Senate debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Matters of Public Importance

National Security

6:06 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A letter has been received from Senator Hughes:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The endless chaos when it comes to the Albanese Labor Government's management of Australia's borders, and the complete failure of the Government to protect the community from illegal boat arrivals and detainees released into the community.

Is the proposal supported?

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

With the concurrence of the Senate, the clerks will set the clock in line with the informal arrangements made by the whips.

6:07 pm

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, surprise, surprise! Quelle horreur! You give a Labor government a little bit of time, and the borders come crashing down around us. And, as usual, the hypocrisy of those opposite shines bright for us all to see. Of course, you will recall that, when the coalition was in government, we stopped the boats. We dealt with the offshore concerns of Manus and Nauru. But, just last month, we've already heard that 40 illegal arrivals were detained, with reports that there were some already being transferred to Nauru at the time media outlets were reporting on it. So it's no surprise to anyone to hear that immigration detention is unravelling on their watch. This is the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government all over again—probably worse. When Labor's incompetence last led to 50,000 people arriving on more than 800 boats and 1,200 people, including children, tragically dying at sea, all of that could have been prevented. But, unfortunately, Australians are being sadly reminded that they just can't trust Labor when it comes to national security.

The fact is, as Peter Dutton has asserted, that Anthony Albanese has never believed in Operation Sovereign Borders. In the last budget, on a cumulative basis, $600 million was stripped from Border Force and from Operation Sovereign Borders. The ABF commissioner pointed out that resources and personnel were already being stretched, and that of course increases concerns about whether vigilant surveillance can be undertaken in the way that it was when we were last in government. We know that temporary protection visas have been abolished in just another example of train-wreck policy from this government. Australians cannot trust Labor to keep them safe.

But will Labor do anything at all about this? This government could actually try and be upfront with the people. What's the plan to stop this from occurring? How do you plan to keep Australians safe? As Dan Tehan points out, the Solicitor-General, Stephen Donaghue, told the High Court on 8 November 2023 that up to 340 people in long-term detention could be released as a result of NZYQ. We don't know if this is the number of criminals that Labor will release or if that number could be even higher. Is this Labor government giving up on deporting non-citizens who, because of their crimes, have forfeited their right to live in Australia? Will Labor promise to provide weekly updates on then umber of criminals being released from immigration detention on their watch? Will Labor promise to be upfront and tell us when crimes are committed? When will Labor publish the immigration detention statistics for January and February? Why are those figures being hidden? What is the Prime Minister's plan?

A start could be if the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs started attending his own briefings. It's high time for the immigration minister to now guarantee he will actually attend legal briefings with his department, especially considering he's hired an additional 46 lawyers. We know that the Albanese Labor government blame the courts and say none of this is their fault, but we don't forget—long memories here—that immigration minister Andrew Giles signed off on the legal facts that undermined Australia's entire case. The same minister skipped three important legal briefings on this issue to instead travel overseas for a labour conference and to promote the Voice. Labor released 149 criminals on the wrong visa. Labor still has not applied for a single order under the preventive detention regime. And Labor cancelled the visas they'd recently issued to people who were in the air and en route to Australia from Gaza only to reinstate some of them with no explanation.

This is total incompetence at the highest level in such a crucially important space. This isn't a game. This is about keeping our communities safe, the sovereignty of our nation and the lives of those who are arriving by boat. We cannot afford to be asleep at the wheel like this government clearly is. Instead of learning from the coalition on this issue or working to solve the crisis, Labor continues to make it worse.

6:12 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What undermines national security is misleading statements about our national security: misleading statements about border security, misleading statements about Operation Sovereign Borders. That's exactly what the coalition continues to do. It's exactly what I believe they will do today in this debate. It's exactly what they've been asked not to do by the very people that are keeping Australians safe.

