House debates

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


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

9:16 am

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to support the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 because this bill is the first step in cleaning up the giant mess that will be recorded as one of the most catastrophic failures of policy in our nation's history. And we all know that history. Back in 1999, under the Howard government, we had a problem. In that year 3,721 asylum seekers embarked on that dangerous voyage on 86 boats. The following year people smugglers sent 2,939 asylum seekers off on boats. In 2001, 5,516 made that dangerous voyage on 43 boats. And during that time we had lives lost. Over 353 people were drowned at sea during that period.

One of the most vocal critics of that situation at the time was our current Prime Minister, who said, 'Another boat arrival; another policy failure.' So the Howard government took the necessary action with a three-pronged policy: processing on Nauru, temporary protection visas and turning the boats around where possible. And it worked.

Between 1999 and the introduction of the Pacific solution in late 2001 over 12,000 asylum seekers had arrived by boat. In the entire seven years of the Pacific solution, between 2002 and 2008, just 278 asylum seekers arrived—an average of fewer than 50 a year. The facts are that the Howard government policies worked. Lives were saved. In the seven years following its introduction no deaths were recorded. And by the time the 2007 election rolled around just four people were left in detention. However, for his efforts Prime Minister Howard was the victim of grubby politics and point-scoring. He was vilified and denigrated and abused from pillar to post.

And then we had the election in 2007 of the Rudd government, which, after coming to power, commenced to unwind all three pillars of Howard's proven and successful policies. And while the chardonnay set clinked their glasses and toasted the unwinding of the coalition's policies the people smugglers celebrated with them. Labor had put them back into business.

Labor's policy was summed up by the comments made by the immigration minister, Senator Evans, who in November 2008 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 …

How tragically misguided. Look what we have seen since. Since Labor took power in November 2007, a total of 22,518 asylum seekers have been escorted by our Navy to Christmas Island on 386 boats. That number, 22,518 people, is more than the entire populations of many of our country towns, such as Goulburn, Armidale, Forster-Tuncurry, Cessnock, Grafton or Taree.

And we have seen asylum seekers riot at Villawood detention centre, setting fire to nine buildings, including a medical centre and dining hall. In July last year, we witnessed the spectacle of Australian Federal Police having to fire tear gas and bean-bag rounds at asylum seekers on Christmas Island after riots broke out. We have seen the 2009 tragedy of SIEV36, where asylum seekers set fire to the boat while Navy personnel were on board. Five passengers were killed in the explosion, and Navy personnel were injured.

We had the morale of our Navy undermined, when a sailor was recently admonished by an asylum seeker who wanted more care taken with his bag because it contained a laptop. Another sailor lamented, 'Last I checked, I was not a baggage handler at the airport but a sailor in the Royal Australian Navy.'

And we have seen damage to our international reputation, with Australia having been accused of breaching the rights of Indonesian children by jailing them as adults after they came as crew on the boats. And we had the Four Corners expose of the adventures of Captain Emad, where an alleged leader of a people smuggling racket had successfully disguised himself as an asylum seeker and was operating within a very few kilometres of this very parliament.

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

The member for Hughes needs to return to the bill before the House. It has been a wide-ranging debate. He has given us a good history lesson, but he needs to refer to the bill.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Another reason this bill is important is to rein in the costs. But we have seen the blow-out in costs: $4.7 billion—$4,700 million! We will never know what services, what infrastructure, the Australian community has missed out on because of that $4.7 billion.

Let's look at those numbers again to see why this bill is important. In the seven years of the Pacific solution, 2002 to 2008, 278 asylum seekers arrived. In the 4½ years since these policies were introduced, over 22,000 asylum seekers have arrived. Yet, despite all this evidence, for four long years, all we have seen from this government is denial. We have seen the fraud of the East Timor solution. We have seen the farce of the Malaysia solution, struck down by the High Court.

We should never forget that the coalition has called on the government to reopen Nauru no fewer than 106 times. Instead of taking the necessary action, this government has given us every excuse under the sun as to why they cannot open Nauru. Firstly, we had the excuse that Nauru was not a signatory to the UN convention. This time last year the Prime Minister claimed in this very parliament that Nauru would not work and should not be reopened because it would be a waste of taxpayers' money. No wonder members of this government are hiding in their offices, not participating in this debate! The history records that the Howard government was right and its policies should never have been reversed.

I say enough is enough. What about our Westminster system of ministerial responsibility? Our very system of government is built on that principle, whereby a minister takes the blame if something goes wrong. It is a fundamental tenet of our Westminster system that cabinet ministers bear the ultimate responsibility for their actions. But it is hard to completely blame the hapless minister for immigration, for we know, from reports in the Australiannewspaper yesterday, that on 13 October last year our immigration minister saw the light and urged our Prime Minister to reopen Nauru to stop the boats. We know that argument was rejected, and it was reported yesterday that it was rejected simply for political reasons.

We would have hoped that the immigration minister would have had the backbone to resign from cabinet. Instead, he continued to be part of the charade and part of the denial, and the boats kept coming. Since that time, 10 months ago, 123 boats have arrived, carrying 9,777 asylum seekers, and the death toll has risen. Another 338 people have drowned. Let's call a spade a spade. If the Prime Minister had not been so stubborn, if she had put the national interest first, ahead of her own political interest, the human tragedy and the cost of Labor's failed border protection policies could have all been avoided.

At the end of last week the expert report was received. After reading that report, a true leader would have put their ego, their vanity and their pride to one side, walked into this parliament, stood at the dispatch box, looked the public in the eye and said those three magic words: 'I am sorry.' The Prime Minister should have said, 'I am sorry for vilifying former Prime Minister Howard and his asylum seeker policy for over a decade—

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

The member for Hughes has to talk to the bill.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am, Madam Deputy Speaker.

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

No, you are not. I would ask you to go back to the bill. Thank you.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This bill is important. It seeks to reopen Nauru. Before we deal with that, one of the important steps is to acknowledge the mistakes of the past. Those mistakes from the past go to saying sorry. As I said, the Prime Minister truly ought to come to the dispatch box and say she is sorry to the Father of the House, who is proudly sitting in front of me, the member for Berowra. Our former immigration minister for years had to suffer bile, abuse and venom being spat at him, when he had the policies that worked, that stopped boats and stopped lives being lost.

A true leader would say, 'I am sorry,' to the Australian taxpayer for the $4,700 million that has been wasted. A true leader would say sorry to our Australian Navy, which has turned into a water taxi service, ferrying tens of thousands of people on leaky boats to Christmas Island. A true leader would say, 'I am sorry,' to the thousands languishing in refugee camps around the world whom this government's policies have pushed further back in the queue. We should never forget the Prime Minister's words:

If more boats arrive, fewer people can be sponsored under our special humanitarian program.

That is what has happened—more than 8,000 people have been pushed back in the queue and are languishing in refugee camps around the world. Finally, a true leader would walk into this parliament, stand at the dispatch box and say they were sorry for the almost 1,000 people having drowned at sea since Labor undid these policies.

It would help if we just had a simple admission that this government was wrong, rather than the deferral of responsibility—

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

The member for Hughes will refer to the bill or I will sit him down.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is quite a lot more I would like to say on this bill; however—

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

There is a difference between talking on the bill and talking to the issue, and that is the point I am trying to make. Before the House at the moment is a bill, and when you are speaking to the bill that is what you must refer to.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There are many other speakers on our side who wish to speak on this bill, and as there is a risk of being cut short and guillotined I will leave my comments there.

9:28 am

Photo of Mrs Bronwyn BishopMrs Bronwyn Bishop (Mackellar, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Seniors) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to address the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 and the amendments moved both by the government and by the opposition. From the outset, we have to put into context what this debate about offshore processing of illegal boat arrivals is really all about. It is a question of believing in the nation-state. The nation-state says that you believe you protect your borders and, in the words of John Howard, you say who will come to this country and the manner in which they will come. That was always the basis upon which the Pacific solution of the Howard government was developed. It was designed specifically to say that we will protect the integrity of our nation and our shores and determine who comes to this country and how. When the debate ensued after the Pacific solution was introduced—which was totally effective, because it did stop people getting on boats—the question of placing asylum seekers' lives at risk was very much part of that debate and was raised by us as part and parcel of the reason we needed that effective solution.

When the abuse did indeed come to the member for Berowra it was full of bile, it was full of malice and it at no stage had the interest of the Australian nation at heart. The present Prime Minister infamously said then, 'Another boat arrival is another policy failure'. All of her policies on this issue have been a failure. The policy initiatives of the former Prime Minister Mr Rudd were equally a failure. He dismantled the effective policy that was in place and he did it because he was caving in to the left, who do not believe in the nation-state.

And the Greens not only do not believe in the nation-state but also believe in totally open borders: whoever can come here should be able to stay. There are members of the Labor Party who have a similar belief. It is simply a statement of fact that they do not believe in the nation-state. We well remember the former Senator Brown saying in one of his farewell speeches: 'Fellow earthlings, we believe in world government. We abrogate the rights of nations to rule themselves.'

It is important that, in the context in which this debate has taken place, the opposition has stayed firm—on every occasion—to the policy that was introduced by the Howard government: the Pacific solution. It has fundamental tenets in addition to enabling Nauru and Manus Island to be reinstated. It is essential that we again have temporary protection visas. Temporary protection visas take the sugar off the table. This was the term used by the Indonesian government to say that we should act to take incentives away from the trade for people being smuggled or brought illegally to Australia.

Temporary protection visas importantly mean that there is no family reunion, which explains why we had boatload after boatload of single males coming to this country, who were put up in rented houses and given benefits. Tens of thousands of Australians who are on waiting lists for public housing do not get the same consideration. The blow-out in expenditure of something like $4.7 billion is money that could have gone toward such things as the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It could have gone towards the Commonwealth's honouring some of its obligations, if it is interested in the Gonski scheme. It could have gone towards a whole lot of policies. Instead, the stubbornness of the Prime Minister in refusing to reinstate an effective policy has meant a waste of money—to the disadvantage of the Australian people. Twenty-two thousand people have come since that policy failure. And there have been those dreadful deaths.

In debating this bill the coalition is saying that we support the legislation because it will again allow Nauru and Manus Island to be designated countries where asylum seekers can be taken for offshore processing. It is interesting to note that the mechanism used by the government to bring this about is to say that there will be a legislative instrument made, which will list a country—one country—per legislative instrument. It must then lie on the table, or be introduced to the parliament, for five sitting days before it becomes effective. Currently, the way subordinate legislation works, it becomes effective the moment it is signed. If it is subsequently challenged with a disallowance motion it becomes void. The problem here is that there could have been an instrument made, and many boat arrivals, and the fact that it became void subsequently would not affect the fact that they were already here. This is a new mechanism that the government has decided to use rather than write into the legislation that Nauru and Manus Island shall be permitted, as designated countries, for offshore processing of illegal arrivals or asylum seekers.

This is just stage 1 of reintroducing the successful policy of the Howard government. It is valid to make the point that the Prime Minister showed sheer stubbornness by playing politics continually through this. She was first playing with the idea of Timor-Leste, then playing with the idea of Malaysia. The High Court, in its judgment, clearly said that the minister for immigration was unable to make the declaration that the human rights of people who were sent there in this proposed disgusting trade in human flesh would be protected. The High Court said, 'You are incapable of making that judgment on the evidence available.' That responsibility rests fairly and squarely with the minister for immigration. It was his making a statement, which he clearly was unable to do, that caused the failure of that policy. Again, the Prime Minister was aiding and abetting.

The Prime Minister then needed a mechanism. She needed some way to do a backflip in order to agree with the policy statement forwarded by the coalition. She has done that by outsourcing government policy to a committee of three. It came back with a statement that using Nauru and Manus Island would be a sensible way to go, that Malaysia was not possible. In soft language it said that it needed an enormous amount of additional work. Temporary protection visas got a tick—but have a bit of fuzz around them. The important thing is, from the coalition's point of view—and from the Australian people's point of view—that the whole system needs to be completed.

There need to be temporary protection visas and there needs to be an instruction to the Northern Command to commence turning back boats where it is safe to do so. The Houston committee would know—and, as former head of the Australian Defence Force, Air Marshal Houston, would know—of the capacity for the Navy to turn back boats safely when required to do so.

It is important that everybody realise that in our supporting this legislation we are not walking away from the rest of our policy. We are standing up for our whole policy and we are saying to the government, 'You have used a mechanism by which you can agree on this point.' Can I say to you: try and find another mechanism so you can agree to the rest of it and introduce a sensible policy which will then again truly stop the boats and reinstate a determination to protect this nation's borders and say to the Australian people that we do believe in the nation state of Australia and we are not prepared to see it have its power to secure its borders treated in a way you, the government, have done previously.

9:38 am

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. This bill removes section 198A of the Migration Act as well as doing some other things consequent upon the amendments the government has just proposed. Section 198A has been a very important section and at the centre of the approach taken by the Howard government when it introduced the Pacific solution to deal with the sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat. Section 198A sets out the safeguards that Australia would insist upon before sending asylum seekers to a third country to reside while their asylum claim was being heard. The section sets out the safeguards that the minister is required to declare exist, including that the relevant country provides access to effective procedures for assessing their need for protection, provides protection for persons seeking asylum, provides protection to persons who are given refugee status and meets relevant human rights standards.

When the bill before the House was first introduced we opposed it because of its provision which would have removed section 198A. In our view, section 198A was a critical safeguard that was an important part of the overall policy framework the Howard government introduced. It was a safeguard to ensure that Australia was meeting our obligations to asylum seekers while we also sought to achieve the critically important policy objective of maintaining control of Australia's borders and maintaining control of our immigration program. Therefore in the form that this bill was originally introduced and in the form in which it was debated in this House a few weeks ago we were not satisfied that the regime that the present government proposes to introduce in place of section 198A was a satisfactory regime. That proposed new regime is the one set out in subdivision B of the bill, originally to be entitled 'Offshore Processing'. In our view, that subdivision set out materially lower standards which the minister was required to meet before he or she could declare an offshore country as suitable for Australia to send asylum seekers to. Following the debate in this parliament a few weeks ago, the government subsequently commissioned and has now received the report of the expert panel on asylum seekers and the government has now reintroduced this bill together with, very importantly, some amendments.

There are two main classes of amendment that the government has introduced. One class, as is so typical of this government, is to deal with the window dressing, and throughout the bill the term 'offshore processing' is replaced with the term 'regional processing'. The substantive amendment is the one that would add proposed subsections 198AB(1A) and (1B). The important thing about those amendments is that they require that before the minister can give effect to his declaration that a particular country could be a regional processing country—that is to say, before the minister's declaration could come into effect and before therefore the minister could implement the decision and begin sending asylum seekers to that third country for them to stay while their claims for asylum were considered—there would have to be either a resolution passed by both houses of parliament or a period of five sitting days in which the minister's declaration had been laid before each house and during which no disallowance motion had been passed by either house. So that is an important additional safeguard which has been added in and is a material difference from what was in the form of the bill that was previously considered.

The government is seeking to give the impression that all of this is part of it moving immediately to restore offshore processing in Nauru and in Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, the same locations where processing occurred for several years under the Howard government as part of a policy framework which was demonstrably successful in materially reducing and essentially eliminating the flow of asylum seekers by boat. The important point about the amendment and the bill before the House this morning is that to reopen offshore processing in Manus Island and in Nauru does not require this bill or this amendment. The minister could make a declaration to that effect under the existing act. Nevertheless, the coalition have indicated that we will support the bill as amended. But we also make the point that this has been a long, painful, convoluted process to get to this point.

In the first phase of what has effectively been a three-stage process, between 2000 and 2007, the Howard government developed and implemented an effective policy to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat to very low numbers indeed—from 4,137 in 2000-01, over the five years to 2006-07 the annual arrival numbers dropped to 0, 82, 0, 61 and 133.

