Tuesday, 11 September 2012
Instrument of Designation of the Republic of Nauru as a Regional Processing Country
I rise to speak on behalf of the coalition on the motion before the Senate in relation to the instrument of designation of the Republic of Nauru as a regional processing country under section 198AB(1) of the Migration Act 1958, and to indicate that the coalition will be supporting the government's motion.
I also indicate on behalf of the coalition that I will be moving an amendment which is designed to add clarity and strength of purpose to the motion by requiring the government to implement the full suite of the coalition's successful border protection policies. Doing so will send a clear and strong message to the people smugglers that the Australian government is resolute in its determination to stamp out their criminal activities, which have already cost so many lives lost at sea on the perilous voyage to Australia.
With this motion, the Labor government finally brings to an end what has been a decade of denials and a decade of denouncing and demonising the coalition for the strong and effective policy position in relation to border protection that it took when in office. Today is a historic day in this parliament because, in relation to Australia's border protection, Labor senators will stand alongside coalition senators and vote to establish Nauru as a country for offshore processing. And, in standing alongside coalition senators and signifying their support for offshore processing, Labor senators are making a very, very significant admission to the Australian public. As the shadow minister for immigration said in the other place, Labor's admission is made:
… through gritted teeth and after having been dragged kicking and screaming over years to this point.
The admission that Labor Party senators will be making today in voting to affirm this designation by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship is this: Labor got it so horrifically wrong 4½ years ago when it abolished offshore processing on Nauru and other critical measures that had been implemented by the Howard government.
In watching Labor senators standing before and beside coalition senators today and in voting in support of this instrument of designation to make it part of Australian law, the Australian people are witnessing what is now going to be recorded as possibly the greatest political backflip by any government of all times. Why do I say that? Because no less than nine weeks ago the minister, the Prime Minister and those on the other side continued to maintain their position that offshore processing on Nauru would not work. To understand the magnitude of the backflip that the Gillard government and the Labor caucus have performed all you actually need to do is refer to the terms of the instrument of designation and the reasons set out by the minister which he has provided in support of the instrument—bearing in mind that this is a minister who right until but a few weeks ago has been telling the coalition and has been telling the people of Australia that offshore processing will not work and that Labor would not relent on their position in relation to Nauru.
Mr Acting Deputy President, if you go to paragraph 13 of the reasons for the designation, the minister states:
I consider designating Nauru to be a regional processing country will discourage irregular and dangerous maritime voyages and thereby reduce the risk of the loss of life at sea; …
He goes on to say:
I consider designating Nauru to be a regional processing country will promote the maintenance of a fair and orderly Refugee and Humanitarian Program that retains the confidence of the Australian people; …
All you need to do is go to the Hansard and you will see that throughout the history of the Howard government, and throughout the history of the former Rudd government and the current Gillard Labor government, these are the exact points which the opposition has been making for over a decade. You would almost believe that it was the shadow minister for immigration who actually wrote the reasons for the minister's decision in relation to the designation, because it is exactly what the opposition has been saying for the last 10 years. Now what we have in black and white, tabled now in the Senate, is the Labor Party finally admitting that the coalition's border protection policies were right and the Labor Party, for the last four years, have got it so very, very wrong.
The gravity of the admissions by the Labor Party in the instrument of designation are evident when you consider the statements made by the former Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Evans, both in November 2008 and reaffirmed last night in response to an answer on the television program Q&A. He said:
Labor committed to abolishing the Pacific Solution and this was one of the first things the Rudd Labor Government did on taking office. It was also one of my greatest pleasures in politics. Neither humane nor fair, the Pacific Solution was also ineffective and wasteful.
And, of course, we have a Prime Minister who has consistently maintained her own opposition to offshore processing and the Pacific solution even as far back as when she was in opposition. On 13 May 2003 Ms Gillard said:
Labor will end the so-called Pacific solution—the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific islands—because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle.