We know that the Labor government remains committed to Operation Sovereign Borders. Despite the comments from the commander of Joint Agency Task Force Operation Sovereign Borders, those opposite continue to mislead the Senate and to mislead the public about the current operations of our borders. Admiral Brett Sonter said:

The mission of Operation Sovereign Borders remains the same today as it was when it was established in 2013: protect Australia's borders, combat people smuggling in our region, and importantly, prevent people from risking their lives at sea.

Importantly, he said:

Any alternate narrative will be exploited by criminal people smugglers to deceive potential irregular immigrants and convince them to risk their lives and travel to Australia by boat.

That is a clear warning to those opposite that this is a debate that needs to be dealt with in facts, that needs to be dealt with in sensitivity and that needs to be dealt with at the national security level, which I thought was bipartisan.

If we want to talk about lawlessness, the other things that undermine the safety of Australians would be to ignore High Court decisions or to think that the parliament or politicians are above the law. That seems to be what those opposite are implying in their comments around the release of detainees. We know and Australians know that these decisions were of the High Court. The High Court made these decisions and, as a result, our government has put very strong measures in place to keep the Australian public safe.

We are also working with our law enforcement agencies across the country, and we have faith in the work that they do. If those opposite do not believe that law enforcement agencies are capable of doing their jobs then they should say that, but we back our law enforcement agencies. We know that they have very strong measures in place. It is a real shame to see those opposite undermine the work of those law enforcement agencies.

When it comes to possible alternatives or solutions, I'd love to see those opposite suggest what they might do in this situation. Actually, this morning on Sky News, they were given the chance. Senator Hume said:

… if the legislative bar is too high, the coalition will come to the party and help them lower that bar.

The reporter asked: 'How would you lower that bar? What would you do?' Senator Hume said, 'Well, that's up to the government.' This was followed up by these questions, which were pretty fair in the circumstances: 'Have you got an idea? Have you got any amendment that you'd like to see?' Of course, Senator Hume had nothing to add to the conversation. So until those opposite can come in here and provide some constructive discussion about really important national security issues, we won't be taking lectures from those opposite. We'll listen to the professionals. We'll listen to the people who are actually operationally in charge of protecting our borders, and we'll take their advice and do what they say and make sure that we don't make it harder for those law enforcement agencies.

This is all about the contrast between our government and those opposite, because while we are focused on keeping Australians safe, the coalition is focused on stoking fear and division. While we are delivering tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners, the coalition won't say if they'll repeal those tax cuts—if they get a chance—and make Australians pay more. While we are strengthening Medicare, those opposite voted against cheaper medicines. While our government is delivering cleaner, cheaper energy, the LNP are out there spruiking expensive nuclear power in places like the Great Barrier Reef. Finally, while the Labor government is delivering super on paid parental leave, those opposite have referred to paid parental leave as a 'welfare scheme'. They are not so focused on delivering for women or their economic security. They're busy knocking off senior Liberal women from the top of their Senate tickets. So we won't be taking lectures on this side of the chamber—not about national security, not about lawlessness and certainly not about delivering for working Australians.

6:17 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This motion references chaos, and let's be clear about where the chaos is coming from. Chaos is coming from the political ambitions of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Dutton. The chaos is coming from the near identical policies on immigration detention and responding to people seeking asylum shared by the Labor and Liberal parties. The chaos is coming from denying fundamental human rights to people who are reaching out a hand to our country and asking for assistance. The chaos is coming from a Liberal Party that is prepared to demonise migrants, refugees and people seeking asylum and weaponise the fear that they are sowing. The chaos is coming from a Labor Party too craven and too cowardly to stand up to that political strategy.

Make no mistake, colleagues, the Australian Constitution is there to protect us all. Liberty should never be denied by a government in order to punish people. That's what the Constitution says. That is what the High Court has found. The Labor Party needs to stand up for the rule of law, to stand up for our Constitution and to stand up for natural justice and ignore Mr Dutton.

