House debates

Thursday, 30 November 2023

Matters of Public Importance

Immigration Detention

3:37 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government's chaotic handling of the release of hardcore criminals into the community has put Australians at risk.

I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

3:38 pm

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

This matter of public importance debate is an opportunity to really reflect on a government that clearly, in the eyes of the Australian public, is not only a disappointment but now is making grave mistakes, the consequences of which will likely be felt, sadly and tragically, by the Australian people. The fact is that the immigration minister of the day needs to deal with cases on a regular basis. We're a migrant population. We have people moving across our borders every day. But the Australian public rely on the minister for immigration and, of course, the Prime Minister to be in a position to make decisions in our country's best interests, to make decisions to allow people to stay in the right circumstances and for them to be deported from our country in very quick fashion if they commit offences or on other grounds they breach the migration laws. That's why this minister stands condemned today. It's why this minister's position is untenable and it's why, if we had a strong Prime Minister and not a weak Prime Minister, he would have already been sacked.

If he had any self-respect of dignity, he already would have taken the decision to resign himself. That's the reality.

When we look at what is before us, we see these cases are referred regularly to the High Court. The minister for immigration is the most litigated minister in the Commonwealth. In relation to this particular case—NZYQ—the minister for immigration, as we now know, given that the High Court has published details, facts and reasons in their judgement, conceded a point which he should not have conceded. He conceded a point erroneously in agreeing to the court that NZYQ had no prospect of return. In that circumstance, the High Court has legitimate reason to find as they did, but the concession should never have been made. Had the concession never been made, the High Court would never have found in favour of NZYQ.

Now, this is an individual case, and individual cases can be part of case law and part of considerations and appeals over a long period of time. Some of them are consequential. Some of them apply only to the facts in relation to that matter. This case is hugely consequential because it has led to a decision—again, erroneously taken by the minister—to release now 142 additional criminals, people of significant criminal histories, people who have committed sexual offences against children and against women, people who are members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, people who have harmed the community, people who have killed Australians. This minister, as it turns out now that we read the High Court's words, was not instructed by the High Court to release those individuals. There's no reason, we now know, why those people should be released into the community, why they're now at large in the community.

In some cases, the minister went even further in his negligence and released people without ankle bracelets, so there was no comprehension of their location, where they were—in relation to those that had committed sexual offences against children, whether they were in the proximity of schools, preschools or childcare centres. In some cases, at least initially, given the failings in the first wave of legislation, the conditions of the visa release were completely unenforceable. That was another failing of this minister.

This Prime Minister sits idly by. It's telling that he's not in the chamber today to defend his minister. Does he have confidence in this minister? How can he have confidence in this minister? There are people who have been released unnecessarily into the community, and that rests on the shoulders of the minister for immigration. When the minister comes to this dispatch box, he should issue to the Australian public an unqualified apology. He should hang his head in shame and apologise because it's clear that this minister has put Australians at risk.

And it's not just the 142 that we're talking about now. There is the potential for hundreds more to be released in similar circumstances because we have a minister who is following his ideological inclination, not who is acting in our country's best interest. That's what we're seeing here at the moment. That's the reality of what we're dealing with. I don't believe his position is tenable, and I fear for Australians who may be the next victim at the hands of one of these vicious criminals. I think that is the concern that many Australians have—let's be very honest.

When the government first came into this parliament—remember when the Prime Minister was off overseas again—they said: 'We've got this decision from the High Court, but we don't yet have the reasons handed down, so we're acting in advance of finding out the true advice from the High Court. But there's nothing we can do about it. There's no legislation.

There's no ability for us to legislate and to try and keep these people in custody, to try and apply conditions or to try and impose a regime that would go some way to providing security or safety to the Australian public.' As it turns out, because the coalition took a stance and moved six amendments and convinced the government that that there was legislation that was possible, they eventually adopted the position, but only because the Prime Minister was out of the country. The Acting Prime Minister approached me to say: 'Okay, we admit that we got it wrong. We'll take up your suggestions, and we'll support your amendments through the parliament.'

