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- Start of Business
- Veterans' Entitlements Amendment Bill 2011
- Clean Energy Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates Amendments) Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (Household Assistance Amendments) Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (Tax Laws Amendments) Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (Fuel Tax Legislation Amendment) Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (Customs Tariff Amendment) Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (Excise Tariff Legislation Amendment) Bill 2011
- Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment Bill 2011
- Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (Unit Shortfall Charge—General) Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (Unit Issue Charge—Auctions Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (Unit Issue Charge—Fixed Charge) Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (International Unit Surrender Charge) Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (Charges—Customs) Bill 2011
- Clean Energy (Charges—Excise) Bill 2011
- Clean Energy Regulator Bill 2011
- Climate Change Authority Bill 2011
- Steel Transformation Plan Bill 2011
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Symon, Mike, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Jensen, Dennis, MP, Gillard, Julia, MP)
(Wilkie, Andrew, MP, Gillard, Julia, MP)
(Rowland, Michelle, MP, Gillard, Julia, MP)
(Vasta, Ross, MP, Gillard, Julia, MP)
(Smyth, Laura, MP, Combet, Greg, MP)
Member for Dobell
(Pyne, Christopher, MP, Gillard, Julia, MP)
(Fitzgibbon, Joel, MP, Albanese, Anthony, MP)
(Bishop, Julie, MP, Gillard, Julia, MP)
Clean Energy Future Plan
(Cheeseman, Darren, MP, Plibersek, Tanya, MP)
(Pyne, Christopher, MP)
(Sidebottom, Sid, MP, Combet, Greg, MP)
(Hunt, Greg, MP, Gillard, Julia, MP)
(Ferguson, Laurie, MP, Gillard, Julia, MP)
(Hawke, Alex, MP, Gillard, Julia, MP)
(Mitchell, Rob, MP, Bowen, Chris, MP)
- Carbon Pricing
- STATEMENTS ON INDULGENCE
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- Economics Committee
- Regional Australia Committee
- Clean Energy Future Legislation Committee
- Business Names Registration Bill 2011
- Business Names Registration (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2011
- Business Names Registration (Fees) Bill 2011
- Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2011
- Navigation Amendment Bill 2011
- Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Fibre Deployment) Bill 2011
Parliamentary Service Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Officer) Bill 2011
- Second Reading
- Consideration in Detail
- Slipper, Peter, MP
- Regional Development Australia
- Braddon Electorate: Mining
- Gary Walden Trust
- Student Income Support
- Ansett Airlines
- Kooyong Electorate: Scouting Movement
- Moreton Electorate: Community Cabinet
- Small Businesses
- Granville Scouts
- Herbert Electorate: Foster Care
- Aboriginal Communities
- QUESTIONS IN WRITING
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (Gorton—Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice) (15:45): I rise to oppose the assertions made by the Leader of the Opposition that this government is not strong on border protection. Indeed, it is a high priority of this government. That is why we dedicate more resources than ever before to ensuring that our borders are protected. That is why, for example, in relation to irregular maritime arrivals, we have interdicted vessels more successfully. There have been far fewer mainland arrivals that went undetected under this government compared with the Howard government. Almost one in 10 irregular maritime arrivals landed on the mainland of this country under the Howard government. They landed in places like Darwin or near Cairns. In fact, even the state of New South Wales received vessels undetected under the Howard government's regime. I have to say, in defence of Customs and Border Protection and those great agencies that do such great work for this country, that they have indeed managed this issue very well.
Of course it is true to say that we are dealing with a significant challenge—a challenge that also confronted the Howard government and the Fraser government. It is a challenge about dealing with the movement of people globally, the displacement of people and their efforts to come to First World nations. Australia is one such nation—a nation which will indeed be a target for people who seek asylum—because we are signatories to the refugee convention. This is a country where people seek to come as they seek to go to Europe, the United States and other such countries. The fact is that we have been dealing with this issue for some time. It is true to say that this has been a very significant challenge for the government. What we are asking the opposition to do now is put the interests of this nation ahead of the interests of the Leader of the Opposition's career. What we are after the opposition to do now is join the government and ensure that the executive government of the day has the capacity to provide the best possible deterrent against allowing people-smuggling to continue in such a manner. That is all we are asking the Leader of the Opposition.