6:18 pm

Photo of David ShoebridgeDavid Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

A race to the bottom—that's all you can see when you look at the Albanese government and the little Dutton-shaped devil on their shoulder. Some of the most marginalised people in the world came to Australia to rebuild their lives, and, instead of embracing them, we exiled them. We bribed our neighbours to become complicit in the cruelty, making Australia and the world a worse place in the process. For over a decade, families have been torn apart because the ALP and the coalition are in this disgusting competition amongst each other to see who can be the crueller.

Just look at the more than 50 refugees who were deported from Australia to PNG by the last government. They're still trapped with no home and no protection. Denied their basic rights and a home to rebuild their lives, they're subjected to violence on almost daily basis. Nurul Chawdury told the Guardian that he'd watched fellow refugees die through murder, medical neglect and suicide. 'Things are very bad at the moment. It's very hard,' he told the Guardian yesterday. 'Some days we eat, some days we don't eat.' Nurul Chawdury, his wife and their two young children are going hungry as the ALP and coalition play their games out in this chamber.

This MPI is asking entirely the wrong question. The real question is: who's protecting refugees from this government—who's protecting refugees from the ALP-coalition alliance of cruelty?

6:20 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak to this motion about the chaos that is being driven by the Albanese government. Let's put a little bit of a history lesson out there. We have to remember that most of these detainees are people who came here under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments, whereby 50,000 refugees ended up in detention and over a thousand refugees drowned at sea.

This isn't about vilifying refugees or anything like that. As a matter of fact, the last time Australia lifted its refugee intake it was under former Liberal minister Julie Bishop, who increased the number of refugees that Australia took. Australia has a very generous refugee policy and it's worth noting that we owe it to those refugees who are waiting in refugee camps around the world—who have done the right thing—that they are given priority. They are trying to do the right thing. They're in those refugee camps and they aren't paying refugee smugglers tens of thousands of dollars—and where refugees find that kind of money, I don't know—to do the wrong thing and bring people in illegally to this country. That is how this policy started. This is how we have got ourselves into the situation.

No-one was talking about this issue six months ago until the current Labor government completely dropped the ball on this upcoming court case, which is no doubt funded by activists who are trying to undermine our strong border security. If you want to know how bad it can get, just take a look at the number of refugees that die in the Mediterranean every year while trying to cross the Mediterranean. Look at the number of refugees that are flooding the southern border of the great country of the United States of America.

This is not the sort of behaviour that governments who care about the welfare of their own people engage in. So to sit here and somehow claim that it's the Liberal Party and attack Peter Dutton over the fact that we are trying to protect our borders and keep people safe, and we don't want to be wasting money paying for the incarceration fees of these people. This is not what we want. We want a methodical, fair process for having immigrants come to this country.

That leads us to the other part of this MPI today, about border control in general. Just last week the ABS, the Australia Bureau of Statistics, released figures that show 55,000 immigrants came to Australia in the month of January alone. If that's extrapolated for 12 months, it's an immigration rate of up to 660,000 people. You have to ask yourself why the Albanese Labor government is letting so many immigrants into this country at a time when we have so many homeless Australians living in tent cities. You can't walk around my home town of Brisbane nowadays without seeing tent cities everywhere. I'm getting constituents contact me about it. I had a constituent contact me just last Saturday morning to tell me that they were on their morning walk in Bundaberg and they noticed that a mother and child were living in a tent under a bridge. This is not the Australia that I know. This is not the Australia that our constituents want to see. This is not the egalitarian way.

Why is Labor allowing so many immigrants into this country? Why are they not stopping them? They said last year they'd lower the immigration rate, and they haven't. So we've not only got homelessness but we've got increased rents and people who have jobs who can't find a place to live. And, because we have inflation, we have the RBA sticking up interest rates. That's sending our builders broke, because our RBA is completely clueless. They're not only smashing demand; they're smashing supply and so our builders are going broke. We've not only got an increase in demand; we've got a reduction in supply, making the matter worse. I recommend that people support this motion because the Albanese Labor government is nothing but chaos when it comes to protecting Australia's borders and putting Australians first.

