the Australian Defence Force, who every day put their lives on the line for our nation, who every day make the sacrifice of being away from their families and friends to serve our nation and to serve in our waters? Prime Minister, this is not good enough, and these men and women who are serving our country deserve better.

At the end of the day, our responsibility as elected representatives, and our humanitarian duty, is to find solutions that safeguard lives, combat exploitative international criminal networks and secure Australia's borders. The coalition for a long time have advocated for this, and the conclusions and recommendations of the report vindicate our proven policies. Australia needs action. Today it is clear that we need a direct action plan to deter refugees from seeking asylum. In fact, to the coalition, that was clear weeks and even years ago.

Only a coalition government can restore the proven policies that protect Australia's borders and also protect refugees. Unfortunately, this government has failed to take action. Australian families are realising this across all areas of their day-to-day lives. Only a coalition government can provide the response for Australian families. Only a coalition government can restore good governance. On this note, I can only hope that this government now understands what measures it needs and must take in order to protect Australian borders and protect refugees. It may have taken a High Court ruling, ongoing urging from the opposition, hundreds of lives and families lost, and a six-week investigation, but let us hope that the message has finally sunk in.

6:21 pm

Photo of Barry HaaseBarry Haase (Durack, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to point out a few home truths to the government, as if it were the very first time. I do so because I have heard today this afternoon so many statements—so many earnest statements—that appear to me not to reflect the truth. I expect the blame game to be played severely. I expect those opposite to pass the buck when it comes to responsibility. I expect honest policy change.

What I do not expect to hear is absolute denial of responsibility for any of the busted policy that we see presently in place in relation to border protection.

In 2008 a good policy that provided good, solid border protection, prevented people smugglers from plying their evil trade and prevented people from risking their lives at sea in leaky boats was absolutely trashed, with great confidence and satisfaction, by our present Prime Minister. She claimed, gloriously, to have succeeded in one of her great desires: to remove that policy. When as a result the great influx of boats started, we were told by the then Prime Minister that this was because of increased push factors and had nothing to do with the policy change. We were told that it was due to circumstances in war zones. No-one at the time would accept the fact that it was to do with the renewed pull factor—the 'come on down' signs exhibited on the beaches of northern Australia—because the policy had been changed.

Today, all I have heard is denial, denial that it is the fault of any member of the government that the policy was changed and denial of the fact that this solution was proposed by the opposition time and time again. Even if a member of the government were to say for a moment that the policy reversal was enacted to appease and capture the Greens vote, I would accept that as a partial apology for policy reversal. But we get denial and nothing but denial from this government; it is everyone else's fault and they are not to blame. We the opposition are expected to carry the responsibility. Rusted-on Labor voters in the seat of Durack say to me, 'Mr Haase, why haven't you got rid of that lazy useless government that keeps on bringing in policies that cannot provide border protection for this nation?' Am I now to assume responsibility for the policies of the government? Is this how crazy this government's policies have become? Am I as a member of the opposition suddenly expected to be apologetic for government policy? I really do not get it.

I am not prepared to stand silent while we have a government continually denying that the true fault for this great tragedy, this great loss of life and the arrival of so many people at great expense to Australian taxpayers lies with the government. It is the fault primarily of the existing Prime Minister. An apology to the nation would be well deserved and much appreciated. A reduction in the cost to the Australian taxpayer would be greatly deserved and much appreciated.

The plan that has been adopted today, because of the good work that was done by Mr Houston and his group, is to be commended. But it is nothing new. It defies belief that this government says, as though it were a bolt from the blue, that it has this wonderful idea of starting overseas processing in Nauru. How can we see so many supposedly intelligent people stand up with hand on heart and say, 'This is a great realisation handed down by a very courageous group, and now we will adopt the policy,' as though it were new? It is a policy that in the main was trashed four years ago by this very government. Since then it has blamed everyone else for the failure of that policy change. Now, when it sees a light, it says that that light came from a source other than the recommendations of this opposition. It came from us as a recommendation because we knew it worked. We put it in place, and we reduced the steady flow of boats and illegal arrivals to just three in a period of 2½ to three years. You could reasonably declare that the flow of illegal boat arrivals had been stopped and would have been stopped permanently. The changes made by this government at the behest of this Prime Minister took a fixed solution and turned it into a problem, a problem that cost the Australian taxpayer billions of dollars.

There is nothing new to add to this debate. It has all been said before. I have taken up enough of the time of this House. Other speakers wish to comment on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 before the debate is shut down by the government. I thank the House for its time.

6:27 pm

Photo of Luke SimpkinsLuke Simpkins (Cowan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 and these changes and, in overall terms, this government's policies. It is certainly not the first time I have spoken on matters relating to asylum seekers, illegal boats and illegal arrivals. I remember that during those earlier days the minister at the table, the member for

This government has not just come upon this problem in the last six weeks or six months. This is a policy decision that this government made many years ago. In 2008 the then Prime Minister and his team stood up and told us how inhumane our policy was and how inhumane the former government was with the Pacific solution. They then ended offshore processing and temporary protection visas. They never backed the turning around of boats where possible.

In the legislation before the House there are changes, but they are not enough. There is a promise and an intention to re-open Nauru and Manus Island, meaning offshore processing.

That has come and we welcome that. That is why we support this bill. What the government should do is go to the complete solution of temporary protection visas and also turning boats around where possible. Even the expert panel's report said that turning boats around was possible but it had to be backed up with a better relationship with Indonesia. When we talk about a better relationship with Indonesia, we have to go back quite a few years to the Howard government. Unfortunately, we have had the unedifying situation of the mishandling of the live export trade. It damaged our reputation with Indonesia.

As it currently stands this government is not able to implement turning boats back, but should the coalition be given the responsibility of government at the next election, that will certainly happen and we will restore a decent and proper and respectful relationship with Indonesia. That will obviously facilitate the necessary aspect of any decent border protection policy—the turning back of the boats.

A lot has been said about temporary protection visas. There are references to them in the report from the expert panel in regard to family reunion. Currently people who arrive by boat can fairly quickly afterwards apply for family reunion. That increases the numbers who eventually come as a result of boat arrivals. You can see the real differences when you compare the circumstances of boat arrivals with people applying for humanitarian resettlement in Australia from a refugee camp who have waited and applied properly and did not have the money to put together to beat the system to jump the queue.

I have constituents within my electorate who have come out of refugee camps in Africa and Burma or the Burma-Thailand border. They are people who legitimately worry about family members that are still behind the barbed wire or in refugee camps. There is a big comparison there when you think about those who are stuck in a refugee camp without two bucks to rub together, waiting for the next visit to try to push their case to the UNHCR for resettlement. But they are stuck there. They do not have the money to put together to fly from, say Pakistan, to Jakarta, then get from Jakarta down to various ports and pay the people smugglers. They do not have the money to do all those sorts of things. They do not have 10 or 15 grand to bypass the queue.

So it is very important that we look at this whole situation with specific regard to what is the right thing from a humanitarian perspective. I think that this country has always acknowledged our responsibility to resettle refugees. I very rarely meet anyone on the streets of Cowan who talks against refugees but what they do say—and particularly those who have come from countries as refugees or have migrated to Australia—is that we should take those in most need. Those who are most in need are people stuck behind the wire, not people who can afford to bypass the queue.

Under family resettlement and the current arrangements that this government presides over, people can take places because they have come by boat and family members they have left behind can come quicker than people from refugee camps. I think there is something fundamentally unjust about that. That is really why we need, as a compassionate country, to embrace the full suite of policies of the coalition, the policies that worked. Those policies were turning boats back where possible, offshore processing on Nauru or Manus Island and also the temporary protection visas. These are good policies. They worked in the past. They are not just a policy but a record of achievement.

When you look at the way the policies changed between the departure of the Howard government at the end of 2007 and the changes the Labor Party brought in during 2008, you start to see changes in what happens with our borders. The boats that had been as few as one a year towards the end of the Howard government years suddenly increased in numbers. I notice on figure 7 of chapter 3 of the expert panel report that even the numbers of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia and applying through the UNHCR in Indonesia in 2009, 2010 and 2011 suddenly went up to around 4,000 whereas before they had been as low as around 600. So there was the whole paradigm between change of government and change of policy and the numbers suddenly lifting in this area. That is a real indictment and an obvious sign of the changes the government made.

But, of course, as we have heard today and heard yesterday with the Prime Minister, it is as if what happened over the last four years since the policy change in 2008 never existed.

It is as if the circumstances that have been taking place for years, the hundreds of boats a year for many, many years, have happened and then, suddenly, the government has come up with a solution. We know that is not the case. This is a problem of the government's own making. They stood by those changes in policies, and now they fail to stand by the consequences of their behaviour or their policy changes.

What has really changed? How did it come to this? It came to this, sadly and tragically, on the shores of Christmas Island when a boat foundered, in front of the cameras, and so many people died and some had to be rescued. That changed the emphasis. Before the number of boats that might have gone missing seemed to be a distant, detached view for a lot of people in this country. But it was only when those unfortunate people suffered and died on that day at Christmas Island, and the consequence of boats capsizing since then, that has added to the pressure. Sadly, the government have not had the courage to stand by those policy decisions they made back in 2008. They have attempted to blame a lot of people. In fact, I think I even heard the member for Denison saying that there was a mandate from the 2007 election against the Pacific solution, so I guess he stands by what the government did back in 2008 following the 2007 election.

The reality is that what we have here is, at last, a thawing of the freezing—a realisation by the government that things have to change. And under a lot of pressure things have changed. As we know, since 2007 they have presided, under their policy, over an increase of illegal arrivals onshore: 386 boats and 22,518 people have arrived. So far in 2012 an average of 1,000 people have arrived each month. That is this government's record.

Some people ask what has this really got to do with border security. There is a lot of doubt about some of the people who arrive by boat. Already the ABC has found, in the case of Captain Emad, that who people say they are someone when they get off a boat may not exactly be that person. National security is an aspect of this. If the government cannot control the borders and cannot be certain of who is arriving that is most certainly a national security issue. It is in every Australian's best interests that the policy with regard to this is correct. As I said, there is a policy that works. The record that shows it works is clear, and I have spoken about it significantly in my contribution tonight.

Apart from national security, the other point of consideration, as I have also said, is compassion. We need to support those in most need. There are people who are behind barbed wire in refugee camps in Africa and up on the Burma-Thailand border who are people in need. They are people without money. They cannot go from Kabul, in Afghanistan, and just hop on a bus or walk across the border into Pakistan and go to Islamabad airport or Karachi airport. If you have money you can go across to Pakistan and hop on a plane to Indonesia and go and see and pay people smugglers. You can do that if you have the money, unlike those in refugee camps.

The point is: while I am sure life in Afghanistan is not pleasant and economically it might not be that great, the reality is that if they have the money to bypass the system, and therefore take priority, why is that the case? Why should they get priority over those stuck behind barbed wire? I say that what is required is this step tonight. The passing of this bill will be a good step forward, but the other aspects of our policy I certainly endorse—that is, turning back the boats and temporary protection visas.

6:43 pm

Photo of Ian MacfarlaneIan Macfarlane (Groom, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. It is with some relief that I see common sense finally prevailing on the other side in relation to this bill. None of us have been happy with the refugee situation in Australia.

I come from the city of Toowoomba, I represent the fine seat of Groom, and in my time as their local member, since 1998, there have been a number of issues relating to refugees. I speak about, in particular, the Sudanese who have come to our city since the member for Berowra, the Hon. Philip Ruddock, first made a decision about that back in 1999, if my memory is correct, and about the need for our city and our state, as part of this nation, to play our role in assisting those people who, for a whole range of reasons, including threats to their lives, had to flee their home country. I can think of nothing harder than having to flee your home country, sometimes without all of your relatives, and go to another country. Toowoomba has been very accommodating of those people.

I think there are about 2,000 Sudanese and African refugees in Toowoomba, and I am absolutely sure that every one of them has come because they needed to and every one of them has come because they followed the proper process.

I think one of the most disturbing things that has happened to me as a member of parliament was when, early in my time in this place, I was approached by an Iranian woman whose sister and whose sister's husband were seeking refugee status in Australia. That is not an overnight process. If you do not want to jump the queue, if you do not want to pay people smugglers $10,000 to jump the queue and come here by boat, that takes a little while. Every time someone jumps the queue, your position in that queue gets pushed back one. So I had the situation that this woman kept coming to see me and I kept pushing to try to get her sister out here, until one day she came and said, 'You don't have to worry anymore; she's dead.' That person had had to wait because people had got in front of her in the queue and we were not able to get her out in time.

So I have always been an extraordinarily strong supporter of having a policy whereby you can control the method by which you bring in refugees. I am all for refugees. I am a populationist. I believe in people coming to Australia. Whether they are refugees or businesspeople or all those people in between who want to make Australia their home, I believe in that. The member for Berowra will bear witness, although I will not disclose the confidentiality of the cabinet room, that I always sided with him in terms of ensuring that we took in as many as we could. It is never an easy process in Australia, and I know that Australians do not accept easily at times bringing people of any sort from overseas into this country, under any circumstances. But I have always felt that Australia is a better place because of that. Of course, not for all of us but for most of us our forebears came here, perhaps not as refugees—and I can say with all honesty not as convicts either in my case, but I know that there are some in this place who claim that heritage.

