Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


Manus Island

9:49 am

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on behalf of the coalition on the motion before the Senate in relation to the instrument of designation of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country under subsection 198AB(1) of the Migration Act 1958 and to indicate that the coalition will be supporting the government's motion. It was almost a month ago that we witnessed a historic day in this parliament.

That historic day was because Labor members from both the right and, more particularly, the left stood alongside coalition senators in this chamber and voted to restore offshore processing. They voted alongside coalition senators to establish Nauru as a regional processing country.

At that time, I proposed an amendment on behalf of the coalition to the motion that was before the Senate. The amendment, if it had been accepted, would have required the government to implement the full suite of the former Howard government's border protection policies. Unfortunately, that motion was defeated. In addressing the Senate today in relation to this particular motion, it is timely to take a look at what has occurred since that time when the government again voted with the coalition to designate Nauru as an offshore processing country but, at the same time, failed to implement the full suite of the former Howard government's successful border protection policies.

The government's 2012-13 budget forecast for the immigration and citizenship portfolio is based on 5,645 arrivals for the entire financial year. Three months into this financial year, including the one month in which Nauru has been reopened, Australia has witnessed arrivals at a rate of approximately 2,000 per month. Remember that for the entire financial year the government's budget for this particular portfolio is based 5,645 arrivals. So in the first three months of this financial year Australians have already witnessed 4.5 times the governments' budgeted expectations. In other words, under this government's policies—reminding the Senate that one of these policies is that Nauru has been reopened—the budget in this particular portfolio area has yet again been comprehensively blown in the first three months of the financial year. I also remind the Senate that, as of yesterday—and this could have changed this morning since I have been in the chamber, and we have only been in this financial year for three months—there have been 101 illegal boats arrive this financial year alone, carrying 6,436 asylum seekers.

Let us compare that to what occurred under the former Howard government, bearing in mind that just four weeks ago this government refused to accept the coalition's amendment that would have seen the government introduce the full suite of the former Howard government's policies. Under the former Howard government's policies, which have been proven to be successful and in part have been adopted by a Labor government, Australia was averaging 45 people coming to this country per year. That was over the final six years of the former Howard government. As I said in question time yesterday, by this rationale Australia has witnessed under this Labor government more than 50 years of Howard government boat arrivals in the month of September alone. Just think about that and the impact that that has on the budget.

In the month of September 2012 alone, under the current Labor government's clearly failed border protection policies, Australia has witnessed 50 years of what boat arrivals were under the former Howard government. Again, this is going to have consequences for the budget in relation to this particular portfolio, bearing in mind—and Australians are well aware of this—that the government has now blown out the budget by in excess of $5 billion. Australians can only throw their hands up in dismay and ask what the government could have done had it not wound back the proven border protection policies of the former Howard government; we would have continued to see a low- to almost zero-rate of boat arrivals.

The $5 billion which the government has blown to date on this particular portfolio could have been spent on building hospitals, building schools and potentially on an NDIS, but that $5 billion has been blown by this government and its failed border protection policies.

I also remind the Senate that 60 boats, carrying 3,830 asylum seekers, have arrived in Australia since the government was dragged, kicking and screaming, to re-establish offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island. So, if the government claims, as it does on a regular basis in both the other place and this place, that its policy alone of offshore processing without the full complement of the former Howard government's policies actually works, they are in denial, because the statistics do not lie. Since we reopened Nauru, the boats have not stopped coming. In fact they have actually increased, because the people smugglers know this government is not fair dinkum.

This government is not fair dinkum when it comes to border protection in this country. As I said: 60 boats, carrying 3,830 asylum seekers, have arrived. Why do the people smugglers continue to put people on boats and send them to Australia? For this reason—despite the fact that the government did the biggest political backflip of all time—and the Left of the Labor Party, as they will again today. I note the irony of the minister having to give the statement to the House on behalf of the government. There was not a lot of passion in it but I can understand why. This minister has been an ardent advocate for onshore processing, as opposed to offshore processing. I can only imagine the pain that must be felt when you have to stand up and say to the people of Australia, 'We got it wrong and we have to now agree with the former Howard government policies which we are readopting.'

Under this government, only five per cent of people who have arrived since they reopened Nauru have actually been sent there. When you have five per cent, of almost 4,000 people, being sent to Nauru, you tell me: is that a deterrent to the people smugglers? It is an absolute joke. It is a step in the right direction, don't get me wrong. That is why the coalition supported the reopening of Nauru and is again today supporting the establishment of PNG as a regional processing country.

But as we have said time and time again—and we have been proved right in relation to this point—unless the government adopts the full suite of the Howard government policies, sending five per cent of those people who have arrived in the last four weeks is hardly a deterrent to the people smugglers. In fact, last week almost six times the number of people sent to Nauru by Labor turned up this week on boats. What does that say about the policy that the government is currently implementing? The number of Afghan asylum seekers that Minister Bowen has sent to Nauru could fit in a minibus. In other words, he has sent less than a handful. But, if you look at the number of asylum seekers coming from Afghanistan to this country, they could fill ocean liners time and time again. There is clearly no disincentive to people coming to Australia.

Again, statistics confirm that it is not this government that is calling the shots in relation to border protection; the people smugglers continue to run border protection policy in Australia. Despite these glaring statistics, the government still refuses to be honest with the Australian people. It still refuses to explain to the Australian people why in the first instance, in August 2008, it rolled back the former Howard government's policies. We are now standing here in 2012 as a Senate and we are adopting in part the former Howard government's policies. The government cannot explain the last four years to the Australian people and the extent of the political backflip that they have actually done.

