Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012. In consideration of this measure, it is worth noting that five years ago the Labor government was elected; there were four people in immigration detention who had arrived illegally by boat, and that figure today is well over 12,000, whether they are on bridging visas, in community detention, in alternative places of detention or in the detention network itself. From just four people to over 12,000 in the last five years is a record of failure that has no peer. It is a record of failure that this government will never be able to erase, either by correcting it, because of their own incompetence and lack of resolve on this issue and the inadequacy of their policy responses, or by removing it from the memory of the Australian people, who will always mark this government as the worst performing government on our borders in our nation's history.
The objective of this bill is to expand the existing offshore processing regime to apply to all persons arriving on mainland Australia unlawfully by sea. It will replace the concept of 'offshore entry persons' with the concept of 'unauthorised maritime arrivals'—some semantics from the government; changing words does not change their failures. It will mean that even persons who arrive on Australian soil, on the mainland, by boat will be subject to removal to an offshore processing country and will be processed according to that regime. This bill will effectively excise the Australian mainland from the Migration Act, and the government say it is intended to act as a disincentive to people to make the journey to Australia. The government have been more in the business of providing incentives, not disincentives, for people to come by boat, and the record demonstrates that with arrivals now averaging over 2,000 per month, and that continues. Even this month, there have been well over 2,000 before the month has even concluded.
Following the government's decision to allow all offshore entry persons access to merits and judicial review through the Refugee Review Tribunal, which occurred in the courts in March this year, the purported impact of this measure has been substantively, if not completely, negated. The decision to treat those who come by boat in the same way as those who come by a legal method to Australia has effectively removed one of the key issues and key parts of the border protection regime that was put in place by the Howard government to ensure a distinction between the way these matters were handled and, in particular, their access to the courts. This government has hard wired the claims of people who have come illegally by boat to our court system. So it does not matter if you get a 'No'; you can just keep appealing this endlessly, you can keep appealing this through the courts, and you can be here for many years when you have no viable claim. You can just keep going through the courts on and on, and the government's decision to do that in March effectively removed the import of the measure which is before us today.
Consistency is very important in politics. It is important in policy. It is important in terms of the resolve you demonstrate when handling matters. On this side of the House there has been nothing but consistency on this issue. It is the stock-in-trade of the coalition when it comes to border protection that people know what we stand for, that they know what we believe in, that they know what we will do, that they have a measure of certainty about the actions that we will take. That measure of certainty is not held just by the Australian people but, even more significantly, it is held in the minds of the people smugglers themselves. They know where we stand on this issue and they know that if there is a change of government at the next election the game is up. There will be new management when it comes to these issues: a management that does not fold every time smugglers lean on them, a management that does not hand out protection visas to people who burn down detention centres or set boats alight. That is not the sort of management that they will see from a coalition if we are elected. They will see a coalition that will act consistent with our principles and consistent with the policies that we have advocated, implemented and defended for over a decade.
In this place we will support the government's bill in not opposing this measure. It is, by the minister's own admission, very much the bill that was introduced to this House by the Howard government in 2006, and which passed this place—in the House of Representatives. So we will once again not oppose a measure such as this. Indeed, we will support it. I suspect that, within this place, the members on our side of the House will vote as they did last time. They will vote consistent with how they voted last time, and I suspect even those members on our side who have had long reservations about this matter will act consistently with the way they have acted previously. That is something we respect in the Liberal Party. Where people particularly have longstanding positions on these matters then they are not bound by the factional ball and chain that you see on the other side of the House, where dissent is put down and where people's ability to express their deeply held convictions and views in this place is not suppressed as it is on the other side of a House. I suspect there are some on our side who will act consistent with the way they have always acted, and the interesting thing about that is that they did it when they were in government, in the face of a government that they were part of, and they will do it in the face of a government today that they are not a part of. I respect that decision on their part. It is not the view on this bill of coalition more broadly, or the position that the coalition more broadly will take, but it is consistent. Everyone on this side of the House will vote, I believe, consistently with the way they voted last time when these matters were considered by this House. The same bill as the one before us today, when it was introduced in 2006 by the Howard government, was met in this place by raging debate. It was said by Labor members then in opposition—and indeed by the now minister for immigration himself—that the bill was a 'stain on our national character' and that it that it offended 'decency'. A former Leader of the Opposition, Mr Crean, said that it was 'shameful' and 'xenophobic'. Another current minister, Minister Ellis, said that it was 'lunacy', 'indecent', 'inhumane' and 'gutless'. Those same individuals—with the exception of the minister, who has already spoken when introducing this bill—are not on the speakers list for this bill; you will not find them there. But they will vote today to support the bill that they have brought to this place of their own volition. It is their policy. The government cannot hide behind panels or committees or anything of that nature. Once a minister of the government brings a bill into this place, puts it on this table and introduces it, they own it. It is their policy. It is meant to represent what they believe: their convictions. You on that side of the House cannot hide behind Angus Houston when you have to vote on this bill today. If you vote for this bill today, you are admitting that you were hypocrites and frauds in 2006, and the Australian people will see it just that way. On this side of the House we will act consistently with our beliefs, our long-held views, our convictions and our policy on unlawful arrivals. We will not oppose the bill before the House.
This bill, as I said, will expand offshore processing to apply to all people who arrive on the Australian mainland unlawfully by sea, effectively excising the Australian mainland from the Migration Act. I return to some of the things that were said in the debate in 2006, because what this bill is really all about—and the bill will pass this House—is this government's record of inconsistency and hypocrisy. The now Minister for Immigration and Citizenship said on 10 August 2006:
This is a bad bill with no redeeming features. It is a hypocritical and illogical bill. If it is passed today, it will be a stain on our national character.
Amending this bill is like putting lipstick on a pig. You can put all the lipstick you like on it but it will still be a pig. You can amend this bill all you like but it will still be a bad bill.
How shameless it is of this minister to now bring the same bill into this place. It seems that the minister is now using as an excision bill what he described as a pig of a bill in 2006 in order to try to save his own political bacon. That is what is happening in this place. The government have focused on the politics of illegal arrivals for five years—do not solve the problem; solve the politics—and that is exactly the same thing I witnessed in the New South Wales state Labor government for 16 years. Under the faceless men of the Labor Party in Sussex Street, the New South Wales state government ran the state into the ground, and the same method is at work and alive here in this place. It is at work in the pungent hypocrisy of the government's bringing this bill, which they say they now believe in, into this place. Mr Bowen said that the bill in 2006 had no redeeming features. But this government have no redeeming features.