The second phase of the convoluted process by which we have come to have this bill before the House is that Labor came to power in 2007 promising a complete reversal of policy. I looked at its 2007 party platform yesterday. One of the items in that party platform was as follows:

Labor will end the so-called 'Pacific Solution', with its huge cost to Australian taxpayers.

Consequent upon that, once in power the Labor government set about rapidly dismantling the Howard government's policy framework and shredding the hard-won credibility that Australia had built up on this topic with people smugglers and with people who might be considering making the risky and dangerous journey to Australia by boat. The people smugglers got the new message very quickly, and arrival numbers soared. By 2009-10 there were over 1,000, and in the three subsequent years it has been around five times that number.

The third stage in getting to the provisions in the bill before the House this morning has been the far-too-slowly dawning recognition that the Rudd-Gillard government has made a huge mistake. It has harmed Australia's national interest and has also given extraordinary encouragement to people smugglers. The predictable but tragic consequences have been that many more people chose to make the highly dangerous voyage to Australia by boat. One of the most disturbing parts of the expert group's report is table 7, on page 84, which sets out what is known about the deaths of asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat. That shows a total number of 964 deaths that are known to have occurred since 2000, over 600 of which have occurred since Labor came to power and changed the policy.

The other very unfortunate consequence of what has happened in the long road to the bill that is now before us is that the Labor government has effectively abandoned control of the Australian government's humanitarian program, which, as the expert panel's report notes, currently stands at 13,750 places. Control of that program has essentially been abandoned to the people smugglers so that, rather than Australia and its government deciding who amongst the world's 15 million refugees should come into Australia under that humanitarian program, we have effectively subcontracted that decision making to international criminals.

The long and convoluted road to the bill before the House this morning is a powerful illustration of a lesson that applies in so many areas of public policy. It takes hard work and detailed analysis and thinking, based on the evidence, to develop a good policy. It also takes time to put it in place and have it work. In an area like the asylum seeker debate, where emotions—for understandable reasons—run very high, it is particularly incumbent on governments to carefully and responsibly assess the evidence and the data, to implement policies which have a clear objective and which have a reasonable prospect of achieving that objective. Unfortunately, over the last five years the current government has abandoned evidence based policymaking in this area, and it is only now that we are starting to see a return to a more sensible approach. The expert panel report does bring together a substantial body of evidence, but all of that has been available to the Rudd-Gillard government for the last five years. Unfortunately, thanks to this inglorious episode in Australian public policy, many people have suffered very significantly. The most obvious category is the hundreds of people who have tragically died as a result of taking very risky and dangerous voyages to Australia due to policy settings which have encouraged them to do so and which have in particular encouraged people smugglers to operate businesses running people to Australia.

Another group that has suffered are the thousands of people in refugee camps around the world who might already now be in Australia under our special humanitarian program had we not effectively subcontracted management of that program to international criminals. And of course, as many of my colleagues have noted, a significant amount of public money has been squandered due to mismanagement in this area—money that could have been spent on the many other important priorities government faces.

This has been an inglorious episode in Australian public policy. The coalition will support the bill that is before the House today. It is a matter for deep regret that it has been such a painful and convoluted process to get to this point.

9:49 am

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

I rise today to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011, and I do that in full knowledge—in fact, full certainty—that the people of Calare are committed to and want an orderly, safe refugee and migration program for Australia and are horrified by the events of the last four to five years.

It is an incredible blight on this government that we stand here today, on 15 August 2012, debating a piece of legislation that is just a part of what the coalition has been telling the government to reintroduce for years. In fact, in April 2010—almost 2½ years ago—I issued a press release that stated:

Australia's immigration has drastically risen under the Rudd Labor Government and the number of illegal boat arrivals has reached record highs.

If Kevin Rudd cannot control the population of Christmas Island what hope does he have controlling the population of Australia

At that time he made the member for Watson the population minister. I am not quite sure what happened to that.

The problem of people coming to Australia illegally on boats, risking their own lives and the lives of their children, and pouring money into the pockets of people smugglers, was a serious issue back then. But as we all know now, not long after that press release was issued the member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, did lose control and was replaced as Prime Minister by the Member for Lalor.

But still the boats kept coming—in fact, 246 boats carrying 15,879 people since the change of leadership, to be exact. And the government kept fumbling. And people drowned at sea. And now we stand here discussing legislation that should have been introduced years ago or never redone in the first place.

If the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, had not been so stubborn, the human tragedy and costs of Labor's current border protection policies could have all been avoided. For four years, Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister, has said offshore processing at Nauru would not work. Despite the evidence of 22,000 illegal arrivals, almost 1,000 deaths, damage to our international reputation and a $4.7 billion blow-out in costs, Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister, refused to change course. Now she has reluctantly accepted one part of the coalition's plan for stronger borders.

I note that the Houston panel's report has recommendations including: offshore processing in Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea to be established as soon as practical; legislation to be introduced to the parliament to allow offshore processing of illegal boat arrivals at designated countries and to reserve to the parliament the provision to allow or disallow the legislative instrument that designates those countries; prohibition of family reunion through Australia's humanitarian program for people arriving by boat and instead making boat arrivals apply for family reunion through the family stream of the migration program; noting that turning back irregular maritime vessels can be operationally achieved and can constitute an effective deterrent to these ventures; and noting that protections for asylum seekers set out in the Malaysian people swap are inadequate. These recommendations substantially endorse the coalition's approach to stopping the boats.

The tragedies that could have been averted and the disasters that could have been prevented had the Labor government opposite simply listened does not bear thinking about—not necessarily listened to us, the opposition, but simply listened to the facts. The facts showed that the Howard government's border protection policies worked and should never have been removed. The current legislation before us does not do everything that needs to be done. As well as reopening Nauru, we need to bring back temporary protection visas, and we need to commit to turning back boats when it is safe and practical to do so.

I mentioned earlier the electorate of Calare, the electorate I have the honour to serve, which is the oldest part of Australia in agricultural and mining terms. I can tell the House that the people of Calare have, overwhelmingly, said to me, whether they be of Aboriginal descent or the most recent arrivals through Australia's legal, safe, orderly migration and refugee program—whichever side of that they might be—or whether in the middle, that Australia cannot be a party to having encouraged the sorts of disasters we have seen over the last few years. On top of that we must only have people coming to Australia under an orderly, stand-in-line, migration or refugee program, as the people I speak to have done themselves. That is what they expect others to have to do as well, because every illegal that comes here puts someone who is doing it legally at the back of the line.

9:55 am

Photo of Sharman StoneSharman Stone (Murray, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I, too, wish to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. The people of Murray, who I represent, have more than an academic or passing interest in fixing the failures of Labor's refugee strategies. We have been a major destination for what the media commonly refers to as the 'boat people'. Many ask to be directed to Shepparton as they are processed at Christmas Island. We have always welcomed waves of refugees and economically driven migration over generations, including Jewish families escaping from Nazi Germany, Italians, Greeks, Macedonians, Albanians, Dutch and Turks. They have all been seeking a better life after the collapse of peace and prosperity in Europe. Some came as assisted migrants and some were unassisted. Most came with very little and proceeded to build productive and peaceful lives in the Goulburn and Murray valleys.

That occurred until the change in the pattern of carefully managed migration and refugee settlement in the country. That change occurred, of course, in November 2007 when Labor came into office. Before that time there was no sense that our system of refugee settlement was corrupted or unfair, with your chances of settlement in Australia dependent on your contacts with criminal networks and your capacity to pay hard cash to jump the queue. When Labor dismantled John Howard's anti-people-smuggling strategy, they changed the fairness and equity of access to Australia for the world's most vulnerable and desperate—for the African families in camps in Kenya, who were struggling to stay alive due to malnutrition as much as the physical dangers if they moved out of those camps.

Labor's incompetence allowed the selection of people to fill the humanitarian refugee intakes to pass into the hands of the criminals running the people-smuggling rackets. The people smugglers' criteria for who got on their boats and who consequently could arrive on Christmas Island or Cocos Island was based on one thing only, and continues to be based on one thing only: the individual's capacity to pay. What other country would stand by and allow this to happen while, literally, millions of other refugees waste away in camps in different parts of Africa and the Middle East? Those families will never have the hard cash to buy their way into the country, but their needs may be substantially greater, and often are, than those of people who can buy their way onto a boat. And certainly they have the same capacity—some have more capacity—to take advantage of the peace offered with resettlement in Australia.

This action must go down as one of the most shameful episodes in our settlement history: the episode of Labor dismantling a policy that was working and replacing it with a strategy that gave people smugglers a whole new set of cash flow and profit. It is shameful because the Howard government had a solution when the people smugglers first tried to corrupt our intake of refugees many years before. We introduced a multipronged strategy of offshore processing specifically on Nauru and Manus Island, where the arrivals were cared for by Australian officials under humane and careful strategies that all Australians were comfortable with. We only issued temporary protection visas, reflecting the United Nations refugee policies, which do not require that permanent settlement be granted immediately to a legitimate refugee.

We said that if your home country's political climate calmed after, say, two years or so and it was safe for you to return then we would assist you to go back home. We did not allow family reunion during this period of temporary protection. We also said that we would turn boats back, where it was safe to do so, and there were many cases where boats were turned and people went back to Indonesia, where they had often been for many years. We made it very clear to the people traffickers and smugglers that their customers could not expect a fast-track entry into our country simply because they paid the price demanded as they stepped into the leaking boats.

I have not mentioned, yet, the fact that Labor's changed strategy not only gave a whole new line of profit to smugglers but also led to hundreds of drownings at sea. We do not know quite how many, because quite obviously there are boats that disappear without a trace. As we speak, there is a suspicion that another boat went down just a few days ago. There is a suggestion that a boat left Indonesia but there is no sight of that boat now.

There have been more than 600—perhaps more than 1,000—drowned at sea under Labor's watch. There have also been thousands of arrivals at Christmas Island. And those arrivals—every one of them—have taken up the humanitarian places, where they have been found to be genuine refugees, denying a capacity for the government to check, in those camps in Kenya, on who has the greatest claim on resettlement and support as a refugee in Australia.

I think this is a most abhorrent time in Australia, where we have allowed this particular set of circumstances to continue since 2007. We have before us legislation that will at least address one of the issues of offshore processing, whereby now the Labor government understands, as a result of its expert advice from the independent panel, that Nauru at least should be reopened for offshore processing. Of course the coalition supports that. We are concerned, however, that that is only one in the basket of strategies that is required to put people smugglers out of business. We hope that this first step might be a warning to the smugglers that they are not to take for granted the wonderful cash flow from smuggled people. Time will tell.

As I said, the coalition will support this first move back to sanity and to the country being able, once again, to be in charge of its refugee intake. I personally support that move of course, as the member for Murray and as the member who spends a great deal of time comforting, in particular, my Congolese and Sudanese refugee constituents, who wait in vain for family reunion, to having loved ones in desperate camps rescued and brought to Australia but who find that the queues have been filled, time and time again, by those who have the cash to pay their passage on a leaky boat to Australia.

10:03 am

Photo of Melissa ParkeMelissa Parke (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the fact that we are finally considering here some kind of shared commitment to the resolution of a terrible and sometimes shameful policy and political deadlock. And I absolutely respect and acknowledge the very difficult work undertaken by the expert committee led by Angus Houston in getting us to this point. But in so doing I reflect with great disappointment that this area of policy has been dealt with and discussed over the last decade in a way that represents a very low ebb in the tides of Australian politics and public policy.

The discussion has often been so full of distortion, misrepresentation, fear mongering, point-scoring and even righteousness that it cannot be called a debate. To the extent that we regard this outcome as a compromise it is still a compromise at the lower end of what we are capable of as a nation. We strive as a country for excellence in so many areas, and in so many areas we achieve that excellence. Here we have not excelled. Both the parliamentary process and the wider political process in which all of us, as parliamentarians and members of the media, share a part has not excelled. We have not excelled in presenting the facts to the Australian people, in crushing out the lies and easing the ill-founded fears, in lifting the miasma of misunderstanding and intolerance, and in arguing from principle towards reason and compassion.

I therefore welcome the Houston report's clear-eyed presentation of the evidence and policy considerations and a number of its recommendations, including the recommendation with regard to an appropriately funded, evidence based research program to address the gap in evidence and knowledge in this area. I also welcome the recognition that people undertaking dangerous boat journeys do so because their alternatives in transit countries are limited or non-existent, hence the report's discussion of the need to improve the availability of protection for asylum seekers while their claims are being processed and to deliver durable outcomes, including improved access to timely and fair processing of asylum seekers' claims for refugee status, safety and support, while claims are being determined and subsequently, including guarantees against non-refoulement and arbitrary detention; access to education, employment and health care; and expanded opportunities for durable outcomes.

I acknowledge the sadness, frustration and sense of urgency felt throughout the Australian community arising from the hundreds of asylum seeker deaths that have occurred through dangerous boat journeys in recent times. I recognise the spirit and best intentions behind the Houston report and the government's response in accepting the report's recommendations. I strongly welcome the proposal to increase the humanitarian intake to 20,000, and thereafter to 27,000, and the commitment to capacity-building as part of a more integrated regional cooperation approach. However, I would not be doing my duty on behalf of many of my constituents and fellow Labor Party members if I did not convey the deep sense of discomfort they and I feel regarding specific aspects of the path we are embarking on today as a parliament. 'Cruel to be kind' is a cliche that I am not sure is ever actually justified. In particular, there are strong concerns about the devastating consequences, including severe mental health issues, of detention of asylum seekers for indeterminate periods on Nauru and Manus Island. This was the proved experience under the Howard government's Pacific solution and the criteria have not yet been developed that would prevent such detention, in this case being appropriately described as arbitrary and potentially indefinite.

As my predecessor, Dr Carmen Lawrence, has written:

Not surprisingly, every independent inquiry into immigration detention has drawn attention to the poor mental health of detainees and the particular risks to children’s well-being.

…   …   …

Such research has revealed high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and panic attacks, attempted suicides and self harm. The longer people are held in detention, the worse the symptoms are likely to be, adding to the already high levels of psychopathology among those who’ve experienced persecution, harassment, torture and physical assaults.

Certainly, if the key criterion for the length of detention is the amount of time an asylum seeker would have had to wait if they had pursued UNHCR assessment within the region, then the wait could well be indefinite, because, for many asylum seekers, including those coming from places like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, there are no queues to join and no orderly UNHCR paths to safe haven in this country or elsewhere.

I also question the premise that asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat should not have any advantage over others who pursue orderly migration paths, not least because this idea of an orderly path or queue is simply a myth. The only reason we have the sense in this country that asylum seekers who arrive by boat are taking the place of those resettled from refugee camps is that we have operated a quota system that throws these two distinct categories together. This creates an administrative fiction, and there is no reason that we could not have a category and quota for resettlement in addition to meeting our fundamental obligation to assess the asylum claims of those who quite legitimately and legally seek humanitarian refuge in Australia.

It is not widely understood that Australia's resettlement of refugees out of refugee camps, one of the best such programs in the world, is something that we do as a good global citizen and is a very important contribution to the global challenge presented by the millions of refugees, but we do not have a legal obligation to operate this program. We do, however, have international legal obligations under the UN refugee convention to assess the claims of people who arrive and seek asylum, regardless of the manner of their arrival or whether or not they have valid travel or identity documents. As Graham Thom, Amnesty International Australia's national refugee coordinator, has written:

The origin of the notion of ‘queue jumping’, as Australians understand it in the current refugee debate, lies not in the fact that people living in refugee camps are more deserving of our protection, but in the fact that the previous Australian Government initiated a policy linking the onshore and offshore programs in a fixed quota system.