It is important that, if we do decide to bring people here and if we do decide to bring refugees here, which we must, we do so in an orderly fashion so that there is fairness. At the bottom of this bill and at the bottom of what the coalition wants to do with refugee policy is fairness. It is not about picking and choosing and it is not about saying that we want them from here but not from there. It is that we want to make sure that the system is fair, that if you are in a refugee camp in Kenya and you have been there for three or four years you know you are moving up the queue. If you are in a refugee camp in Malaysia, you may be a Burmese Christian or something like that who has been in a refugee camp with no hope of going anywhere, you want to believe that Australia has a system in which your turn will come.

What we have seen in the last five years is the removal of fairness from the refugee process in Australia. That has come at a horrendous cost. I am not just talking about the impact in terms of those people who have missed their turn because we have taken tens of thousands of refugees via the boat system, via the people smuggler system. I am talking more about the horrendous loss of life that has occurred because the system broke down and people thought the easy way, albeit the far more dangerous way, to come here was to fly to Indonesia, pay a people smuggler and take that treacherous voyage. None of us wants to see that voyage happen.

We may see the reason in people trying to escape persecution or whatever in their homeland and we may support the principle of their coming here, but we do not want them to endanger their lives in doing so and we certainly do not want them to come in a way that is unfair to others. Australia is a country that is based on fairness and so, after five years of chaos, after five years where every year was worse than the year before, after five years of having no predictability in the way our refugee intake process worked, we have arrived at today. We have arrived here because the Prime Minister, who was unable to make the decision herself, decided to ask Air Chief Marshal Houston to set up a committee and hand down a report, which he and his committee did yesterday, Monday, 13 August.

Of course, as we now know, those recommendations are fundamentally the position that the coalition has adopted all along. So, while those in government, the Labor Party, have ebbed and flowed and wavered and wandered through refugee policy in the last five years, the coalition's position has always been the same. I am sure that the member for Berowra, who will follow me in this debate, will enunciate that in a far clearer fashion because he was at the front line for the whole time. I came in 1998 and went into cabinet at the end of 2001. I watched those hard decisions being made. I watched the vote in this House on the Tampa. I watched the Howard government from that day forward slowly gain control again over who came to Australia in terms of refugees but, more importantly, who came under what process. There is only one process that you can have, and that is an orderly process.

So we saw the committee's report yesterday, which basically endorsed the coalition's approach to stopping the boats. That approach is a proven approach. I remind the members of this House that, in our last year of government, three boats came to Australia. We had made it so difficult. Yes, we were taking more and more refugees, as we should, but we took them in a way that gave everyone a fair chance of getting to Australia. Had the government, and particularly the Prime Minister, not been so stubborn, the horrific loss of life and the cost we have seen associated with this shattered policy of the current Labor government would not have occurred. Had those opposite realised that what the Howard government had put in place was a system that not only worked but was fair, the disaster in human lives over the last five years could have been avoided.

Australians have every right to condemn this government for what has happened. They have every right to say, 'Why did they take a system that worked and break it into small pieces until it didn't work at all, until there was a pull factor to come to Australia in terms of refugees making this perilous trip and paying this huge amount of money?'

For a refugee in Afghanistan $10,000 is a huge amount of money. So we saw the situation arise where we finally got the government to realise that this is the solution—or part of it.

That is the bit that worries me the most, because this is like a tripod: it will not stand on one leg; it needs three strong supports for it to work. The first is offshore processing, and Nauru and Manus Island are certainly a step in the right direction. But we do need to ensure that people understand that if you come here under that method that it is only a temporary reprieve. If they are genuine refugees, then that is fine, but we should go back to issuing temporary protection visas until it is clearly and absolutely established that it is not going to be safe for them to return home any time soon. As part of the cabinet that made the decision, although we did not talk about it publicly, to turn boats back under circumstances where it was safe, there is no doubt that that works, and that is the final leg that needs to be put in place.

I am optimistic that this may help, but I am fearful that it is only one step of three steps that have to be taken, because in the end I would hope that now, having been through the turmoil, particularly of the last 18 months, no-one in this House disagrees that what we need in place is a fair system that works. We need a system that works and ensures that Australia takes refugees in an orderly fashion; that we take them in a way that ensures that our borders remain secure; that we take them in a way that ensures that our refugee program is sustainable so that the hostility that I am sure many of us feel out in the community towards genuine refugees as distinct from queuejumpers goes away—so that all Australians, no matter how long they have been here or from what race, colour or creed they come from, support Australia taking refugees and making the refugees' options in terms of coming to Australia one which they understand one which is fair. If we do that Australia will be a better place.

I hope that this government has learned a lesson, because it needs to. It needs to learn that when you meddle with something that was right all you do is destroy things. Unfortunately, in this case, some of those things have been people's lives. I am not attributing blame other than to say that if it is not the government's fault then whose is it? They are the ones who changed a system that had worked so well that we only had three boats in 12 months to a system in which we were getting almost three boats a day—certainly two a day. That says to me that this government, as it does in so many policy areas, lost control of the issue, became confused, became the servant of minority causes and allowed the security of this nation to fall and the fairness that we established in the Howard government under the refugee program to go out the door. I commend the bill to the House.

6:55 pm

Photo of Philip RuddockPhilip Ruddock (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 and I will support the bill as amended, hopefully—the amendments being proposed by the government but having been agreed with the opposition. I also support the second reading amendment proposed by the member for Cook, as I think it is appropriate to note that the government has accepted the government's offshore processing of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island in this measure and calls upon the government to implement the full suite of measures that the opposition has pushed for implementation.

I have known Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston as the head of our Defence Force and before that; Paris Aristotle; and Michael L'Estrange. I know them all favourably. I did not speak to them about the matters that were before them and I understand neither did the opposition other than briefly to emphasise the measures that we thought were appropriate. The terms of reference were determined by the government. The membership of the panel was determined by the government—it is their panel, notwithstanding the fact that the participants are people for whom I have very high regard. That makes this report a more compelling document, because it is the most devastating critique that I have ever seen about failure of government policy—the most devastating critique I have ever seen.

I come to these issues having served some 7½ years, I believe, as minister for immigration—Australia's longest serving minister. I come as one who had taken a personal interest in the plight of refugees long before I became a minister. I certainly spent a lot of time looking at situations in which refugees were fleeing and my response has always been very empathetic to those who flee oppression. In that time I have also been very conscious that it is important for Australia to have an immigration program and a refugee resettlement program which is conducted with integrity. I have seen the way in which, when integrity lapses, Australians' support for the resettlement of refugees and for migration generally ebbs. We saw that with the Hanson factor running up to the election in 1996 and I think we have seen it again as government policy has failed Australia.

That is why when I read this report I think it is very important to reflect upon how we got into this situation and what the government's panel is saying about it. The first point I would make—and this is from the report's introduction—is that the panel says Australia's policy settings as to the flows of irregular migration to Australia are influenced by some matters. It says that 'those settings need to address the factors "pushing" as well as "pulling"’ and it makes it clear that 'the trend towards greater numbers of dangerous irregular maritime ventures to Australia' is the result of not only push factors but also pull factors. This is something that the government has long denied. I can remember the former member for immigration arguing, as the numbers of people arriving by boat increased, this was solely a result of factors abroad that were influencing more people to flee. He ignored the fact that there may be incentives in the system that encouraged people to travel. In fact, the panel goes on to say:

… The single most important priority in preventing people from risking their lives on dangerous maritime voyages is to recalibrate Australian policy settings to achieve an outcome that asylum seekers will not be advantaged if they pay people smugglers to attempt dangerous irregular entry into Australia instead of pursuing regular migration pathways and international protection arrangements …

That is a very clear statement by the panel and it is something that was always obvious to members on this side of the House. One of the factors that I think influenced Indonesia to be perhaps a little hesitant in working with the Australian government in recent years was that they felt that we had put, as they put it, sugar on the table by the way in which the measures that had been implemented to contain irregular migration had been unwound by this government. It was no accident that Indonesian commentators on these matters made it very clear that this was a situation that we had brought about ourselves. The report of the panel—the government's panel—makes this clear:

… Incentives to use regular migration and protection pathways need to be complemented by policy measures that send a coherent and unambiguously clear message that disincentives to irregular maritime migration to Australia will be immediate and real.

Those incentives were taken out of the system by this government. The panel went on to make a further point:

… Other measures to discourage dangerous and irregular maritime voyages to Australia should include changes to family reunion arrangements as they relate to IMAs—

irregular maritime arrivals—

in Australia, a more effective focus on the return of failed asylum seekers to their home country and more sustained strategies for the disruption of people smuggling operations both in Australia and abroad. A thorough review of the efficacy of Australian processes for determining refugee status would also be timely.

When you go through the report you see they put the evidence as to why government processing in Australia failed and why more people came to the view that it was preferable to undertake a dangerous sea voyage. Essentially, the processing of people onshore was sped up to get them out of detention by allowing people whose claims were marginal to be accepted. It is no accident that you find data about the removals of irregular maritime arrivals in Australia between 2008 and 2012 that indicate clearly what has happened. I think removals in 2008 were 13; in 2009-10 they were 139—and most of them were voluntary; in 2011 they were 78—again all of them were voluntary; in 2011-12 they were 52—mostly voluntary; and in 2012-13 they are five. What that tells you is that there are very few rejected asylum seekers for which this government has been able to make arrangements for them to leave Australia.

The report is very interesting because it gives figures, on pages 42 and 43, in relation to the number of asylum seekers registered with the United Nations in Indonesia and also in Malaysia. What they show is that after 2008 there were very significant increases in the number of people who had been travelling to Malaysia and Indonesia and ostensibly seeking to access Australia. The numbers went up from less than 500 in 2008 to nearly 5,000 in 2010. In Malaysia they went up from 20,000 in 2003, for instance, to 40,000 in 2008 and to something of the order of 100,000. You can see the pull factors operating and that this problem was only going to get worse. What is so interesting about this report is that, although the language has been careful—perhaps not to give offence—the messages from this panel are very clear: if you are going to address the problem that the government's change in policy has actually brought about, you have to implement a number of very specific matters. I would encourage the government to implement all of the measures quickly and expeditiously. The first one—which we were told by the government for so long should not be implemented—is the re-establishment and re-opening of the sites on Nauru and Manus Island for offshore processing. I think it is important for people to understand that what the panel has proposed is a measure that this opposition believes should have been pursued. But it is also important that the government be prepared to come clean with the Australian public and tell the public what it means.

The panel has made it very clear that if you are going to send a message to people abroad, you have to make it obvious that what they are letting themselves into will be adverse to their interests. The panel dresses it up nicely. They say that people who are processed in Nauru and Manus Island should not get a better outcome if they are found to be refugees than a refugee being processed in Malaysia or Indonesia or elsewhere. What they are saying is that those people should get no advantage over the 10 million other refugees around the world or the 100,000 in Malaysia or the 4,000 or 5,000 in Indonesia. What they are saying is that this government's proposal is for mandatory detention in Nauru and Manus Island indefinitely until a place can be found after others in the queue have been accommodated. If this measure is going to work this government has to make it very, very clear that, for all of their statements that they would walk away from mandatory detention, they are now implementing indefinite mandatory detention offshore. If people understand that, it may have the impact that the government seeks. But you cannot be unambiguous about the language you use. The message has to be clear not only to the people smugglers but also to their client base.

It is very interesting when you go through the report that the panel recognises that turn-backs, provided there is consent, ought to be pursued, along with a number of other refinements. The point I would make is that they make it clear that that may be provided through acquiescence. What they are saying is that, if Indonesia is prepared to acquiesce to people being returned, that should be possible. It seems to me that if we are going to rescue people in Indonesia's maritime zones, where Indonesia should be rescuing them, and we are doing it for them, they ought to readily acquiesce to their acceptance. They do not because of the way in which Indonesia was treated. The measures also propose that there should be a form of visa which, while not described as a temporary protection visa, has exactly the same effect—no opportunity for sponsorship and the like if you are settled in Australia having sought to come unlawfully.

This report is a repudiation of government policy. I am glad the government has seen the error of its ways, because it is a very compelling report. It endorses the position taken by the opposition. The government, if it has good sense, should willingly acquiesce to Mr Morrison's amendment.

7:10 pm

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with great pleasure that I rise here this evening to speak on this issue, and more so because I am following the member for Berowra and his magnificent contribution. Quite frankly, there would be few in this place that would have a comprehensive understanding of the challenges that are faced in dealing with this matter and even fewer that had the capacity to comprehensively deal with this matter before the whole thing unravelled after the 2007 election.

