Thursday, 27 June 2013
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Wong. I remind the minister of Mr Rudd's statement in 2009 when he said, 'As Prime Minister, I take full responsibility for our immigration policy and its implementation.' I also remind the minister that since Mr Rudd dismantled the proven border protection policies of the Howard government 45,189 people have arrived illegally on 739 boats. Will the Prime Minister personally take responsibility for the more than 45,000 people who have arrived illegally, for the more than 1,000 drownings and for the chaos, cost and tragedy that have followed his decision to roll out the Rudd-carpet for people smugglers?
I am sure it is very distressing for many Australians and certainly disappointing for those of us in this chamber that the senator chooses to treat such a difficult policy issue in the way that she did. I am very happy to have a policy discussion about irregular maritime arrivals. I am very happy to do that. It is a complex policy area. There are 46 million people displaced worldwide, and the world has changed, when it comes to people smuggling, since 2000. The world has changed in many ways, as Senator Carr in part alluded to in an earlier answer. I do not think that we serve the Australian people well to use something as tragic as drownings in the way that they were used in that question—to talk about 'rolling out the carpet' or whatever the phrase was in such a flippant way. We are talking about people's lives, and we are talking about a complicated policy issue—
Thank you, Mr President. We are talking about a policy problem that will never be solved by a three-word slogan, and it will never be solved by a party that does not even have the guts to raise their policy with the President of Indonesia when they had their chance. That really showed what feet of clay the Leader of the Opposition has—what feet of clay has this man who beat his chest, entered into this appalling debate in which he sought to use the tragedies that have occurred for political gain, and then did not even have the courage to raise his policy position with the President of Indonesia, because he knew he would be rebuffed.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I remind the minister that Mr Rudd personally promised that he would take a very hard line on the question of people smuggling—a very tough line on people smuggling. I also remind the minister that Mr Rudd said just four days before the 2007 election that he would turn the boats back and take appropriate action as the vessels approached Australia on the high seas. Why did Mr Rudd break both of those promises? And how can the Australian people trust the Prime Minister who started the boats to stop the boats?
In my primary answer I referenced the fact that this is not a policy position or a challenge that can ever be resolved by three-word slogans, and we ended that question with two three-word slogans. As much as Senator Cash might enjoy and relish the opportunity to try and create political mayhem with this issue, the reality is that this is a complex public policy question, a global issue—
Thank you. What I would say is: as to the people we serve here, as well as those who seek to make a perilous journey, we do not do any of them well by treating this issue as a political football. I would remind those opposite that the ambassador for Indonesia has made very clear that their policy will not be agreed to by the Indonesian government.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer to the Prime Minister's statement three years ago when he said: 'If I return as Prime Minister, this party and the government will not be lurching to the right on the question of asylum seekers.' Will the government now support the coalition's policy to turn back the boats when it is safe and possible to do so?
The reality is that, if you look at the advice from Defence and Border Protection personnel, and if you look at the public statements of the Indonesian government's representatives, it is very clear that the slogans of 'stopping the boats' and 'turning the boats back' are not workable. I would refer you to Indonesia's Ambassador to Australia who, when he was asked on 31 May, said as follows:
I think it's not possible for the Coalition to say that it has to go back to Indonesia because Indonesia is not the origin country of these people …
No such collaboration will happen between Indonesia and Australia (to) bring back the people to Indonesia.
On top of that, we have the advice of the Navy and Border Protection as to the risks. So if those opposite believe that they can simply fix this issue with a slogan, really they are misleading the Australian people.