Senators will be aware that this day has been a long time coming. In 2010 the Governor of Manus Island wrote to the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea and indicated that he was very happy and the state was very happy to have Papua New Guinea, and in particular Manus Island, host the reopening of an offshore facility. That was over two years ago. If you want to look at how many people have arrived since the Governor of Manus Island wrote to the Prime Minister of PNG, more than 20,000 people have arrived in that time. It has taken more than 20,000 people to arrive in Australia by boat for the Prime Minister to accept that offer made by the Governor of Manus Island in 2010 to the Prime Minister of PNG to restore offshore processing on Manus Island.

The coalition's position on offshore processing has been consistent since day one. We have been consistent in what we have told the Australian people, and under offshore processing it is acknowledged by all Australians that the former Howard government policies stopped the boats. We support the reopening or the reestablishment of PNG as a regional processing country because, as we have said all along, Papua New Guinea has signed the refugee convention and there are legally binding protections for the people that Australia will send there. It was the coalition that originally enshrined human rights protections in the Migration Act, under section 198A, for people who are offshore. It was the coalition that opposed Labor's Malaysian five-for-one people-swap deal. As we said and have continued to say, this deal was an abominable deal that could not provide sufficient protections for those sent to Malaysia.

I remind senators of the report of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on the inquiry into the Malaysian arrangement, in which it was found:

… if the transfer of asylum seekers to Malaysia proceeds then the Australian Government will have failed dismally in fulfilling any so-called 'moral obligation'.

I said at the time that the Senate was debating the Labor government's Malaysian people-swap deal that the Left of the Labor Party should be ashamed of themselves. I said at the time that, going forward, the Left of the Labor Party would never again be able to stand up in this place and tell the Australian people that they believe in upholding the human rights of asylum seekers. Why? It was because the policy that the Left of the Labor Party sanctioned was not based on offshore processing; it was based on offshore dumping, and not the proper management of asylum seekers through offshore processing.

And, while the Left of the Labor Party screamed at the time that they were opposed to this type of treatment, when push came to shove, when they were actually asked to stand up for their principles and have their names recorded as voting against this abominable deal, they threw principle and all caution out the door and they were still prepared to support the Malaysian people-swap deal. That was absolute hypocrisy at its best. But then again, the Left of the Labor Party now proudly support offshore processing, as indicated by the minister's speech in the Senate today. They proudly support offshore processing, as they rightly should.

It was also the coalition that opposed the Gillard government's attempts to strip all protections from the Migration Act. We recall that the coalition's stance at the time was ridiculed by the Labor Party. However, the stance that we took on the stripping of protections by the Labor Party from the Migration Act was vindicated by both the High Court and the Houston report, which the government claims at this stage to rely on for its new policy and which found that the Malaysia deal did not contain adequate human rights protections for those who were sent there. It was also the coalition that insisted that in the changes to the law that passed the parliament to reopen Nauru this parliament would need to approve any country used for offshore processing to ensure appropriate human rights protections were in place.

Then we come to the present day. Just four weeks ago, in September, the government put before the parliament the special legislative instrument to authorise offshore processing in Nauru. That declaration has passed the House of Representatives and the Senate with the support of the coalition. This new designation that is currently before the Senate of Papua New Guinea as an offshore processing country is in a similar form and content to that previously debated by the Senate. Unfortunately for the Australian people, however, the government has come to the realisation far too late and at a great cost to the Australian people that it was wrong—that it was wrong to wind back the proven border protection policies of the former Howard government.

This is a government that still is not committed to offshore processing. It was dragged kicking and screaming to this place a number of weeks ago when it came to the re-establishment of Nauru as an offshore processing country. Even then, the government could not bring itself to say, 'This is Labor Party determined policy.' The government blamed the policy on the expert panel that the government put together to give it the answer to the problem. That, as we know, is the Houston report. What did the Houston report recommend? Again, it recommended the government take action to implement offshore processing on Nauru. If you have actually read the Houston report, as many of us in this place have, it is widely acknowledged that this is one of the most damning critiques of a government's policy that has ever been handed down. What did the Houston report actually find? The government accepted the findings of the Houston report, the expert panel which the government hand-picked itself and to which it gave the terms of reference. The minister has again referred to this and confirmed this today. What did the Houston report effectively find? It found that the government was wrong in principle to wind back the proven border protection policies of the former Howard government. The Houston report also substantially endorsed the coalition's approach to stopping the boats. That is why we are in this place today debating a motion that is currently before the Senate to designate Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country.

Whilst the coalition is supportive of the designation of PNG as an offshore processing country, I reaffirm to the Australian people that if and when a coalition government is next elected to govern this country, unlike the Labor government we will implement the full suite of the former Howard government's border protection policies. Too much has been lost over the last four years because of the Prime Minister's stubbornness and her refusal to admit what is so simple and what has been confirmed by the Houston report that the Labor Party in August 2008 just got it wrong. The coalition's policies on border protection have been proven to work. These policies work together and when combined it is irrefutable that they destroyed the people smugglers model. The same stubbornness by this government that rejected Nauru for years is the stubbornness that is still rejecting the other two planks of the coalition's policies—which are, of course, temporary protection visas and turning back the boats when it is safe to do so. Again, this has been recommended by the Houston panel. Ms Gillard has been proven wrong on Nauru and yet again the Australian public know that she is wrong on temporary protection visas and she is wrong on turning back the boats. The coalition understands that the Howard government's solutions worked then and they will work again when they are restored.


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