This is not a challenge that we have not faced before. As a member of this place I recall that back in 1998 we had 157 arrivals and in 1998-99 we had 921 arrivals. So there was a trend. Suddenly those numbers spiralled upwards, to 4,175 in 1999-2000, to 4,137 in 2000-01 and to 3,039 in 2001-02. You wonder what happened in 2001-02 that made the difference, because in 2002-03 the number of arrivals was zero. The member for Berowra, who was a minister at the time, and Prime Minister Howard and our cabinet looked at this and made some very hard decisions—and I have to concede they were not necessarily popular—which were part of the Pacific solution. I was a member of the party room that voted to support this in the belief that we could fix this problem. We took away the incentives for the people smugglers. We took away the product that they were selling. We took away the incentive for people to either borrow money or spend cash that they had in reserves to buy themselves an airline ticket in Afghanistan or Pakistan or a number of other areas and present their visas and passports, board an aeroplane, transit through places like Dubai or Singapore and then book themselves into a place in Indonesia while waiting for their preferred people smuggler to obtain a boat so that they could short cut the process to arrive in Australia.

The Pacific solution provided a disincentive, because we said in the first instance that you would not be processed in Australia. As they started to move from different places—Christmas Island, Ashmore Reef, Cocos Island and others—we said that, for the purpose of immigration, those places would not be deemed to be Australian territory. Of course, there was a very real reason why we did this.

Rather than locking people into the Australian legal system, where there was appeal after appeal after appeal and they would end up having not only children but also grandchildren while waiting for a conclusion, the UN system had one application and one appeal, which meant that if there was a negative outcome the matter was resolved within about six months, an appropriate period of time, and they were either taken to Australia or relocated. That was very effective.

We had also decided that we would turn back boats—and we did, I think on five or six occasions—where it was safe to do so, and that was effective. With the temporary protection visas, suddenly they were not getting the outcomes they had paid for. Many of these people knew that they were breaking the law; they knew that by using cash they could come into this country and buy themselves an outcome they wanted. In the meantime, we saw people languishing in refugee camps around the world. It was a very sad time because we had no way of giving these people an opportunity to find a home when they did not have the cash to pay the people smugglers.

Between 2002 and 2008, 272 people arrived in 16 boats. In 2006-07, the cost of managing this issue was about $70 million and in 2007-08, at the end of our period, it was about $85 million. Then those on the other side came into government and decided that they knew better; they were going to fix it and deal with the matter comprehensively. Boy oh boy, have they dealt with it comprehensively! In 2008-09 there were 1,033 arrivals. In 2009-10 there were 5,614 and in the following year there were 4,949. In 2011-12 so far there have been 5,646 arrivals—and of course we are now talking of a budget of about $1.2 billion. That shows that this government had no idea how to deal with this problem, yet they attacked the member for Berowra and former Prime Minister Howard for the policies that they initiated.

These are difficult decisions and we all know they have impacts, but at the end of the day we do have an obligation in the first instance to look after the best interests of the Australian people. I believe the decisions we made back in those times were in the best interests of this country. They clearly were not in the best interests of those individuals who decided to buy themselves an opportunity to come here by shortcutting the process. I understand something like 1,000 lives have been lost in this process. On top of that, if you go back to 2007—the member for Berowra may remember this—we had mothballed Christmas Island, we had mothballed Curtin, and we had only a couple of people on Nauru or Manus Island. They were all who were left in detention. There were certainly no children in detention. The reason for this was that people were no longer buying tickets.

I remember in my electorate at that time that young men—lost boys of Sudan—were coming in to see me and saying how wonderful it was that they had had an opportunity to be selected to become Australian citizens. They were taken out of camps, having had the most horrific of backgrounds. They never had enough money to buy themselves a cup of tea, let alone pay a people smuggler thousands and thousands of dollars to buy airline tickets to come to this country. We have seen Somalians coming here, too. A lot of people came from African camps during that period, because suddenly we had vacancies. These vacancies were not being taken up by people who had the money to buy themselves airfares to get to Indonesia and get on these leaky boats. That was a great positive, and those people who came into this country from those camps really appreciated the opportunity. Unfortunately, over the last few years many such people have still been living and dying in those camps with no opportunity to get here, because of the failed policies of this government.

I had a sabbatical for about 2½ years, and in September 2010 when I was campaigning to come back into this place I heard on the grapevine that there was an intention to open Scherger air force base as a detention centre. I raised this issue at the time and I was told by the minister's office:

On current plans, asylum seekers will not be housed at RAAF Scherger; nor will an immigration detention centre be built at RAAF Scherger.

The defence facility at Curtin was the only defence site being used by the government to accommodate asylum seekers. Of course the minister then announced a couple of weeks after the August election that Scherger would be used, and there are problems in the Scherger community just as there are in many other communities where these detention centres are being established.

It is very disappointing to see the impact that the imposition of these detention centres on local communities is having on health and other services. It shows again the dreadful failings of the government's policies.

I welcome the Houston report because it confirms what we have been saying for the last four years. It says that we do require the Nauru and Manus Island solution as a disincentive. I am pleased to see the government has now changed its mind and is prepared to reopen these facilities as quickly as possible. I was also very pleased to see that the report confirmed our concerns about the Malaysia solution, particularly those relating to the treatment of individuals who go there. That concern was very real, and I am pleased to see that the report has affirmed those concerns and we are not going to just race ahead with the Malaysia solution. To me, that would be a showstopper. Under the current conditions I would not be able to support that.

I was also pleased to see the comments about the policy of turning back the boats. I know that the former Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the member for Berowra, was heavily criticised, as were other senior members in government, including the former Prime Minister, over the policy of turning back the boats. For the last few years we have been told that it is not possible to do—that it is impossible. We are now told that, in fact, under certain circumstances—as we have been saying all along—it is possible to do it and that it will act as a deterrent.

While the committee did not recommend temporary protection visas, I welcome the fact that they certainly looked at ways to create disincentives for those individuals who are trying to buy their way into this country—jumping the queue. One disincentive recommended by the panel was the removal of the opportunity for such people to get their families here at an accelerated rate.

The other area which is not discussed too much here is the cost to Defence and to our Customs services. The Armidale patrol boats, which were commissioned in, I think, 2005 by the Howard government are almost ready to be trashed. It is shameful. They are in that state because they have been worked to death. The crews, the Navy people who have been trained on these boats, and the Customs people are not there to be a taxi service for people trying to buy illegal entry into this country. It has had a massive impact on our Defence capability and it has had a massive impact on our Customs capability. I am pleased to see that the government is now taking the advice we have been offering—even though it is doing it in a rather convoluted way by taking that advice through a third party—and now accept that what we did back in the early 2000s, through the efforts of the member for Berowra and Prime Minister Howard, actually worked. They are now going back to those systems and I certainly welcome that.

7:26 pm

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Science, Technology and Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

It is my great pleasure to speak on the amendment the member for Cook has moved to the amendment proposed by the member for Melbourne to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. On 28 June this year, the Prime Minister outsourced her job to a committee led by a distinguished Australian— the former Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston. That decision was a symptom of a government which does not have a border protection policy. It does not know what it believes in. It does not know what to do.

Air Chief Marshal Houston (Retired) handed down the panel's report to the government yesterday, Monday. The committee's recommendations substantially endorse the coalition's approach to stopping the boats. It confirmed unequivocally that pull factors created by Labor's policies were significantly responsible for the resumption of people smuggling straight after the repeal of the Howard government's successful and proven border policies. Angus Houston said so in words much like those the member for Throsby used to make that point in the debate in the last sitting week prior to the winter recess.

The panel made 22 recommendations, including re-establishing offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island as soon as practicable; introducing legislation into parliament to allow offshore processing of illegal boat arrivals at designated countries, with provision for parliament to disallow the legislative instrument designating a particular country; and prohibiting people arriving by boat from using the family reunion provisions of Australia's humanitarian program, instead making them apply through the family stream of the migration program. The panel also said that turning back irregular maritime vessels can be operationally achieved and can constitute an effective deterrent to people smugglers. I note they made the point that this can be done 'as long as Indonesia acquiesces'. 'Acquiesces' is the fundamental word—not 'approves', not 'endorses', but 'acquiesces'. Lastly, the panel found that the protections for asylum seekers set out in the Malaysia people-swap are inadequate.

The panel, by which and to whom this government outsourced one of the most fundamental responsibilities of any government—the security of its borders and the defence of the realm—has produced a report which solidly affirms what the coalition has been saying for almost half a decade. It is the proven Howard government policies which worked. When Labor came to power in 2007, there were less than a handful of people in detention. And I mean less than a handful—just four, to be precise. How many are there today? The number eclipses 4,000. The coalition has consistently argued for proven policies that work together to strengthen our nation's borders.

Our policies on borders have worked. We know that because they worked in the Howard years. Combined as a suite, they are an effective deterrent. They worked. The coalition in government will reintroduce offshore processing on Nauru, because then the rights of asylum seekers are protected because we know where people are every second of every day. We will return to temporary protection visas because people will be safe, but not grant permanent residency, with all the benefits that go with it. We will turn back boats where it is safe to do so. The Sri Lankan defence force has shown it can be done. The Indonesians have done it recently. The US have done it recently. We know it works because the Howard government did it in 2001. And the Houston panel report endorsed the policy, where it is safe to do so. In other words, the outsourced panel gave a green light to Nauru and a red light to Malaysia.

The simple fact is that, if Prime Minister Gillard had not been so stubborn, frankly, if she had not been so full of pride, the full cost of the failure of our borders could have been avoided—and the full cost is abhorrent: over 22,000 people arriving illegally, self-selecting Australia, most of them travelling through numerous countries to get here; somewhere short of a thousand tragic deaths; and $4.7 billion in expenditure. Why? Because Labor took a proven solution and threw it away, and pride stops them putting it back. For four years, our borders have been weak and porous. Lives have been lost. Our reputation has been tarnished. Costs have blown out. Who knows what $4.7 billion could have been used for in the life of the nation. The NDIS, combined with the $5 billion from the states, could have been fully funded now but for pride. For pride—it is staggering.

Yesterday, the Houston panel fundamentally and categorically rejected Prime Minister Gillard's rhetoric on Nauru. Australians have to wonder why this did not happen years ago. Why was a successful policy regime pulled apart? It is a fair question to ask. Why the pretext that Nauru would not work? Why the wild claims that it would cost billions to reopen? Why the stubbornness and why the pride? The Good Book remains true: pride does indeed come before a fall. So much has been spent, so much has been lost, because of pride.

In opposition, Prime Minister Gillard was against offshore processing and the Pacific solution. She made the point:

Labor will end the so-called Pacific solution—the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific islands—because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle.

But, in government, they changed their minds by negotiating with PNG, and here we are today. Ms Gillard said then:

There's no point getting on a boat because your claim won’t be processed, but we will continue to work through with Malaysia, and it’s also very clear to Australians we’ve been in discussions with PNG.

In opposition, Ms Gillard supported turning back the boats:

The Navy has turned back four boats to Indonesia. They were in sea-worthy shape and arrived in Indonesia. It has made a very big difference to people-smuggling that that happened. … And we think turning boats around that are seaworthy, that can make the return journey, and are in international waters, fits in with that.

That is what the current Prime Minister said when Labor were in opposition. But then, of course, she changed her mind and did not support turning back boats when in government:

I speak of the claim often made by Opposition politicians that they will, and I quote: "turn the boats back." This needs to be seen for what it is. It's a shallow slogan. It's nonsense.

Let me say very clearly to the Prime Minister, as I said at the Defence Reserves Association conference last week to the assembled masses, to our military elite: don't underestimate our resolve; we will turn back the boats where it is safe to do so. And the Prime Minister's own eminent panel yesterday showed that that is a deterrent.

In opposition, Labor and Ms Gillard supported temporary protection visas. They said:

The proposal in this document, Labor’s policy, is that a unauthorised arrival who does have a genuine refugee claim would in the first instance get a short Temporary Protection Visa.

But, once in government, they said:

The Rudd Government is proud of its reforms in abolishing temporary protection visas …

There is nothing consistent in the way the government have handled this entire issue. When asked today in question time by the member for Berowra, 'Prime Minister, why did you dismantle the Pacific solution?' all she could do was blame Kevin Rudd: 'It was the government's policy; Kevin is responsible.' There is zero consistency in what they do and what they say.

Now the Prime Minister is using the Houston panel as political cover. She is attempting to use it to whitewash Labor's history of failed and erratic policies on border protection. The Leader of the Opposition said today that the request had been made 106 times to pick up the phone and call the President of Nauru. But the Prime Minister did nothing until today—when, I gather, the phone was picked up. But nothing whitewashes the facts, and that is the good thing about facts. The Prime Minister and the rest of Labor can spin all they like, they can obfuscate until the proverbial cows comes home, but the facts will stand truly as a light on the hill as one of the wildest acts of government incompetence in living memory.

Let's look through those facts. This government wound back, unwound and pulled apart the proven Pacific solution whereby, when they came to power, there were four people in detention. Since they abolished it, it has cost the nation $4.7 billion—fact. The most recent budget alone revealed a cost blow-out of $1.7 billion—fact. Compare that to the $85 million it cost in 2007-08 to manage asylum seekers arriving on illegal boats.

