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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13419

Mr HOWARTH (Petrie) (17:33): As federal members of parliament, we represent a large number of people within each of our electorates. Something like 150,000 people live in the federal seat of Petrie, some 100,000 voters. One of the things I have noticed is that you can get a mixed view on different topics. I want to quickly talk about refugees and immigration, because on that topic people within the electorate have very different views from each other.

Generally, the Australian government has a fairly good approach, and I want to quickly explain why. What we are doing is quite balanced, I believe, and represents the majority of people very well. In relation to refugees and security, in particular, we take 13,750 refugees each year into Australia. In the next couple of years that is increasing up to 18,750 places.

Australia has a very long and proud history of taking in refugees—people who are in genuine fear of persecution, fleeing for their lives. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection in question time today said that since World War II there have been 850,000 refugees taken into Australia. When it comes to a per capita basis, Australia is the most generous country in the world with a very good record in relation to the amount of refugees and how we look after refugees in this country.

Today I was talking to a young man in my electorate, Mr Will Redmond, who told me that when he was 11 he had a refugee family from Sudan living with him. They spent some time doing unskilled work up in Toowoomba and then were able to do skilled work in the medical area in Redcliffe Hospital. That family has been able to make a positive contribution to Australia, like so many other refugees and immigrants, since Federation in particular.

The 2018-19 program will represent one of the largest humanitarian intakes in 30 years. In addition to this, with what is happening in Syria at the moment, we are also taking 12,000 refugees who are fleeing the conflict in Syria and Iraq. These 12,000 people are people who are genuinely running for their lives from ISIL, Islamic State, Daesh or whatever you want to call them. They are often minority groups, like Christians and Yazidis, and they are heavily persecuted. They are being shot, thrown off high buildings, burned alive—all sorts of atrocities which are just unimaginable. Of course these people are trying to find a better life for themselves and their families.

I note that the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and the Prime Minister have said that we will reach out to those minority groups, particularly Christians, that are heavily persecuted, who have the least chance to be able to resettle back into Syria when the conflict dies down and have a very good chance to be able to resettle in Australia in a great way. As a member of parliament and as an Australian I think that is a great thing. We should be able to do that.

Australians that write to me and say, 'Let's not have any refugee intake at all,' or 'Let's not allow anyone to come in,' need to understand that these people who have legitimate concern for their lives. But they also need to understand that the Australian government, and the minister and Prime Minister in particular, have strong security and health checks in place. We make sure that every refugee that comes in has legitimate security checks and health checks. If those are not met then people will not be able to come in, and we will move onto the next person. So Australians can feel confident that the Australian government is making sure that the refugees we take are who they say they are; and they are families in genuine need as a result of persecution.

We have been able to do this because we have also been able to make sure that we now have sovereignty over our refugee intake and over our immigration intake. We know that just two years ago we went to the election saying we would stop the boats, and that was a classic example where we had lost sovereignty. The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments had lost control of borders. They thought it might have been a great idea: 'Let's just abolish the Pacific solution. Let's just get rid of that idea.' What it did was send a signal to people smugglers: 'We are now open for business. You can pay to come here.' And we saw 50,000 people arrive on over 500 boats, and 1,200 people died at sea. Where is the humanitarian side of that—people smugglers making huge profits and people dying at sea? Because we stopped the boats, we can now reallocate those places to people from Syria and other places, people who are fleeing for their lives in particular.

I was talking to a couple of young men in my electorate. They were both Iranian. Talking to them I heard about what we have done as a government; we have sovereignty in relation to our borders again. I was talking to a young man who was an Iranian, who came to Australia illegally by boat in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. He said: 'I was from Iran. I was not happy with the government decision. Therefore, I was being persecuted by the Iranian government.' I said, 'Where did you go and what did you do then?' He said, 'I moved to Saudi Arabia and I was in Saudi Arabia for six months.' He is a young man, 29, and lives in Deception Bay, in my area. He still cannot work, mind you, because he came in that way. He moved to Saudi Arabia for six months. He then moved from the Northern Hemisphere down into Indonesia and spent nine months in Indonesia. I said, 'You were in Indonesia for nine months, and then what did you do?' He said, 'I paid $7,000 to come to Australia.' I said, 'Were you safe when you were in Saudi Arabia?' He said, 'Yes, I was.' I said, 'Why did you pay a people smuggler seven grand to come to Australia?' He said, 'Well, Luke, I just wanted to come to Australia.' I said, 'That's fair enough. I get it, but that's the illegal side of it. You can't just pay a people smuggler to carry you by boat to Australia.' The signal that the Labor government and those opposite voted for caused a lot of the issues to come. I do note that right now they are already saying that, if they get back into government, they will get rid of temporary protection visas. That will send a signal, once again, to people smugglers that they are open for business and you are going to see more chaos and more dysfunction happening.

I also want to quickly address children in detention. People write to me and say, 'All these children are in detention. Why is it taking so long to get them out?' I might say that, in 2007, when the last coalition government was in, there were zero children in detention. Not one. And then the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments came along and changed the Pacific Solution. When I was elected two years ago, and the member for Lalor was elected two years ago, do you know how many children were in detention? Almost 2,000 children were in detention. That is highly unacceptable. Right now, after two years of a coalition government, we are down to under 100. I say to people that it is clear that when the coalition is in power there are fewer children in detention. Let's not forget, too, that those opposite reopened Manus Island, Nauru and everything else. We have the number down to under 100. The 100 that are left are there because their fathers will not let them leave.

The other issue is that these children can get out of detention right now. Every one of them and every person in offshore detention can be out tomorrow. They can leave and go to Cambodia right now, and we will resettle them there and start them up. Cambodia, which is part of our foreign aid program in all of Australasia, receives some significant payments to enable them to get above the poverty line. Those people can be out of detention right now, but, unfortunately, the social justice people on the Left and the refugee groups say, 'No, keep fighting it. Stay there and fight it through the courts,' and it drags on from 12 months to 24 months to 36 months. If you are going to come that way, you will not be able to be resettled in Australia. Let me make that clear.

The Iranian man that I met is a classic example of a man who would have been taking up a spot for a legitimate refugee, like we are getting right now from Syria. I guess the choice for people at the next election is very clear: if you want to have a good refugee intake, but you also want to make sure that we have sovereign borders, the coalition will deliver that for you. Labor have already said that they will get rid of TPVs, and that will create a signal, once again, to people smugglers that they are open for business and Australia has gone soft. The coalition will not give Australia that option. (Time expired)