6:25 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Albanese government has no higher priority than protecting the community and is committed to acting in accordance with the law. By contrast, the opposition has spent months wilfully misrepresenting the facts and the law and playing politics with community safety. Comments by the opposition that suggest that Operation Sovereign Borders is no longer in place is a flat-out mistruth and is directly counter to Australia's national security. Operation Sovereign Borders' policy architecture remains unchanged under this government. Unauthorised maritime arrivals—that is, people seeking to enter Australia on a boat, without a passport or visa—continue to be subject to offshore processing. We haven't changed our position. We provided bipartisan support under the previous government.

But Mr Dutton just can't help himself. He continues to engage in the sort of dangerous and destructive rhetoric that is so characteristic of this Leader of the Opposition. He's becoming a marketing tool for people smugglers—a flashing neon light across the region, making Australia a false honeypot. Let's be clear: the Liberals and Nationals want more boats to arrive. Emboldening people smugglers for political gain is a horrific failure of leadership.

Those opposite should know better than to use Senate processes like this MPI to peddle fear in the community and undermine our border operations. Rear Admiral Brett Sonter, Commander of the Joint Agency Task Force Operation Sovereign Borders, has made it abundantly clear. He said:

The mission of Operation Sovereign Borders remains the same today as it was when it was established in 2013 …

He went on to say one of the reasons was to 'prevent people from risking their lives'. He said:

Any alternate narrative will be exploited by criminal people smugglers …

The safety of the Australian community has been at the heart of every single decision this government has made. Following the High Court's decision, we put in place four additional layers of protection: the standing up of Operation AEGIS, a joint Australian Federal Police/Australian Border Force operation; stringent visa conditions, including curfews, electronic monitoring and reporting requirements; the Community Protection Board, consisting of officials from the Australian Border Force and the Department of Home Affairs, as well as former law enforcement officers; and, of course, court-ordered preventive detention and supervision orders—the same laws the opposition supported, may I add.

Another piece of disinformation from the Leader of the Opposition is that we are cutting funding to the Australian Border Force, a claim that was rubbished in the Sydney Morning Herald in February this year by David Crowe. There has, in fact, been an increase of $470 million under this government, including more than $200 million this year. This is supported by the ABF—Australian Border Force—commissioner, Michael Outram, who said:

Border Force funding is currently the highest it's been since its establishment in 2015 …

Australia's law enforcement agencies are working around the clock to enforce this strict regime and keep the community safe. We have confidence in them. They are doing an extraordinary job—a hard job—and we thank them for their work. They deserve everybody's support, including those opposite.

This government will never give people smugglers a window to resume their exploitative, dangerous operations. We are acting to keep Australia safe. Those opposite choose the low road, egging on people smugglers and dog whistling through their right-wing advertising and media mouthpieces, but this has real-world consequences. More people smugglers mean more grandparents, parents and children being slaughtered at sea. The policy we have is the same policy that was right before, and those opposite voted for what we've got today. We're dealing with it despite the crass political point scoring that comes so naturally to the opposition leader.

6:30 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On immigration, this government is lost. Its failure to prepare for the anticipated High Court NZYQ decision last year enabled the rushed and ill-considered release of dangerous criminals from detention straight into the community. With no backup plan, Labor lurches from one disaster to another. Labor issued invalid visas to the released criminals. Labor charged at least 10 of those criminals for breaching visa conditions. Labor were forced to withdraw the charges because the visas were invalid. Labor then reissued new visas to all released detainees, including murderers, rapists and child sex offenders. It now appears that potentially another 150 criminal detainees will soon be released into the community without appropriate safeguards. Some detainees maintain that, if they do not cooperate with deportation processes, they cannot be deported and should be released into the community.

The revelation from the Minister for Home Affairs, Clare O'Neil, over the weekend that the Labor government has lost control of our borders is a national disgrace. A government's principal role is to provide security for its citizens, and the minister's admission is terrifying and absolutely damning. It appears that the government has relinquished to the courts the power over our borders.