If Labor had simply left in place the strong border protection regime they inherited from the Howard government, the 2012-13 budget would have been $3.3 billion better off—fact. Since they unwound that regime, 22,000 people, on almost 400 boats, have self-selected Australia—fact. And as indicated by the Minister for Defence Materiel, almost 1,000 of those 22,000 people, or about four per cent of them, have perished tragically at sea—fact. That is the shameful record of this whole disaster. And now with the Houston report in front of them, with the knowledge of history which says that offshore processing, temporary protection visas and turning back the boats where it is safe to do so works, this government has chosen only one—Nauru. It is a good step and, heaven forbid, we are thankful, but at the rate of one step every five years, how long will it be until the full suite of programs is put in place? Nobody knows, but the facts spell out what is undeniable. This government lost control of our borders. Their decisions have led to disaster on so many levels.

Since they abolished the Pacific solution, 22,518 people have arrived—fact. The total number of arrivals since polling day, 21 August 2010, is 231 boats and 15,169 people—fact. The total number of arrivals since Julia Gillard assumed the mantle of Prime Minister is 246 boats and 15,879 people—fact. The total number of arrivals since Malaysia was announced on 7 May 2011 is 11,048 people, excluding the crew—fact. The number of arrivals since signing the Malaysia deal is 10,581 people. The number of arrivals since the High Court decision is 10,330 people. However you dice and slice the facts, they point to the same conclusion—disorder, disaster and disarray on our borders. Despite Labor's attempt to whitewash and misinterpret the Houston report, the facts speak the truth: the Houston panel endorsed the coalition's policy.

While Labor MPs across the country have said, 'You can't turn the boats back,' Angus Houston says you can. The coalition has always known that. HMAS Anzac is now in the gulf. It is the 30th ship since 1991, having replaced the Melbourne. Our Navyhas intercepted between 1,000 and 1,700 vessels in the gulf in extremely hostile situations. Our Navy can deal with so many vessels in the gulf, some of them heavily armed by sophisticated terrorist organisations out of Yemen, but the government seems to think they cannot deal with a few leaky wooden boats. It is an insult to our professional men and women, and this government has turned our Navy into a taxi service and a veritable NRMA. The US Coast Guard sent back 2,400 people on illegal boats last year and the Sri Lankan navy has also turned around boats.

We have over 500 ADP personnel working on Operation RESOLUTE. They endure struggles and difficulties as the monsoon approaches; and we have sea states 4 and 5 and our Armidale class patrol boats have a 300 per cent increase in their effort, and the sailors on board are being impacted because of what this government has done. Our call is simple: implement all three legs of the policy stool; do not take just one.

7:41 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. In the first instance, I congratulate the government and the Prime Minister for finally, after four long years, accepting one of the key planks of the coalition's policy to protect our borders. Earlier today the Leader of the Opposition stated, 'What the House is now debating is essentially the coalition's policy.' We must remember that this legislation is about stopping people smuggling and saving lives.

It is a    fact that the people on boats who are lured by people smugglers are illegal arrivals who are trying to gain an advantage. We heard the member for Denison talking about the being labelled as 'queue jumpers'. Most Australians would call them queue jumpers. We have heard some of the members talk about their experiences with illegal arrivals.

I had an experience when a gentlemen came up to me after a citizenship ceremony wanting to get his photo taken with his MP. When I asked which country he had come from he said he was from Afghanistan. I said, 'How did you arrive here?' He said, 'By boat.' I said, 'How did you happen to get onto the boat? How did you find the people smugglers?' He said that he did not find the people smugglers, that they came to his village offering anyone who was interested entry to Australia. I said, 'What did that cost you?' He said, 'US$10,000.' I said, 'That's a fair price. How did you actually get here?' He said, 'We flew to Malaysia and then we got on a boat in Malaysia. We bypassed Indonesia. Before we went to Christmas Island we were told to destroy all our identification, so we did. Then I got processed and came to Australia.' I said, 'So you beat the system?' With a smile on his face he said, 'Yes, I beat the system.'

We need to remember that this all started in 2008 with the change by the government to the Migration Act. Because of that, thousands of people have risked their lives as the people smugglers were given a product to sell. It has been four long years of policy failure, four long years of increased boat arrivals, with over 22,000 people arriving in almost 400 boats. It has been four long years of continued urging from the coalition to change the policy, four long years of weak border protection, four long years of cost blow-outs, four long years of lost lives at sea and four long years of anger and disappointment from the Australian public who have been ignored by a government in denial about the failure of their policy and with no direction.

This government has been directionless and paralysed. Australia's reputation with its neighbours has been tarnished by the continual announcements by the Prime Minister of policies that embarrass Australia—like East Timor and the ridiculous one-for-five deal done with Malaysia.

Who can forget the Prime Minister attacking John Howard with the catchcry 'another boat, another policy failure' on repeated occasions in this very chamber. What we have seen today is one of the biggest backflips from a Prime Minister in the history of this parliament. We have witnessed the Prime Minister conceding what the coalition has known for four years: John Howard had it right, and the government—for four long years—has had it wrong. Only six weeks ago the Prime Minister was staunchly opposed to sending illegal boat arrivals to Nauru. Just a month ago the Prime Minister received a standing ovation from delegates at a New South Wales Labor conference after she bragged of her toughness by declaring that, when it came to her leadership, she would not 'lie down and die'. Yet we have witnessed today in this parliament the Prime Minister, after four years of failed policy, having to outsource to a committee, do a huge backflip and support coalition policy. The PM could not even make her own decision. What sort of leader is that? How tough is that?

What the government have done in adopting part of the coalition's policy is a good move, and I am sure that many Australians will feel some small relief that the government has done so. But this policy change could have come at any time in the last four years—and it should have. As he said today, the Leader of the Opposition recommended to the government 106 times that they pick up the phone to the President of Nauru; but his recommendation fell on deaf, arrogant ears. Australians will ask themselves why the Prime Minister has held out for so long only to finally and embarrassingly capitulate and accept the Houston report, which says that Nauru should be used as an offshore processing centre, when the coalition was advocating this all along. In just the last six weeks since the Prime Minister refused today's course of action, we have had another 2,700 people turn up on 46 boats. From the information I have received from people in Western Australia who do know what is going on, the people currently in detention centres are emailing their friends overseas to say, 'Come now before the policies are changed; come now before the coalition is re-elected.' The arrival of all these 2,700 people could have been avoided if it were not for the Prime Minister's stubborn pride. Just imagine what could have been avoided if the government had simply not changed a successful policy in the first place. Moreover, the immeasurable trauma to the families of the almost 1,000 people lost cannot be undone four years on.

Senator Evans said back in February that the Pacific solution was 'a cynical, costly and ultimately unsuccessful exercise introduced on the eve of a federal election by the Howard government'.' The reality, as my colleague the shadow minister for immigration, the member for Cook, has pointed out, is that the Pacific solution, when put together with temporary protection visas and turning boats back when safe, reduced the number of boat arrivals to Australia by 99 per cent and cost taxpayers only $289 million over six years. That is what Senator Evans thinks is 'cynical, costly and unsuccessful'. Six weeks ago, when we were in this place, we effectively agreed to compromise on everything that Mr Houston has now recommended. Now he has vindicated the position we took back then. Six weeks ago the government rejected the compromise, yet this compromise is exactly what they have agreed to today. This is a stunning turnaround by the Prime Minister.

One thing I have learnt since entering this place is the many expectations that the Australian public have of their elected leaders. First and foremost they want their leaders, regardless of political stripe, to lead—and that means having conviction and making decisions. This Prime Minister has developed a long resume of backflips and broken promises, and this decision today continues the narrative. As several of my colleagues have pointed out, if this policy is to work this time around it has to be combined with other measures. The coalition cannot force the government to put in place these other measures. The government's revised policy adopts the Houston recommendation of resuming the coalition's offshore processing policy and reopening Nauru; the other recommendations in the report can be implemented by the government without legislation. The coalition still believes that, in addition to reintroducing rigorous offshore processing at Nauru, the government should introduce temporary protection visas and that the government has to be willing to turn boats around where it is safe to do so. It is interesting that the government has called Nauru a 'regional processing centre'. How the government must hate the word 'offshore'!

Given this government's constant failures and that they could not successfully put pink batts in people's roofs or build school halls, there will be questions in the public mind as to whether the government can successfully implement Nauru. No other Prime Minister has done a worse job than the current Prime Minister on the issue of illegal boat arrivals. No other Prime Minister has been so stubborn in the face of such clear policy failure and public outcry. How can we expect the government to successfully implement a policy when for four long years they have sworn that they do not believe in it? The coalition had a plan to stop the boats, and we have consistently argued for our policies, which worked to strengthen Australia's borders. By processing arrivals in Nauru we are weakening the people smugglers' business model while we ensure that the rights of asylum seekers are protected—unlike Malaysia, where they are not protected. A system of temporary protection visas, which was originally introduced under a coalition government, will provide that people are safe but not granted permanent residency with all the benefits which go with it. The Houston panel endorsed the coalition's policy of turning back the boats where it is safe to do so, and so confirmed it as a deterrent and a further weakening of the people smugglers' business model. It did this despite years of denial from this government that the coalition's policy did in fact achieve this end. The Howard government's policies were not produced in the last six weeks; they were the result of more than 10 years of both successful implementation and continual refinement. Unlike the Prime Minister, we have been very consistent with our policy.

We are supporting the amendments before the House tonight as we will always support good policy while opposing bad. Nauru is not the entire solution to the problem of illegal boat arrivals, but it has always been part of our plan. I urge the Prime Minister to adopt the remainder of the coalition's policy, and so ensure that we have a total suite of changes which will actually work. We must stop the boats and the people smugglers who have been given their business by this government.

7:51 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. This government does not deserve to remain in office. It has reached a point of serial incompetence on a tragic scale with deep, powerful, abiding human consequences which are most evidently represented by the need to come to this moment. And it deserves to lose office, as quickly as possible, for two fundamental reasons. The first reason is that it is a government that was born without common sense, without an understanding of the consequences of its actions. I lived through, I prosecuted, the Home Insulation Program case and saw that the obvious, the inevitable, the forewarned came to pass because nobody stopped to think of the consequences of their actions.

At one time, I described the Home Insulation Program as the worst public policy failure in peacetime since the Second World War. At the time I believed that to be right. I now believe that that has been far surpassed by the extraordinary human tragedy which has resulted from the decision of four years ago to dismantle offshore processing, to ignore the warnings and the evidence, and to allow what was a catastrophic human tragedy to continue until this day.

I also fear that, because only one out of the three elements of the solution that are necessary is about to be adopted, it will not adequately provide the resolve, the elements and the outcomes that are necessary to prevent further loss of life at sea. Indeed, as we debate this legislation—which will surely pass this House with the support of both the government and the opposition—it is my understanding that potentially 67 souls are in peril at sea, if they have not already been lost, on a boat largely comprising those of Palestinian origin. A further human tragedy at this moment is potentially unfolding. I pray that it is otherwise.

The second reason why this government has forfeited its mandate in my judgment is that it has consistently denied the history. It has airbrushed the history. Each day is year zero; each day is a fresh beginning. Each day it fails to acknowledge the disasters, the tragedies and the consequences of prior actions and, in failing to acknowledge the past, it completely fails to acknowledge lessons of the past. So we come to a circumstance where there are tragic outcomes.

I do not want to detain the House for long this evening. I simply wish to set the record straight on three points, to answer these questions. Firstly, how did we come to this moment? Secondly, what were the consequences of the decision of four years ago to dismantle the offshore processing regime? And, thirdly, how do we go forward from this moment to provide a genuine, humane solution to the loss of lives at sea?

Let us remind ourselves of the history. This is what the current Prime Minister said as long ago as 2003—and she followed it through:

Labor will end the so-called Pacific solution—the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific islands—because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle.

All three of those claims—'costly', 'unsustainable' and 'wrong as a matter of principle'—have been found to be not just wrong but catastrophically wrong. The warnings were present, the notification was imminent and the evidence was unavoidable that this policy—which was put into practice four years ago under the leadership of the now member for Griffith and with the support of the now Prime Minister—was going to lead to tragic outcomes with the restarting of a large flow of people in the hands of people smugglers who simply did not care about the consequences of sending souls to sea in boats which were inevitably going to founder under difficult circumstances. Those consequences were foreseen.

So we came to this moment because there was a decision taken by the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and the then deputy leader, the current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to bring about the end of what had been a successful proposal, a humane proposal—because it had saved lives at sea, not just in their hundreds but potentially in their thousands. All of that history was ignored. And with, no doubt, goodwill but some political motive, the reality of protecting lives was lost. That brings me to the issue of the consequences.

The previous policy, the Howard government policy, had seen a 99 per cent drop in arrivals. When it was dismantled there was a 100-fold increase in arrivals—not 100 per cent but 100-fold. That is a 10,000 per cent increase. So, essentially, we went from 5,000 arrivals per year to under 50, and then back up to over 5,000, or more than 21½ thousand, within four years, with the inevitable tragedies associated with those movements of people in an utterly unsafe circumstance. No government could ever accept a circumstance where planes were being put into the air filled with passengers knowing that there would be at least one or two plane crashes because they were being sent into the skies without protection, without authorisation and without safety checks. Yet that is precisely what has occurred over a four-year period in the depths of the seas.