What did those amendments provide? Well, the minister didn't have the capacity to contemplate that paedophiles should be kept from schools. He didn't have the capacity to know that those people who had committed serious offences or murder shouldn't be contacting the victims of crime or the family of a deceased victim of crime—and there were other measures that we put in place. That's what we put in place that Labor never had the wit to imagine. I fear what would have happened had the government not adopted the proposals put forward by the coalition.

We've got a situation at the moment where there's another bill that's been pulled today from the Senate. That's the citizenship bill. The government again came to us in a panic this week and said: 'We want this bill passed through both houses on Monday.' We sat down and had a briefing. We said, 'What's the urgency in relation to the citizenship bill?' It doesn't apply to Benbrika, the most dangerous terrorist convicted in our courts. It doesn't apply to the other three high-profile terrorists who have been convicted and who have offended against Australians. It doesn't have any application to cases which are before the court at the moment. It doesn't have any applicability to a case where there is a pending sentence. It doesn't have any applicability, we were advised, in relation to a matter that's about to be rushed before the courts. So why such urgency? Because the government was looking for political cover; that's why. They were driven by a political imperative to try and cover up their mess, to try and somehow look strong by driving through, in a hurried fashion, national security legislation.

As it turns out, there are deep flaws in the citizenship bill as well. We have made a number of recommendations and a number of amendments, which include stripping paedophiles of citizenship. Do you know what the government has done? They've gone to water on that issue, and they've pulled the bill from the Senate today. They had the opportunity to get our support today to pass that bill in an amended form which would see terrorists, those who have committed acts of espionage against our country, child sex offenders, those who have been convicted of extraterritorial murder of Australians and those who have committed many other offences of a similar character lose their Australian citizenship. What happened? Here we are on Thursday, the last sitting day of this week, and the bill still hasn't passed. The advice of Monday that the bill had to be passed urgently has lapsed. The government sought our support this morning to suspend standing orders in the Senate to bring the bill on, to which we agreed. Crickets! Nothing!

If the Australian public thinks the wheels are falling off this Albanese government, if the Australian public is losing confidence in their Prime Minister, they are spot on. Their instinct is dead right. This Prime Minister is taking our country in the wrong direction. He is causing harm in the Australian community. He is a weak and failed Prime Minister.

3:48 pm

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

This is an MPI that reveals quite a lot about the opposition and its leader—much more about those than anything else. It really does speak to the determination of someone who in more than two decades in public life has never made a positive contribution, whose inclination at every turn is to divide, whose inclination—

Hon. Members:

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Just stop for a moment, Minister. The Leader of the Opposition was heard in silence, and I assured that. I don't want—

Sorry? Member for Hume, would you like to have some contribution to this debate? Right. I'm just asking for a little bit of respect either side here. Minister, you have the call.

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

As I was saying, the disposition of the Leader of the Opposition is always to divide. He is addicted to opposition, and he has never proved himself to be a leader, and you see this throughout his conduct over the last couple of weeks. All of us in public life face choices, and one of the key choices when challenges emerge is whether you take responsibility or look for someone to blame. I can assure you that the Leader of the Opposition and those who sit alongside him always look for someone to blame, and we've seen that through the extraordinary anger.

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Projection 101—a classic Labor tactic.

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

There's an interjection about projection. I think in question time this week we saw a lot of projection, as we do. The Leader of the Opposition spends a lot of time talking about weakness and toughness. He loves describing himself as tough. But what we've seen throughout his time in public life is that his rhetoric is completely undermined by his actions and, indeed, by his inactions too.

His record as a minister over the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government really bears this out. In question time this week we saw the Deputy Prime Minister eviscerate his record in defence, which is quite something given the number of defence ministers under that former government.

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Look, if you're going to leave the chamber, please do so quietly, or I'll be having you back in here to apologise.