The stench of hypocrisy will rise from those opposite—every single last one of them—as they walk into this House and vote for this bill. Mr Bowen said:
We will oppose this bill, and I call on members opposite to join us. If it is passed, it will be repealed by an incoming Labor government. Decency and self-respect as a nation would demand nothing less.
But they did not repeal it; they have introduced the same bill again. Is there anything higher in the flip-flop scale than that? Today, the minister stands to introduce the very same legislation he condemned in 2006 and promised to repeal. But he was not alone in his sanctimony. On 9 August 2006, the member for Watson, the current Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and a former shadow minister for immigration, said:
Australia is better than this bill. The legislation before us today undermines our sovereignty, is offensive to our decency and makes a mockery of this parliament.
Australia is better than this government. Australia is better than the hypocrisy of this government and its incompetent failures. Australians demand a better government. They demand a government which knows what it believes in and they want to know what their government believes in.
The member for Watson said that it was 'offensive to our decency and makes a mockery of the parliament.' No, it is this government which is an offence to decency. It is this government which makes a mockery of itself. He went on to say:
We do not know whether to laugh at just how ludicrous this legislation is or cry at the very real impact and real pain it seeks to cause some of the most desperate people in the world.
When you read these words from the then shadow minister, now the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, you learn that the expression 'crocodile tears' has a new meaning. He continued:
Labor is going to oppose this bill in every way, and we will oppose it at every stage … The bill before us is wrong—it is just plain wrong. Labor will not have anything to do with it.
But you own it.
Next we have the member for Hotham, a former Leader of the Opposition and now the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts. He spoke on 10 August 2006 during a debate which went for several days—a debate they were then all very keen to participate in, although they do not seem too keen today. The list of speakers from the government is pretty slim today. No-one on that side wants to stand up for this bill, although they will vote for it. During that debate, the member for Hotham said:
Labor opposes it outright. There is nothing you can do to this excision bill that will fix it. We do not seek to amend it; we will oppose it in its entirety. The bill is shameful and xenophobic.
This is an old tactic, an old accusation from Labor—when you cannot meet the argument, call the coalition racists. When your policies do not stack up and your failures are so profound that you cannot speak over the noise of your own failures, when you cannot make an argument and you cannot get anything right, just call coalition members racists—as Labor members have been doing for the past week.
But those members opposite, particularly those representing Western Sydney, know that every time a Labor member calls the coalition and coalition members who are standing up for stronger border protection and who believe in stronger border protection racists, they are calling those who share those views racists. They are calling their own constituents racists. As I move around Western Sydney, it is clear that this issue and the government's failures have brought the people of that area to a point of absolute frustration. They are not racists; they are just sick of government incompetence. They are sick of a government which cannot protect our borders and cannot do one of the most fundamental things a national government is elected to do. The government can call them racists if they like, but at the next election they will reap what they sow in making those claims.
The member for Hotham went on to say:
This is a foolish nonsense. It is worse than that though. It is a vindictive and vicious measure to take against unfortunate and desperate people. It does nothing to secure our borders and returns to the government’s old policy of deterrence and punishment based on fear. It is a bill that should be opposed.
I am always interested when the government talks about compassion in relation to this matter. There is not a decision you make in this area of asylum policy which does not have serious consequences for human beings. Every decision you make has that impact and everybody who participates in this debate should understand that. I certainly do. But you have to take ownership of your decisions and the consequences which flow from them.
Labor, when they were ranting and raving at this bill and subjecting the now Father of the House, the member for Berowra; the then Prime Minister, John Howard; and others to their abuse and vitriol, were saying, 'We have a better way of dealing with this.' At the 2007 election, five years ago, they got their way and all of those who supported them got their way. They got what they asked for. They got the Howard government measures abolished. All of those measures went. And what happened? Over 30,000 people turned up; over 1,000 people were dead in the water; over 8,000 people were denied protection visas in this country from some of the most desperate places in the world because they did not come on a boat; and there was a cost blow-out of $6.6 billion and counting this year alone—including capital it will cost $2.7 billion. These are the consequences. It does not sound to me like a particularly compassionate outcome. It sounds to me like an absolute disaster in humanitarian and financial terms.
It is one thing to sound compassionate; it is another thing to be compassionate and to have policies that deal with the problem. People ask on various programs, whether on the ABC or other places, 'Why are we even talking about this?' Because the government has failed, that is why. When you fix the problem you do not have to talk about the problem, but this government ignored the problem and just wanted to change the debate. As the previous Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Evans said, his greatest failing was that he was not able to control the conversation enough. No! The problem was that he was not able to control the borders. The fact that the government does not get that this is the issue it has to solve, and that the consequences of not fixing it are disastrous for human beings and the taxpayers of Australia alike, is something I will never understand.
The vitriol continues. The member for Adelaide, now the Minister for Early Childhood and Child Care and for Employment Participation, said on 9 August 2006:
Now every member of this House has a stark choice: do they stand up and vote against a proposal which has the wrong motivations, which is indecent and inhumane by its very nature and which is clearly absurd …
Did the minister stand up in the ministry? Did she stand up in the party room, or the caucus, as it is called on that side of the House? Did she stand up on that day? Did she have a stark choice? In the course of her speech she described the measures as lunacy, ludicrous, harsh, indecent, inhumane, unfair and gutless. That is what we will see with every Labor member who walks in and votes for this bill today: gutlessness. To switch their position on such a matter, where they displayed such passion and directed such vitriol, and now they work out that it was a problem—the very first thing they should do as they walk in here is apologise to John Howard and to the member for Berowra for the abuse, the vitriol and the slurs that they put on those two great men's characters. They were compassionate men who wanted to do the right thing to ensure we had integrity of our borders and that people smugglers were not trading on people's lives. Labor should apologise to them today if they are going to vote for this bill, and if they do not they are gutless—gutless to their core.
The minister concluded by saying:
I am clear that I will continue to absolutely oppose this legislation and I encourage all members to do likewise.
That is the thing with the Labor Party: it always believes what it believes until the day it does not, and the Australian people know that. The government announces something and it never happens: 'But we announced it.' Then why did it not happen? 'We did not get around to it, we changed our minds, we did not go ahead with it.' Those opposite are big on the announcements. They are big on the big symbols. They are big on the big Herculean stands and the wars on goodness knows what. I remember in the first term of this government we had a war on everything, but when it comes to fighting those battles they disappear. The Australian people know they cannot trust Labor on this. You cannot trust someone who clearly does not know what they believe in in this space. This requires a resolve based on conviction, and this government simply does not have it.