Those consequences could not have been more tragic. Others will talk about the financial consequences; I am not interested in those this evening, as terrible as they have been. It is simply the fact that the human consequences were unspeakable. We have had the worst loss of lives in peacetime since the Second World War, as a consequence of government policy. What policy could have been more unsuccessful? Yet we were lectured numerous times by almost everybody on the other side of the House, who told us how inhumane it was to continue with offshore processing, how there would be no problem with dismantling offshore processing and how it was the right and just thing to do to dismantle offshore processing.

That is why this government is not fit for office. It ignored the lessons of history. It ignored the evidence when that policy began to collapse. We were lectured for more than two years about push factors, not pull factors—the pretence that things had changed in the world, where suddenly, with the ending of the Iraq conflict in large measure, with the ending of the Sri Lankan conflict in large measure, somehow there was an upsurge rather than a decrease in pressures for international migration. What had changed, of course, was the sugar on the table. Now we know by the government's own actions that this dismantling was catastrophic in human terms.

Now let us look to the third part, which is going forwards. I have a very simple proposition here: it is right that we should now allow offshore processing in a humane circumstance. What was proposed in Malaysia was not going to accord with Australian satisfactions, and what this House was asked to do was not to approve Malaysia but to remove all human rights protections from the Migration Act. Let me remind the House that the government, the ALP, asked us to remove all human rights protections from Australian legislation. We would not stand for that. We did not stand for that. And now the government knows that it was neither acceptable to the Australian public nor the right thing to do.

Going forwards, there are three things which should occur: (1) there should be offshore processing, because it is the most humane thing that we can do if carried out in a safe and humane environment; (2) there should also be temporary protection visas, because they are a critical part of the process; and (3) as was found by the Houston committee, in the panel's view:

Turning back irregular maritime vessels carrying asylum seekers to Australia can be operationally achieved and can constitute an effective disincentive to such ventures …

But, so that I am not guilty of the selective recording of history which we have witnessed in this debate, I want to finish the sentence of Angus Houston:

… but only in circumstances where a range of operational, safety of life, diplomatic and legal conditions are met …

In other words, it can be done, it can be effective, but we need to make sure there are safeguards, and that is precisely what we would do. But, without all three elements being present, my fear, my belief and my prediction are that today's measures will only be very partially successful at best and that therefore we risk the loss of more lives at sea.

So I say in good faith to the government, as they have finally reached the position where they recognise that the policy of four years ago was catastrophic: there are three elements, not one, and we will not be successful until all three elements are in place. I implore the government to rethink their position, to adopt the approach in full, because only in that way can we genuinely take all of the steps necessary to ensure that the tragedies at sea which are occurring at this very second finally cease.

8:03 pm

Photo of Wyatt RoyWyatt Roy (Longman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011—another bill in this place and another debate in a long line of debates for those opposite to finally come to their senses about Australia's border security. It has taken nearly five years for the Labor party to come full circle and finally acknowledge the truth about the policy direction Australia needs to take. Australians are rightly fed up with the current situation. It has been a long and difficult path for all members of this place to come to where we are today. Finally, we have seen the Labor party step down and accept that at least in part the coalition has consistently got it right on border security.

For the past 10 years the coalition has had a consistent policy on border security: put simply, processing in Nauru, temporary protection visas and turning boats around where it is safe to do so. Today, hopefully, in this parliament we will at least take the first step in restoring the coalition's successful border security policies with the implementation of processing in Nauru—a first vital step toward restoring the coalition's three pillars of border security. One out of three is undeniably a step in the right direction.

While the coalition has held these policies for 10 years, it has been difficult for the Labor party to hold a policy for 10 hours. The people of Australia have seen the very real impact of the lack of direction from those opposite. The failed policies in border security from this Labor government are costing Australians $1.1 million a day and billions of dollars overall of taxpayers' money and are still achieving nothing. Still people keep risking their lives on leaky boats in an attempt to make it to Australia. A total of 386 boats with 22,518 people—that we know of—have attempted to make the trip to Australia since Labor was elected in 2007. Compare that with four boats from the year before under a coalition government.

Since Labor has come to power, the Australian people have witnessed a complete inability of its government to manage our borders. First this government dismantled the effective Howard government Pacific solution, which was, according to the Labor minister at the time, one of his greatest pleasures in politics. Then we saw the Labor party flip-flop around on dealing with countries that were not signatories to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

What we see today is the government finally coming to its senses. Why has it taken us so long to get here? There has been far too great a human toll and an expense to taxpayers to make it to this point. But finally today we have seen recognition that the Howard government's Pacific solution worked. It was ultimately a policy that saved lives, a policy that for years was attacked relentlessly by the Labor Party. The Prime Minister herself, when she was Labor's immigration spokesman, was against offshore processing and the Pacific solution. In 2003 she stated:

Labor will end the so-called Pacific solution—the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific Islands—because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle.

In the time that the coalition has held a consistent policy, we have seen the Prime Minister and the Labor Party be against and for offshore processing and be against and for turning boats around. We have seen the Labor Party both support and oppose temporary protection visas. We have seen the Labor Party attempt to establish processing in East Timor but simply forget to call the right person. We have seen Labor try to establish the inhumane and ineffective Malaysian solution.

Throughout all of this time, a proven solution was there if the Labor Party had been able to put aside its pride and adopt the coalition's proven border security policies. Instead, since 2007 we have seen the arrival of 22,518 people on 386 boats. Just in the time that I have been in this parliament, since polling day of 2010, 15,169 people have arrived on 231 boats. Just in the last year, while the Labor Party has been clinging to the Malaysian solution and refusing to adopt the proven policies of the coalition, 11,000 asylum seekers have arrived and almost 300 people have drowned.

I note that, on his way to parliament this morning, the Minister for Home Affairs stated:

The fact is we’ve been fighting about this issue for too long. While politicians fight, people die. That’s not good enough. The people of Australia want us to fix this.

This is a rare instance when I agree with a Labor government minister. It should never have taken this long to be where we are today. The coalition has a proven track record on border security. This issue goes to the heart of this Labor government's judgement. The Labor Party has chosen cheap politics and political pride over real policy solutions. When I talk to locals in my community I get an instinctive and consistent response: 'Why doesn't the Labor party just do what John Howard did? That worked.'

Australians deserve a solution that is effective. Australians are concerned about the state of our borders. In my own electorate, nearly 3½ thousand people have contacted me directly to express their views about Australia's borders. Countless more have raised border protection and boat arrivals as key issues when they see me out and about in my electorate. Regardless of which side of the debate they sit on, they are passionate, and all of them want to see a good outcome.

What cannot be clearer is that fixing the mess we now find ourselves in is a priority and one that deserves our time in this place to debate. Debating these changes is not politicking; it is doing our job, a job that we were elected to do. We have a chance to get this right again, to stop the inhumane loss of life and to stop throwing good money after bad at failed policy solutions. We tried in June, without success. We on this side of the House demonstrated that we were prepared to work to find a solution for the benefit of Australia. Unfortunately, those opposite were not, and so the people of Australia have had to wait another two months for action.

The legislation before us today is a start. Our policy has consistently been the package of three things: temporary protection visas, turning boats around where it is safe to do so and Nauru. The expert panel has endorsed this policy and now, finally, this government has come to terms with what the coalition has been saying all along. Nauru will prove crucial in stopping the boats, but Nauru is just one-third of the effective solution that saw its proof under the Howard government. Temporary protection visas and turning boats around where it is safe to do so will send people smugglers a clear message.

We on this side of the House want to do what we were elected to do—that which is our role as the elected representatives of this country. However, I do not have the same confidence in those opposite, including the Prime Minister, who, having outsourced her job responsibility on these matters to a committee, absolved herself from making any politically difficult decisions or any common-sense decisions on this issue.

Today we see that those opposite have finally acknowledged that the coalition was indeed right all along. Our policy, which has been consistent for 10 years, was supported by the Houston report. Let us hope that those opposite can break with their tradition on this issue and stick with this policy for longer than 10 hours.

8:11 pm

Photo of Ewen JonesEwen Jones (Herbert, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. No person comes out of this debate covered in glory—not one of us. However, those opposite have presided over the squandering of $4.7 billion of taxpayer money. In breaking a system that worked, they have lived in denial and have finally been dragged, kicking and screaming, to the first of the three stages that will finally re-fix the problem. Only with the re-introduction of temporary protection visas and the turning back of boats where it is possible and safe can we finally kill off the business plan of the people smugglers.

I feel for the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship; I believe him to be a good man. The problem is not of his making, but he has been trying to do the right thing for some time now. My issue with the government and its handling of this matter is that not one person on that side of the House is prepared to take responsibility not just for the $4.7 billion of taxpayer money and not just for the 22,000-plus arrivals but also for the nearly 1,000 people who have lost their lives trying to get here. If this were a company and the CEO had presided over a $4.7 billion loss and a loss of life, the CEO would take the fall for the loss. If this were a football team, the coach would have been sacked ages ago. But this government can see no fault. In fact, the member for McEwen earlier today basically told the House that it was our—the opposition's—fault. He took pot shots at the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for immigration for the stance we have taken, when our stance was simply to oppose poor policy. I will be straight up with the member for McEwen and let him know that I will back my leader, my leadership group and my shadow minister on counts of integrity, character and conviction against anyone he cares to line up.

Madam Deputy Speaker, $4.7 billion is a lot of money. It will buy you nearly five fully functional teaching hospitals. It would have given the NDIS the flying start it so desperately needed. It would even have helped the immigration department actually do the job it should. I will highlight four cases where I feel the immigration department has stopped providing good service or has been compromised into making ultraharsh decisions.

In my electorate there is an engineer from Papua New Guinea who was brought down by a company. He studied at James Cook University. His visa required that he return home, but the company by which he was sponsored went broke, leaving him destitute in Townsville and with no way of getting home.

So technically he was in breach of his visa. He was able to find additional work, but he was in breach of his visa and he could not afford to get home. The immigration department has racked him up a $60,000 debt. The finance department has decided that it will collect on that debt. We are fair with that too, and so is he. But the finance department will not budge on the nearly $2,000 per month that they are requiring him to pay on this debt. He has got the debt down to $37,000. Despite representation from the shadow foreign affairs minister, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, to the minister and the department, they will not come to the table in any way, shape or form.

There is a taxi company in Townsville operated by a gentleman who is about to retire. A young Indian immigrant, now a permanent resident, started driving taxis for him and now has expanded the business and is taking over as manager. The retiree went back with the young Indian man to India to witness his wedding. He was a guest of the family. They love each other dearly. But this permanent resident cannot get his wife into Australia. The department flatly says: 'No. She has been over on a tourist visa; she must go home now. She must wait her turn.' That is the decision that the immigration department has made. All he wants to do is get his wife over here and be part of this country that he has made his home. He is a permanent resident. He has done the right thing. He has done everything right, and at every turn we have stopped him from completing his family.

A young Iranian engineer got headhunted from across the world to come to Australia. He started in Newcastle and has ended up in Townsville, which he calls home. He has his permanent residency and is working towards citizenship. He is a lovely young fellow. He wants his 65-year-old parents to come to Australia for a holiday before they die. You have to understand that 65 in Iran is getting very near to the end. He has been trying for three years to get his parents here for a one-month holiday. He is prepared to put up surety to make sure they go home. He is prepared to jump through any hoop that he must. But the department have told him that it will be at least another 12 months before he can get a decision made and before he can have that appeal done.

I want to tell you about two Indian doctors in my home town, the city of Townsville. One is a radiologist and one is a neurosurgeon. They are in the public hospital system where they work shifts. They have two beautiful boys—one in prep and one in grade 4. Because they are doctors they work a seven-day shift and they work on weekends, so the boys are in home care. So what they have done is have her father across from India to stay with them. His visa is about to expire. He is of no cost to the Australian taxpayer whatsoever. The benefits of having a family member stay at home at no cost are untold. But we are insisting that he goes home. We are insisting that if he overstays his visa he will be kicked out.

All the way through, all these people have arrived in Australia properly. All these people have done the right thing. All have paid taxes. All have asked for assistance and all have been refused. All have been left asking the question, 'Why?' These are just four examples of the humanitarian work that the department should be doing. I bet every member in this House—150 of us—could come up with at least four examples. I have given you only four, but I have more.

That is the humanitarian work the department should be doing. They should be looking after Australians trying to do the right thing all the way through. No-one in the department wants to do the wrong thing here. But if we are spending $4.7 billion on other things when we should be spending it on doing the right thing by these Australians and permanent residents then we are going to be the losers. These people will leave our country and they will go to Canada, the United States and all around the world because their knowledge and their capital is a valuable commodity. If we do not do it right, we will be the losers. Immigration is what makes this country great. Immigration is what makes our country as diversified as we are. My wife is Italian. We are fantastically rich in this country because of what the people who came to Australia straight after the Second World War brought. They came to Australia because we asked them to.