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

He is someone who was regarded by stakeholders as Australia's worst health minister. But it's his record in immigration and in home affairs—which is his creature, really—that really is the most important and most concerning thing—along with, it has to be said, his disposition.

Earlier, I referred in question time to comments of the former attorney-general former senator Brandis. He had more to say in his valedictory, which is worth repeating. He talked about his concern about powerful right-wing elements who've abandoned both liberalism and conservatism, and he touched particularly on conservatism's respect for institutions and about abandoning that 'in favour of a belligerent, intolerant populism'. Does that sound familiar, anyone—a belligerent, intolerable populism? If anything sums up the attitude of this Leader of the Opposition, it is that, particularly through this year, with his relentless campaign, which I though was about defending the sacrosanct nature of the Australian Constitution when it came to that generous offer from First Nations people. But, as soon as it became convenient, he was prepared to trash the Constitution and, frankly, as we've seen in recent days, to trash the separation of powers and trash any sense of regard for the rule of law. Senator Brandis, as he then was, went on:

I have heard some powerful voices argue that the coalition should open a political front against the Labor Party on the issue of domestic national security. I could not disagree more strongly … Nothing could be more irresponsible than to hazard the safety of the public by creating a confected dispute for political advantage.

He was right then, and recent weeks have proven him to be even more right with the passage of time.

It is worth repeating that every member of this place and every member of the other place is concerned for the safety of the community. It is worth repeating. My focus as minister for immigration, through this time and throughout the time that I've been privileged to hold this office, has been resolutely on that. I noted that in the contribution of the Leader of the Opposition he didn't particularly focus on some rather glaring omissions when it came to his record, including in respect of the NZYQ matter. But it begins before that, because of course it was he more than anyone else who oversaw a broken migration system in this country—an absolutely trashed migration system. When we came into government, we inherited a mess, and perhaps one of the most visible symbols of that mess was the million visas waiting to be processed. It went so much deeper than that. One of the key failings of the former minister, now Leader of the Opposition, the man who always talks tough but in whom, when you scratch the surface, weakness appears almost immediately and marks him indelibly—

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Talk about your own legislation.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I just warned the House about interjections, Member for Gippsland. You weren't in the chamber, but I'm giving you the courtesy of warning you now.

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

He cut compliance functions in immigration in half. And what happened because of that? Well, Christine Nixon had a bit to say: rampant sexual exploitation, organised crime running rampant and our protection system absolutely trashed. These are scars which persist, and we have taken responsibility for fixing the problem. We continue to do that, because every decision we make is with the safety and the values of the Australian community in mind.

It was really disappointing that the Leader of the National Party, someone for whom I have some regard, asked a question which spoke about the commitment we have made to Border Force, the Federal Police and the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions in utterly inappropriate terms. Those investments are absolutely critical to keeping communities safe.

Something that's also critical is for parliamentarians and anyone who holds public office to speak the truth, to not mischaracterise facts—particularly wilfully. The commentary on the High Court decision is, frankly, absolutely unworthy of any member of this place. Members should reflect on their wider responsibilities as lawmakers, particularly those who have held significant executive responsibilities previously.

It is worth repeating a couple of points in respect of this story. It is the case that the Commonwealth vigorously defended the proceeding. We did so, and we also sought to maintain the detention of the individual in question—unlike, it has to be said, certain former ministers. Before the decision we took some steps to let state and territory law enforcement officials know that there could be an adverse decision and to prepare for that. We also undertook a range of steps ourselves. Immediately after the decision we set up Operation AEGIS to coordinate the work of the ABF, the Australian Federal Police and those state and territory agencies. We got to work, despite what they said otherwise, immediately on exploring what regulatory and legislative options would be open to us, having regard to the limited nature of the information we had when we only had the order, not the reasons for the decision.

Within eight days we passed a bill through this parliament—strong new laws. I acknowledge the cooperation of the opposition in securing the passage of those laws. When we looked at those laws, which were moved through quickly and contained significant amendments, we sought to boost the sanctions available in them and to improve the laws otherwise, as any reasonable government would. Indeed, as I indicated on the morning those laws became operative, we will continue to review them to ensure community safety is maximised.