How wrong the current Prime Minister was, how wrong the Labor party was, and how wronged the Australian people have been by the current government.
In relation to the points consistently made by the Prime Minister over at least a decade whenever she demonised offshore processing, let us now look at what the reality is in the reasons for the minister's decision as tabled today in the motion that is before the Senate. In relation to the Prime Minister's constant demonisation, in which she said that offshore processing was going to be costly, this is what the instrument says at paragraph 23. These are the minister's own words:
I think that the cost of irregular maritime voyages, in terms of the loss of human life and in respect of the substantial financial and resourcing costs to the Commonwealth in dealing with such arrivals (estimated to be in excess of $5 billion over the forward estimates period), means that it is in the national interest to attempt to reduce the number of such voyages, and to do so urgently.
That is the minister now criticising his own policies in relation to border protection as being far more costly than offshore processing will ever be. The costs of the failure of the government over the last four years, as evidenced in the minister's own reasons for his decision, are now estimated to be—and this is not the coalition speaking; these are the Labor government's own words—in excess of $5 billion.
In relation to the Prime Minister's statements that offshore processing is unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle, let us again go today to what the minister, in his reasons that have now been tabled in Senate, says in relation to offshore processing—bearing in mind that the government has consistently demonised the coalition whilst we were in government and whilst it has been in government after it unwound the Howard government's proven border protection policies. This is now Labor's position:
I think that it is in the national interest to take action that is directed to discouraging irregular and dangerous maritime voyages to Australia and thereby to reducing the risk of loss of life at sea.
The party that demonised the former Howard government when it introduced offshore processing and has consistently demonised the current opposition for the last 4½ years when we dared to tell it it had got it wrong by reneging on offshore processing has now adopted the coalition's policy on border protection.
It cannot be forgotten by the Australian public how the Labor government has ended up in the position that it is in today. We have seen policy failure, denial, inconsistency and inaction that have rendered a government so weak when it came to border protection that it had to ask an independent panel for advice on how to solve the mess that it itself had created. Of course, as has been referred to in the reasons for the decision, we have the handing down of the Houston report by a panel which was hand-picked by the government; the coalition had nothing to do with the members of that panel. The government wrote the terms of reference for the Houston report, and what was then handed to the government was possibly the most damning critique that has ever been made about a government in Australia. That critique was made by the government's own hand-picked panel. Ultimately we all know what the outcome of the Houston report was. The Houston report has recommended to the government that it adopts the coalition's policy of offshore processing, and that is exactly what the Labor Party will be doing when they stand alongside coalition senators later on today and support the motion that is before the Senate.
The Australian people are quite right to ask why it has taken the Labor government so long to get to a position which it was given when the former Howard government lost office in 2007. It has taken the arrival of 24,634 people on 421 boats for the government to get to the point which we are at today. In fact, just yesterday we had the 10,000th person arrive this year alone under the current government's border protection policies. Ten thousand people have arrived in Australia this year under the current government's policies. As also set out in the instrument of designation, it has also taken the loss of no fewer than 704 lives at sea. These lives have been lost since October 2009. That is the minister talking; that is not the coalition talking. That is an admission by the minister. That is what it took for the Labor party to be dragged kicking and screaming to the point which we are at today. But, despite these very clear admissions in the minister's reasons for his designation, the Labor Party refuse to go the full distance when it comes to solving Australia's border protection problems. The coalition has made its position in relation to border protection abundantly clear: the government cannot expect Howard government outcomes—and the government is on the record as saying it wants to stop the boats and break the people smugglers' model—and cannot expect to do that as the Howard government did if it is not prepared to put in place the full suite of the former Howard government's policies as recommended by the government's own hand-picked experts on the Houston panel. The government is still engaged, unfortunately, in a half-hearted solution. It is still engaged in dealing with this matter in less-than-half measures. That is why I mentioned earlier that the coalition will be moving an amendment to this motion. In doing so, I move that the following words be added to the motion:
At the end of the motion, add “and in addition to the opening of offshore processing on Nauru, calls on the Government to implement the full suite of the Coalition’s successful border protection policies and:
(a) restore temporary protection visas as the only visa option available to be granted to offshore entry persons found to be refugees;
(b) issue new instructions to Northern Command to commence to turn back boats seeking to illegally enter Australia where it is safe to do so;
(c) use existing law to remove the benefit of the doubt on a person’s identity where there is a reasonable belief that a person has deliberately discarded their documentation; and
(d) restore the Bali Process to once again focus on deterrence and border security”.