I have pensioners in my city coming to me saying that they want to hop on a boat, go to Christmas Island and get what is being thrown at refugees. The first time it is funny and the second ironic, but these people are generally serious when they are saying that they are seeing that these people are getting things that we should be doing for ourselves. We want to be humanitarian. We want to be caring. But when you keep on giving it is only so long before patience just runs out. No-one has covered themselves in glory today, and no-one should take joy in any decision that this House makes. Some of us should take some responsibility. I thank the House.

8:20 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Herbert, who has a way of lucidly and cogently explaining matters. He made some excellent points about post-war migration in particular and the great record that Australia has in post-war migration—which included my family, who emigrated from Greece.

In the current debate about immigration that we see before us in the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 we have quite a serious situation in that the government has been completely exposed on its agenda. Its agenda on coming to office in 2007 was to dismantle the system of the previous government, the Howard government, on migration in terms of our obligations to refugees. We know from various statements of Labor ministers, the government and the then Deputy Prime Minister and now current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in their own words that they took great delight in dismantling the Howard government's system, that they felt there was a fundamental unfairness about the offshore processing system and border protection system of the Howard government and that they felt that something had to be done to alter the arrangements.

Here we are four years later and the government have run out of speakers after half-a-dozen because we have exposed them today as having no principles.

We have here in this chamber now, unlike four years ago, the member for Melbourne, from the Australian Greens. I am going to say something unusual: he has principle. I do not agree with the Greens principles. I do not agree with the member for Melbourne's principles on this matter and I do not agree with his amendment in relation to this bill, but it is a principled approach. The Leader of the Opposition has principle. The opposition has principle. We have a tough approach here in opposition. There is a compassionate approach over there from the member for Melbourne and the Australian Greens. What is the government's approach? One may well ask what the government's approach is in this empty, silent chamber. Silence is often more powerful than words, and the silence from the government means they have been exposed as having no principles and having no agenda that anybody can really point to. All of us in this place understand it.

When a government abdicates its principles and abdicates its role in leadership in relation to what the country needs, we end up in a situation where we have a very regrettable and ugly mood in Australia today, because the government is not pursuing what it believes in, not following policy that it has long advocated and worked towards. We have this shameless abandonment of principle and policy position in favour of absolute pragmatism. Take the comments of the Prime Minister today that this was the advice of the experts. For the last two years we have heard that the experts said that Nauru could not be reopened. For the last two years we have been told—we have been beaten and berated by members of the government—that the experts say that the boats cannot be turned back. So which experts are we in this House to believe? Does the Prime Minister have an answer as to why she has chosen one group of experts over another? I will give the answer to the House, and it is that the policy has failed. It is easily identifiable by the media, by the government, by members of the opposition and by members of the Greens that this policy is not working.

This is a tough but compassionate approach. That is what is at the heart of the failure of the government's approach. Kevin Rudd came to office as Prime Minister on the promise that he would be tough but compassionate. He would walk both sides of the street on the immigration debate. What is valuable about being in politics and why I am in politics is that you have to have principles. You have to advocate for them, articulate them and stand by them when they are popular and when they are not popular. If you want to be compassionate, be compassionate. If you want to say, like the Greens do, that we should have onshore processing, say we should have onshore processing. If you want to have offshore processing, advocate for offshore processing. But coming to office on a promise that you could do both, that you could walk both sides of the street, that you could somehow say, 'We are tough but compassionate,' is completely ridiculous. It has ended up in absolute and abject policy failure.

Not only do we have this embarrassing spectacle before the House here today, but we also have a very real human and financial toll on the Australian public and the taxpayers of Australia, who have been the unfortunate victims in many ways of government failure. When government fails, when it fails from the grassroots, when it tries to do too much, when it gets into a policy tangle, when it is unclear about what it is doing, there are very real implications. At a minimum, we are talking about the $4.7 billion of the asylum budget blow-out. That is what it has cost this nation since this government came to office. I know 'billion' is a very trendy word that everybody loves to use today, but I am a little old fashioned and I think a billion dollars is a lot of money. It is a billion dollars of people's hard-earned money that was taken from them in the form of tax and appropriated by the government. To spend it in this way is reckless. It does not benefit anybody. Nobody appreciates spending $4.7 billion on detention centres, which are in effect prisons for people. This system is not working.

The number of people arriving on boats illegally is now at some 20,000. The fact that there were none or very few at the end of the Howard government and that today we are having records broken each half-year is evidence of policy failure. This ongoing situation has become untenable. The government, after doggedly pursuing years and years of policy failure, after sticking to it and saying, 'Our approach will be not to change course or compromise,' after demonising the opposition for its position and saying, 'You are wrong, you are wrong, you are wrong,' has led to where we are today, which is a very difficult situation.

The people smuggling business, as the Prime Minister said today, is an adaptive model. It does react quickly. It does take advantage of weakness. These people smugglers—and you can speak to any AFP officer or anyone around the world and they will tell you—follow Australian politics. They listen to this chamber. They watch developments here. What would they have made of Kevin Rudd coming to office saying he was going to be tough but compassionate but unwind offshore processing? 'Fantastic—we're back in business!' What then would these people smugglers, these criminals, these people trading in human misery have made of developments in this chamber when the government went further and said that we had to change the legislation permanently to make sure that offshore processing was no longer a part of Australia's regime? They would have said, 'Fantastic!'

And what about the policy paralysis as this government plunged from leadership crisis to leadership crisis, with constant distraction from focus on what is a very real, fundamental concern of any national government—that is, border protection and national security? It is a fundamental reason why we have a national government, why all our states federated in 1900. We needed a national government to protect our borders and have a national identity. It is one of the fundamentals of governance in Australia today, the fundamental reason that we have a national government.

These people smuggling businesses and criminals watched as our parliament roiled in paralysis, in inaction, as the government defended a policy that was clearly not working. I think they have taken great delight in taking advantage of the great weakness and the failure of this government. I am not here today to take delight in that failure. I do not think anyone on this side takes delight in the failure of this government. It is quite unedifying to watch what is happening to our national border protection system, to see what is happening to our brave men and women who man the boats, who go out there every single day, it seems now, to pick up refugees. It is quite unedifying having our patrol boats and Navy turned into a taxi service or an escort service for people who have learnt that they can simply call a false alarm and get a free ride to Australia. That is how adaptive and reactive this business model has become.

It is unedifying for anybody to watch our naval personnel risk their lives. We have seen the patrol boats and the system cracking under the pressure. The strain that must be placed on the human beings we ask to implement this is severe.

That is why whenever somebody approaches me—and I go to many different electorates in western Sydney and New South Wales—and says, 'We should do something harsher to people coming by boats or we should take it out on them,' I always say, 'No, we shouldn't.' Because anybody who is on the front lines who is asked to do something like that would tell you that, when you are confronted with real human beings—men, women, children—in leaky boats who are facing drowning and death, it is a natural human reaction to extend compassion, look after them, save them, rescue them and do what we can for them. And it is what we do as a country, as a humanitarian country. That is why we reject all of those people who say that we should get into those extreme sorts of measures.

But, equally so, in our policy settings, in our legislation that is before us today, we must have a system which discourages people from getting on those boats. We know that the risks are great. We know that many of them die. We know that the people who benefit the most are the criminals, the people smugglers, and the misery that they trade in. We know that the only winners are those people who engage in this perfidious trade, not those people who came here after taking risky journeys and playing Russian roulette with their lives. That is why the opposition has been so strident in defence of its policy position.

People in this country who say today that there is no difference between the major political parties, I ask you to listen to this debate. I ask you to understand that there is fundamental policy difference in Australia today. Just because the government, after four years, is abandoning its hopeless and mixed approach and adopting the opposition's position does not mean the parties are the same. It is an acknowledgement that this opposition and the Howard government had their policy settings about right. While the circumstances may be slightly varied, we are returning to the fundamentals—offshore processing—and the government is calling on us to adopt all of those things.

It is not unreasonable in those circumstances for the shadow minister for immigration to call on the government to implement those things that we know will also make the system work again. Turning boats back when it is safe to do so, doing the things that the Howard government did in completion and also enhancing what the government is proposing are a very reasonable position for us to take. We have been right on Nauru. We have been right on offshore processing. We now have an expert panel which has told us we were right on those things and we were right to hold on this policy position—not that we should take any glee in it. But we were right, from a technocratic, ideological and policy perspective, to hold firm.

The government is adopting the opposition's approach. It is reasonable, in that circumstance, for us to call on the government to adopt all the other elements of this approach that can make the system work again. What is the point of that system? To stop people putting their lives at risk on leaky boats by paying money to people smugglers and ensuring that our migration and immigration programs are handled by Australians in an orderly fashion with a compassionate approach to refugees. Also, as the member for Herbert eloquently put, we do recognise that there is an international market for labour, skilled labour and people of intellect and that we want to compete for new migrants. I am very happy to expand our migration program. I think our migration program is a wonderful thing. All the migrants in this country add great value and capacity to our country. It is something I think we will continue to do as a nation in years to come.

What is happening here is that the government's trying to walk both sides of the street—evidencing great policy failure, abandoning principle—is giving immigration a bad name. There are many people in Australia today who have confused what is going on, because of this government recklessness with principle on migration. I want to totally disassociate those concepts. We have a government failure here, not a failure of experts, not a failure of principle. We have a failure of a particular government.

The only recourse a citizen has in our country to do something about this is to vote the government out of office at the next election, to hold them to account for the position that they have taken over four years. They have completely abandoned their principles. The government have completely failed to handle one very key element of a national government—in fact, one of the reasons we have a national government in Australia. And the Australian public should hold them to account and put in a government that knows what it is doing and can protect our borders.

8:34 pm

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a very difficult debate. It pits our hearts against our heads. On the one hand, we all want a humane and a generous immigration system. In fact, migration has made this country great. I know, as the son of migrants myself, that I would speak for many when I say, 'Could those people on that leaky vessel making their way to Australia have been me, or could that have been one of my family members?' That sense of humanity reaches out to those people, knowing that that could have been one of us. On the other hand, we all know that as a sovereign nation we have a right and an obligation to protect our borders. And there are 42½ million people in the world who are internally displaced, and millions in our own region. If we do not have an effective border protection policy then there is greater incentive for these people to come to Australia and for these vulnerable people to be manipulated by the evil trade of people smuggling and the people smugglers.

Personally, I feel much more comfortable talking about issues related to the nation's balance sheet or to the nation's foreign policy posture. I am sure many people in this place would rather be talking about health and education than border protection. But this is a necessary debate. It is a difficult debate but one we must have because of the government's failure to protect the borders. Let us remember that under John Howard we effectively stopped the boats. But, since Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister and was succeeded by Julia Gillard, we have had an onshore processing system.

We have seen more than 22,000 people come in an unauthorised manner by boat. We have had more than 360 boats.

It has cost more than $4.5 billion and, in 2011-12, the humanitarian program for the first time involved more onshore protection visas than offshore protection visas. Then, in July of this year, we saw 1,798 people come illegally by boat, the largest number on record, and a third consecutive month of the largest numbers on record. Most tragically of all up to 1,000 people—men, women and children—have lost their lives at sea.

So this policy is clearly not working. There were those who decided in their wisdom at the end of 2007 and in 2008 to unravel the successful Howard government policies, the policies that involved towing the boats back, offshore processing in Nauru and the temporary protection visas. The impact of those changes in policy has been the tragedies and the numbers I have outlined. So, of those on the other side, and their partners in the Greens, who decided to unravel the Howard policy because they thought they were taking the moral ground, it cannot be said that they have the moral ground, because this failure is their failure, and they were deadly wrong on this issue.

What I find absolutely striking is that this government is now embracing offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island; it is embracing John Howard's Pacific solution. Let it be said that when John Howard, Alexander Downer and Philip Ruddock prosecuted this policy they were deemed by those opposite to be devils incarnate. The vitriol those opposite directed against the leadership of our country for defending its borders is there for all to see. They mocked our policy, despite its success.

We all remember the now Prime Minister, then in charge of the immigration policy, saying, 'Another boat, another policy failure.' We all remember that in 2003 Julia Gillard said: 'No rational person, I would put it as highly as that, would suggest that in 10 or 20 years we will still be processing asylum seeker claims on Nauru. The so-called Pacific solution is nothing more than the world's most extensive detour sign.' And what about Chris Evans? In his address to the Refugee Council of Australia on 17 November 2008, he said:

Labor committed to abolishing the Pacific Solution and this was one the first things the Rudd Labor Government did on taking office. It was also one of my greatest pleasures in politics.

They are and were wrong on this issue, and we have seen the price that has been paid.

What they failed to understand was that John Howard, in the years to 2001, faced a similar influx of boats. In the three years to 2001 there were more than 12,000 unauthorised boat arrivals on more than 180 boats. But he then introduced a trifecta of measures, offshore processing, TPVs and the towing back of boats, and the result was that in the six years after the introduction of those policies only 272 people came on 16 boats. Why did the government decide to go down this path? They decided to do so because they wanted to distinguish themselves from the Howard government. This was about appealing to their base. It was about getting ownership of this issue and not about delivering the best results for the Australian people.