I am no fan of the Greens' policies, no fan at all. I think they are a disaster for what they mean for these issues, but at least they believe the same thing for more than a day. I suspect that is why some people who used to vote for the Labor Party now vote for the Greens—they know that the Labor Party has lost its soul. It is run by spivs and union hacks who will do whatever it takes. We all know who said that: whatever it takes. That is the culture of what was once a great party. Now it has been reduced to this. How ashamed the great Labor men and women would be of this government and the way it has dealt with this matter. The member for Grayndler, now Leader of the House, said on 10 August:
I wish to speak in the strongest possible terms in opposition to the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006. This government has a policy that is built on sand. It shifts with the wind, it shifts on the basis of what is in the political interest of the government in terms of its preparedness to promote fear, to promote hatred and to vilify some of the most vulnerable people in the global community. It is no way for this parliament to provide the leadership that we have been entrusted to provide by our respective communities.
In that statement he talked about a government that has a policy 'built on sand', that 'shifts with the wind', that 'shifts on the basis of what is in the political interest of the government'. He was being a prophet, but not about the Howard government; he was being a prophet about the government that he would be a part of. He was the Nostradamus speaking back in 2006 about the government he would be a part of, which is demonstrated in the hypocrisy of this bill which has been brought before this place today. He went on to say:
This bill is wrong in principle and it is wrong in motivation. It cannot be improved by any amendments, so we are not moving any.
I reject the bill as being fundamentally abhorrent to everything I believe in and all the reasons why I want to represent my electorate in this great parliament.
Well, he has some explaining to do to the electors of Grayndler. He goes on:
I will conclude my comments by saying that this is a test of this parliament and this government. It has been a test of the Australian Labor Party and we have risen to the occasion, and that is why we are rejecting this legislation.
This government, this Labor Party, has sunk in the way it has dealt with this matter.
Then there is the member for Kingsford-Smith, the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, who said:
The crux of this debate is moral integrity and national purpose as weighed against political expediency.
And—and this is rich—he called it 'exquisite hypocrisy'. He said:
But I have some confidence that Australians will not tolerate for much longer a government for whom principles and compassion have no meaning.
I share his view about that. He goes on:
It is a government that lacks the confidence in its institutions, in its own laws and in its own officials to allow events to take their course … It is a government that lacks confidence in what its proper place in the region is. It is a government that has no idea of what Australia’s primary values are …
And he goes on—another prophet from that side of that chamber, talking not about the Howard government but about the government that he himself would be a part of. He said:
A government that so betrays its own values is a government that is no longer worthy of representing the people of Australia.
That was from the member for Kingsford-Smith. Well, he is damned, like this government, by his own words and his own actions. Out of respect for Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, I will not refer to the comments by the member for Calwell, but I am sure the Deputy Speaker knows them well.
What we see on that side of the House is gross hypocrisy and a recalcitrant failure to acknowledge that, when you get something wrong, you admit you got it wrong. But we have not heard that from this government. We have not heard from this government that it was wrong to abolish the Howard government policies—not once, not a peep about that. The hypocrisy and lack of grace in that is breathtaking.
The minister said when he was in opposition that it was a stain on our national character to support this bill. Well, there is a stain on the government, because of their actions on border protection, that will never wash off, no matter how hard they try. The hypocrisy and political expediency of the government in trying to save their own neck and save a failed Prime Minister is on display for the entire country to see and before this parliament. That stain will not wash off. That stain will be visible and will mark every single member of the government who comes in and votes on this bill—every single one. I hope it rests heavily on them as they come in here, and I hope it rests heavily on them when they go back to their branch members and try to explain to those who have supported them over years and years the absolute gutter hypocrisy that they have displayed in this place. This measure, as I said at the outset, is, frankly, a fairly marginal measure. I think it will have very little impact at all. In fact, I think the real reason that the government has brought this before this place is that the government knows that it cannot cope with the rate of arrivals, and this simply provides an expediency to bypass Christmas Island and bring people straight to the mainland. That is what it does. It just enables the water taxi to go to other ports in Australia—not just to go to Christmas Island, but to come directly here to the mainland. This is a government that last week admitted that it cannot stop the boats, with arrivals of over 2,000 a month. The government's answer: more places, more beds, more cost and no effective deterrence—just more excuses.
That is what this bill is about. It is a minor expediency, both logistically and politically, for a government that have so lost their way on this issue that they will never find it again. And the Australian people know that is why they cannot trust the government on this issue. They cannot trust the government because the government themselves do not believe—so why should the Australian people believe in them? Conviction matters when it comes to issues that involve such difficult decisions. It is conviction that those on this side of the House will be demonstrating when we vote on this bill today—the conviction that has been shown by individuals and right across our party. We will vote as we did last time. We will support measures, even if they are as marginal as this one is. If it improves things slightly and we think it is a good measure, we will support it.
But those on that side of the House have a level of explaining to do that time will not permit in this debate. When I look at the speaker's list on this matter, there are only three speakers. How ashamed they must be about this business that they bring before the House today. It is a very black day for the Labor Party. It has been a very black month. It has been a black year. It has been a black five years for the people of Australia under this government. Next year they will have the opportunity to change that and to send the one message that people smugglers will understand, and that is the election of a coalition government.
In his speech on this bill, the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012, the member for Cook referred to the greatest region of the country, Western Sydney, and talked about the fact that he had been out there quite a bit. Out in my region, in RSLs and clubs, they often have hypnosis acts where the hypnotist will call people up from the crowd and hypnotise them. It is quite often the case that the hypnotist never actually applies their own arts to themselves. In the case of what the member for Cook just did, I cannot seriously think that he believes half the garbage that he passed through as some sort of parliamentary contribution today. He mentioned a couple of times that he and the coalition support the bill but then went on to provide us with a whole range of arguments that were breathtaking in their hypocrisy.
Consistency in public life is absolutely the goal. In terms of the setting of policy, it is absolutely important. But consistency that ignores reality and is divorced from reality and circumstance is not a substitute for good policy. We are not going to have a situation where those opposite, in terms of consistency, substitute policy and thinking differently about changed circumstances for just holding the line on something that they believe worked 10 years ago, when there is nothing to substantiate whether it will actually hold true today.
All those opposite have had on this issue in dealing with irregular maritime arrivals is to go back to what John Howard did. The member for Warringah has never had an idea that John Howard has not thought of first. Anything that is in his playbook right now is pretty much going back to what former Prime Minister John Howard advocated—and there is never anything really new. That is why they are stuck on this issue of consistency. It is because, when they open the policy cupboard, frankly, it is bare.
How is it they can lecture about consistency when, for example, they opposed our Malaysia agreement on the basis that Malaysia was not a country that was a signatory to the refugee convention and yet, on the other hand, they pursue a policy that advocates towing boats back to Indonesia, which, funnily enough, is not a signatory to the refugee convention?