For that reason I welcome the Houston report's proposal in recommendation 21 that:

… the linkage between the onshore and offshore components of the Humanitarian Program be reviewed …

I consider that such review should be implemented as soon as possible.

The refugee convention prohibits the punishing of asylum seekers for the manner of their arrival. It is now proposed to lock up those who arrive by boat for an indefinite time on a remote island, while those who arrive by plane—who have often travelled to Australia under false pretences by obtaining a tourist, student or other visa and then claimed asylum once in the country—are not kept in detention and are permitted to remain in the community while their claims are assessed. As noted by Mike Steketee Global Mailon Monday:

There is a myth … that refugees who travel by plane do so legally, while those who catch a boat are "illegals".

… … …

both groups of people are equally entitled to use these means to claim asylum.

Mr Steketee also points out that Australia has an active program to disrupt the travel of people to Australia by plane, including by the exclusion of certain nationalities. He says:

The obvious reason why people risk their lives on leaky fishing boats is that they do not have an alternative.

Graham Thom also said:

As long as refugees have little chance of finding safety through official channels many will be forced to seek protection through dangerous unofficial channels. A successful regional approach can only work if refugees and asylum seekers' access to protection is improved, as evenly as possible, across all regional countries.

Amnesty International believes that Australia has a key role to play in developing a regional approach to refugees that in the long term reduces the need for people to flee their homeland, in the medium term reduces the need for refugees to flee countries of first asylum and in the short term provides refugees with more access to official migration routes throughout the region.

This approach must never be viewed as a substitute for the long‐established obligation to offer protection to vulnerable people asking for our help.

It is a lack of safe options across the region which forces refugees onto boats to Australia. Improving this situation is absolutely key to stopping people taking dangerous boat journeys.

The political discussion in recent years about stopping the boats and the people smugglers' business model has said very little about what it means to be a refugee. My own UN experience tells me that people do not leave or stay away from their homes without very good reason. In this context I would like to recount the words of President Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia, who fled her country as a child after the Second World War. She made the following comments at a 2001 meeting of parties to the refugee convention. She said:

No one leaves their home willingly or gladly. When people leave en masse the place of their birth, the place where they live it means there is something very deeply wrong with the circumstances in that country and we should never take lightly these flights of refugees fleeing across borders. They are a sign, they are a symptom, they are proof that something is very wrong somewhere on the international scene. When the moment comes to leave your home, it is a painful moment.

…   …   …

It can be a costly choice. Three weeks and three days after my family left the shores of Latvia, my little sister died. We buried her by the roadside, we were never able to return or put a flower on her grave.

And I like to think that I stand here today as a survivor who speaks for all those who died by the roadside, some buried by their families and others not and for all those millions across the world today who do not have a voice who cannot be heard but they are also human beings, they also suffer, they also have their hopes, their dreams and their aspirations. Most of all they dream of a normal life.

…   …   …

I entreat you ladies and gentlemen when you think about the problems of refugees, think of them not in the abstract think of them not in the bureaucratic language of decisions and declarations, and priorities in a sense that you normally think of things. I entreat you think of the human beings who are touched by your decisions, think of the lives who wait on your help.

We can try to make it as difficult as possible for people to get on boats to Australia. But, as the Houston report notes:

A more comprehensive and sustainable regional framework for improving protection and asylum systems is a key prerequisite for creating safer alternatives to people smuggling.

In the meantime, there is a fundamental lack of protection that is causing people to leave their homes and to leave transit countries. Rather than attempts at deterrence, and punishment for those not deterred, we need to create the conditions that give people safety and hope. I look forward to seeing a constructive bipartisan approach going forward from this week's resolution, an approach that is fully consonant with our great values and capacity as a nation.

10:14 am

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I begin my remarks, can I sympathise with the member for Fremantle. While I disagree completely with a lot of what she has said here, I do defend her right to say it. She is obviously one of the few members of the other side who are consistent in their approach in opposition to Nauru as a place for asylum seekers to go. I believe she should have the right to say it and the right to vote that way, but, as we all know, doing so would have consequences for her on that side of the House.

I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. This is another bill brought before this place, but not because it is government policy—it is not. It is not because the Labor Party believes it is the right thing to do, because it does not. This bill is not even before us today because the government believes it is in the nation's interest. It does not believe that. The expert panel, appointed by the Labor Party, does believe it is the right thing to do. The coalition thinks it is at least part of the right thing to do. And the Australian people know that it is the right thing to do. Even lifelong supporters of the ALP know that this amendment is the right thing to do.

The only reason this amendment is before this place now is it is another means of clinging to power. This government has been dragged kicking, screaming and whining about how it is everyone else's fault. It is not anyone else's fault. This debacle, this embarrassing retreat, is a walk of shame entirely of this government's own making. But even now, even when they are forced to adopt the very coalition policy that they gleefully tore down four years ago, they refuse to apologise. They refuse to quite simply say: 'We got it wrong.'

The coalition supports the recommendation of the expert panel not because it is a panel of experts but because it is coalition policy. It was coalition policy when John Howard stopped the boats and it is coalition policy now. It has never stopped being coalition policy, even when the Prime Minister—then shadow minister for immigration—back in May 2003, in this chamber, said Nauru was 'costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle'. How can a government be so convinced with its policies, so enamoured with pandering to the business needs of criminals that it tears down a policy that was working?

They were convinced that offshore processing was somehow inhumane. Now it is a must. Not only did they want to process offshore but also they entered into a people-trafficking deal with Malaysia. What was so wrong five years ago is now so right. It is a complete reversal of offshore processing, a complete reversal of turning back the boats, a complete reversal of temporary protection visas and a complete reversal of signatories to the UN refugee convention.

This government has adopted just about every stance possible on border protection. There have been more positions in the Labor Party than there are in the Kama Sutra when it comes to border protection. More than a year ago we were watching the amazing race to the bottom of the barrel as this government ran around like a headless chook, looking for any kind of solution to this problem except the one that worked. First it was East Timor—not that the East Timorese knew anything about it—and then it was Manus Island, but that was quickly forgotten about, and then it was over to Malaysia.

It was an amazing race to the bottom of the barrel. I was waiting for a Las Vegas solution to be next but, given the cost of the Malaysia deal, we probably did not need one. Surely we had reached the bottom of this policy barrel when this government put out the call for everyday Australian families to adopt an asylum seeker. 'Adopt a refugee.' It sounded like a joke at the time. The government ran out of room to put all of the asylum seekers in detention, because of its open door policy—so it wanted volunteers to rent a room to an illegal immigrant. It was like an April Fools' Day joke a month too late, particularly when I read from the Daily Telegraph on 3 May:

The Federal Government will pay families up to $300 a week to temporarily house asylum seekers in their homes to help deal with the increasing flood of arrivals.

It went on to say:

Under a plan slated to start next month, the Government will seek to access the 5000 homes registered under the privately run Australian Homestay Network (AHN) to host asylum seekers released from detention on bridging visas.

There is an interesting sidenote in the regional city of Mackay, which is home to more than half the constituents of my electorate. Even if you combined North Mackay, South Mackay, West Mackay and East Mackay, the main suburbs of Mackay, according to the 2011 census data, there would be just 10,299 homes. Even that is not enough to house the 11,048 people who have arrived by boat since the Malaysia solution announcement.

There was a much quicker way to arrive at a solution that works. Assuming a government was ignorant and arrogant enough to insist on breaking the system in the first place, if you look at the recommendations of the expert panel to whom the Prime Minister outsourced her job and the immigration minister's job there is a common theme. In the Australian yesterday there was a summary of the recommendations and the coalition's stance, and certainly the government's stance, on each of these issues. I will go through them. It said:

Policy should be based on principles of fairness, regional co-operation, a no-advantage principle for boat arrivals and adherence to international obligations—

This is existing coalition policy—

Increase Australia’s humanitarian intake from 13,750 annually to 20,000—

This is already offered by the coalition—

The government expand its capacity-building initiatives in the region and significantly boost its allocation of resources—

This is existing coalition policy—

Advance bilateral co-operation with Indonesia, including around search-and-rescue efforts and the treatment of Indonesian minors who crew asylum-seeker vessels—

This is existing coalition policy—

Establish a processing centre in Nauru—

This is existing coalition policy—

Establish a processing centre in PNG

This is existing coalition policy—

Boat arrivals are no longer to sponsor family to come to Australia under the Special Humanitarian Program—

Once again, this is coalition policy—

Negotiate better outcomes for the removals and returns of failed asylum-seekers—

This is existing coalition policy—

Australian agencies be appropriately funded to continue to disrupt people-smuggling activities—

This is existing coalition policy—

Law enforcement agencies continue to counter the involvement of Australian residents in people-smuggling—

This is existing coalition policy—

Work with regional partners to establish joint operational guidelines for search and rescues—

This is existing coalition policy. We could have shortcut this whole process years ago, with outsourcing the immigration minister's job to a panel. The Prime Minister could have just gone onto the coalition's websites and downloaded our policy. Here it is. You can have it for free!

Now that it is starting to adopt good policy, can this government actually stop the boats? That is the question now. This is the government that invented the pink batts scheme, this is the government that brought us overpriced school halls and countless other botched, budget-blowing schemes. It will certainly waste a lot of money trying to stop the boats. We know that. The cost of running Nauru, according to the government, will be vastly more than under the Howard government because, apparently, someone must have dragged the island further away during the past four or five years. In question time last year, on 21 September, the Prime Minister was asked to correct her claim that reopening Nauru would cost $1 billion, given that the total cost of processing asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Islands over the six years under the Howard government was just $239 million. The Prime Minister's response was this: 'What the member might want to recognise is how far away it is and the fact that all resources need to be flown to Nauru.' Has dangerous climate change been so bad that it has moved Nauru several thousand kilometres away from Australia in five years? How ridiculous. This is the person who is supposed to be in charge of this country.

Coalition speakers are not here today to gloat, as one of the rare speakers opposite suggested. What we are saying is that what should be taken away from this debate is a dire warning to all Australian people that this is a Labor government. Take it in. Breathe in the incompetence. See the waste. Get angry at the lies and deception that we have been fed. The time will soon come when the Australian people will have their say and they must remember the four years of incompetence, waste and tragedy on this issue of illegal immigration. And should they grant the Liberal-National coalition the great honour of restoring this nation, we will build on the policies in this amendment. The coalition will restore a full policy that has been proven to work. Temporary protection visas will fill the gaps because they would remove completely what the people smugglers are so desperate to sell, and that is permanent residency. Imagine a people smuggler trying to sell permanent residency if temporary protection visas were introduced today by this government or, hopefully, next year by the next government. How could they ask their clients pay, say, $10,000 to get on a leaky boat to come over to Australia if they had to tell them: 'If you arrive in Australia illegally and if you are found to be a genuine refugee, you will be processed offshore in Nauru, and if you are designated to go to Australia, you will only receive a temporary protection visa. A temporary protection visa is as it sounds. It is not permanent and if the threat goes away in your own country that you are running from you will be sent back home. The temporary protection visas will void forever and a day any attempt you make to become a permanent resident of Australia, because you attempted illegal entry.'

Government have a long way to go to actually get this policy right. They have it partly right here today because they are adopting part of coalition policy, which is Nauru and Manus Islands. When the full coalition policy is in place and competently run, by a competent Liberal-National coalition government, only then will proper border protection be fully restored to this country.

10:26 am

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 and the amendments which have been moved to it. I want to place my remarks in the context of this broader debate because why we are discussing this bill today is because we have a government which four years ago took a solution and created a problem. Now four years later, after more than 20,000 illegal arrivals, after some 1,000 deaths at sea—and they are just the ones that we know of—and a cost blowout of $4.7 billion, a $4,700 million cost blowout, we are getting a partial reinstatement of the solution. This is being done without any apology to this place or the people of Australia and without any explanation as to why the policy failed. Let me remind the House that the Prime Minister is the very person who said about the Pacific solution that it was costly and unsustainable, who described it as a farce and said that it was an illusion, not a solution. So, without apology and without explanation, now that which was a farce in the Prime Minister's own previous words is now a solution to the problem. All this has been done with the same brazen hubris for which this Prime Minister and this government have become renowned.

I say it is a partial solution, and this goes to some of the amendments before the House. As speaker after speaker on the side of the parliament has pointed out, there was a suite of measures that were put in place by the Howard government in order to try and stem the flow of people arriving by leaky boat from overseas. Amongst those measures was not just the provision which is now being reinstated, namely to process people offshore at Nauru and Manus Islands, but also the temporary protection visas which the previous speaker mentioned in this debate. It was that suite of measures, not simply the overseas processing, which led to just a trickle of people coming by boat by the last year of the Howard government, the year in which I was the immigration minister. So the government is on notice in this debate that if this measure, this partial measure, does not succeed then it is to blame, it is responsible, because it has not been prepared to reinstate the entire solution.

The government that took the solution that was working, which had stopped the flow of boats to Australia, and all the dangers associated with that—it took that solution and created a problem—is now only partially reinstating the solution.

This exposes two things. The first is the total lack of evidence based policymaking by this government. Whether in relation to this matter before the House at the moment or to a range of other issues, this is a government that announces a policy proposal and then tries to find some evidence to back it up. The reality is that this is a government that is not engaged in proper evidence based policymaking over a whole range of issues, and this is just one example of that.

The second thing, which goes to the amendment moved by the opposition, is the hypocrisy on the left in Australia in relation to these matters. Whether we are talking about boat people, global warming, same-sex unions or a host of other issues, we have been lectured and hectored by the voices of the Left in the Australian media and elsewhere that only their version of morality is true and correct. And it has happened over and over again. They have made criticisms of the member for Berowra, Philip Ruddock, in relation to putting this policy in place in the first place—and generally of John Howard and the entire government. We were hectored day after day that somehow what we had done was immoral.

It was not just a disagreement in terms of what policy should be put in place, not just a disagreement about a particular policy prescription, but a view that this was in fact an immoral government led by an immoral Prime Minister with immoral ministers and immoral backbenchers. That is what we were told, day after day, by the Left in this country: that stopping the boats was immoral, as if there were no other moral principles in play. How about the moral principle in relation to exploiting people—of saying, 'We will take US$10,000 per head from you and put you on a leaky fishing boat that may or may not reach Christmas Island or Ashmore Reef'? What about the morality of that? No, there was nothing about that; that was not part of it.

What about the morality of putting people on a boat, knowing that the thing might leak somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean? What about the morality of that? No, there was nothing about that. This was simply one version of morality, which was preached day after day after day by the Left in Australia, as if their version of the world were the only version that is true. And if you disagree with them on this or the other matters I spoke about earlier, whether it be global warming, same-sex unions or whatever you want to add to that list—it is a long list, and I will not detain the House with the whole list—then you are a racist, or a bigot, or a homophobe, or a nationalist, or something else. The ad hominem personal attacks went on day after day after day.

I hear the deafening silence from the other side. At least the previous speaker, the member for Fremantle, had the decency, the integrity and the consistency to come in and voice her continuing concern, from her perspective. But where are all the other voices on the other side—those who lectured and hectored us? They are all gone, all disappeared, all silent. All have slunk back to their offices in this building without anything to say about this. This exposes the total hypocrisy of that left-wing attack over the last four, five, six or 10 years in Australia. Any time I hear someone from the Left, or from the other side, saying that policies that are put forward on the basis of evidence somehow make us racist or bigoted or nationalistic or whatever the latest attack is, then we can simply say: 'Remember Nauru. Remember the policy that you said was immoral. Remember the policy that you said was a farce. Remember the policy that you said was unsustainable. And now, brazenly, you are embracing it.'