What is more, in the process of unravelling John Howard's Pacific solution they have badly damaged our bilateral relationships with our key partners in the region. Take East Timor. Julia Gillard told us there was going to be an offshore processing centre in East Timor, but the country's Prime Minister and President did not even know about it. We were told there was going to be offshore processing in Malaysia in a people-swap deal, but the High Court insisted that it would not let this go through. Then it came to Indonesia. We had the stand-off on the Oceanic Viking and all of the damage it did to that relationship. Then on Papua New Guinea we have had a foreign minister berate our near neighbour on a number of issues. The key is that we have a Prime Minister who has badly treated East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.

Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to what John Howard and Alexander Downer successfully did in 2002. They instigated the Bali process on people smuggling. I went to that meeting with Alexander Downer in Bali. The countries there—source countries, transit countries and destination countries—all came together under the chairmanship of Australia and Indonesia to work out how we could coordinate our approaches in a better way, how we could share intelligence and information, how we could have good Customs control, how to build good governance and how to improve documentation and identification. This is what the Bali process instigated. Unfortunately, since that time we have neglected those important regional partners and that important regional process. The results are there for all of us to see.

Three distinguished Australians—Angus Houston, Michael L'Estrange and Paris Aristotle—have come together and produced a very comprehensive report. One of the most telling points in the report is the focus on regional relationships. They said that this issue could not be dealt with by Australia alone, because so often these people are transiting Indonesia. In nearly every situation after 2010, other than with the Sri Lankans, Indonesia has been the source country. Three-quarters of the unauthorised boat arrivals that come to this country come from Sri Lanka, Iran or Afghanistan. Three-quarters come from three countries. Why can we not do better with our relationships with those countries and with our key partner, Indonesia, to stop the boats? That is what I ask today. Australia is the co-chair, with Indonesia, of that 46-nation Bali process. We have a key opportunity here to accelerate the cooperation that has been lacking since the Rudd government came to power.

Another interesting point in this report is that the AFP in 2011-12 spent only $16.9 million on border protection. The Attorney-General's Department spent $6.7 million and Customs $8.3 million. Why aren't we frontloading our spending on these issues to give the AFP, A-G's and Customs more firepower to stop those boats coming? Why are we spending billions of dollars on the back end—namely, when people come here, we process them, we send them to detention centres and we have legal processes and lawyers? Why aren't we spending more money at the front end, at the pointy end? That $16.9 million for border protection by our Federal Police, who are coordinating international efforts, seems to me to be extraordinarily low. It is an important question to ask.

In this report we see an acknowledgement of the spirit of the TPVs by taking away the family reunion opportunities for those who come illegally by boat. We have seen the review group say that the Malaysia deal is unconscionable in its current form and we have seen it say that it could be safe to tow back the boats, as was effectively done under the Howard government. This is a vindication of what Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison and our side of politics have been telling those in government for some time—for the nearly five years that they have been in power. We all know that we had a successful policy framework in place when John Howard was in office, when he effectively stopped the boats.

I finish where I started: we come to this issue with a heavy heart. We wanted a humane and generous program. We asked ourselves, could we be one of those people coming here by boat. But, at the same time, we acknowledged the sovereign right of Australia to effectively defend its borders while putting in place an effective policy which treats people humanely and generously. When we explain to the Australian people our record in government I believe they will have no doubt that, should we get the opportunity to govern this nation again, we will bring some order and some effectiveness to our border protection policy.

8:37 pm

Photo of Dennis JensenDennis Jensen (Tangney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sometimes I think my parliamentary colleagues love the sound of their own voices more than they love the voice of the people. So let me speak on behalf my constituents in Tangney. We are over it. We are over the blame game. We are over endless committees and reports. We are over guidelines and recommendations and investigations and permutations. We are over it. We want action. We want action not for selfish reasons—though the government would like to paint that picture. We want action for selfless reasons. When I met with the Applecross ladies, they selflessly implored that we stop the boats. When I met with Martin of Attadale, he implored that we stop the boats. When I meet with a majority of my constituents they implore that we stop the boats.

The present policy is not fair, is not safe and is not sustainable. The coalition have a plan. We offer a holistic policy platform that will work—because it has before. From the recommendations of the expert panel, the Prime Minister and her government have endorsed one pillar of the coalition's comprehensive plan to stop the boats. This token gesture to an electorate demanding a solution will do little to fix this mess of this government's own creation. Prime Minister, real leadership requires more than just idle talk. The current state of our immigration system is unacceptable. We must find a better way. The coalition has demonstrated in government the ideas and the energy to stop the boats. We have done it, and we will do it again. That is a promise. An immediate return to the proven policies of the Howard government, including temporary protections visas, offshore processing and the option of turning boats around when safe to do so, will stop the boats and protect our borders.

The numbers do not lie. Under the Howard government, between 2002 and 2007, only 10 illegal boats, with fewer than 250 people, arrived in Australia. The Prime Minister, in her short term—742 days if you include the term of the previous Prime Minister—has seen approximately 1,000 deaths. More than 230 boats, with more than 5,100 passengers, have been delivered in those 742 days.

On coming to government, Labor abolished temporary protection visas, closed the detention facilities on Nauru, abolished universal offshore processing and detention of all illegal boat arrivals, and has not turned back boats where circumstances safely allowed. This destroyed a framework of policies that had worked, that had saved lives and that had secured the borders of Australia. Labor gave the people smugglers a product to sell—permanent residency in Australia. Health and education budgets are already stretched, teachers and nurses are under pressure, infrastructure is jammed and the police have too much on their plate. From an economic perspective alone, Labor's border protection blow-out of $1.7 billion, including an increase for 2012-13 of $424 million on last year's budget, will add to our growing debt and cost taxpayers an extra $1.1 million per day. This adds unnecessary pressure to the provision of services by government.

We are a generous and welcoming nation—and criminal people smugglers take advantage of our system for that very reason. Instead of restoring the proven measures of the coalition, Labor embraced the Greens policy of community release and bridging visas, including their new granny flat solution. These policies have seen illegal boat arrivals surge to even higher levels. Labor rolled out the red carpet with welcome baskets prepared. The message to you from Tangney, Prime Minister, is this: we are over the soft touch; it is time for the iron fist. It is time for the coalition's comprehensive policy.

A key pillar of a strong immigration and border protection system is the ability of a government to engage productively and diplomatically with our sovereign neighbours. Labor's handling of the live cattle issue is illustrative of their inability to engage with our nearest neighbour, Indonesia. Foreign diplomacy is a key to the success of any immigration policy—whether it be the policy of the coalition or of the Labor Party. Even elementary study of Labor's negotiations with Indonesia, or lack thereof, can identify cultural insensitivity and diplomatic ignorance. No wonder we find it difficult to negotiate on this issue and difficult to find a resolution that limits boats disembarking their passengers on our shores.

So here we are—another debate on an issue that has a clear solution. Yet again, in question time, we saw the government seek to blame others for their own border protection and budget failures. I commend the government for the amendment which has been negotiated between the member for Cook and the minister. But this minor capitulation still leaves us with a broken immigration system—deaths at sea, a tide of boats still flowing to Australia and an electorate which is growing tired of, and angry at, the inaction of an incompetent government. The same stubbornness which rejected Nauru for years is the same stubbornness which is still rejecting other proven policies, such as TPVs and turning the boats around.

The coalition has consistently supported good policy. The coalition will restore the strong border protection regime that Labor abandoned. We will reintroduce offshore processing of illegal boat arrivals as part of a series of measures to stop boats and protect our borders. In government, the coalition has demonstrated that it has the resolve, policies and commitment required to stop the boats. These policies saved lives and protected the fairness and integrity of our immigration system. We will do it again.

Offshore processing in Nauru has been part of the coalition's border protection policy for over a decade, but it is part of a bigger plan which must be reinstated in full in order to stop the boats and save lives. Getting on a boat is not an easy decision; it is not something which is decided upon overnight. Let us be sure of our decision. We stand always with the underdog and anyone in search of a fair go. The Malaysia solution—so-called—was merely an example of Australia losing control of the process. The difference that the Labor government does not seem to understand is that, with Nauru, even when it was not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees, we had control of the process. With Malaysia, we lack control of that process. But we do know this: every day we obfuscate, prevaricate and pontificate, people will sell themselves to board a boat for a land of sunshine and oranges.

8:59 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Migration has been good for Australia. Australia has been good to migrants. It works both ways. I rise to speak tonight on this Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 as a member for an electorate which has many migrants. These people have come to the Riverina in different waves, in different circumstances and from vastly different places and backgrounds, but all share a common bond: all came to these shores, our shores, seeking a new start and willing to make the most of the opportunity afforded by this country to build a better life for their families and themselves. Migrants helped enormously in the development of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, which is this year proudly commemorating its centenary—100 years since the official turning on of the water took place at Yanco on 13 July 1912.

Certainly, Griffith could be considered the cradle of multiculturalism as a city made up of so many different nationalities. It is no wonder the people of that regional city and indeed the entire MIA get so riled up when this government threatens to undermine future water availability and thereby the future of this great food bowl. These people have sacrificed much to come to this country, to be sent somewhere no-one else wanted to go and turn an arid plain that was thought worthless into a land, a patch, of plentiful produce. Griffith is as culturally diverse a regional city as you will find anywhere in Australia. Wagga Wagga took many Vietnamese refugees during the 1970s crisis. Many of them were settled in a suburb to the west of the city called San Isidore, and the local Roman Catholic Church in particular helped these people find their feet in their new home. Some still live and work in Wagga Wagga and contribute greatly in many ways to the local community, their community. They came by boat, admittedly, but they were able to obtain Australian citizenship. There are right means and methods to obtain Australian citizenship and there are wrong ones.

Over the past four years, we have unfortunately experienced an upsurge in the number of illegal boat arrivals, which was brought about by the relaxing—indeed, axing—of the policies which worked under the previous coalition government led by John Howard. Since November 2007, when the Howard government border protection policies were dismantled, 22,518 illegal arrivals have made their way here on 386 boats. That is as of now. The people and the boats keep coming. Since Julia Gillard, a modern day Helen of Troy of sorts—the face that launched a thousand ships—took over as Prime Minister from Kevin Rudd on 24 June 2010—

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would ask the member to use members' appropriate titles in the House.

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Since the now Prime Minister took over from the now member for Griffith, the former Prime Minister, on 24 June 2010, 246 boats carrying 15,879 people have arrived illegally. These are damning statistics—damning of the Gillard government's pig-headed refusal to concede that the Howard policies actually worked and worked well. And why? As I said, it is because they were pig-headed, bloody-minded, obstinate. They refused to admit that something the previous government had in place was right. 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'—it is an old saying and it is a good one.

It is a shame, when it comes to border protection in particular, that in 2007 the incoming Rudd government did not adopt Howard's way. Compare the two: when the coalition left office in 2007, there were four illegal boat people, all men, in detention; now, under Labor, that number is in the thousands. In fact, I downloaded today, from the government's Department of Immigration and Citizenship website, a document entitled Immigration detention statistics summary30 June 2012. It shows that there were 3,920 adults, including 44 women, in detention as at 30 June. Add to this the 170 being kept in Immigration residential housing and Immigration transit accommodation, those on Christmas Island at the time and those in alternative places of detention on the mainland, and the total figure reaches 5,815—5,815 as opposed to just four. Goodness knows how many there are now, after all the boat arrivals in July. Shame on the government. John Howard, officially launching the government's 2001 election campaign, said:

It is … about having an uncompromising view about the fundamental right of this country to protect its borders, it’s about this nation saying to the world we are a generous open hearted people taking more refugees on a per capita basis than any nation except Canada, we have a proud record of welcoming people from 140 different nations. But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come. And can I say on this point what a fantastic job Philip Ruddock has done for Australia.

Indeed, the member for Berowra did do a fantastic job.

If anyone was not moved by the words of the member for Stirling in the debate on this same issue on 27 June, then they have something other than blood coursing through their veins. The member for Stirling is a forthright man, an upright individual, not easily stirred but generally calm and composed. His voice quavered and tears welled up in his eyes as he spoke about his personal experience after the Christmas Island tragedy in December 2010, in which 48 asylum seekers perished. He recounted:

One of the Australians told me that he looked face-to-face at a child who he could not rescue even though he could almost touch her …

We are politicians. We are parliamentarians. We are people. Many of us are parents. No-one—no-one—wants to see people, some of them mere children, drowning at sea.

Mr Howard—and he was a great Prime Minister—used to say that every day is a test of character for a member of parliament. With that in mind, I went to the meeting on asylum seeker policy called by the member for New England and chaired by him. The email regarding this meeting invited 'all members and senators to look at this issue in a spirit of goodwill'. There were 41 present, some of whom had a say and many, like me, who merely sat and listened. I do not think there is anything wrong with that. You can learn a lot by listening, even to opinions other than your own closely held personal and party views. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young handed out a paper in which she stated and from which I, admittedly selectively, now quote:

Australia is a safe, prosperous and generous country. Our community has already been enriched by generations of immigrants and refugees who have made Australia their home.

As one of the key nations in the region who has signed the Refugee Convention it makes sense for Australia to lead the way and set the standard when it comes to resolving the humanitarian crisis on our doorstep.