We introduced new laws and briefed the opposition on them. For some reason, despite the fact they created offence provisions in respect of the very amendments they put forward as visa conditions, they voted against them not once but twice.

Photo of Sam RaeSam Rae (Hawke, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's strange!

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I think someone should have explained that to the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party; that would have assisted her and perhaps also assisted the House.

We now have reasons, and we're working through those reasons, as my friend the Minister for Home Affairs said in anticipation of the reasons being delivered, with a particular view to looking to see how we can design a preventative detention mechanism—and a mechanism that's lawful, because one thing we also know about the Leader of the Opposition is he tends to rush to judgement and he tends to get things wrong. As I've had the opportunity to say more often than I would have liked, tough talk doesn't keep people safe; tough laws do—and that means constitutionally sound laws. He has got a track record of failing there, consistently. We are determined to get it right because community safety must be our No. 1 priority. This should be a shared priority of members across this chamber and indeed in the other place.

I say to members opposite and their colleagues in the Senate: we have an opportunity to come together to put in place a legal framework that is proportionate, is defensible and will help keep Australians safe. The question for them is: do they want to continue to seek to divide or do they want to make a positive contribution?

3:58 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm glad that the minister has talked about taking responsibility. If he is serious about taking responsibility, the first thing he'll do is own his own actions. If he owns his own actions—

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

or inaction, but in this instance his own actions—then we will be able to get to the bottom of why we are in this mess.

It is a statement of fact that the government told the High Court it was an agreed fact that, at 30 May 2023, there was no real prospect of NZYQ being removed from Australia in the reasonably foreseeable future. Now, Minister, as you disappear from the chamber, you need to take responsibility for the fact that you did that, because that is what led to 142 hardened criminals now being out in the community. And there are more questions that need to be answered by the minister so that the Australian people know they are being kept safe.

First: why, through sheer incompetence did you do that? Then, once those 142 were released, why have you failed to provide information about every single one of them? One of the things the government has kept secret—you get up here next and tell me the answer to this thing—on Monday it was said that 141 detainees were released, yet the head of Border Force said that only 138 will be required to wear ankle bracelets and to be monitored. What happened to the other three? Are any of them in custody? Is it said that the minister made the decision that they didn't have to wear ankle bracelets? So, whoever's next on that side—because you laughed when I said we need information for the public—come up and tell us the answer to that. What has happened to those three? Where are they?

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order, Deputy Speaker: I'd ask the member to address his comments through the chair.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. It does help to depersonalise the comments, as the standing orders suggest—through me.

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker, I ask a member of the government to come to the dispatch box and tell us what has happened to those three. Did the minister say that they don't need to wear ankle bracelets? Or is one of them in custody? And if they're in custody, what are they in custody for? We don't know the answer to that. We still do not know, for the 142, what the crimes are that they committed. We don't know the reasons the absconder absconded. We've read media reports that he absconded because when he left detention he wasn't told that he had any requirements on him. That's what the media reports are saying. That's how he absconded.

Then there is the question about the detainee who took the pregnant woman and blew her up. Al Jazeera has reported that he was released without requirements. When I asked the minister about that yesterday, even though it had been on Al Jazeera and on Sky the day before, he said he knew nothing about it. How hopeless and hapless can you get? And today, did he come in and give an explanation? No, he didn't. So, the Australian public are still wondering whether a detainee who murdered someone and blew the body up was released without any requirements. Have requirements now been put in place, Minister?