This exposes, once and for all, the lack of character, the lack of evidence based policymaking and the total failure of the totalitarian impulse on the other side for their own view of the way in which this country should be run. The Australian people should never forget this incident—not simply because it is at least a partial putting back in place of a policy that worked, but because of the total exposure of the hypocrisy of the Left.

10:34 am

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I, like many of my colleagues contributing to this debate on the Migration Legislation (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011, stand here today curious as to why we are seeing only one leg of the policies we have been promulgating for the past 10 years or so being reintroduced. But I suppose, as with anything with this government, something is better than nothing. We have spent the past 4½ years, which has been more than long enough, saying that offshore processing on Nauru or Manus Island or elsewhere was the solution to the people-smuggling business, and we proved that in our time in government.

That is more than four years in which the Prime Minister has said it would not work, and now we have the expert panel recommendations that vindicate our stance over these past 4½ years. In that time we have watched as the strength of our border protection framework has deteriorated. The fragile state of our borders has boosted the people-smuggling trade and, sadly, has resulted in nearly 1,000 people—as we can best ascertain—losing their lives at sea.

But it is heartening to see that at least the member for Moreton has recognised, as reported in the Telegraph today:

Any party which has a policy that results in 700 deaths at sea needs to revise its policy. Maybe we should have revised it earlier.

I can only concur with those comments. As we have seen over the past 4½ years, some 22½ thousand people arrived in 386 boats. While the boats roll in, the costs continue to blow out and the Prime Minister has refused to accept our recommendations over that time, which included reopening Nauru. It has taken a so-called expert panel to produce a report that vindicates our policy stance over the past 4½ years, and five or six years prior to that, to give the green light to Nauru and a red light to Malaysia.

This has left the rest of us wondering why this did not happen years ago, or even six weeks ago when we were last in this place having this debate. The stubbornness and pig-headedness of this government and the failure to recognise or acknowledge what works—maybe because it was not their idea—has resulted in lives being lost and in taxpayers' money being wasted.

The panel has made 22 recommendations, including: reopening of Nauru and Manus Island for offshore processing; introducing legislation to the parliament to allow offshore processing of illegal boat arrivals at designated countries and provide parliament with the provision to allow or disallow the legislative instrument that designates those countries; and prohibiting family reunion through Australia's humanitarian program for people arriving by boat instead making boat arrivals apply for family reunion through the family stream of the migration program. The report says that turning back irregular maritime vessels or as we call it 'turning back the boats' can be operationally achieved and can constitute an effective deterrent to the people smugglers. These are just some of the recommendations contained in the Houston report.

The Prime Minister has said in this place over the past 24 hours that the government is now willing to pursue or reopen Nauru and Manus Island, and we sincerely hope that that is followed through, is well managed and well instituted, because the government's track record to date on any number of programs leaves a lot to be desired. As has been mentioned by my colleagues' contributions, the reopening of Nauru is one part of a three-part strategy we as a coalition had in place that successfully stemmed the tide. The other components of that are turning the boats back where it is safe to do so and temporary protection visas. We have consistently argued that these proven policies have worked in the past and will work again today. It is that combination that is going to provide the ultimate deterrent. I must stress that it is only the proven policies of the coalition that will ultimately provide the solution to this ongoing problem.

For now, let us not waste any more time and let us not waste any more lives or blow any more of our taxpayers' hard earned money. Let us have this initial start of reopening Nauru and Manus Island brought to fruition and implemented so that we can start working towards a long-term sustainable solution to this problem.

10:41 am

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 that is currently being debated before the House. I take the opportunity to associate myself with some of the earlier comments of my colleagues and particularly of the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. This is an emotional debate and it is a sensitive debate. It is a situation in which we need to have a common sense approach.

I have been asked to reduce the time of my speech to five minutes so that we can let other members put their comments on the record. With the time available to me I want to ask us, as a parliament: how did we get here? How did we get to this point where we have such a breakdown in policy? What was motivating the decision makers? Was it pride? Was it polls? What was it? What was the motivator that continued to allow this parliament to allow lives to be lost senselessly at sea? I do not know the answers, but I think we need to have a good look at ourselves and the way that this matter has been handled.

We are a kind and generous nation. We do our heavy lifting when it comes to taking refugees. There were comments made in this parliament by members greater than me. They said that we will decide who comes to this nation and under what circumstances they come. With our policy decisions we were able to keep our borders protected. We were able to save lives and nearly 1,000 lives have been lost, for what measure or for what gain.

I understand the intent of the policy behind the Malaysian deal, the five-for-one swap, as trying to act as a deterrent, but it was fundamentally flawed. An expert committee, an expert panel, in the way of a High Court decision, said that that could not happen.

I raise that because throughout this debate we have been too flippant and too quick to reach out and grasp these catchcries of 'expert panels' and 'expert advice'. Well—guess what!—it has all been wrong. Just about every piece of expert advice, other than the eminent advice that we have received of late, has been proven to be wrong. There has not been one apology; the advisers will probably actually get some promotions. As sure as anything, there may even be some more money in their budget. Ultimately, the decisions that were given to this parliament, to this government, from so-called experts to this day have proven to be wrong. The evidence I give to support that the advice was wrong is that people died.

This is an issue that Australian people want fixed. In my electorate people come up to me and say, 'You've got to stop the boats.' Those who are most passionate and emotional about trying to stop the boats are our newer Australians. There is a real emotion because they have done the right thing to get here by coming through a front door. They are proud new Australians. Generations of farmers in my area—Germans, Scots, Italians, Vietnamese, Greeks—are the ones who are most motivated and most vocal in the community. They say to me, 'Please stop the boats,' because they saw what happened in their countries with poor immigration policy.

We hear now cries from the government that we should put politics aside in this debate. This is the parliament of Australia, and it is all about politics. Everything in this place is about politics, because that is what we do. It is all about politics, and if it was not about politics you would not have heard the comments earlier on, from our Prime Minister, that no rational person—'I put it as highly as that,' the Prime Minister said—would suggest that in 10 or 20 years we would still be processing asylum claims on Nauru. You have heard it from previous speakers, and I do not want to go down that track again, because you get the gist. But do not be so flippant as to think that it is not about politics. It is.

This is a sensitive issue. I take the opportunity in closing to thank the government for what would have been a difficult decision—to accept the recommendations from the Houston committee. With my hand on my heart I say that I hope that we have turned the corner. I take the opportunity to thank the government for moving us a positive step forward and hopefully saving some more lives.

10:48 am

Photo of Sophie MirabellaSophie Mirabella (Indi, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry and Science) Share this | | Hansard source

If some members on the government side had their way I would not be standing here speaking, because on this very critical issue that goes to the protection of our borders and the ability of a national government to exercise its sovereign responsibilities, we have been told, 'You can't speak on these issues,' even though it has been a burning sore for this government since the very day they dismantled the policies that worked. But this is the Australian parliament.

This is not about delaying a vote; this is about putting on the record some comments about a fundamental failure of the Labor Party as a party and of the Labor Party as the government. We have heard so much about the playing of politics, and the very beginning of the Labor Party's criticism of the Howard government's approach was playing politics. It was playing the politics of the elite.

We were criticised in government not only because we successfully implemented policies that stopped the boats—there were only four irregular boat entrants in detention when we lost office—but because, in this great democracy that is Australia, we listened to what the Australian people wanted. That is the fundamental problem with the Labor Party: they have been taken over by the fringe left, which would be more comfortable in the Greens, and they sneer at the concerns and the values of mainstream Australia.

It is very interesting, this playing politics of the elite. Who did they listen to back then? I came across some typical comments. These were made by Julian Burnside on 11 June 2002. He said:

The Pacific Solution was an immediate and astonishingly popular response to the Tampa case.

He went on to say:

The Howard government won the approval of an unthinking electorate with its response to Tampa, but it forever sacrificed any claim to moral decency.

That is who the Labor Party have been playing to. They have contempt for the basic belief that the majority of Australians have. The majority of Australians want to believe that their national government, as a sovereign government, has the ability, the power, the resources and, importantly, the desire to fulfil one of its basic constitutional responsibilities, which is to protect its borders. Whether it is illegal goods or irregular entrants coming into this country, what is so offensive about that to the Labor Party? It is their stubbornness to accept that perhaps old-fashioned—just like our Constitution!—notion that a sovereign government should be in a position to reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people it seeks to represent, and that means protecting our borders.

That is why, when John Howard made the statement, 'We will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances under which they come,' there was a resonating head nod across the nation.

Somehow, that slogan was used against us, as if it was somehow mean, terrible, nasty and immoral. What is immoral is when a government believes it knows better than the people of its nation, when a government has such arrogance and panders to the views of the snooty elites instead of representing the silent majority. Look at newspaper clippings of the time. An editorial in the Canberra Times, 'Pacific Solution: an indelible stain', read:

Labor's quick action to end this offensive policy is to be applauded, though it will take time to rehabilitate Australia's damaged international reputation. Those responsible for the Pacific Solution face an almost impossible task in erasing this blot on their record, and deservedly so.

What absolute rubbish. We were the envy of so many countries in Europe. They looked to us for policy solutions in dealing with their irregular entrants. We have a more recent editorial from the Sydney Morning Herald , 'A balanced view of asylum seeker policy'. When will we hear the apologies from those who demonised a very responsible policy that was in our national interest? We will not hear them because they will choke on those words, but history will record that the Howard government had humane policies, had appropriate policies, had responsible policies and reacted democratically to the concerns of the Australian people.

So why have we had a backflip from the government? Is it because they are concerned about the number of irregular boat entrants? No. The only reason this Prime Minister has backflipped is that it is a political problem. Finally, democracy has caught up with the government and they realise that it is doing them damage in the electorate. So they think: 'How can we get out of this? Let's outsource our policy making. Let's give it to someone else so we don’t have to take responsibility for all those people who applauded us and cried and said we were the moral crusaders for demonising Howard. Let's absolve ourselves of the responsibility of making a decision and outsource our policy.' I reckon if you outsource your basic responsibility of making fundamental policy in this country you should also outsource your salary. So that was the reason. It was not any desire to stem the flow of illegal entrants or to destroy the product that criminal gangs have in smuggling people. It was absolute, pure, politics.

On this side of the House we do believe that those of us elected, particularly when we sit on the other side of the House, have a solemn and moral duty to the people of this nation. We have a solemn and moral responsibility to make decisions in the national interest, to increase Australians' lot in life, to improve their standard of living, to improve their opportunities, to protect them, to give them the sort of nation they want. And that fundamental responsibility necessarily demands that a national government protect its borders.

We have seen the exaggerated claims about how much Nauru would cost. We have seen all the comments. We have the media releases from Ms Gillard when she was shadow minister for population and immigration, saying 'Pacific solution an illusion, not an answer'; 'Pacific solution: the farce continues' and 'the Pacific solution unravels'. The Prime Minister and her government need to take responsibility for the cost blow-out of $4.7 billion that the reversal of John Howard's policies has caused.

The Prime Minister said 'I'm over it.' She may well be over it. Of course she wants to sweep it under the carpet, get to the end of the year, and pretend and say: 'Look at all the problems I've fixed. I've got a solution. We've got the carbon tax. I'm going to save the world some emissions with the carbon tax. I've fixed the boat problem.' She will not solve anything, because this is only a partial solution, and her heart is not really in it, and Australians know that her heart is not really in it. Do you know what they are saying? You cross the country and from one end to the other people are echoing some of the Prime Minister's words—they are over her, and they are over her government.

10:58 am

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise also to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 . The coalition has consistently supported good policy and opposed the bad. What I want to see is good policy on border protection. Sadly and tragically, that has been lacking from this government. The coalition's border protection policy has three core elements, which are: firstly, turning back boats, a straightforward and uncompromising deterrent, where circumstances permit; secondly, processing offshore in a third country, namely Nauru; and, thirdly, providing temporary protection visas to illegal arrivals who are found to be genuine refugees.

Since the Pacific solution was abolished by the Labor government, a series of policy failures have been witnessed by the Australian people. These failures have resulted in approximately 22,000 illegal arrivals on about 400 boats as well as—tragically—almost 1,000 deaths.

The Howard government was committed to strong border protection policies, and today the coalition continues this important commitment. Former Prime Minister John Howard boldly and rightly stated, 'We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.' That declaration best encapsulates the policies we must pursue to ensure that our borders are kept strong. The Pacific solution worked and was clearly demonstrated to be effective in stopping the people-smuggling trade. But the Labor government pursued an agenda that has been proven not to work, and they doggedly stuck to that agenda even when it was beyond doubt that their policies had failed. Offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island worked; it was clearly demonstrated that offshore processing worked as a deterrent. Offshore processing should never have been abolished, and it should be reintroduced. Another key part of the Howard government's success on border protection measures was the introduction of temporary protection visas. But in 2008 the Rudd government ended the temporary protection visa system, and this has led to a significant increase in the number of boat arrivals. Temporary protection visas worked, and they provided an effective deterrent to unauthorised boat arrivals. That is why the coalition remains committed to reintroducing temporary protection visas.

For the last four years the Prime Minister has refused to listen to the opposition on border protection. It was not until the Prime Minister of Australia contracted out her job to a committee led by Angus Houston that a common-sense approach to border protection was established. The committee's report substantially endorses the coalition's rational approach to border protection. It makes 22 recommendations, including: offshore processing in Nauru and on Manus Island; the introduction of legislation to the parliament to allow processing of illegal boat arrivals in designated countries and reserving to the parliament the provision to allow or disallow the legislative instrument that designates those countries; prohibiting family reunion through Australia's humanitarian program for people arriving by boat and instead making boat arrivals apply for family reunion through the family stream of the migration program; and the finding that turning back irregular maritime arrivals can be operationally achieved and can constitute an effective deterrent to people-smuggling ventures. These recommendations are effectively the same as those in the opposition's bill, and we therefore support the report.

For four years the Prime Minister said that offshore processing at Nauru would not work. For four years Australia's borders have suffered and been weakened. For four years Australia's reputation has been tarnished. The people-smuggling business has grown out of control. All of this has occurred because the Prime Minister has been too stubborn to admit that Labor got it wrong. The stubbornness that rejected Nauru is the same logic that is still rejecting other proven policies. To the Prime Minister I say: pride comes before a fall. Too much has been lost over the last four years, and Australians have every right to continue to question the judgement of a Prime Minister who is continually getting it so wrong.

The coalition has consistently supported good, strong policy, and offshore processing on Nauru has been part of a strong border protection policy that has been proven to work. Reopening the processing centre on Nauru is not the entire solution to stopping the boats and securing our borders, but it is an integral part of our plan to break the chain in illegal migration. Previously on Nauru the coalition was able to effectively ensure the welfare, support, processing and protection of every person through to the time of their departure. I support the reopening of the processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island, and I support the bill as amended.

11:04 am

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

I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. This bill should have been passed at the last parliamentary sitting but, unfortunately, because of vanity and arrogance, that did not occur.

The issuing of the recommendations in the Houston report on illegal boat arrivals was preceded by incompetence, by tokenistic expressions of loyalty to our country and its people and by the government's trashing of its obligation to protect our borders from illegal breaches by unauthorised people. All of this resulted in the shutdown of what was once a controlled, respected and professional immigration process. The long-accepted statement by PM John Howard that 'we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come' was contemptuously ignored and discarded until the humiliating acknowledgement by the Prime Minister's expert panel that the Prime Minister was wrong and the coalition policy was right.

If Prime Minister Julia Gillard had not been so stubborn, the human tragedy and cost of Labor's failed border protection policies could have been avoided, and the millions of dollars in taxpayers' funds which have been wasted on those policies could instead have been appropriately used on much-needed projects to benefit all Australians. For four years Prime Minister Gillard and her government had said that offshore processing at Nauru would not work. For four years Australia's borders had been weak, lives had been lost at sea, Australia's reputation with its neighbours had been tarnished, costs had blown out and people smuggling had flourished. All this happened because Prime Minister Gillard was too stubborn to admit that Labor had got it wrong.