I agree with the senator on those points.

My electorate has many people who came to Australian shores seeking a better life. Nothing I heard that day at the meeting I attended, and nothing I heard said in this chamber that afternoon or since, has swayed me from my conviction that the right way to deal with human trafficking is the policies the coalition had in place under Mr Howard. In fact, it has only determined my resolve. I agree that we as a parliament must act now.

The tragic loss of life at sea and the mass of boats coming here on a daily basis demands that we—as politicians, as parliamentarians, as people—find a solution to this unfolding and ongoing tragedy. The answer is before us. The coalition has consistently advocated proven polices which work. Under the current Prime Minister's watch, more and more boats have arrived carrying more and more people; and with every arrival until now, the government has defiantly refused to accept the policies which worked before and which will work again.

When it comes to border protection, we cannot simply compromise for the sake of compromise. In recent weeks I surveyed my electorate. Of the thousands who have responded to date, the number who disagree with the government's handling of unlawful immigration is substantially more than the number who agree. Those who think Australia's border controls are too soft outnumber those who think they are too harsh by at least 25 to one. The coalition supports temporary protection visas, re-opening Nauru and turning the boats around when it is safe to do so. These policies stopped the boats before and, if enacted soon—not just one of the three policies, but all three—they will stop the boats again. The facts speak for themselves. If we do not do something, the number of illegal arrivals will increase exponentially and, sadly, so too will the drownings. No-one in Australia wants to see that.

We support the view that no asylum seeker should be sent to a country which is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention. There are 148 countries which have signed up. Malaysia is not one of them. The five to one Malaysian swap deal—4,000 of theirs for 800 of ours—will be filled within weeks at the current illegal arrival rate. On 4 July last year, the member for Cook emailed all parliamentarians about a visit he had made to Malaysia. I will conclude by quoting from that email:

It was clear to me from my visit that no organisation, despite what I am sure are their best intentions, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is in a position to practically guarantee the welfare of those transferred to Malaysia under this proposed arrangement. This is the practical and unavoidable reality of this proposal.

I heard numerous stories of arrest and detention—despite having documentation—abuse in the workplace, violence and extortion. It would take anywhere between two weeks and two months to routinely get documented refugees out of the lock-up or a detention centre.

Mental health counsellors told me that the greatest cause of anxiety and depression for refugees living in Malaysia is fear driven by their vulnerability. A stay of around 4 to 5 years was the most common response from refugees I met, but for others their stay has been decades. For those who give up, their stay is permanent.

In short, given Malaysia's non-signatory status to the Refugee Convention, refugees' legal rights are arbitrary and the support they receive is completely voluntary.

I commend the member for Cook for his stand on this matter. Our national anthem includes the words:

For those who've come across the seas

We've boundless plains to share;

With courage let us all combine

To Advance Australia Fair.

We are a caring, sharing nation, but we must also have rules in place. I commend the government for its amendment, brokered in negotiation with the shadow minister for immigration, the member for Cook. It is good. It does not go far enough but it is a first, positive step. Border protection is paramount for good government. This country needs just that—strong border protection and a good government.

9:11 pm

Photo of Ken WyattKen Wyatt (Hasluck, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 because I find the direction of thinking has changed considerably since 28 June. On that particular day we heard incredible positions being presented to this House by members. It was a culmination of those who met to discuss ways in which we could broker a solution to a problem which was costing lives, when ships were coming unabated to our shores, when our border protection processes had broken down and when we had a Prime Minister who was absolutely stubborn in her resolve not to take the opportunity of the goodwill that prevailed for feasible solutions. What I found distasteful a couple of days after that was the media headline 'Drowning in a sea of indecision,' the comment 'Lives, not politics,' the issues that my constituents raised about the anger of indecision and also anger in the fact that this parliament had not reached a position that was addressing a very critical issue that impacted on the security of this country and its borders.

Equally, there was concern about the rising costs—who was going to provide the levels of support that would be needed by those who came from countries where there was strife, turmoil and war. And then, how do you take forward those people into Australian society when they are genuine refugees. There was also some anger about the fact that many who have come from overseas and now live in my electorate are seeking family reunions and being told that it is not possible. We dealt with a number of visa applications. When people got their responses, they would retort by saying, 'Maybe I should go and jump on a vessel to come in as my way of getting into this country.' The thing that disappointed me was the fact that we lost the opportunity, a moment in time in which there were some very strong unified voices from both sides of the chamber seeking a solution.

I myself made an appeal to the Prime Minister to show some leadership, as the leader of this nation, on the asylum seeker issue; but she chose not to do so. Instead, on 28 June, she announced the appointment of an expert panel and said that they would come back to her with recommendations as to how government should progress. It is interesting that the recommendations in the panel's report do not differ significantly from the Howard solutions. The report provides some opportunities for some real concrete decisions to be made. These include the opening up of Nauru—an idea which previously had been denigrated. I dislike the fact that when you disagree with the Prime Minister you are denigrated for having a position that is inconsistent with hers. Yet in this chamber we all have the opportunity to raise things that are absolutely critical and that need to be addressed.

I was fascinated when I read back through some of the history of the asylum seeker debate. When she was in opposition, Prime Minister Gillard was against offshore processing and the Pacific solution. In fact, she said:

Labor will end the Pacific solution, the so-called Pacific Solution—the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on the Pacific islands—because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle.

That statement was recorded in Hansard on 13 May 2003. Yet the money that we have expended on the asylum seeker challenge has been substantial. The asylum seeker budget has blown out to $4.7 billion. This includes the $866 million blow-out revealed in the 2011-12 budget and a further $840 million which was revealed at a later stage. Senator Chris Evans, in an address to the Refugee Council of Australia at Parramatta Town Hall, said:

Labor committed to abolishing the Pacific Solution and this was one the first things the Rudd Labor Government did on taking office. It was also one of my greatest pleasures in politics.

I wonder how he feels in light of what occurred after that decision and the challenges that governments have had in managing the borders. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Labor have consistently said that asylum seekers would never go to a country that had not signed the UN convention. On Radio 6PR on 8 July 2010 the Prime Minister said, 'I would rule out anywhere that is not a signatory to the refugee convention.' That is strange when you consider the Malaysian deal—though I am not casting aspersions on Malaysia. If, however, you put forward a principle as a guide to what you would and would not do, why would you do a backflip? Why would you look for a solution out of expediency? On 28 June we provided an opportunity for us all to come together to deal with the motion that Mr Oakeshott had put and the debate that followed. But again there was a decision by the leadership of the Gillard government not to canvass anything that resembled a Pacific solution. Strangely enough, though, when an expert panel make recommendations in their report, there seems to be a gravitation towards the Pacific solution in looking at the options as to how we deal with the asylum seeker issue.

It is frustrating that the Prime Minister has been so stubborn that all opportunities to look at solutions to the issue have been forgone. What I like about the expert panel report are the 22 recommendations that allow flexibility. The coalition has always supported a solution to the asylum seeker issue which would be based on humanitarian considerations and welcome refugees who sought a place in our country and went through the proper processes. On the other hand, the behaviour of those who had not gone through the proper processes and who had destroyed documents made it much more challenging to allow them to enter our country freely—or at least in stages until they could be given the opportunity to reside here.

The chair of the panel, in handing down the panel's report on Monday 13 August, endorsed in a sense the coalition's approach to stopping the boats and confirmed that pull factors created by Labor's policies following the abolition of the Howard government's proven border protection policies were significantly responsible for the resumption of the people smugglers' trade. None of us in this chamber support the notion of human trafficking; none of us in this chamber support the notion that people should be able to make money off the misery of others; and none of us support the concept that a life has no value, because we know the number of people who have been lost is significant and there are even more who did not make it and whom we are not aware of.

The panel made 22 recommendations, and I was pleased to see among them the recommendations that processing on Manus Island, in PNG, be established as quickly as practicable, that legislation be introduced to the parliament to allow the processing of illegal boat arrivals in designated countries and that the decision to allow or disallow the legislative instrument designating such countries be reserved for the parliament. Scott Morrison, as the shadow minister with responsibility, continually put forward these points as solutions which would have helped the Prime Minister move forward on the asylum seeker issue. Another of his suggestions—that irregular maritime vessels should be turned back—can be operationally achieved. This would constitute an effective deterrent to people-smuggling ventures. The panel also said that that the protections for asylum seekers set out in the Malaysian people-swap are inadequate.

The coalition had an effective policy under the Howard government. Philip Ruddock led those reforms and was one of the key designers, along with other coalition members—certainly Minister Downer and Prime Minister John Howard. The coalition has always had a plan to stop the boats. It has never resiled from the proven outcomes that the Howard policies achieved. For four years the Prime Minister said offshore processing on Nauru would not work. For four years Australia's borders have been weak, lives have been lost at sea, Australia's reputation with its neighbours has been tarnished, costs have blown out and people smuggling has flourished—all because the Prime Minister was too stubborn to admit Labor got it wrong.

The Howard government's solutions worked then and they will work again. The solutions that are proposed out of the Houston report are practical and will offer an opportunity for government to implement those things that will work and will reduce the number of people coming here through people traffickers.

Let me also remind the House that when in opposition the now Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, supported turning back boats. She said: 'The Navy has turned back four boats to Indonesia. They were in seaworthy shape and arrived in Indonesia. It has made a very big difference to people smuggling that that happened. And we think that turning boats around that are seaworthy, that can make the return journey, that are in international waters, fits in with that.' That was said at a press conference on 3 December 2002.

Let me conclude by saying that the coalition has been consistent with its policy. It has always given government the opportunity to sit and negotiate an agreed outcome, with solutions that reduce the numbers coming, reduce the loss of life and enable Australia to protect its borders.

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I go to the next speaker, I would just remind members to use other members' titles. We seem to be straying a little bit tonight, so I would just ask people to use the appropriate titles when referring to other members.

9:24 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In deference to your last instruction, Madam Deputy Speaker, might I say how pleased I am to rise in this debate on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. It was a sorry saga that the House witnessed in question time today when the question was put to the Prime Minister, 'Why was the Pacific solution abandoned?' I do not think there was any clear answer from the Prime Minister at all. She said, from memory, that it was Labor Party policy and 'that is why we abandoned it'. But she never actually gave an explanation as to why. I think the reason was that the government, the Prime Minister and others in the Labor Party thought that they could actually play around with the settings on this policy and it would not really matter because there were no boat people coming to Australia. They were tipping their lids to the left, to those in that Easter protest parade that used to miraculously appear each year at the Baxter detention centre. Those protesters have been conspicuously absent on this issue since the problem has re-emerged and has in fact become far worse than it was under the Howard government.

It is worth while remembering that it is the current Prime Minister who, in opposition, led the charge against John Howard's government: 'Another day, another boat, another failed policy.' Goodness, that is not bad to listen to now, is it. Those words must come back to haunt the Prime Minister.

So they abolished the Pacific solution and temporary protection visas and they promised processing in 90 days. Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not sure whether, as a child, you would have seen or read The Sorcerer's Apprentice, but this is what it was like: the boss was away for the day, the kids were out for a play, and everything got out of hand. Now of course they are having to go back to the sorcerer—in this case, it was the father of the House, Philip Ruddock, and the now retired Prime Minister John Howard. They were the sorcerers who came up with the original policy, and the apprentices now are forced to go back. That is exactly what is happening here, because after the government played with those policies the genie was out of the bottle and the people smugglers were out advertising tickets.

We were told that this was all about push factors. I can remember government members coming up to me in the corridors and in some of the meetings that I attended in this place and saying, 'You can't be serious. You know this is about push factors.' How that argument has changed now! In fact it is completely reversed. If it were not so serious it would be hilarious to compare what the government members say now and their pronouncements on asylum seekers, say, two years ago, or nine months ago or even six weeks ago. Here we are now, just weeks after the last time this bill came before the House, after the government members, to a person, had rejected the Nauru option, and miraculously they are all in favour of it. After they played with these policies, within weeks the boats were coming and people were drowning. Now the government admits that approximately four per cent of them, or more than 1,000 people, have perished at sea.

Before long Christmas Island was full, and it is perhaps worth while reflecting on some of the comments that came from the government side at that time. When the member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby, was the chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, just before the dismantling of the Pacific solution, he was quoted as follows:

Melbourne Ports Labor MP Michael Danby said the 800-bed facility—which is currently empty—resembled a stalag, a German prisoner of war camp. "I think all of us from the delegation are frankly flabbergasted about the enormous expenditure of public money by the previous government on this," Mr Danby said from the island. "It just looks like an enormous white elephant."

Well, it was not big enough, was it? That was the problem with it—the white elephant was not big enough!

Mr Danby reported that the money spent on the facility was grandiose—

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Members should refer to individual members by their titles. I know people are interested in this debate, but there have been very few people using titles all night.

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was in fact quoting from an article.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

It does not matter; you still need to refer to the member's—

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would have to misquote to do that, but I am pleased to do so. The member for Melbourne Ports 'said the money spent on the facility was "grandiose" given "the most they have had on the island are groups of 40 or 50". Well, they sure fixed that, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Debate interrupted.