And, in most recent times, they have announced a policy that would have Sri Lankan asylum seekers automatically sent back to Sri Lanka, with no processing of their claims in accordance with the refugee convention. This coalition policy announced in September has no regard for the convention. Are they sending them back to a country that is a signatory to the convention? No.
They lecture us on consistency and bring up comments in relation to consistency throughout this debate. For example, when they were seeking the support of the Greens in the House when we were dealing with the member for Lyne's resolution in relation to asylum seekers back in June, they said they would support an increase in the humanitarian intake, which is advocated in the Houston report. That report has a series of recommendations into which we have breathed life over the course of the last few months. On the one hand, the coalition say that they will support that; then last week the member for Warringah, the Leader of the Opposition, said they will not support that. And they come in here and talk about consistency, when we see a complete absence of consistency from their side.
They talk about suppressing dissent. During that debate on the member for Lyne's resolution, I clearly remember, as many in this House would remember, the member for Curtin, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Julie Bishop, and another coalition member bookending the member for Moore and preventing the member for Moore from exercising his view on what should be done in relation asylum seekers. How is it that they can overlook that suppression of a view on their side and put pressure on the member for Moore and the member for Pearce—
Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member is suggesting that members of the opposition breached privilege, in effect, and that is highly out of order. He should withdraw that accusation.
We have the situation, again, regarding the application of consistency, where they should be consistent in relation to the expression of alternative views on their side of the fence on this matter. What we are doing is exactly what was put forward in the Houston report.
To break the deadlock in this chamber on this issue, an expert panel of eminent Australians was brought together to consider this and to put forward a range of recommendations about what should be done. We are breathing life into one of those recommendations in the bill before the House. There are people who express surprise about this move, but it is clear that if you arrive in some part of what is considered Australia then you are transferred to Manus Island or Nauru, but if you proceed to the mainland then you would be treated differently. There is no consistency in that sort of approach, and that is what this bill seeks to deal with. I have had people raise that view; I even had it on Twitter today, where people were expressing their view in relation to this matter. This is about consistency. It is about dealing with the fact that since 2008 1,500 people have put their lives at risk travelling beyond Christmas Island or Cocos (Keeling) Islands to try to get to the mainland and they have been intercepted. We need to do something about this.
This bill seeks to ensure that we are consistent with the Houston report. That report is critical in charting a way forward as to how we proceed on this. There are things in that report that I do not agree with, frankly. I have expressed this to the minister and I have expressed it publicly, and I do not have any problem expressing it here. I do not think that Nauru and Manus Island will work in the longer term. Those opposite believe it will; I don't. The reason for that is that times have changed and policy should reflect the times in which we operate. With the greatest respect to the Houston panel and the government, in all honesty, I think the government are trying to reflect what we have said publicly—that is, that we will follow the Houston report and the recommendations. Those opposite have not necessarily committed to every single thing that we have put forward or have seen put forward through the Houston report, even though this report, comprehensive as it is, deals with difficult issues. I commend this report to anyone who has an interest in this matter and suggest they read it. They will see the consideration that has been given to dealing with those issues that are bedevilling us on this matter, such as ensuring that we do not give anyone advantage if they become an unauthorised maritime arrival—getting to this place and seeking asylum—and that people will not be placed at a disadvantage if they are trying to follow the proper process but then see someone as an unauthorised maritime arrival get here.
The Houston report deals with this issue in the breadth of its recommendations and the panel should be commended for that. I think we are reaching the point of wondering, as people have seen, as to whether or not Nauru and Manus Islands will be effective. As I said, I do not think this legislation will work in the way it was first intended, when it was introduced by the Howard government. If you are concerned about extended detention, work rights and ensuring that the children of people seeking asylum get education then, logically, you would support what we have advocated under the Malaysian agreement. That agreement reached with the Malaysian government provides for work rights, education and ensures that people are not detained.
Do not take my word alone. I think it is time to reconsider the Malaysian agreement. I would put to the House words not of anyone from this side of the chamber but of someone from that side of the chamber. I note that it is causing great entertainment for those opposite to go back to quotes from way back when. In terms of consistency I would be happy to change my mind on public policy where it saves people's lives. If you contrast what I have said in the past to my position now, I am happy to do so. Because, quite frankly, I have my own conscience to deal with in advocating for policy that will save people's lives, as opposed to just blandly or stolidly sticking to something that will not change the circumstances in which we are in. That is why I read to the chamber this statement by the member for Wentworth in his contribution to the House:
I appeal to the Prime Minister to do this: to agree to the amendment. Let us pass the legislation so that Nauru can be reinstated. Let us do that; let us effectively reinstate not all but the bulk of the Howard government's policy. If that does not work—because you will never know until you try these policies—then the Prime Minister has a basis to come back and argue that the balance between the humanitarian part of the equation and the desire to ensure border security should be re-examined.
Bearing in mind the bulk of the Howard government's policy, we have reinstituted Nauru and Manus and we have seen what is happening there. In the last few days the government have announced changes in terms of detention here in Australia. This is what the member for Wentworth said back in June. He then concluded by saying:
There is something that can be achieved today. Nauru should be achieved. If it does not succeed then she—
the Prime Minister—
has the opportunity to ask for stronger measures.
In my heart of hearts I believe that is where we are getting to because, if you are serious about trying to totally disrupt the valued proposition being put forward by people smugglers which is, effectively, transit to Australia, some period in detention and then release, and they are using this proposition to milk money off the desperate, to profit from their desperation, then you would look at another system that would completely smash that and that is exactly what was proposed in the Malaysian agreement. That is what should be encouraged to happen.
However, in the interim, we have had the parliament's singular inability to reach agreement on this matter. Why? Because, frankly, those opposite are more interested in political advantage than seeing a system brought into place in terms of Malaysia and offshore processing in a way which was even advocated by the Houston report. Those opposite will not do that. They will conveniently side with those who have a completely different view on the issue of asylum seekers and, notably, the Greens. They would seek to do that and defeat what is happening here, again, lectured on consistency by those opposite. Yet they are prepared to side with people who do not support their view of what should happen with asylum seekers in an effort to block Malaysia.
If they wanted to see the Malaysia agreement in place and they wanted to see us bringing down those numbers of unauthorised maritime arrivals, they would support it here and now, and they would—again, in the interests of consistency—do what we did in opposition, which is support the Prime Minister. That is what we did when Prime Minister Howard called on the then Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, to support him on a broad sweep of changes, to allow the government of the day to govern. That is what they will not do, because they put political interests above the interests that should be followed in this case in dealing with this problem.