I acquaint the House with a book that I read during the last sitting break. It was written, poignantly, about the Kokoda Track. It was centred around the very significant sacrifices made by young men from all walks of life. They were young Australians who died in very tragic, debilitating and horrifying circumstances on the Kokoda Track in their attempt to protect this great country of ours from people who would, but for their sacrifice, have invaded the country.

I feel passionate about that and I become emotionally involved because those young Australians did it to protect our borders. In today's day and age, the government should acknowledge and protect the borders around this great country of ours on behalf of the Australian people for whom they made their sacrifice.

For four years, the current Labor government have been too stubborn to admit they got it wrong. The report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers gave a green light for Nauru, a red light for the Malaysia people swap and a rejection of the Prime Minister's rhetoric on Nauru. Australians have to wonder why this did not happen years ago—why the pretext that Nauru would not work, why the wild claims it would cost billions to reopen and why the stubbornness that has done so much damage to Australia and its people? Too much has been lost over the past four years and Australians have every right to continue to question the judgment of a Prime Minister who continually gets it wrong. The stubbornness that rejected Nauru for years is the same stubbornness that is still rejecting other proven policies, such as temporary protection visas and turning the boats around. Prime Minister Gillard was proved wrong on Nauru and she is still wrong on TPVs and turning the boats around.

At the weekend, I spoke to a number of my constituents who came out here in the 1950s and the 1960s under the orderly immigration process operated by the Australian government. They are absolutely astounded and angry that people coming into the country illegally through the backdoor are being treated with kid gloves. When they came to this country, they accepted the detention process to which they were subjected. They got on with their lives, made a contribution to this country and became very successful and loyal citizens of Australia.

The coalition has consistently argued for proven policies that work together to strengthen Australia. The coalition's policies on borders have been proven to work. The people smugglers' business model needs to be broken. These policies work together and, when combined, entirely destroy the people-smuggler process. The coalition understands, as do the majority of Australians, that the Howard government solutions worked then and will work now. We will reintroduce offshore processing on Nauru when we are elected at the next election. Offshore processing will guarantee that the rights of asylum seekers are protected. We will return to a system of temporary protection visas because people will be safe but not granted permanent residency with all the benefits that go with it unless they pass all of the tests which ensure they are not nor will be a threat to this country.

We know there can be circumstances where boats can be turned back safely, as Sri Lankan and Indonesian authorities have shown. The coalition has constantly and consistently supported good policy and opposed bad policy. The coalition will support the legislation to reopen Nauru. Offshore processing at Nauru has been part of the coalition's border protection policy for over a decade. Reopening Nauru is not the entire solution to stopping the boats, but it is a part of our plan to stop the boats altogether. I support this legislation because the government has finally succumbed to pressure from the Australian people, and to pressure on Labor MPs out in their constituencies, and has taken the advice of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers to return to offshore processing, which is contained in the bill. When we get into government we will make sure that this legislation is amended to include the processes to finalise the coalition policy for the Australian people.

11:12 am

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Earlier today the Prime Minister welcomed back Australia's Olympic team. With great fanfare she immersed herself in the celebration of Australia's sporting achievements. Many stories have come out of the Olympic Games, but few can rival the silver medal won by Australia's youngest Olympian, 16-year-old platform diver Brittany Broben. After an assortment of handstands and backflips, it took Brittany a 2½ somersault with a 1½ twist to ultimately claim second place. I am sure our Prime Minister looks at this young athlete with great envy as, despite Brittany's tender years, it seems even she has learnt to master the backflip better than our nation's most senior political leader.

For many years we have heard the cry from our Prime Minister that she would never support the coalition's policy of an offshore processing centre in Nauru, that she would tear the place down, that it did not work and that she would never call the Nauru Prime Minister to discuss the matter. Yet now, with a backflip which puts her in the bronze medal position, the Prime Minister has put her pride aside, picked up the diplomatic phone and announced to our nation that the coalition was right all along.

Prime Minister, we welcome your backflip. It may have taken four years too long, but we are glad you finally accept that this is a crucial part of the policy that works, a policy that stops people from taking that forsaken boat journey, from risking their lives and the lives of their families.

As any of Brittany Broben's year 11 classmates can tell you, the numbers do not lie. Since you started dismantling offshore processing, 22,000 people have arrived by boat and nearly 1,000 have lost their lives at sea. In the six years prior to that—the duration of the Howard government's offshore processing policy—only 272 people arrived by boat.

This is an extraordinary discrepancy that is shamefully stained with the blood of those 1,000 lives. It is little wonder that even refugee advocate Paris Aristotle has embraced offshore processing—because it works. Our goal is to stop people risking their lives, to stop people dying at sea.

We can be generous in our humanitarian program, we can lift our intake to 20,000 people a year and do our bit to help the most vulnerable people in the region, but we also need to manage policies that deter people from taking that dangerous journey. It was the trifecta of policies under the Howard government that achieved this goal and saved countless lives. Prime Minister, we applaud your backflip but, as I said before, this is only enough for bronze. There are three legs to this policy stool, and it is only the complete package that will win you a gold medal. Temporary protection visas and turning the boats around are crucial elements in achieving the goal you so desperately yearn for. Surely, the first backflip—that little taste of humble pie—has taught you the joy of a bronze medal.

Prime Minister, year 11 students will tell you that the triple backflip is the only policy that works. It is time to go one up on Brittany Broben; it is time to go for policy gold. Prime Minister, the nation awaits your decision. In unison we cry, 'Prime Minister, don't let us down; don't let any more drown.' Stopping the boats, and therefore stopping the loss of life at sea, is just the first step in this lengthy process of policy debate. It is only when this problem is resolved—when we can process a humanitarian intake in an orderly manner and fulfil our duties under the refugee convention—that we as policy makers can turn productively and proactively to even better policies. Once we can move on from the daily scramble to rescue lives in leaky boats, we can then explore ways in which we can help our nation grow, to take the next step in the 21st century and to make our electorate proud of both our achievements and our ability to help those less fortunate.

The challenge before us is to implement a policy that will deter economic migrants from taking a dangerous journey in search of a better life, while balancing our domestic economic needs and our international humanitarian obligations. The varying incarnations of Australian asylum seekers policy over the past four decades have raised more questions than answers. How does a government act in the best interests of its people while remaining true to its core values? Is deterrence the best, the most important, element of our policy? What cultural foundations are we laying down for the applicants that pass through our detention system and are finally accepted as genuine refugees? Is our country full? Or do we stand by our national anthem and have boundless plains to share? Are there other options?

What have we learnt from our own history and from the example of other nations? In 1949, the first year of the Menzies government, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Power Act was passed by this House. What became the most significant engineering achievement in our nation's history was built with great assistance from people fleeing war-torn Europe. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people were crammed into refugee camps across Europe, patiently waiting for the opportunity of a better life. The Australian government balanced our humanitarian obligations with our national responsibilities, and a simple negotiation was made—priority in our refugee program was given to those that had the skills to assist in the construction of the Snowy Hydro and would make a commitment to work and live in the surrounding community. We would never be in a position to offer salvation to everyone who needed it, so instead we attracted people with the ability and the willingness to contribute to the building of our nation, those who wanted to earn a stake in our nation's future. The result speaks for itself.

I offer this little trip down memory lane with a view towards the future debate on this vexed issue of refugee policy. Once our Prime Minister has accepted to implement the only raft of policies proven to stop the boats and save lives, perhaps we as a nation can embark on a new conversation. We have so many challenges that sit patiently awaiting forthright leadership and policy direction. What methods can we use to finally deliver high-speed rail to our nation, 50 years after the Japanese began using this nation-building technology? How can we invest in half of our nation's land mass and make the desert bloom, just as the Israelis have done for the past 60 years? When we have a wet season creating floods in the north of our country and drought causing irreparable damage to our southern food bowl, why can't we find the manpower to redress the balance?

Many of us look forward to the day when the implementation of good policy to patch up our nation's problems can lead to clear air so that these kinds of productive nation-building conversations can return to our pubs and clubs and to the halls of this great institution. In the meantime we are still standing on the diving platform, staring down at the water below and trying to convince our Prime Minister that even a year 11 student knows that a triple backflip is the only answer.

11:20 am

Photo of Geoff LyonsGeoff Lyons (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I look forward to the sporting analogies from the member for Boothby.

Photo of Andrew SouthcottAndrew Southcott (Boothby, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Primary Healthcare) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I do not think I could match the eloquence of the member for Bennelong on the Olympic silver diving medallist. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. It is an important issue and an important piece of legislation. This is a debate about protecting our borders and protecting the rights of those seeking asylum. The sad thing about this debate is that it has taken almost five years of policy failures, and failures by the government to secure our borders, to come to this point. We have seen policy failure after policy failure when it comes to border protection. In the manner to which we have become accustomed with this government, their position on border security has flip-flopped. There is nothing more disconcerting to the Australian people than seeing an Australian government flip-flopping in the area of national security and border protection.

Over the past 10 years Labor have supported turning back the boats and they have opposed turning back the boats; they have supported offshore processing and opposed offshore processing; they have supported temporary protection visas and opposed temporary protection visas. I have spoken about this before, but one of the problems with what the Labor government did once they started to unpick the border protection regime which the Howard government left in place is that the whole thing began to unravel. They put the people smugglers back in business. There are not many businesses that have thrived under this government, but the people smuggler business has.

The government proved that they were a soft touch on border protection. The boats started arriving, but for a long time the government was in denial that there was even a problem. Since the government took office with their intention to abolish the Howard government's border protection measures 22,518 people have arrived on 386 boats. Tragically, over that time more than 1,000 have lost their lives on their journey. In fact, we heard news last night of another boat with another 71 passengers. I have been around long enough to remember the current Prime Minister saying, when she was the Labor immigration spokesperson, 'Another boat, another policy failure.' Under this government we have had 386 boats and 386 policy failures.

Under the Howard government this program cost less than $100 million, but it has now blown out to more than $1 billion under the current government. The government's failure to manage our borders has cost taxpayers an extra $4.7 billion since they abolished the coalition's proven border protection measures.

Most governments find problems and create solutions; this government found a solution and created a problem. It does not stop there: there was their incompetently managed Oceanic Viking standoff, their failed freeze on asylum seeker processing and their announcement of the East Timor solution before they had even asked East Timor if they would participate. But the government's latest, most significant failing regarding border security was their five-for-one Malaysia people-swap. It was another border protection failure from an incompetent government. The Malaysia people-swap solution was condemned by both houses of parliament and was struck down by the High Court, yet they persisted with it.

One of the fundamental responsibilities for any Australian government is to protect our borders. Core business for an Australian government is managing the economy, managing national security and managing our borders. It was only when the Prime Minister was forced to delegate her responsibility to an expert panel six weeks ago that things changed. The government were forced to delegate their responsibility to an expert panel because they did not have a border protection policy, they did not know what they believed in anymore and they did not know what to do. The expert panel has recommended substantially what the coalition had in place and what the coalition has been recommending for years. For four years, the Prime Minister has said that offshore processing on Nauru would not work. That solution was not good enough for the government six weeks ago when the coalition proposed it, but it is good enough for them now. The Houston panel made 22 recommendations, including offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Islands, and made the observations that turning boats around can be operationally achieved and that the protections under the government's Malaysia solution were inadequate.

Unlike the flip-flops from the government, when it comes to managing asylum seekers the coalition has had a clear and consistent, tried and tested policy on border protection for more than a decade. It is a policy that has three elements at its core: firstly, turning back the boats when the circumstances permit and, more importantly, when it is safe to do so; secondly, offshore processing in a third country, namely Nauru, subject to clear human rights protections consistent with our obligations; and, thirdly, temporary protection visas, for those who are found to be genuine refugees, that deny access to the family reunion program. This is a set of policies that has been proven to work. They worked then and they will work now. Between 2002 and 2007—over the last five years of the Howard government—on average, fewer than three boats arrived per year in our waters. The coalition's policies put the people smugglers out of business. Under this government the only business which has thrived is the people smuggler business.

Reopening Nauru and Manus Islands is not the entire solution to stopping the boats, but it is one part of the coalition's plan to stopping the boats. The government's decision to implement the Houston report and reopen Nauru and Manus Island is a humiliating backdown in a long list of policy failures, a long list of backflips, but it is the prudent thing to do. Therefore, we will be supporting this legislation.

11:27 am

Photo of Russell MathesonRussell Matheson (Macarthur, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the people of Macarthur, I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. The coalition has had a clear message for the past five years. Our plan is simple: bring back the tried and tested policies that worked. Bring back offshore processing on Nauru, bring back temporary protection visas, remove the incentive to jump the queue and encourage people to wait their turn. Our policy has always been fair and equitable. Since Labor abolished these proven measures almost 22,000 people have turned up on more than 375 boats. So far in 2012 we have seen an average of 1,000 people arrive each month, setting a new record for arrivals by month and year. This is twice the number of arrivals estimated in the government's budget, which has cumulatively blown out over the forward estimates by $4.7 billion during the past three years. I can understand why Australia is such an attractive choice for people living in difficult circumstances overseas. But with its bad policy this Labor government has encouraged people to jump the queue and put their lives and their children's lives at risk.

Since this Labor government came to office 386 boats carrying 22,518 people have arrived illegally. The cost to taxpayers of Labor's border protection failures since it abolished the Howard government's proven border protection measures has blown out by $4.7billion. We have seen illegal boats continue to arrive in record numbers and a record number of asylum seekers placed in detention or in the community. This is a very serious issue that people in my community raise with me on a regular basis. The people of Macarthur can see the urgent need for something to be done before more lives are lost as a result of this evil trade in people's lives.

It is a sad fact that for too long those opposite have put their own interests ahead of the safety and wellbeing of people who live in the most vulnerable and difficult of circumstances. It was easy for this government to criticise the proven and successful policies of the coalition by sidelining them as harsh, cruel and unkind. The Prime Minister herself said, in 2003:

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.

This Labor government claims to be strong on border security, but we have seen their policy fail time and time again. It was John Howard's policy that stopped the boats, stopped the people smugglers and stopped the deaths at sea.

We need to send a strong message that if people are going to spend thousands of dollars to risk their lives to come to Australia then they are going to be processed offshore. This message should not be clouded under any circumstances. Today, the government is backflipping on what, in 2008, the then immigration minister declared was the proudest day of his life. Why has it taken them four years to work out that they have created this problem and that their policy has failed?

Since the coalition's compromise was rejected six weeks ago, 47 boats carrying 2,815 people have arrived on our shores. Since Labor's Malaysia people-swap failed in the High Court, 146 boats carrying more than 10,000 people turned up. Since the abolition of temporary protection visas, 386 boats and 22,518 people have turned up. The saddest part in all of this is not the $4.7 billion worth of budget blow-outs; it is that more than 1,000 people have perished at sea.

This is not a time for stubbornness or grandstanding; this is a time for action. The people of Macarthur have been rightly concerned about the border protection crisis created by this government. This Friday I will host a community forum on immigration and border security with the shadow minister for immigration, the member for Cook, who has continuously held out the olive branch to the government. So far, more than 160 residents in Macarthur have signed up to attend so that they can raise their concerns with me and the shadow minister about this government's border protection crisis. This sends a strong and clear message to the government: fix the problem, implement a real solution and stop endangering the lives of men, women and children in some of the most vulnerable and difficult situations in the world.