That is responsibility: owning your action—or your inaction—fessing up and saying, 'Sorry; the buck stops with me.' And I say this to the Prime Minister, because the Leader of the Opposition is absolutely right: you are not across the detail, and you are not ensuring that your minister is across the detail. So you both deserve to be condemned. But the No. 1priority of any government is to keep the Australian population safe, and the minister for immigration has failed to do that, and that is why he should go. (Time expired)

4:03 pm

Photo of Andrew CharltonAndrew Charlton (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am delighted that those opposite, particularly the Leader of the Opposition, have decided to stand in this place and discuss the handling of migration matters as the matter of public importance. The reason I'm delighted is that it gives us a wonderful opportunity to review the record of those opposite when they were in government—specifically, the record of the Leader of the Opposition, who was then the Minister for Immigration and the Minister for Home Affairs. The record of the Leader of Opposition at that time was characterised by one feature, and that feature was tough talk and weak action.

Let's remind ourselves of some of the greatest hits of the Leader of Opposition when he was the Minister for Home Affairs. Everyone will remember that time as a time when he talked a lot about boat arrivals. He really worked hard to demonise refugees during those years.

Remember he bought the fancy new uniforms for the Border Force, the $6 million uniforms? Beautiful touch—fantastic touch! While he was talking tough, while he was buying those expensive new uniforms, he was so busy punching down that he forgot to look up.

At the time when he was the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, between 2014 and 2018, non-boat arrivals increased from 8,500 to 27,000. So busy was he with the new uniforms and looking out over the water that he forgot to notice a tripling of non-boat arrivals. At the same time, the number of visitor visa holders who contributed to net overseas migration increased from 50,000 to 78,000. There he was, punching down on the refugees who came by boat, all the while seeing a massive increase in unregulated migration.

The previous speaker accused this government of not being across the detail, and that reminded me of one of my favourite moments from the last month. That moment was when the Leader of the Opposition puffed himself up and came out swinging with a big accusation about this government. Speaking in Perth on 4 October, he said:

Why did they lose control of our borders … ? Why have they allowed 105,000 asylum seekers into our country over the last 15 months?

He underlined the point, saying, Labor 'presided over 105,000 asylum seekers over the course of the last 15 months'. Unfortunately, when the department and the former deputy secretary checked those numbers, it was revealed that 94,000 of them were let in under the watch of those opposite. That's 90 per cent of his claim of 105,000, brought in under their watch. What a gaffe. It's unbelievable that he's not across even the most basic elements of the detail of the policy in this area.

Let's remember back in 2019 when he was the home affairs minister. He created a backlog of more than 221,000 people waiting for citizenship applications. In fact, just a year earlier the situation was even worse. The Auditor-General said that in 2019 the citizenship applications pipeline was bogged down with more than 244,000 applications. That was a 15-year low in applications processing. He was unable to complete even the most basic elements of the management and running of that department.

It's no wonder that, while he was talking tough but doing nothing, the Nixon review found that Australia's protection visa system was allowed to be exploited by criminals. The Nixon review spoke of grotesque abuses characterised by human trafficking, organised crime and sexual exploitation. While the Leader of the Opposition was talking tough but doing nothing, the review revealed a range of disturbing practices that went under the radar under his watch. The review found that of all the migration agents used by people wishing to enter Australia, 40 per cent were unregistered. These are the basic elements of running the department of immigration: making sure we don't have a 15-year record backlog, making sure that migration agents are properly registered and making sure that you're watching the arrivals into this country from any source. He wasn't doing any of those things, because he was too busy talking tough, buying fancy new uniforms and demonising refugees—punching down while not looking up and not being across the detail. This is the characterisation of the Leader of the Opposition: he talks tough, but he does nothing.

4:08 pm

Photo of Keith WolahanKeith Wolahan (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Parramatta is a serious person with a serious intellect, but that was not a serious contribution. It was not a serious contribution for one of the most important debates this parliament has had, which is about keeping the public safe. That goes to whether the people trust this government to keep them safe. When given an opportunity to answer questions or to explain themselves, the relevant ministers engage in whataboutism. In fact, the member for Parramatta commenced his contribution by welcoming this as an opportunity to talk about the greatest hits of the opposition.

Greatest hits—that's a cute line, but it's a not a serious contribution.