That is why, despite the member for Cook arguing on a number of occasions that he was in support of what we are putting forward here and then trying to contrast positions from way back when with what is being said now, he was unable to actually outline a new idea—some new approach on this issue. That is why they are unable to do so. They will not be able to put forward a policy proposition, even though we are both being granted a blessing in the form of the Houston report, which tries to depoliticise this issue and tries to put forth very pragmatic ways forward for both sides of politics to be able to deal with this critical public policy area and ensure that ultimately we save people's lives. The Houston report is probably one of the best pieces of work in terms of trying to deal with a vexing policy issue. It is, as I said, to be commended for its breadth, and it should be seriously pursued by both sides. We are doing it. This legislation today is reflective of our position in relation to this, and it should certainly be embraced by those opposite.
I say at the outset that I support this bill, the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012. Illegal arrivals by boat have been completely out of control since this Labor government came to power. As this government slowly creeps back closer and closer towards the Howard government's policy positions, I will support these moves. However, I remind the government that it should embrace temporary protection visas and a few other aspects of our policies—and then they will be there again.
The objective of this bill is to expand the existing offshore processing regime to apply to all persons arriving unlawfully on mainland Australia by sea—and that does sound familiar. The bill will also replace a concept of 'offshore entry person' with the concept of 'unauthorised maritime arrival'. As a result, even persons who arrive on Australian soil by boat will be subject to removal to an offshore processing country and processed according to that system. The bill therefore excises the Australian mainland from the Migration Act and is intended to be a disincentive for people to make the journey to Australia. However, following on from the government's decision to allow all offshore entry persons access to merits and judicial reviews through the RRT and the courts in March 2012, the impact of this measure has weakened. This bill is almost a carbon copy of the bill passed by the House of Representatives under the Howard government in 2006, as it also expanded the offshore processing to apply to people arriving on mainland Australia.
When the coalition introduced an identical measure in 2006, its impact would have been much more significant, since it would also have denied all asylum seekers access to merits and judicial review. Whilst Labor has significantly watered down a number of previous coalition initiatives that reduce the intended impact of this bill, the principle is consistent with coalition policy and should be supported. There is, however, a special significance that this bill brings to the House, because this exact measure was one of those salient issues that so many on the other side railed against. The question is now: how did this come to pass? And oh how the mighty have fallen. The side of grand moralistic words, the side of sermon and sanctimony, have now dispensed with long-held moral positions and high principle in order to save themselves from their own failings—so clearly seen in the disaster that has weakened porous borders provided wholly by this Labor government.
It is little wonder that the government speakers list consists now of just three first-term MPs. Once, they lined up en masse to speak against pretty much the same bill—in 2006, when it was introduced by the Howard government. They lined up to take what they believed to be the high moral ground, ignorantly believing that strong borders could remain without the will to take the measures required. History has shown that the measures that worked to bring the boats to almost a full stop and restore the integrity of our immigration system were dismantled by those on the other side. They took a solution and created a problem. It remains their problem and their failure in every respect, and the people of Australia know it.
As I said before, this bill has only a few to speak on it on the government side. Today, in this debate, none of those who were so strident in their opposition in 2006 are coming out to recant and to say that they were wrong. Where is the courage? There is no courage on two levels. Those who spoke against the 2006 bill should come out and say that they were wrong, particularly those who spoke about this concept in such moralistic terms. Yet they are without courage. Those who spoke against this bill in the caucus will not vote against it because they are more interested in maintaining their preselection than they are in maintaining their moral position. This bill has everything to do with political survival, whether it is the survival of the government or maintaining Labor preselections. This bill is about the Labor Party's dedication to power above principle.
I have spoken many times on these specific matters, and in the five years I have been in this position, I have not changed my belief that what the Howard government did worked and should be restored. Later in our speakers list, we will also hear from the members for Pearce and McMillan. I disagree with them in much of this policy area. However, they also have been consistent and have also maintained their beliefs over the years, and despite our alternative views, I respect them completely.
What a contrast between those who have strong views and maintain them, and those who say they have strong views and dispense with them for political gain. Speaking of which, I know that there are some ministers that must be too conveniently busy to come and speak on this bill. I will help them out by reminding the House of their views as expressed on the Hansard in 2006. Firstly, the current minister has had a bit to say on the 2006 bill. Minister Bowen, back in 2006, said:
This is a bad bill with no redeeming features. It is a hypocritical and illogical bill. If it is passed today, it will be a stain on our national character.
… … …
If it is passed, it will be repealed by an incoming Labor government.
Minister Crean, of course, has delivered quite a few lectures in this place since the 2007 election. But, in 2006 he said:
The bill is shameful and xenophobic.
… … …
It is a bill that should be opposed.
The current Leader of the House spoke of the 2006 bill as being a test of the Labor Party. He must consider today a big F. He said:
This bill is wrong in principle and it is wrong motivation.
… … …
This bill is a disgraceful shirking of responsibility by Australia and must be rejected.
… … …
I reject the bill as being fundamentally abhorrent to everything I believe in.
… … …
It has been a test of the Australian Labor Party and we have risen to the occasion, and that is why we are rejecting this legislation.
And again, I say, he must consider today to be a big F for the Labor Party.
On more than one occasion Minister Burke has spoken about having respect for the members of the House who maintain long-held views on particular subjects. He only says that about Independents of course, and now he cannot even say it about himself, because in 2006 he said:
The legislation before us today undermines our sovereignty, is offensive to our decency and makes a mockery of this parliament.
… … …
Labor is going to oppose this bill in every way, and will oppose it at every stage.
… … …
The bill before us is wrong, just plain wrong and Labor will not have anything to do with it.
Everyone knows that Minister Garrett has a history of crusades, firstly via his music and then with the Nuclear Disarmament Party and, more recently, he had a clear view of 2006 bill. He said:
The crux of this debate is moral integrity and national purpose is weighed against political expediency.
… … …
In fact this bill is the latest instalment in a long-running saga of a government that drenches us in talks of values but has long given up holding any values of real worth itself.
… … …
This bill must be opposed.
In reading these words from the minister, I think that he has really nailed it. The trouble was that he was six years early, because these words really apply to this Labor government—a government whose core belief is power and there is no principle that can be held that will not be set aside in order to maintain its interest in power.
One of the key problems with this Labor government is that it does not have any credibility when it comes to this issue. It is that lack of credibility that means when it announces new policy measures, people smugglers do not take them seriously because it has announced things in the past which it has never followed through on. The reality is that the Labor Party has introduced and tried every policy under the sun since it came into office—every policy imaginable—apart from the ones that we all know would in fact really work.