Another strong and clear endorsement of the tried and tested policies of the coalition is the Houston panel report. This report made 22 recommendations, including establishing offshore processing in Nauru and Manus Island; introducing legislation to allow offshore processing of illegal boat arrivals at designated countries; prohibiting family reunion through Australia's humanitarian program for people arriving by boat, instead making illegal boat arrivals apply for family reunion through the family stream of the migration program; and a no-advantage test for asylum seekers waiting to enter the country illegally. The report also highlights that turning back irregular maritime vessels can be done and can be an effective deterrent to the product being peddled by people smugglers.

The last and most effective deterrent to the people-smuggling trade is temporary protection visas, which the Prime Minister has stubbornly ruled out. This is just another reason why the people of Macarthur are frustrated with this government's continual preference for politics over people. I doorknocked my electorate recently and one of the most common issues residents brought up with me was illegal boat arrivals. They can see that the government's current policy is not working and they understand the need for something to be done urgently to stop this illegal trade.

For four years this government has said that offshore processing at Nauru would not work, that it would cost billions of dollars to set up and that boats could not be turned around. During this time, hundreds of lives have been lost at sea, our nation has damaged its reputation with our neighbours, costs have blown out by incredible amounts and the people-smuggling trade has boomed. I support this legislation but, as my colleagues have said before me, reopening Nauru is not the entire solution to stopping the boats. All the measures of the Howard government need to be implemented to solve this problem, including temporary protection visas and actively turning back the boats where it is safe to do so.

11:34 am

Photo of Natasha GriggsNatasha Griggs (Solomon, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to add my comments to the debate on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill. The Northern Territory is currently home to a significant number of asylum seekers housed within detention centres. Our community, like many others, feels the strain not only with the provision of services for the housing, administration and processing of these people but, just as importantly, with the social and health implications of detention.

Let us be honest: the implications of boat arrivals, the impost on resources across the board and the divide on this issue across the nation are necessary considerations when formulating corrective actions to address this issue. Stopping the boats is but one segment of the overall issue. Beyond the boats, the need for effective, timely and stringent processes must be addressed to facilitate the processing of those persons already in detention and, additionally, to set a road map for future arrivals.

Public sentiment on this issue is broad. In my own electorate of Solomon, there is much concern not just about the sheer numbers of boats and people arriving but also about the expense associated with detention and also the detention centres themselves. There is significant discontent across a broad sector of the community about the disparity between the expense in detaining persons, including the facilities provided and the level of access to taxpayer funded services, and those services accessed by local Australian citizens.

The issue of asylum seekers, boat arrivals and people-smuggling is about Australian sovereignty. It is about balancing the needs of those who flee their homes and embark upon the often dangerous journey to travel here, and the needs of the broader Australian community, who remain compassionate to the honest seekers of asylum but whose patience is waning and who wish to see an end to the boats' arrival.

The coalition welcomes the step-down by this government in accepting that previous models, such as Nauru, remain pivotal in the implementation of a solution to address the issue of boat arrivals. The Rudd-Gillard Labor government dismantled practices set in place by the Howard government for the management of boats which were proven to work.

The arrogance of this government to simply dismantle practices that worked, without consideration for the long-term implications both socially and fiscally, reflects absolute incompetence. Blame for the current situation sits squarely at the feet of the government of the day and with Prime Minister Gillard.

Constituents of mine remain deeply angered at how, in a few short years, the instances of boat arrivals have gone through the roof and billions of dollars are now being spent to fund the necessary measures to save, detain and process those arriving illegally on boats. Additionally, once the boats started arriving again and the business of people smuggling ramped up, the Rudd-Gillard Labor governments, without a strategic plan, dug their collective toes in about Nauru, not for the benefit of Australians but for political one-upmanship.

We had the Timor option and then the Malaysia solution, yet in four years, with all the rhetoric from this Gillard Labor government, has one boat been stopped? Has the number of boat arrivals fallen? Has the trade of people smuggling diminished? The answer to all three questions is no. The boats keep coming, almost with the regularity of a Manly ferry. The budget associated with this issue continues to climb uncontrollably, ensuring that funds for other existing and prospective measures to build our nation remain on the backburner or poorly implemented.

The Gillard Labor government has delivered more detention beds than hospital beds in my electorate—and hospital beds are desperately needed. The Gillard Labor government promised affordable housing for my electorate, yet the only housing it has provided has been housing for detainees in the various detention centres purposely built in my electorate. To use a well-worn quote from Prime Minister Gillard, 'moving forward', the opportunity now exists for the Gillard Labor government to address the wrongs of the past four years and implement measures to stop the boats. This includes offshore processing at Nauru. It is disappointing that, to get to the point we are at today, here in this place debating this issue, it took a report by an expert panel on asylum seekers which made 22 recommendations for this government to act responsibly and formulate a way forward.

It is with mixed emotions, including sadness and anger, that I add to this debate. I am saddened by the significant loss of life over the past four years with the transit of illegal boats. I am angered that lives were lost while this government failed to act by implementing strategies to stem the flow of boats and diminish the potential for loss of life. But I am pleased and confident that now, at least, a plan is at hand and the future of asylum seeker arrivals by boat and the business of people smuggling may finally be on the right path and there will be a stop to the illicit business of putting boatloads of people to sea.

The Prime Minister should swallow her pride and apologise. If she were not so stubborn, the human cost for Labor's failed border protection policies could have most likely been avoided. For four years, she has said that offshore processing at Nauru would not work. Despite the evidence of 22,000 illegal arrivals, almost 1,000 deaths at sea, damage to Australia's international reputation and a $4.7 billion blow-out in costs, Prime Minister Gillard refused to change course. Despite the evidence, Prime Minister Gillard did what she could to trash the coalition's assertions that offshore processing at Nauru was good policy, claiming that it would not work and that the centre would cost billions to reopen.

The Prime Minister has now reluctantly accepted one part of the coalition's plan for stronger borders. The coalition will support the legislation to allow offshore processing but knows the government consistently mismanages the implementation of projects. With over 1,600 spin doctors on its books, the Gillard Labor government knows how to spin and make announcements, but it has consistently failed at managing the implementation of major policies. Pink batts, school halls and the NBN are all reminders of a government that can spend but not manage projects. Even now, the government is reluctantly reopening Nauru but refusing to implement the other two proven border protection policies: temporary protection visas and turning around the boats where it is safe to do so.

The coalition has consistently argued for proven policies that work and strengthen Australia's borders. The coalition's policies on border protection have been proven to work and in the past they destroyed the people smuggler model. The fact is, without the full implementation of the suite of Howard government policy outcomes, the same level of protection, including a 99 per cent reduction in boat arrivals, is unlikely. The coalition understand that the Howard government solutions worked then and will work again. We will reintroduce offshore processing on Nauru, because the rights of asylum seekers will be protected. We will return to a system of temporary protection visas, because people will be safe but not granted permanent residency with all the benefits that go with it. And we know there can be circumstances where boats can be turned back safely—as Sri Lankan and Indonesian authorities have shown—because the people smugglers' business model needs to be broken.

11:43 am

Photo of Tony WindsorTony Windsor (New England, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. Firstly, I want to recognise the members of the expert panel that went to work on this task, a task on which this parliament—or the Senate at least—was unable to achieve an outcome. I thank Angus Houston, Paris Aristotle and Michael L'Estrange for their work.

I was one of the parliamentarians on that committee for the briefing of the expert panel, but they were the custodians of the recommendations.

I would like to say a number of things about their recommendations. I think that most of the debate so far, whether it be in the press or the parliament, really has been based on Nauru and Manus Island. The members of the expert panel went to great lengths, both in private and public briefings, to make the point that they were recommending a package of arrangements. It is not a revisiting of the so-called Pacific solution. If that were the case I would not be supporting it because a Nauru solution in itself will not work. I think it is fairly clear that all it would do in reality is buy some short-term advantage for someone. But if the other pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are actually plugged together and worked on, in particular the regional arrangement recommendations that were made, including Malaysia—but not just in terms of Malaysia—and Indonesia and the other countries that are involved, and also having a greater relationship with the UNHCR, and also the geo-regional context of their recommendations, these are probably far more important than the selection of a couple of islands in terms of fixing the problem in the long term.

I congratulate the members of the panel. It was an awesome task. They have been able to achieve an outcome where the politics of this building was unable to. We have seen movement from all sides of politics towards a number of recommendations.

I would also thank those members of the cross-party group that took the time to come together: the members of the Liberal Party, Labor Party, the National Party, the crossbenches and the Greens. On a number of occasions they came together to talk about these issues. I personally found it to be an extraordinary learning curve and one where it was very interesting to see people who obviously disagreed on some of the issues but were able to hear each other out and listen to various views from people who have far greater knowledge than I and many others had. There were people from all persuasions making their views heard. We had people from the Navy, the Australian Federal Police, the UNHCR, the various humanitarian and refugee groups—people who have been working on the ground. I am not suggesting that the expert panel has come up with any sort of mirror image of what the cross-party group was talking about, but in terms of the regional framework there may well be a role for that group to continue to participate to make sure that we just do not stop at Nauru and Manus Island. My view, and I think it is the view of some others in the building, is that if that is the objective it eventually will fail. Whoever is in government at the time of the failure will be up to the people.

The poison pill in the current debate relates very much to the no-advantage test. That has been discussed by a number of people. It has not really been adequately explained how it will work and what impact it will have on individuals, particularly having seen the circumstances that the previous arrangement with Nauru, in particular, had on the mental health of some people.

The package has a whole range of incentive/disincentive arrangements, whether that be increasing the humanitarian intake, or the family reunion arrangements, or whether it be sending negative messages to people smugglers and people who would board their boats. There is a range of messages that go to a range of different people. Therein lies a number of issues. First, and I refer back to Angus Houston's reference to the package, if we diminish the package and start to cherry-pick, as some would like to do, the capacity to succeed in reducing the number of people risking their lives at sea could be diminished.

The poison pill I refer to is this. If a no-advantage test is applied to those who take the journey, that may well have a positive impact on reducing the number of people who are encouraged by people smugglers to take the journey. But the negative impact is that they may well be determined to have very long stays on Nauru or Manus Island or other venues that might be determined in the future. Some would see that as being one of the negative signals to go out to the people-smuggling business world and those who would hand over their $10,000, the message being that it is not worth it because there will be no advantage. You will go somewhere and then you will be treated as if you had not gone anywhere, so why waste your money.

The poison pill in that, in my view, which goes to the politics of it, is that, if that occurs and does not reduce the number of boats—because the balance of the package is not addressed if it is just left to being Nauru and Manus Island, which is the politics of this place at the moment—then there will no doubt come a time when the politics of the people of Australia will reverse. I guess it will most likely be in an Abbott government, if the polls are any indication of the future. But I think if the general public see people left on Manus Island or Nauru for extreme periods of time, and a whole range of mental issues arising, the political tide will swing back the other way—and the demands that led to the current government making changes to the previous government's arrangements will, in fact, start to blow back the other way. We saw issues like Cornelia Rau and others, where there was a great deal of sympathy expressed by the Australian community, the very same people who are expressing a different view at the moment—that they want the boats stopped, for a whole range of reasons. Most of us agree that we do not want people drowning at sea. Others have varying views as to where they should be processed, how many more we should take—there are a diversity of views that flow from there. But if you go forward three or four years, and there is an issue in relation to the no-advantage tests, and there are very real issues in terms of people's mental health et cetera, that will again become a political issue for the government of the day. That will be interesting viewing in itself.

The regional framework that the expert panel and the cross-party group spent quite some time on reflected on how that could be constructed. There were various issues about those within the Bali process and those who were either signatories to the refugee convention, or non-signatories, and the legal protections that could be afforded to unaccompanied minors—all of those issues that were talked about when the Oakeshott bill was put forward some six or seven week ago now, which achieved an outcome in the lower house but was unable to in the Senate. All of those issues are still very live issues.

I was interested to hear the expert panel say—and I hope I am not verballing them, and others who have raised the issue—that perhaps the convention arrangements of the 1950s are not the major stepping blocks that we should be using this century, particularly given the make-up of the signatories within our own region. I would like to see that regional attempt to develop a broader framework within the region, irrespective of whether countries are signatories to the convention or not, but those legal protections are required. We would all think that they are within the convention agreement now, but I think the point has been made that you could still have very similar or the same protections without being a signatory. Now, I know that will create some issues for some people, but through the Bali process, and other processes that have been engaged in, we have to make sure that the process goes forward rather than just stops after today; otherwise, as I have said, the process will most probably fail at some stage or another.

May I conclude my remarks by recognising one person who I think has made an extraordinary contribution to this debate in this parliament, over many years—and I know that she isn't comfortable with the outcome that the parliament is debating at the moment—and that is the member for Pearce. I thank her for her role in terms of the cross-party arrangements that were put in place and for the invitation to a number of people to come and talk to that cross-party group. I thank her for her efforts on behalf of people less fortunate than ourselves. She has experienced firsthand the heartache and experiences that many people have had, which I have not—and I think many of us, as members of parliament, have not had those same experiences. But I would encourage her to look to the future in relation to the regional agreements. And, hopefully, all of us within this place, after today's victory or defeat—depending on whoever's side you happen to be on or want to take advantage of—will all try and work together on a regional framework and, rather than find reasons not to do things, let us try and find, as we did in the cross-party committee, reasons to do things that are positive in terms of a regional framework for the future. Thank you.

11:59 am

Photo of Judi MoylanJudi Moylan (Pearce, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I begin by associating myself with the comments made by the member for New England about the work of the informal cross-party group and the goodwill that really existed within that group to try to find a sensible way to break the deadlock that this parliament found itself in earlier. I thank the member for New England for so capably chairing that group, in the times that we met, and I look forward to continuing to work with him and my other colleagues to better understand the complex suite of issues that this parliament is going to continue to be confronted with.

Angus Houston, Paris Aristotle and Michael L'Estrange, having wrestled with a very complex matter, have endeavoured to find a way out of the impasse of the previous sitting of parliament. I would like today to record my thanks to them for the comprehensive package of measures that they have recommended. I feel that I can confidently endorse many of those recommendations.

The bill before us today, the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011, is the legislative response to facilitate one of those recommendations. I welcome the fact that central to the suite of policy suggestions by the expert panel is a recommendation that encompasses a joint approach with the region to develop common standards of protections and processing and durable outcomes by way of a regional framework, something that I have often spoken about in this place and beyond.

Importantly, as part of that central recommendation, is the commitment of Australia to increase its refugee intake in the humanitarian refugee program. There is, undoubtedly, an expectation by the expert panel that these measures and a no-advantage policy will work to stop the boats from leaving Indonesia and other destinations. Arguably, the tension for us as policymakers in this place is the desire to prevent more deaths at sea and to offer protection to those confronted with arguably one of the worst human dilemmas: to be forced to take a decision to leave one's homeland under the threat of persecution or death and to seek asylum in a foreign land.

Much has been said and written about the value of so-called deterrent policies and, to date, few have worked effectively. The reality is that desperation drives people to take unimaginable risks. As Malcolm Fraser said:

… a democratic government such as Australia … could never be nasty enough to match the terror, the persecution that is meted out by the Taliban …

The suggestion of the expert panel of no advantage means a return to the so-called Pacific solution. This bill will facilitate that policy in both UN convention countries and non-convention countries through the use of a disallowable instrument.

This legislation circumvents the High Court ruling on the previous legislation of the government to enable the Malaysia swap deal. This bill strips out the ordinary protections of law which have previously been afforded people found to be refugees under the UN convention. In the unfettered power that this legislation confers on the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, transfers of asylum seekers to third countries can take place without restriction or without consideration of the adequacy or the existence of human rights laws in the country to which asylum seekers may be transferred. The exile is, to say the least, a bit open-ended, as no disadvantage will ensure that those taking a risky boat journey will wait the same amount of time they would have if they were waiting in Malaysia or Indonesia. Some may say that that is fair. The difficulty is how we measure that. On the radio this morning I heard Rick Towle, the UNHCR representative for the Asia-Pacific region, speaking about the difficulty of that because, in a practical sense, it may be for an entire lifetime. At this time the government is unable to tell any of us how that will be calculated, so conceivably people may remain there for a lifetime.