Most recently, two boatloads of illegal immigrants made it to our shores, getting past border security, making a mockery of national security. There was the rushed issue of visas to Palestinian refugees from Gaza, some visas taking only an hour or so to issue. What about the cancellation of the visas in transit, then the reissue of most of the visas? This is a hopelessly inept government trying to look good, not do good. ABS statistics for January reveal a staggering 125,410 permanent and long-term arrivals. Accounting for departures, the net growth in permanent and long-term arrivals in January was 55,330, 40 per cent higher than the previous January record intake way back in 2009, putting enormous strain on infrastructure and services. This Labor government does not know how to govern. This Labor government cannot be trusted.

6:32 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's just extraordinary—absolutely extraordinary—that the Albanese Labor government, which is presiding over this debacle in terms of immigration in our country, blames us, the opposition, as if we're to blame. It's the Albanese Labor government that is responsible for this immigration debacle, the lack of control of our borders, not the opposition. It's also extraordinary that the Albanese Labor government should say to us, the opposition, 'You shouldn't be talking about this. You'll just make it worse, to talk about it.' Well, sorry; that's the job of an opposition—to keep the government to account. That is our job. That's the job that the people of Australia sent each and every one of us sitting on this side of the chamber here to do. That's the job we'll continue to do every day up to the next federal election—keeping the Albanese Labor government responsible and accountable for its failure in this space. It is an abject policy failure in relation to our immigration policies and controlling our borders.

Let's go through the issues. What have we seen? We saw the total mismanagement of the NZYQ case itself, an absolute total mismanagement of that case. Then we saw abject failure to prepare for the outcome of that case. Then we saw the incompetent response when the decision was handed down and how 149 dangerous noncitizen detainees were released into our community without adequate preparation. I've quoted in this place the views of a victim of rape when she heard that her convicted rapist was one of the cohort of 149 released into the Australian community. I've quoted her views, her dismay, with respect to the absolute failure of the Albanese Labor government to manage this policy space competently. What else have we seen? Undetected boat arrivals, which Senator Roberts referred to. This isn't Senator Scarr saying this; there's an article from the ABC on 21 February 2024, 'Backstory of a boat arrival and the bizarre day when 39 foreigners landed in a bush community'. That's the ABC reporting on 21 February 2024. Those opposite in the Albanese Labor government talk about misinformation, but what about this story, 'Backstory of a boat arrival and the bizarre day when 39 foreigners landed in a bush community'? Those opposite would prefer we not speak about it. Well, we will speak about it, and we'll speak about it every day until the next federal election because the Australian people have a right to know.

I want to quote from this ABC article:

No vessel has been found, creating further embarrassment for authorities. It's believed the boat skipper did what locals refer to as a 'splash and dash', dropping the men off and sailing back to Indonesia undetected.

That's from an ABC article. This is what is happening in this country. This is what happens when you get the policy settings wrong. I don't blame the wonderful people of Australian Border Force or the Australian Federal Police. This is of the government's making. They got the policy settings wrong, and now they are reaping what they sowed by getting those policy settings wrong.

And there's more. It's never-ending, this nightmare. What do we see? There is an article from Geoff Chambers in the Australian on 16 March that says:

Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil has conceded the government has lost control of key aspects of Australia's migration laws …

The minister herself concedes the government has lost control. I'm sorry, Minister, but, if the government is unable to control our borders under your leadership, maybe you should resign and give someone else a go. Maybe that's the honourable thing for the minister to do. I quote further from the article:

In response to what the government describes as an "unsettled and evolving legal environment", the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Government Solicitor's office have hired almost 50 lawyers in addition to established legal teams.

This is what is happening under the Albanese Labor government: absolute, abject failure to confidently manage one of the most important portfolios needed to protect Australian communities and Australian citizens. It's an absolute abject failure and incompetence, and we will talk about it every day until the next election.