In addition to blame, we've actually seen the government seek to blame the High Court. They've said they were surprised by this. It was a jack-in-the-box judgement. It was like: 'Surprise!' No-one expected it. Let's interrogate that. We had the reasons from the High Court on Tuesday 28 November, and I want to go through the relevant time line. On 7 and 8 November we had the hearing and the order. So 8 November was the date on which, the government claims, it was surprised that a 20-year precedent had been overturned. But let's go back further. On 1 September we had submissions made on this matter and on 2 June we had a special leave application.

So over the preceding months a lot of things happened—a lot of serious things by serious people who put in a lot of work on this question. They didn't do it because it was pointless or because it was going to get nowhere. They did it because they thought it had a proper and probable chance of success, and the government knew that too.

I want to note some things. In the proceedings of the special leave application and the two days of hearings, there were 99 pages of transcript. That involved 14 counsel, six of whom were silks. There were six silks and eight juniors, plus all of these solicitors. It involved the full bench of the High Court—seven High Court judges—with all of their staff and all of their resources. They were considering written submissions that went to 94 pages. I'd like to reference some of those. The plaintiff's submission, in paragraph 1, says:

The Plaintiff accepts that both propositions are contrary to Al-Kateb v Godwin. To the extent necessary, that decision should be overruled.

In paragraph 1 they were flagging what the purpose of this case was about.

Then the respondent's submission notes throughout that this very question is the question before the court. It acknowledges in paragraph 1, which the ministers would have signed off on:

Accordingly, the first issue is whether leave should be granted to re-open Al-Kateb. If that leave is granted, the second issue is the correctness of the construction …

That was the question. That was the debate before the High Court.

Then the government would have us believe that, through all of the submissions and all of the work, they were all wasting their time. All of these submissions were just put together for a pointless debating exercise. There were seven justices of the High Court, 14 counsel, six silks—some of the best in the country. We had the plaintiff and the defendant. We had the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Law Centre make submissions, and their submissions also noted that there was a serious question about Al-Kateb. But, again, the government would have us believe that they were all wasting their time.

The shadow minister made a very important point: cases are decided by facts and law. We had 14 counsel make submissions on the law, but they would have taken, on instruction, the facts. They would have had a conference. They would have sat down with the minister and the minister's adviser and the department, and they would have put in the documents 'no real prospect of being removed'. The very fact that decided this case was on instruction from the minister. So you can't say: 'This was a surprise. I wasn't ready.'

Anyone who has looked after others knows that you can hope for the best but you plan for the worst. What is clear is that there was no planning from this government and that this is on them.

4:13 pm

Photo of Michelle Ananda-RajahMichelle Ananda-Rajah (Higgins, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Some days when I'm in this place I feel like I'm an alchemist turning piles of ash into gold—or trying to. And what do those piles of ash represent, colleagues? They represent the torched policies of those opposite in just about every single portfolio. They refer to the laundry list of Liberal legacies that we inherited when we formed government and that was bequeathed to the Australian people.

Let's start with the collapse of bulk-billing, a topic close to my heart. The Medicare system was on life support. There was a housing crisis because they neglected to attend to supply, leaving it to the states and washing their hands. There was energy chaos and secrecy. There was a skills black hole where productivity went to die. In fact, we had the lowest productivity in a generation.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I raise a point of order on relevance, Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm listening to it. Don't you worry.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

It's been a minute and she hasn't even touched on the subject of the MPI.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Am I taking another point of order, Minister?

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

Very briefly. Traditionally MPIs get a fair rein. I urge the shadow minister to consider the repercussions of interrupting a debate like this for the rest of—

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is actually day two of this kind of point of order being raised, so there is a little pattern developing which we will consider. But I am listening closely to the member. There has been a fairly wide-ranging debate on both sides, and I am sure that at some point there will be a reference back to the MPI.