Apart from these issues, I do have grave reservations about how this bill and these powers may impact on children and, in particular, on unaccompanied minors, as the bill seeks to 'clarify the provisions' of the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946, the IGOC Act. This will mean that the minister no longer has guardianship responsibility once minors are transferred to a third country. Again, this matter was raised in that High Court decision. I would not be so concerned about this, because it has been a point that I argued under the previous government, if we could find a way to ensure effective protection for people transferred to non-signatory countries or signatory countries. I would not be comfortable with it, but I would go along with it. I have to say that I had rather a robust argument on this matter with the former Prime Minister. Indeed, the expert panel was advised by John Menadue and Arja Keski Nummi, of the Centre for Policy Development, that whatever decisions are taken about offshore processing we need to ensure there is a robust framework of effective protection.

The difficulty that I see with this bill before us today is that there is nothing in it which would give any of us in this place comfort at this moment that those effective protections will be in place. That, again, was a critical issue in the recent High Court ruling on the Malaysia swap legislation. It is central to the decency of any policy that we pass in this place. It has been a matter of faith for many that the return to asylum seeker centres on Nauru and Manus Islands would stop the boats and that offshore processing is an effective deterrent. In my view, these dry and formulaic arguments should not be allowed to mask the now known consequences of such a policy. In July, Wendy Bacon, writing in New Matilda, wrote about our 'Nauru amnesia'. It is a sad litany of events when people are put on places like Nauru and Manus, including: a lack of public scrutiny; shameful physical facilities, including an understaffed and underequipped hospital; and indefinite detention in places that offer no permanent resettlement options.

The original agreement with Nauru was for six months, but many detainees—including young children—were there for years. The President of Nauru was not, at that time, at all happy about that situation. There were physical and psychological consequences which are still being felt today. Many critical reports were made by government and non-government agencies who visited Manus Island and Nauru. These agencies made sensible recommendations about how we could improve our treatment of these people from a humanitarian perspective. It always grieved me that we either discredited, in many cases, or ignored that advice.

It is sobering to examine the incremental, but in my view regressive, suite of refugee asylum policies we managed to pass or put up in this parliament in the years up to 2005—and now we are going beyond that. I said 'up to 2005' because that was the period covered in From White Australia to Woomera: the Story of Australian Immigration, a book by James Jupp. He explains:

In its long history of refugee settlement Australia had:

              In my view, today we add to this policy regression.

              It is very clear that nothing I do or say today is going to change what happens in this parliament—that this legislation will pass. I do understand that there is immense public pressure, but I think we all really need to search within ourselves to see if we cannot perhaps do better than what this bill offers. It concerns me deeply that we continue with policies which are, I feel, so disproportionate to the actual dimensions of the issue Australia faces.

              12:10 pm

              Photo of Alan TudgeAlan Tudge (Aston, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

              I would like to associate myself with many of the comments which coalition MPs have made on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. I do not wish to go over the ground already covered by previous speakers, but I will make three brief points. The first is that I reject the suggestion from the government that we are somehow delaying the opening of Nauru by continuing this debate today. As the government knows, and particularly as the Leader of the House, Minister Albanese, knows, we are supporting this bill. This bill will pass this parliament. Therefore, the government is able to get on with the job of opening Nauru as quickly as possible. Indeed, the Prime Minister knows this. With great fanfare yesterday and with the media in tow, she had members of the Defence Force in her office to give them instructions about how to go about opening Nauru. I ask Minister Albanese to stop the politicking in this regard and allow members of parliament to have their say on this very important issue, an issue which many of us feel very deeply and strongly about. The fact that it is uncomfortable for Liberals to remind the government about their past positions and about their policy failings over the last four years is not reason enough to shut down debate in this chamber.

              The second point is that I am pleased the government has finally swallowed its pride and decided to reopen Nauru—four years after it disastrously decided to close it. I hope the government's measures will work. Anyone who suggests that we want boats to continue to arrive, as one journalist put to me yesterday, is cynical beyond belief. If boats continue to arrive, more people will drown. If boats continue to arrive, fewer people from the refugee camps of Africa and Asia will be able to be given refuge in this country. If boats continue to arrive, we will still expend billions of dollars trying to process them. We want the boats to stop. That has been our policy for a decade. So we are hoping the measures the government has put forward through this package will have that impact and will stop the people-smuggling business. I am afraid to say, however, that I am concerned that they will not. I say that for a few reasons.

              If you want to stop the people-smuggling business, three things are required. Firstly, you need the full suite of policy measures to be implemented. Reopening Nauru is one of them. It is terrific that the government is finally going to do that. But you also need temporary protection visas and you also need to be able to turn the boats around when it is safe to do so. Secondly, you need competence in implementation—something this government has demonstrated time and time again it does not have. Finally, you need to demonstrate absolute resolve to stop the people-smuggling business. The Howard government had that resolve. No-one is in any doubt that Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison and the coalition have that resolve—and we will show that resolve should we win government at the next election. But it is a resolve which we doubt this government has.

              So let me repeat: we hope that the government's measures will be successful in stopping the people-smuggling trade but we fear that they will not.

              The final point I would like to raise is that, even though we are supporting the passage of this bill through the parliament, we as a parliament and as a nation must dwell on what happened over the last five years and learn from it. It is not pointscoring, as some have put it, to go over the past five years; it is immensely important to learn from what has occurred, to hold the government accountable for its actions and to learn from history. There is a great saying: 'Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.' It is incumbent upon us to examine the course of this policy area over the last five years and learn from it. It is particularly important for the Labor Party to look deeply inside themselves and learn from their mistakes over the last five years. I think it is incumbent upon some of the analysts, commentators and activists to do likewise because they often joined the chorus calling for the abolition of the Pacific solution.

              We have seen over the last four years what I consider to be possibly the greatest policy failure in a generation, possibly the greatest policy failure since Gough Whitlam lost control of the economy. If the Labor Party does not stop and reflect and learn from that, they will be doing themselves a disservice and they will be doing the nation a disservice. It is such a great policy failure because they deliberately, methodically, with great intent and with great celebration dismantled the Pacific solution, a solution which, far from being ineffective, was effective beyond belief. It stopped the people-smuggling business in its tracks. And by doing that it allowed more people from African refugee camps to come into Australia. It meant that we were not spending billions of dollars on this process. Most importantly, it meant that hundreds of people did not drown.

              This Labor government unravelled all of that, and I think they need to take a long, close, hard look at why they did that. My suspicion, from what they have said in the past, is that they unravelled that policy not because it was ineffective but primarily for reasons of moral vanity and because they thought they were going to get one-upmanship on the coalition and demonstrate that they had more empathy than we did. Rather, the empathy was with the policy position on our side because we were equally concerned about refugees travelling on boats and drowning in the seas. That is a significant reason why those policies were introduced in the first place and why we have continued to press those policies since. That is why it is so important for us to dwell on the past.

              I am disappointed that so few members on the other side have come in here to talk on this bill. I think it would be very big of them to come into this House and dwell on the past and possibly own up to the fact that mistakes were made. I think there would be much greater magnanimity in this parliament if more people on the other side of the House were willing to admit the mistakes that were made by them. I acknowledge that some have done that. I think that if more people on the other side of the House, including the Prime Minister, did that, this would be a better place.

              12:19 pm

              Photo of Steven CioboSteven Ciobo (Moncrieff, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

              I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 today because in many respects it is the culmination of years of debate around the way in which this country should tackle the asylum seeker issue. I reflect back on a debate I had some years ago with Mungo MacCallum on the Gold Coast. It will not surprise many that Mungo MacCallum and I do not see eye to eye on anything, let alone this issue. Notwithstanding that, there was a point during that breakfast debate with about 300 people in the room where Mungo MacCallum, with tears in his eyes, stood and addressed the crowd about what he referred to as barbaric—the fact that there were women and children held in detention centres in Australia. Laden with that language, he put forward a value judgment which I have heard so many times on the government benches, from Labor members, from members of the Greens and from others implying that those who stood for tough border protection policies were in some way lacking in compassion.

              I have got to say that that single aspect of this entire debate is what galls me and so many members of the coalition and importantly so many members of the community. The moral elitism of so many members of the Labor Party, of the Greens and of people like Mungo MacCallum goes to the bone of those of us who take the view that we are compassionate in our approach. We fundamentally disagree with those who look down their noses at what, even then, was both Labor and Liberal policy with respect to mandatory detention, let alone offshore processing and temporary protection visas.

              And so a day like today is in many respects a cathartic experience. I see the minister at the table, the Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Transport and Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, snickering about that comment. It just reinforces to me the sad reality of the situation—the sad reality that so many on the Left and Centre Left still hold the view that they have some kind of moral superiority when it comes to this debate. Well, you know what? This proves that that is not the case. This legislation validates an approach that says we do not believe it is compassionate to drive a business model that sees men, women and children paying money to people smugglers to try to get an immigration outcome by coming to Australia, because in so many respects—not all, granted, but in so many respects—that is what it has been about for many years.

              The reality is that those people found to be genuine refugees were not detained. Those people found to be genuine refugees were welcomed into Australia's bosom. Those people found to be genuine refugees were, in most instances if not all, taken to be new Australians. But the flip side of that coin is that there are many for whom Australia represented a shining beacon for a fresh start away from poverty that afflicted their country, away from circumstances that they did not particularly like. Whilst I have sorrow for those people, whilst ideally you would look across the horizon and wish that every country and every person around the world enjoyed the standard of living that we enjoy in Australia, the simple reality is that it is not possible. This is why, in order to manage a program of refugee outcomes that enabled refugees to come into Australia and to make a fresh start, it needed to be ordered and why we needed to have structure to the program. Make no mistake: it was completely abandoned for one reason and one reason alone, and that was for political purposes.

              The flip-flopping that has taken place over the past five years or more—

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

              While we are on the subject, we can refer to the bill before us. This is not a history lesson; it is actually a bill before the parliament. I will continue to remind people that you actually need to be relevant to the bill before us.

              Photo of Steven CioboSteven Ciobo (Moncrieff, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

              Madam Deputy Speaker, the positions of the government and the opposition are entirely germane to the bill before the parliament, I would suggest.

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

              Then you can draw it, reference it, to the bill.

              Photo of Steven CioboSteven Ciobo (Moncrieff, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

              In that respect, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is important to understand the policy journey that has gotten us to where we are today, including, for example, the current Prime Minister's view—and I quote from the House Hansard

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

              This is not reference. I have asked you to reference the bill—to make reference to the bill before us.

              Photo of Steven CioboSteven Ciobo (Moncrieff, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

              Well, I reference it to the bill, Madam Deputy Speaker, because this goes to the direct—

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

              No, you actually need to be relevant to the bill.

              Photo of Steven CioboSteven Ciobo (Moncrieff, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

              I am referring to offshore processing, Madam Deputy Speaker. How is that not—I am sorry; I seek clarity, but offshore processing is entirely relevant, I would have thought.

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

              No, everybody has had a wide-ranging debate about political issues as opposed to referring to the bill. If you just come back to the bill and say how it relates to the bill, that is all I am asking people to do, which I think is actually relevant to the standing orders, which talk about relevancy.

              Photo of Steven CioboSteven Ciobo (Moncrieff, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

              Madam Deputy Speaker, offshore processing, which I think is encompassed within the bill—

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

              Thank you. That is all I have asked.

              Photo of Steven CioboSteven Ciobo (Moncrieff, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

              has been an interesting journey as to why the government has now adopted the policy of offshore processing, given the Prime Minister's position, according to the House Hansard of 13 May 2003, when she said:

              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.

              So that is the starting point. When she was Deputy Prime Minister, offshore processing—the so-called Pacific solution—was dismantled. Indeed, Senator Chris Evans, in an address to the Refugee Council of Australia at Parramatta Town Hall on 17 November 2008, 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.

              That summarises the change in policy that took place.

              Make no mistake: the 22,518 asylum seekers who have arrived since November 2007 in 386 boats—I think it is 387 including the arrival last night—the tragic loss of life and the pull factors that created a business model for people smugglers all flowed from bad policy. It was not a lack of compassion on our side. It was not moral inferiority on our side. It was a recognition that sometimes there must be strength to have order, and order is crucial to equity. So, for those reasons, I support this legislation today. It does not go far enough, but it is a start. In that respect, I am encouraged that the House is likely to pass this legislation.

              12:28 pm

              Photo of Paul NevillePaul Neville (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

              I would like to talk on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011, which we have before us today. But let me first say what a sad excuse for a government we have before us in the debate on this bill today, when so few of them have wanted to get up and defend the government's position. For more than four years, the Rudd and Gillard governments have been progressively dismantling the Pacific solution, and the number of boats has steadily increased. The number of arrivals in this country since November 2007 is in the range of 22,500 people, and the number of boats is now approaching about 390. Why should we not be surprised? Because this government has policies that are not evidence based and that are without a practical framework.

              Then, as the failures become more obvious, with arrogance and hubris the government races around putting bandaids over its mistakes, and the situation gets progressively worse. Of course, its failures to implement evidence based policies are totally consistent with the operation of the government over a wide range of activities, be it the taxation of mining companies, the carbon tax, the pink batts scheme, the BER school halls or a host of other, smaller disasters.

              Let us go back to the figures for boat arrivals during the Pacific solution period. In 2002-03 there were no boats; in 2003-04 there was one boat; in 2004-05 there were no boats; in 2005-06 there were eight boats; in 2006-07, four boats arrived; in 2007-08 there were three boats. But in 2008-09 the number of arrivals starts to climb again—there were 23 boats. In the number of arrivals in 2009-10 the change of government becomes really obvious—there were 117 boats. In 2010-11 there were 89 boats, and in 2011-12 there were another 112 boats. So, in the figures, which start at the rock bottom level of 2002-03, you can see the number of boats coming to this country increasing. As I said, something like 390 boats have arrived in the time of the Rudd and Gillard governments.

              The operation of the Pacific solution in the latter half of the Howard government's term clearly illustrates that offshore processing was the greatest deterrent to people smugglers. In 2001, the coalition introduced processing on Nauru and Manus Island. It introduced a policy of temporary protection visas and made it clear that boats would be turned around when it was safe to do so. The next six years saw the arrival of only 272 people on 16 boats. Since 2007 and the election of the Labor government, complete with its arrogance and hubris, the figure has increased to nearly 390 boats and 22,500 people. One boat arrived yesterday, and no doubt there will be others in the coming week. It is timely to remember that in 2003 the Prime Minister, who was then in opposition, described the Pacific solution as 'costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle'. Also, in the second year of the Labor government, Chris Evans 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.

              That really says it all.

              But by 2010, the government was changing its rhetoric. Apparently without any discussions with the government of Timor-Leste, the Prime Minister was announcing a solution in East Timor. The position of the government since the abolition of the Pacific solution has been marked by a succession of inconsistencies. It would not condone Nauru because Nauru was not a signatory to the UN convention, but it was happy to embrace the Malaysian offshore processing arrangement even though Malaysia was not a signatory either. The government criticised the policy of turning back the boats despite the PM herself advocating it. It was said of the Nauru solution that it is now 'embraced', with assessors already on the way to check out the facilities. The government has now agreed to the Houston report's recommendation of processing offshore, but it was only a short time ago that there were boat people in every conceivable form of accommodation: migrant centres, detention centres, the Curtin Air Force base, an abandoned camp in Tasmania and even a motel in Brisbane. What a shambles! If some had behaved with a little less pride, none of what happened in the last four years or the national heartburn that went with it would have been necessary.