In moving that amendment I remind the Senate that for many years now the current government has been telling the people of Australia that you cannot turn boats around despite the fact that that was the policy that former Prime Minister Rudd took to the 2007 election. They have been telling us that you cannot turn the boats around despite the fact that, when the Australian people cast their vote at the 2007 election, that is exactly what they voted for in a Labor government because Mr Rudd's policy at that time was to turn the boats around. In any event, the Labor Party have shown their total contempt for Mr Rudd in politically executing him and in the fact that they do not want to have anything to do with what he says. That is why they had to turn to the independent panel.
What did the independent panel and the Houston report say in relation to turning back the boats? It said at page 53, paragraph 3.77:
Turing back irregular maritime vessels carrying asylum seekers to Australia can be operationally achieved and can constitute an effective disincentive to such ventures …
So, whilst I might want to say the coalition has been vindicated, the irony of this is that Mr Rudd has been vindicated. Mr Rudd, who was politically executed by those on the other side because, apparently, he had failed when it came to discharging Australia's border protection policy, has had his policy of turning back the boats, which was the coalition's policy, vindicated by the Houston panel.
The Houston panel has also recommended prohibiting family reunion through Australia's humanitarian program for people arriving by boat and instead making boat arrivals apply for family reunion through the family stream of the migration program. Again, this is nothing more and nothing less than the coalition's policy of temporary protection visas, and we would endorse this recommendation of the Houston panel. Again, the Houston panel have done nothing more and nothing less than come to the same conclusion that the coalition came to under the former Howard government: if you truly want to stop the boats, if you truly want to break the people smugglers' model, you need to implement the full suite of the Howard government's policies. For four long years Australia's borders have been weak, lives have been lost at sea, Australia's reputation with its nearest neighbours has been tarnished, costs have blown out and people smuggling as a business has been allowed to flourish, all because the Prime Minister and Labor were too stubborn to admit that they got it wrong. It was sheer stubbornness and nothing else they put before the national interest.
Perhaps the greatest shame for the Australian public is this: the lives lost at sea over the past 4½ years and the $5 billion of Australian taxpayers' money that has now been spent and which the Australian taxpayer will have to pay back with a lot of interest on top—all of that need not have happened. In November 2007, when we lost office and the Labor Party assumed office, they were given the greatest gift that any incoming government can be given. Apart from the fact that we left them $22 billion in the bank and apart from the fact that we left the Labor government a legacy of zero debt, we had also solved the border protection problem for the incoming Australian government. We had done exactly what they have been saying they wanted to do for the last 4½ years. The former Howard government took very tough measures, but we stopped the boats and broke the people smugglers' models.
That does not mean that we do not support refugees. It was under the former Howard government that we actually lifted the intake of refugees. The difference between us and Labor, apart from what they are now doing, which is adopting our policy, is that we believe that Australians should determine who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come. We will always go to UNHCR camps and choose refugees who have done the right thing by this country—refugees who do not have the means or the opportunity to jump on three plane flights, go to Indonesia, jump on a boat, pay a people smuggler and destroy their documents in order to come to this country.
In the event that the coalition's amendment is not accepted or does not pass this place, on behalf of the coalition I reaffirm to the Australian people that, if and when a coalition government is next elected to this country, it will implement the full suite of the former Howard government's policies. Too much has been lost over the past four years because of the Prime Minister's stubbornness and her refusal to pick up the phone to the President of Nauru.