Photo of Michelle Ananda-RajahMichelle Ananda-Rajah (Higgins, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was going through the Liberal legacy that we inherited. I will get to the point of this MPI, but I just want to remind everyone what we are dealing with and the context that we have inherited. It reflects the competency of those opposite when they were in government.

We had 28 major defence projects that were running a collective 97 years late, nearly a century. Let's not forget the secret ministries which almost certainly contributed to this disaster, a welcome mat that was laid out for corruption to bloom in this country thanks to a lack of leadership around legislating the National Anti-Corruption Commission, robodebt, reflective of a broken culture where the bureaucracy became hostile to the Australian public, and rorting of the migration system which allowed all kinds of criminals syndicates to flourish in Australia, including allowing modern-day slavery to thrive right under our noses. Let's not forget the trade embargoes, stagnant wages and, of course—the big one—inaction on climate change.

But why stop there? We now also have to deal with unconstitutional detention laws. We had to deal with the release of long-term detainees. This decision was not made lightly. It was made by the full bench of the High Court. It was a decision that we resisted, argued against and were disappointed was handed down. But we respect the decision. Why? Because we live in a country that respects the rule of law. The High Court determined that the minister could not be the judge, jury and proverbial executioner, that the minister could not be the one who could punt a person from this country, deport them. That was a decision made by the full bench.

The question is: where those opposite forewarned? It turns out they were forewarned. They were forewarned by our now Attorney-General, who raised questions of validity when these laws were crafted all those years ago under the stewardship of the current Leader of the Opposition. But did they listen? No. In characteristic style, they did not listen. They barrelled through, and now we are having to clean up this mess.

We as a government have acted swiftly, and we thank those opposite for cooperation in helping to enact these laws in a moment of crisis to keep the community safe. We brought in stringent post-offending controls, including electronic monitoring, individual case management, social media monitoring of these individuals and setting up exclusion zones around places where children frequent. We have also boosted the services of the AFP and Border Force as well as the Commonwealth public prosecutions office. But we need to do more, and we urge cooperation in order to keep Australians safe.

4:18 pm

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

It is an absolute privilege, through the opportunity afforded to the House for the remainder of the MPI, to be able to stand and speak on the government's chaotic handling of the release of hardcore criminals into the community that has put Australians at risk. During the course of the debate since these detainees were released onto the streets, we on this side of the House have been asking a series of questions. The MPI provides those opposite with one last opportunity to try to answer some of these questions. We have asked in this place: how many murderers have been released into the community? We have asked those questions. They know.

Those on the other side of the House know how many but have not shared that completely with us. They have not been transparent. How many rapists? In the first account we saw that there were 141 detainees, but then in the next tranche, how many? We just don't have a line of sight to it. Australians deserve to know. It's incumbent upon you, as a government, to be transparent.

Another question: how many drug traffickers have been let out? It's abhorrent. If they were out on our streets at home, I'd want to know for the protection of my community and for the protection of my children. How many gang members? How many bikie members have been let out into our communities? These are questions that are not unreasonable. These are questions that are quite easily answerable by those on the other side, because they have access to all of this information. But for some reason those on the other side have found it safer to keep that information hidden from the Australian public.

The MPI today is an opportunity, the last opportunity before we rise, for those opposite to answer some of these questions. The opposition has asked the government on a number of occasions the exact nature of the visas that these criminals, these detainees, are on while they're roaming around the community. What are the conditions that are keeping Australians safe? What is the nature of the supervisions that these criminals are under? If anything, we know that bracelets are on some of them. We know that the bracelets are not on others. Those on the other side know exactly who they are. All I say is the Australian public has absolutely every right to know as well, and it shouldn't be kept from them. What resources does the government have if a criminal breaches a visa condition? What's available for them to exercise? More importantly, it flies in the face of our pensioners and those in our communities that are on welfare, that have made contributions all their life to our community.