              But getting back to a Pacific solution will be a lot of work. It will require the reintroduction of temporary protection visas, and I believe that the government must embrace the idea. Once potential illegal migrants know that there is no certainty of reaching the mainland, that their visa gives them no proprietary right to stay, that there is no automatic right to family reunion and that there is every likelihood that the time they spend in offshore facilities will be similar to the time they would otherwise spend in a UN refugee centre, the illegal people-smuggling trade will be less attractive and will dry up. This illegal boat trade will lose its passenger base, and people will no longer be subjected to exploitative and dangerous trips on leaking and unsafe boats. In one sense this policy is harsh—no-one wants to turn away or slow down any human being escaping violence, danger or persecution—but the upside, beyond the end to the people-smuggling trade, will be the advancement of the cases of those refugees who have been waiting patiently in UN refugee camps for up to 10 years.

              I support the Houston recommendation of an increase of our refugee intake to 20,000. This will give the patient people, who have been put to one side by the phenomenon of the boat people a better chance in life; a better go. The Labor Party has a lot to answer for. As the previous speaker said, the boat people issue over the last four or five years has been the greatest policy failure in a generation. We now have the opportunity to put it right. Let us do it well, let us do it quickly, and let us put an end to this unfortunate era in Australian politics.

              12:37 pm

              Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

              In rising to say a few words on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures ) Bill 2011, my remarks are coloured by the fact that the last time I was in this House listening to this debate a number of the Liberal and National Party members were crying, wiping tears away from their eyes. I have raised in this House probably 100 times the farm deaths in Australia. Every four days in Australia a farmer commits suicide. I cannot remember a single occasion on which a member of the ALP or the LNP raised this issue or commented upon it, except to question my figures which were ABS figures. Why did they not cry about their own people in Australia? They must know some of these people. To cry about someone in the abstract when you cannot cry a tear in sympathy for your own Australian people leaves one with the impression that we a dealing with hypocrisy on a grand scale. In addition, the opposition have a solution—the Malaysian solution. They are absolutely determined to play politics with that solution.

              I am not going to act as though I am an angel of morality. In fact, in my first vote I was heavily influenced by political considerations. It does not give me great joy to admit that in this place. Clearly, if a refugee, a self-smuggler, paying money to get into this country, knows he is going to end up in Malaysia, he ain't going to pay the money or get on the boat. So the Malaysia solution clearly is what should be being done. It is an absolute disgrace and a reflection upon the 60 or 70 hypocrites to my right here in this parliament that none of them have made a move in that direction.

              When I say that, I would have to include myself in the first round of voting. At least I can say that I have since woken up to myself and seen the overwhelming power of the argument for the Malaysia solution. There is merit in the Liberal remarks that it may not stand up for a great period, but when they are coming in at the rate of 200 a week, then I would think every week that we buy is very important. Clearly, that is the direction in which we should be travelling.

              As for those Greens, I think we can safely say that after the next two elections there will be no Greens left in the parliaments of Australia. Clearly, the Australian people have realised what they are dealing with there. The forces of political consideration, when hundreds of people are drowning every month, override human lives and the considerations of this country, which brings me to the nub of what we are talking about here.

              Countries in the Middle East that spawn terrorism are not happy places to live at the best of times. They are highly restrictive and oppressive societies in most cases, and they are dangerous societies in most cases. Most of all, they are poor. The people live in grinding poverty. Average incomes are $3,500 a year; ours are nearly $2,000 a week. If people living in a country where their income is $3,500 a year can get into a country where, with a wife and two kids, they do not even work—they go on unemployment benefits—and they will get $50,000 a year, it seems to them to be a pretty good arrangement, particularly if they are staying with relatives in Sydney—in a lot of cases on a freebie. Australia has created the world's greatest magnet for refugees. Australia pays welfare of $50,000 a year to families who come from countries where their income would have been $3,500.

              You may need proof of what I am saying, that these people are not genuine refugees. The 250,000 people in Malaysia are most certainly genuine refugees because they just fled across the border to get away from persecution—Buddhist and Christian people, the Karen. They fled across the border to Malaysia and there is no question that they are genuine refugees. But if you are a refugee fleeing from the western end of the Middle East, why have you not gone to Azerbaijan, to Kazakhstan, to Afghanistan, to Pakistan or to Sri Lanka? There are 20 countries to which you would have gone if you were a genuine refugee—to the nearest country, as did the Karen. All refugees flee to the nearest country. These people are not genuine refugees. They are going past 15 or 20 countries where they would be culturally at ease, not going to a country that is enormously different. Why are they doing that? I can give you 50,000 reasons why they are doing that.

              They say, 'What are my chances of getting into Australia? Under the Liberals, I had a two in three chance of getting into Australia. I knew if I could get on a boat that out of the three of us two would get into Australia. So I will just jump onto the next boat.' They knew they could get into Australia under the Liberals. It has been infinitely easier to get into Australia under the ALP. The ALP have put up one solution, which is vastly superior to anything else put on the table to date, and they have now retreated to a solution which, it would seem to me, is no solution at all. It is just a reassertion of the 'get into Australia any time you like' policy.

              The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, has said that they will not come in under an Abbott government.

              If I were a betting man, I know which way I would be betting and I would not be betting on Tony winning that one—but God bless him for trying. I do not think there is any way out of this, except for people to go to Malaysia or except to say, 'If you get on a boat, I am sorry but you will not set foot on Australian soil. You will stay out there.' I do not have time to be arguing the legalities of these situations, suffice to say my government in Queensland got Mabo wrong—they paid $23 million to lawyers and they got it wrong. My recommendations to cabinet got it right, so I like to think I know a little bit about the law.

              I will not go into the constitutionality of saying, 'You got on the boat—that was your decision, it wasn't our decision, and you can't say by getting on that boat "You will now take me into Australia". No, I'm sorry, you got on the boat; you stay on the boat,' but as far as I am concerned we have a responsibility to look after them on the boat, but they stay on the boat. That means that they know they cannot get into Australia. Under Liberal Party policy they know they can get into Australia; under ALP policy they know they can get into Australia. They are mugs if they do not have a go. Our best migrants have been the Sikhs; I have immense admiration for them and I have studied their religion. They come to Australia and they are instant Australians. They love this country. Some of my Sikh mates are saying, 'Listen, mate, they're doing it on an amateur scale. We're the professional boys; we'll be bringing ocean liners in. If this keeps up, we're climbing on board. We're going to be having ocean liners come in.' Knowing that mob, I am quite sure they will. I will probably be cheering them on.

              That is a different situation altogether. The situation is enormously clear-cut: you know if you got on a boat under Liberal policies, for the 12 years they were there, or under ALP policies, you had every chance of becoming an Australian citizen and moving up from $3,500 a year to $50,000. If you are genuine, why didn't you go to a country where you would have felt at home? Why did you flee halfway round the world to get to Australia? Why did you do that? The reason is not that you are a refugee; the reason is that you are a self-smuggler. That is the reason. If we continue with an open-door policy, millions of people will flow through that open door. It is no use the Prime Minister saying that all who have come here would fit into the Melbourne Cricket Ground, because once you establish that you can get here and the door is open, you would be stupid not to come here. Once America opened its door, millions flocked into America. We have an open-door policy but with that policy we are doomed to become a country that will be dictated to by other people who come in whenever they feel like it.

              The government will not disclose how much money this is costing, but it would seem to me—on the basis of costings coming out of prison systems and similar detention arrangements—that we are talking about thousands of millions of dollars a year. That is money that could be going to—let me be very crude and sanguine about it—struggling pensioners in Australia, who are paying the highest electricity charges in the world before the CO2 25 per cent comes in—the 25 per cent in the government's report. The public purse is finite; some of our socialist friends do not think it is, but it is. At the end of the day the public purse can either go to looking after self-smugglers, giving them a golden run, or it can be spent looking after Australian people. People who are coming in the front door and doing the right thing are lining up in huge queues. People who have been magnificent Australians—and I refer again to the Sikh communities—are not allowed in. Many of the self-smugglers are not anything like the people we want in this country. When I am staying overnight in a place like Brisbane, we cost out the motels and we get the cheapest ones. The last time we did it—about seven years ago—we got one for $89 a night and we rejected another one for $136 a night, and the one costing $136 a night was the one that the refugees were in—$136 a night per person plus food plus all of the other add-ons.

              I think the people of Australia have a fair idea of what is going down here. I am just one person, but to the best of my ability I will be telling them on our social networking site, which is now running at 10,000 hits a day, that under the LNP two-thirds will get in and under the ALP over three-quarters will get in. With our policies, none will get in. If Tony Abbott were to deliver in not allowing any of those people to set foot on Australian soil—it will never happen, but if it did happen—I would be the first to applaud him. I certainly applaud him for putting up that idea. I do not applaud him for his hypocrisy on the Malaysia solution. There is no other word that I can use to describe what has taken place. It is simply playing politics and getting an outcome which is dreadful for our country.

              The only answer to this is to say, 'No, you got on the boats, that was your choice. You stay on the boats. You don't have a right.' I have been over all of the documentation—the international agreements. In fact my nephew wrote a book on one of them—he is a prominent lawyer, Dominic Katter. There is no way in the world that we are bound to agreements that say, 'You will take everyone who wants to come into your country.' There is no way that any of those agreements say that, and yet that is what is occurring here. I cannot see how they can claim to be a refugee when they have gone past 20 countries, in which they would feel at home, to go to a country in which in every way they would feel extremely culturally foreign, and having taken great risks to get here as well. (Time expired)

              12:52 pm

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

              I am very pleased to sum up this debate on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. I thank honourable members for their contributions. It is high time that this bill passed this chamber; it would have been better if it had been passed much earlier.

              It is appropriate that we reflect on the circumstances that have brought us here. Last year, the High Court of Australia brought down the judgment. It very clearly ruled invalid under the Migration Act the agreement with Malaysia and the transportation of people to Malaysia. But much more importantly than that even, the High Court changed the common understanding of the Migration Act as it had been understood by the government and by the opposition. The previous government, the Howard government, amended the Migration Act to allow for offshore processing. It did so with the support of the Labor Party. The Labor Party did not agree with everything the Howard government did in this space, as is a matter of public record, but the then opposition, the Labor Party, agreed with the right of the executive to implement offshore processing and agreed that offshore processing should be part of the government's tools.

              The then government and opposition, the Liberal Party and the Labor Party, had a common understanding, which had continued up until last year, about how that act would work, based on various courts' interpretations at various times. That understanding was that offshore processing, if the minister of the day was satisfied of certain things, was lawful. The High Court took a different view. It looked past that, as is its right. It was also the right of the parliament to restore the original view of the parliament. The government proposed that, just as the previous government had proposed the original understanding, that understanding be restored. That is not something that the opposition supported. The opposition did not support the right of the government to implement offshore processing in a way that we saw as necessary. When John Howard as Prime Minister went to Kim Beazley and asked for that support it was provided, to Kim Beazley's great political cost, because he saw the best interests of the nation.

              These are things which have been debated many times in this place. What is important now is that we move forward. That is why, in order to get to this point, the House and hopefully the other place in good time—in expeditious time—can pass this legislation to find a way forward.

              I would like to thank again retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston; Paris Aristotle, who in my view has done more for refugees than any other living Australian through his commitment to the issue; and Michael L'Estrange, who has worked for various leaders of the Liberal Party and who is a respected former secretary of the department of foreign affairs—he is respected I am sure on both sides of this aisle—to help the parliament through by making recommendations.

              The underlying principle of their recommendations is that people who arrive by boat should receive no advantage in their processing. To argue otherwise is to argue that people should receive an advantage if they arrive by boat. To argue otherwise is to suggest that somebody who can afford to come here by boat or who is inclined to come here by boat should receive advantageous treatment over those who are waiting elsewhere for resettlement in Australia. Many members of this House have travelled the world and have seen people in difficult and protracted situations. I have done it, the member for Cook has done it, the Minister for Multicultural Affairs has done it and many backbenchers have done it and seen those situations. We have seen the extended and difficult situations that those people are in and want to give them an even chance.

              Let me today explicitly reject the assertion of some— indeed, the assertion of some in this chamber and elsewhere—that to believe in a rigorous process of offshore processing is somehow to take an anti-immigration stance or a racist stance or that it is somehow to appeal to the darkened nature of some in Australia. I reject that absolutely. You can, and many do, believe as I believe in an extended refugee program, in giving more people the chance of a life in Australia and in a higher immigration program but believe that there needs to be a fairer and more orderly system. This is something that, it is no surprise, has dominated the public debate and it is something that I have argued for in my 18 months as Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

              It is now time for the parliament to pass this legislation. There will continue to be a debate. We will, as I have publicly indicated, progress processing on PNG and Nauru. I will lay the instrument upon the table. I will also continue to pursue actively, as the report calls for, the introduction of the Malaysia agreement. The Houston package makes clear that this is a holistic approach. We cannot cherry pick and we will not cherry pick. I am sure the opposition and we will continue to argue about this, but I call on the opposition to look in good faith at the Malaysia agreement and at the protections that are built into it. I recognise that they will pass this legislation today and also the work of the member for Cook with me on amendments to ensure the bill's smooth passage through the House. Only as a package will we break this trade. Only as a package will we save people's lives and give people better advantage.

              I turn very briefly to the opposition's second reading amendment, which we will oppose. We will oppose it because it is wrong. The opposition of course seeks to say that Nauru and PNG are only part of the package and that we need to do other things. We agree on that much, but we disagree strongly on what those other things are. If you look at the opposition's policy you will see that they believe in turning back the boats on the high seas, turning them around and pointing them towards Indonesia. This is something that the expert panel looked at. I have always said, 'Yes, that would be a deterrent.' I have always argued that taking people back to where they began the boat journey, whether it be Malaysia or Indonesia, is a useful deterrent but it can be done only with the agreement of the country to which you wish to take people. It can only be done in this case with the agreement of Indonesia. The opposition has been at sixes and sevens about this. I heard with amusement the Deputy Leader of the Opposition say yesterday, 'We don't use a megaphone. We're not going to lecture Indonesia publicly about this; we're going to work quietly behind the scenes.' Then the Leader of the Opposition got his megaphone out and said, 'These are Indonesian vessels disgorging in Australia. It is Indonesia's responsibility; they should be doing this. We'll do it regardless of whether Indonesia agrees or not.'

              If the opposition continue on this policy they will need to raise it with Indonesia at some point, as they failed to do so when the Leader of the Opposition met with the President of Indonesia. He did not have the gumption to raise this issue with the President of Indonesia. Then they talk about temporary protection visas. These were given so much attention by the panel that they are not even mentioned. That is because the panel did not believe there was any efficacy in going down that road.

              This is a very significant day. It is important that this legislation pass, because the executive should be able to implement offshore processing. We are more than happy with the recommendation that each instrument be laid before the House and the Senate and for the House and the Senate to be able to pass judgment on those. We will continue to prosecute the case for each arrangement that we have put in place.

              This is not the end of the efforts to deal with what is the very pernicious trade of people smuggling, which trades in people's lives and gives people the expectation that, in return for very significant sums of money, they can be given passage to Australia. I commend this bill to the House. It is important that the bill pass the House today and pass the Senate expeditiously. The Australian people expect no less, and the people smugglers fear nothing more.

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

              The immediate question is that the amendment moved by the member for Cook to the amendment moved by the member for Melbourne be agreed to.

              House divided. [13:05]

              (The Deputy Speaker—Ms AE Burke)

              Question negatived.

              The question is that the amendment moved by the member for Melbourne be agreed to.

              A division having been called and the bells having been rung—

              As there are fewer than five members on the side for the ayes, I declare the question resolved in the negative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

              Question negatived, Mr Bandt and Mr Wilkie voting aye.

              Original question agreed to.

              Bill read a second time.