Senate debates

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Asylum Seekers, Department of Immigration and Border Protection

3:27 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

May I just take time to reflect. Mr Deputy President, you and I came in here bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, along with Senator Polley, back in 2005. Goodness me, hasn't the standard dropped since then—and I am not talking about the group from 2005. Today it embarrasses me. I just hope there were not too many school children watching today's question time here in the Senate. I would like us to reflect on this. It is damned embarrassing. The standard is appalling. I am a mild-mannered man, as you know, Mr Deputy President, but should we be screamed at—with shrill screaming from Senator Cash? I know Senator Cash is well above that. I actually sympathise a bit with Senator Cash and I will explain why. She is a very well-educated woman. There is no argument about that; she is, I think, a lawyer. In opposition a very topical political football was boats. We do not deny that it is a hot potato around the barbeques. It is a difficult issue for us, no argument. But when you are climbing that greasy pole to promotion at the thought of coming into government, to be given a political football like boats and asylum seekers is a wonderful opportunity to be seen and heard out there in the country. And Senator Cash grabbed that with two hands. But what we have seen is that it is very easy—as you and I both know, Mr Deputy President—in opposition to blame the government for everything. It is very easy to be negative on every single issue. But when you come to government—when you are given the grace of being given government by the people of Australia—it is time to act.

We should not be surprised about the silence that is coming from the government. The then opposition leader and now Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, was quoted in The Australian on 21 January 2012 as having said:

What counts is what the Australian government does, not what it says. It is time for Australia to adopt turning the boats as its core policy.

Hmm—okay. Then I want to quote another paragraph from Mr Abbott in a speech to the Institute of Public Affairs on 27 April 2012, in which Mr Abbott told the faithful gathered there on that day:

Within a week of taking office, I would give new orders to the navy that, where it is safe to do so, under the usual chain-of-command procedures, based on the advice of commanders-on-the-spot, Indonesian flagged, Indonesian crewed and Indonesian home-ported vessels without lawful reason to be headed to Australia would be turned around and escorted back to Indonesian waters.

This reminds me, as a kid growing up in the sixties, of that wonderful scene of the chief's office from Batman, where they had the bat phone waiting for the orders.

Phillip Hudson of News Limited on 16 October 2012 reported this about Mr Abbott's trip to Indonesia as opposition leader:

The people smuggling issue was discussed during Mr Abbott's meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta yesterday. However, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who was at the meeting, said Mr Abbott did not raise the coalition policy of turning back boats where it's safe to do so.

What I am alluding to is that the Australian people and us, Her Majesty's opposition, should not be surprised by the veils of secrecy. We should not be surprised one little bit by the lack of information coming from the Prime Minister or from the foreign minister because the truth of the matter is that they do not want to tell us. They do not want to tell the Australian people that at all times while they were bleating about stopping the boats, turning the boats back and towing the boats, it was just politicising—taking the opportunity to make it a political football—because it sounded great around the barbecues. The truth of the matter is that they never, ever had a plan B.

What is more, not only have we insulted our closest neighbours and not only is our relationship with Indonesia seriously damaged but the people of Australia who walked into the polling booths in September and put a mark in the box were being misled. The people of Australia were not getting a government that had any intention of doing as it says. Time does not permit me, but I will be making further contributions on this. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.


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