We know this policy would work because the policy has worked in the past under the Howard government. The coalition has a history of implementing policies in this area that have actually done what we needed to do by stamping out people smuggling. What needs to happen is those on that side—the government side—need to acknowledge that they have bungled yet another policy, acknowledge that it is their credibility that is now the problem and implement the full suite of Howard government border protection policies that we know will do the job as they did in the past. When the then government was faced with this issue over a decade ago, it implemented this combination of policies and it had the desired outcome. It worked to stop people-smuggling and it is the only policy that has achieved the results that we needed to achieve.
As I said before, the government speakers list is lean because there are so many who have sold out their beliefs on this issue that they cannot bear to stand and speak on this bill. After the debate has concluded, I would imagine that the House will divide, and I will look forward to seeing those who have taken such a strong position against such matters in 2006 and since stand on the 'Yes' side. I know that the government will be working hard to ensure that there are not more than five on the 'No' side, because, if just six are counted on the 'No' side of this chamber in the division, the hypocrisy of every member of the government who sold out on principle will be enshrined in Hansard for evermore. The Labor Party have been wrong on this issue for over a decade, and this has been proven by the record of over 30,000 people arriving here illegally by boat. I call on them to admit that their policies have been unsuccessful and that their methods in trying to tackle people-smuggling have been wrong. I also call on them to embrace every component of the Howard government measures, the only combination of policies that has actually worked to stop people-smuggling.
This week, the government will have the opportunity to, at long last, restore temporary protection visas, which will take the appeal of permanent residencies used by people-smugglers off the table. For years, the Prime Minister and Labor have been handing a guaranteed permanent residency on a platter to those arriving on illegal boats. They have been offering a one-way visa path to permanent residency. I look forward to the coalition seeking to introduce a bill to restore TPVs and to deny people-smugglers the ability to sell permanent residency. As everyone on this side is well aware, since Labor abolished TPVs in 2008, people-smugglers have made millions of dollars using the guarantee of permanent residency under Labor's policies to sell their product to over 30,000 people who have arrived in Australia in more than 500 illegal boats. This move has contributed to a massive $6.6 billion budget blow-out in costs to Australian taxpayers, not to mention pushing immigration detention centres to full capacity.
On this side, we believe that 'temporary protection visa' should mean just that. People arriving on illegal boats will only be eligible to receive a temporary visa at best. The coalition TPVs will be for a period of up to three years, which will be determined at the time the visa is granted. Furthermore, all applicants will be subject to character and health requirements. Another aspect of our bill, an aspect that I have discussed numerous times in this place, is that, unlike Labor's policy, TPV holders will have no family reunion rights under any part of the immigration program and, if they decide to leave Australia at any time, they will have no right to re-enter the country. As was the case under the Howard government, TPV holders will be able to work. A coalition government will require that if they require benefits then such benefits—income support in particular—will be subject to mutual obligation requirements as a condition of the visa. A breach of their visa would be grounds for visa holders to be taken back into detention.
Over 30,000 people have arrived on illegal boats under the current government and more than 25 per cent of these have arrived since Labor announced offshore processing on Nauru. When it comes to restoring strong borders and immigration laws, Labor simply cannot be trusted to get the job done, which is why they have resorted to introducing the coalition's long-held policies. The government cannot stop the boats and they never will. While hypocrisy will be one of the unedifying epitaphs on the gravestone of the government, that does not actually help the Australian people. Every day in Cowan I am approached or contacted by constituents speaking of this issue. The themes that consistently arise are the waste of money that the Labor government have presided over, the billions of dollars in blow-outs to support those who arrive by boat and the billions spent on facilities that were not required when the boat arrivals dropped to as few as one a year. This is in contrast to yet another month in which over 2,000 have arrived illegally, and all this under the control of the Labor government.
Why do they come by boat? Why do so many pass through other countries in order to get a final destination of Australia? It is because the Labor government took away the temporary protection visa policy and dismantled the raft of measures that worked, thereby guaranteeing that, if the people-smugglers could get a boat to the Australian Navy, to Customs or to any point of land, it was mission accomplished—a guaranteed contract fulfilment; success. The terms of the agreement between those with money and the people-smugglers would be complete. Is it any wonder that the people-smugglers have a viable proposal to sell and that they have cashed in on the policy positions of this Labor government? As I have said before, none of this government's mismanagement is of any comfort or cause for gratitude to the people of this country or to us. The people want it fixed. And we know that every dollar wasted on this Labor government's continued failures is a dollar to be repaid after the next change of government.
Of course, after stuffing things up so badly, and spending and borrowing and taxing so much, the Labor Party will still have the option of whinging about the measures to be put in place to clean up the mess that they alone have created. That is the silver lining Labor always have after creating the dark clouds over so many policy areas in this country and throughout history.
As we know, this bill will pass because it is consistent with our long-term position and it is fundamentally the same legislation that was introduced and passed in the House of Representatives by the Howard-led government in 2006. However, more needs to be done, as we have always said. This is not enough: Nauru was not enough and offshore processing was not enough. We always said that, despite what the government might say. The Prime Minister has said in this place—in her usual mendacious manner—that we said Nauru was always going to be the solution. We never said Nauru alone was going to be the solution. What must be done now is to return to the policies that worked. I urge the government to back the coalition's bill, which is being introduced to put temporary protection visas back on the books where they belong—and then we will start to be almost back at the point where the government will have the most important tools needed to stop the boats.
So it is not a matter of having just one or two measures, like Nauru or the reintroduction of offshore processing that the federal government several years ago; it is a matter of bringing back the tried and true, the successful policies, and only one side has the will to do that—and, after the next election, I hope we will have the opportunity to complete the task that must be done.
The issue of migration and of refugees is one that is particularly close to my heart. I spoke in my first speech in this place about my mother's parents, a boilermaker and a teacher, who lived by the credo that if there was a spare room in the house it ought to be used by someone who needed the space. I remember as a little kid, eating at my grandparents' place and spending time speaking to migrants, some of them refugees—from Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.
I also told a story that still brings a lump to my throat about an art competition run as part of Refugee Week, where the first prize went to a Karen Burmese woman who had woven a traditional crimson tunic. She was missing her homeland so much that she had made a loom by taking the mattress of the wooden bed base and using the slats as a loom to weave a traditional Karen tunic. That story for me sums up the extraordinary courage and ability of Australia's refugees. It is why you will never hear me referring to refugees as 'illegals'. It is why you will never hear me using phrases like 'boatpeople'.
It was of course Australia's own Doc Evatt who was a key drafter of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which says in Article 14(1): 'Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.' And that is why there is nothing illegal about seeking asylum from persecution.