The Australian public have a right to know how much financial support this government is providing these detainees. They know the answer. The Australian public has the right to know. Are they being provided accommodation, and how long will that accommodation be provided for? There are people in my community who are worthy—very worthy—of having accommodation provided to them, who are not criminals, who have not breached the law. They deserve to be looked after. What additional payments have been made? These are all questions that should be answered. When we talk about providing accommodation, I raise the point: how do you lose someone when you're providing them a home? How do you lose them? Are we providing flights for these people? Those on the other side know the answer to that. We don't. The Australian public don't. They deserve to know.

Earlier in the week the major headline on the front page of the Australian was, 'Voters abandon Albanese as Labor's fortunes nosedive'. There are a number of reasons that the fortunes of the ALP are nosediving. The issue before us today is just one of them. In the time that's remaining on this debate, please answer the questions that Australians are desperately wanting answers to. You've got minutes left. Use them wisely.

4:23 pm

Photo of Zaneta MascarenhasZaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to remind members in this House that all governments want to keep their citizens safe. That is something that I think we can all agree on. Yet what we see from those opposite are people who want to whip up fear, hate and division. We had 10 years of recklessness from those opposite. They were asleep at the wheel. We are in the process of cleaning up their mess—a decade of waste and neglect, and here we are, having to clean up their mess. I understood when the member for Higgins was saying that we're needing to be alchemists—we're needing to turn the chaos into a systematic way of dealing with government.

The previous member talked about the need for leadership. The thing that I'd say is that what governments do during difficult times is lead. There's also this thing called the High Court and the rule of law, and it's something that we respect on this side of the House. Meanwhile, we know what the reputation of those opposite was. The last time I stood here and talked on a similar matter put forward by the opposition—I'm surprised that we're here. It feels a little like groundhog day, and that's because they have no other policy. So here we are, responding to statements by the opposition that are designed to stoke fear in the community. All of this is about talking tough but not acting tough. They talk it; they don't walk it. The truth is that what we actually need is a government that is prepared to lead.

Those opposite don't have a record to show, because when they were in government they created havoc when it came to border security. There was systemic failure. They broke the rules and they inflicted pain and suffering. Who was in charge at the time? Who was overseeing the mess? Who was responsible? It was the current Leader of the Opposition. He's the one who talks up a tough game but, in reality, is weak. He's weak because he didn't stand up when it mattered to fix the issues that went on in his department. He's weak because, when he found out that a member of his leadership team was advocating for a criminal, he would not remove him. WA senator Dean Smith wrote letters to the minister for immigration, calling for a convicted sex offender to be released from jail. I don't know how that's meant to keep the community safe or why the senator still holds a position of leadership in the Liberal Party now that this information has been revealed. Obviously, the Leader of the Opposition does not think that this is something serious. But does it surprise me? If you think about it, the opposition leader leaves a legacy of a broken immigration system. His legacy left us exposed, and we're trying to fix it: a dysfunctional legal framework and underfunded border security.

Now we have a competent and responsible government. We're getting the job done and working to provide the necessary resources to do it. In doing so, we will follow the rule of law. We will act quickly and responsibly, and we will act to keep the community safe. These are not mutually exclusive. New laws, which were introduced quickly, are keeping us ahead of the game to give us a government that has the necessary powers to keep our citizens safe. We have done this. We have worked hard to do this, putting politics aside and putting people at the centre of government. It's not cheap stunts or cheap grabs, because the Albanese Labor government is above that. We are here to govern. We are here to create a better future for Australians, and we are doing that.

In rejecting this matter of public importance, we affirm our dedication to the governance that transcends political posturing. In the end, what this is about is making sure that our communities are kept safe but also that we respect the rule of law. Sometimes I feel we come back to this place and need to do a lesson 101 on what the role of the High Court is. Nobody in this place is above the law. I'm really proud that we're introducing a National Anti-Corruption Commission. That's because we want to make sure that we act with integrity and represent our citizens to make sure that we keep all people safe. This is something that I'm really proud to be a part of, and I commend the Albanese Labor government on its amazing policies.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the discussion has now concluded.