But what we have to do in this place is to find a set of policies that will end the sheer horror of drownings at sea. There have been over 1,000 drownings of asylum-seekers at sea over recent years. What that has meant is that, on the best estimates I have seen, about four per cent of those who have tried to get to Australia by boat have drowned doing so. It is a death rate which must give pause to anyone who simply says, 'Let everyone come.' There is nothing humane about a policy that says if you can take a leaky boat and make it to the shores of Australia you get to stay here as a refugee. To me that is a fundamentally inhumane policy.
We have got into this situation, in part, because of changes in technology. If you go back 20 years, you needed a somewhat more experienced sailor in charge of a fishing vessel to have a chance of making it from Indonesia to Christmas Island. The GPS has changed that. With a GPS device you can actually put a 15-year-old kid in charge of a fishing boat and he has a reasonable chance of making it to Christmas Island. It has meant that more people have attempted the dangerous journey and it has meant that we have seen more drownings at sea. That in turn has meant, as the member for Chifley said, that we need to rethink our policies. Like him, I see no shame in that. The greatest shame is to pursue a set of policies that are ineffective; you need to adopt policies that will stop drownings at sea. It is the old Keynes line: 'When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?'
It is those stories of drownings which have seared themselves into my consciousness. The late, great Senator Peter Cook chaired the SIEVX inquiry, an inquiry that was looking into an incident where at least 70 children drowned; at least 200 adults lost their lives. The member for Chifley, although he did not mention it in his speech, was one of those who were on the parliamentary inquiry that investigated the Christmas Island disaster, a disaster after which 30 bodies were recovered, including four juveniles and four infants. Another 20 were missing, presumed dead. There have been others. Some of the worst of those were where vessels were simply lost at sea, where everyone on those vessels perished.
Like the member for Chifley, I believe that the most effective way of reducing the flow of unseaworthy vessels, and the risk to those aboard them, was the Malaysia agreement. The Malaysia agreement was one which, as the Houston panel noted, was 'vitally important'. I still support that agreement. I still hope for the day that those in the opposition will support an arrangement that would provide the clearest possible message to those considering getting onto leaky boats: don't do it, because you will be returned to one of the largest asylum-seeker camps in our region.
The 'no-advantage principle', the rock on which the Houston report is grounded, is a clear principle but it is more difficult to implement through measures available to us through the use of Nauru and Manus islands and bridging visas in Australia. Far more effective would be an agreement with Malaysia.
One of the chief arguments raised against returning refugees to Malaysia is that Malaysia is not a signatory to the refugee convention. That is an issue raised by those opposite. It is also an issue that is frequently raised with me by local Labor Party branch members. I had to smile when the member for Cowan suggested that somehow my speaking in this debate was a way of securing my preselection, because I can promise you there is deep disquiet among many of my branch members on this issue. The argument I would make to them and that I would make today to the House is that we must see the refugee convention in its historical light. We must recognise the way in which that document was drafted and we have to recognise that some of the aspects of the refugee convention are difficult. Indeed, the member for Cook himself said that the refugee convention 'no longer reflects the practical reality'. It is a document which was drafted to deal with the flow of refugees in the aftermath of World War II.
The result is that we now have three groups of countries in the world when it comes to the refugee convention. We have developed countries with the ability to patrol their borders who are happy to sign the refugee convention. We have developing nations which receive few asylum seekers—for instance, Somalia or Iran—and are willing to sign. But there is a third set of countries—such as India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia—who are reluctant to sign. These are countries situated close to refugee sending nations who recognise that, were they to sign up to the refugee convention, they would be obligated to take, house and resettle all of the refugees with genuine claims who came over their borders. That is simply impractical for some of these countries to do. Pakistan, as of the end of last year, had 1.7 million refugees. For these developing countries the cost of processing asylum seeker claims, let alone the cost of meeting education, health and housing obligations, would be prohibitive. The cost is what prevents them from signing the refugee convention.
You do not have to take my word for it. In April 2007 the Malaysian foreign ministry's parliamentary secretary told the news outlet Malaysiakini that it would not officially recognise refugees since 'the government is of the opinion that if Malaysia becomes party to the convention, considering its strategic geographical location in the region, it would be a drawing factor for refugees to come to Malaysia'. It is for that set of reasons that the Malaysian government has not signed the refugee convention. Malaysia is a party to many international agreements. The reputation of the Malaysian government has been done a deep disservice by those on the other side of the House in the context of the asylum seeker debate.
It strikes me that there is little consistency in the coalition's opposition to the Malaysia agreement based on Malaysia not having signed the refugee convention. The Howard government used Nauru to process asylum seekers at a time when Nauru was not a signatory to the refugee convention. The opposition would have boats turned back to Indonesia, a country which has not signed the refugee convention. I think what is demanded of all of us in this debate is a practical approach which recognises the reality of asylum seeker flows. GPS technology means younger and younger skippers are crewing boats. We need to work with non-signatory countries. Rather than being bound to a policy which has more people drowning at sea, we need to recognise the geopolitical realities as to why the Malaysian government does not sign the refugee convention.
The government is committed to implementing the recommendations of the Houston report. Those recommendations include working through a managed regional system. That approach is grounded in the Bali process, of which Australia is a core part and recognises that, around the world, there are around 40 million internally displaced people and asylum seekers—nearly twice the population of Australia. It is never going to be possible for Australia to resettle all of those who would like to seek asylum in Australia. Our best contribution will come from working regionally and finding approaches which have a reasonable sharing of the burden across countries which are willing to settle refugees. That is a classic role Australia has played—a middle-power diplomacy working cooperatively with countries in our region. I commend the Prime Minister and the foreign minister for their work in the East Asia Summit and their constant advocacy of good policy in the region and cooperative policy with those around us.
When I last spoke in this debate I said that I hoped the refugee intake would one day be increased to 20,000. I am now pleased to be able to welcome that increase to 20,000 places, which has occurred through the Houston report. I believe that Australia can, and should be able to, settle more refugees. I am very proud of the organisations in my own electorate of Fraser who do such good work with refugees. They are committed to rolling out the welcome mat to people who have been assessed as genuine refugees, and helping them become a strong part of the Canberra community.
In closing, I also acknowledge Sarah Staege, a temporary migrant to Australia, who is in the gallery today with three of her colleagues. This indicates the benefits of migration to Australia.
It may help the member, who is just about to leave, to hear some of this. I have been the subject of a great deal of comment for having some very strong views about the integrity of our border arrangements and on the need for government to be assiduous in dealing with those issues. But often people do not understand the reasons I have that strength of view on those matters. They arise because for most of my time in public life—and, as many know, I have been in this chamber as a member of the House of Representatives for 39 years—I have taken a great deal of personal interest in the plight of refugees. I have visited camps right around the world where I suspect few of my colleagues have ever been. I went to Traiskirchen, where I saw Eastern Europeans. I went to Hong Kong when the Vietnamese were fleeing. I went to Thailand to see the Cambodians who fled over the border. I went to Pakistan to see the Afghans who had fled. I went to the Balkans, where I saw Croats, Serbs, Bosnians and so many others displaced. I went to Kosovo.
But perhaps the greatest impact on me was going to Africa and seeing some 90,000 people—and I think the numbers have risen beyond that since then—in a camp called Kakuma, in northern Kenya. There were Congolese, Sudanese, Somalis and Ethiopians. These were not people who would ever meet a people smuggler. These were not people who had money in their pockets to be able to pay to be trafficked to wherever they may have preferred to be! These were people who often were in immediate risk even though they had fled, thinking they might be safe.
It has always fascinated me to know there are 42 million people in the world who are displaced or refugees, with at least 10 million of them assessed to be refugees. In reality, most of those people are never going to be able to find a place for resettlement in the way in which those who make it to Australia and engage our protection obligations have been able to.
We ask ourselves, why is it those who have the money to pay to be trafficked should be given priority? What makes it so important that their needs, which are just the same as the other 10 million people's needs, assessed in exactly the same way, are greater? In my more cynical moments I suggest to the government that it could deal with its budget issues. It could go to Kakuma and say: 'Who's got $10,000? We'll give you a place.' When I suggest that to people they laugh. They say, 'The government couldn't go and ask for money to determine who should get a place.' Then why should the places be determined because we are party to a refugee convention, because people can engage a people smuggler who gets them to the front of the queue? I have said that for years, and it justified, in my view—morally and appropriately—every decision I ever took as minister.
We did not need to be in a position where we had some 30,000 people knocking at our door. There were some people on the other side of the chamber, and not many of them are here to hear it, who had a view that I was some dreadful ogre, that the Howard government was unconscionable in the way it dealt with these issues, that the measures we implemented were not needed. It was not a question of whether they would work or not work; they were not needed! They were morally reprehensible! We had a change of government and one by one all of the measures that were in place and working, saving people's lives, preventing people getting on vessels and enabling us to resettle those people who needed help most were stripped away. When the government finds that having stripped away all those measures it has a problem then it does not want to adopt the measures that worked; it thinks it has to find its own way forward. But, progressively, the government is picking up each of the measures.
I have a mischievous sense of humour in relation to these things. I do not think there is any one magic bullet in the measures that we used. I do not think it is a menu you can pick and choose from: 'If we adopt this entree that will stop the boats.' In my view you need the full menu. If I were cynical I would say, 'You have to make a meal of it.' But this government is not prepared to do that. It is not prepared to adopt temporary protection visas. They may get a chance to think about that. It is perfectly proper under the refugee convention—that convention makes it very clear that our obligation is not to return people to situations of persecution. That is the obligation. It is not to give them permanent residency—it does not say anything about that. So if you find that circumstances change and people can go home then why should that not happen? It has happened. We did it in relation to the Kosovans we brought to Australia and settled here temporarily. We supported them, and when circumstances were such that they could go home that was the case. There have been times when Afghans have been able to go home. I suspect there will be times when many others who seek to engage our protection obligations could, in fact, go home. I do not think that, in principle, there is anything wrong with it, but the Labor Party has not been prepared to pick it up.
Turning boats around: it is fascinating looking at the way in which the government is dealing at the moment with some of the Singhalese and Sri Lankans that are arriving in Australia. Upon initial inquiry it has them on the first plane back that it can find. Yet they are super-critical of those who say, 'Well, if somebody is coming in in a boat and you can safely turn it around, why shouldn't you?'
The bill we are debating is about a measure of which the Labor Party said, when we were in office, should not have been pursued. This is about using the colloquial jargon. This is about excision of the whole of Australia from the migration zone. Some people laugh when you say you are going to exclude Australia from the migration zone. But that is what this bill is about. This is the Labor Party, in office, introducing legislation to achieve this end, when they vigorously opposed it before.
I suspect it is not going to make very much difference. One of the reasons is that they have made some other decisions about the consequences of what happens if you have not arrived in the migration zone. They go to the way in which your claims are assessed and processed. Effectively, this government took decisions at an earlier point in time in which the consequences of having not arrived in the migration zone have been essentially diminished. Those who are going to be affected by this legislation can be transferred in and out of Australia, but it is not going to affect the way in which their claims are going to be processed and it is not going to affect the multi-tiered approach in relation to judicial review on top of initial decision making.
All of the matters that this government has been responsible for putting in place—those measures that have compounded the problem and made it more difficult for us to get those people who are not refugees out of the system and returned home as quickly as possible and that have ensured we have something like 99 per cent of those people who arrive by boat being found to be refugees, or at least contesting them—will in fact remain.
This legislation, which the government believes is going to assist, will not deal with those fundamental questions, and they still remain unaddressed. We are dealing with a situation where only several hundred of those 30,000 people who have arrived have been able to be removed—the 500 or so Sri Lankans who have been able to be removed. But the message is still out there for the people-smugglers: if we can get you to Australia you will have a place in which you will be able to stay. I do not believe it, even when the government says it, that they are only going to give people bridging visas, that they are not going to process them in any expeditious way but leave them in limbo for five years, and that that will stop people from working. I do not know what they will do if they find that somebody on a bridging visa has been out there engaging in employment unlawfully. Are they going to say, 'Oh, look, you've breached your visa condition. We are going to terminate it and return you home.' No. They might say, 'We will take you into detention.' But I suspect they will be saying, 'Gee, I hope we don't find anybody, because we have no detention accommodation left.'
This is a situation in which the Labor Party, who held out that they had consciences above everybody else, are now disclosing, absolutely, their hypocrisy in relation to these matters. That needs to be clearly understood by the Australian people. They are adopting measures they hope may enable this issue to be dealt with, but I suspect the half-hearted way in which they are proceeding with these matters will leave them with a continuing problem. I do not like it. I want to see Australia able to hold its head up high helping those refugees who need help most, those people who languish in places like Kakuma and are in immediate risk and danger. They are never going to be helped because the places are being lost to those people who have the money to pay, to those people whom we are seeing day after day continuing to turn up here because smugglers have led them to believe that they can get them to the front of the queue. And it is a queue. Part of the problem is that it is a very long queue. But it is a queue, and the government ought to be able to go out there and hold their heads up high and say, 'We are serious about dealing with these matters.'