After the decision of the High Court it appeared, at least at that point, that the Leader of the Opposition was showing an uncharacteristic inclination to consider the situation by saying that he believed that the government of the day should be in a position to enact effective border protection policy. Unfortunately, since the time that he uttered those words he seems to have been walking away from his obligations to protect the interests of this nation. And that is a crying shame. We think that on this issue, where the Leader of the Opposition seeks to convince the people of Australia that he cares about border protection, he would join the government to ensure we have the best possible deterrent against the scourge of people smuggling, that we have the best possible deterrent against people being lured onto unseaworthy vessels on perilous journeys, that he would work with the government to ensure that we protected the interests not only of those desperate passengers on those vessels but also the personnel of Customs and Border Protection. That is what we would have expected a responsible and honourable Leader of the Opposition to do, and we still hold out some hope that sanity will prevail within the opposition to ensure that this government has the capacity to put in place the most effective deterrent as advised by experts—the same experts that advised the Howard government when they were dealing with such a challenge.
But to date we unfortunately have not heard that level of consensus. I know that by inclination and reflex the Leader of the Opposition will oppose, but I think he has now an opportunity to show that he does put this country's interests ahead of his own. What worries me most, and what will worry the people of Australia, is that the Leader of the Opposition will not support the government legislation to enact the Malaysian plan not because it will not work, but because he believes it will work. What would worry the Australian people is that this opposition leader would put his interests so far ahead of the national interest that he would prevent a plan that he has been advised would be the greatest deterrent to endangering the lives of desperate people, to allowing the people-smuggling trade to continue and to endangering the lives of Customs and Border Protection personnel.
As minister responsible for those operational agencies I can say that it worries me every day when Customs and Border Protection personnel are on the high seas, interdicting vessels in the dark and in very serious sea states. They are placing their lives in danger. We saw in April 2009, with SIEV36, that an explosion that killed five passengers could well have also killed members of our Customs and Border Protection personnel. Indeed, we saw on 15 December last year that awful tragedy with the foundering of SIEV221, the vessel that was holding people seeking asylum. They foundered on the rocks of Christmas Island, and up to 50 men, women and children perished. That was a very awful tragedy—a tragedy that would have been worse if it were not for the heroic efforts, dedication and professionalism of Customs and naval personnel who went to the aid of those who were still in the water and saved 40 people, plucking them directly from the sea. To do that took great acts of courage, and it worries me still that we will see more deaths if we do not stop these arrivals. I believe that the government—and, indeed, every member of this House who has a capacity to change the arrangements to ensure a greater deterrence—has to take some responsibility if we increase the capacity for vessels to arrive in this manner. It worries me that we have men and women in these vessels surveilling thousands of kilometres of water and indeed dealing with very serious challenges. And I do believe it is incumbent, certainly upon the government but also but upon the opposition, to consider that what we do or do not do has some bearing on the lives of our Customs and Border Protection personnel. I think that to date we have been fortunate that we have not lost a life from one of our agencies at sea.
I arrived on Christmas Island on 15 December to be told of that awful tragedy. And if not before, certainly from that day, I and of course other parliamentary and ministerial colleagues believed we had to put our entire focus on an arrangement that would lead to the greatest deterrent possible in order to prevent more men, women and children dying and that would prevent our Customs and Border Protection personnel from endangering their lives any further.
Indeed, for some considerable months the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, in particular, engaged with the government of Malaysia to embark upon what I believe is a very innovative approach to having the strongest possible deterrent and to stopping the people smugglers from being able to lure people on vessels with the promise that they can get to Australia. It is that lure, that enticement, that leads to these tragedies.
If the Leader of the Opposition will not to listen to the advice of the department that says to him that this is the most likely way we will see a decline in, and a cessation of, vessels arriving in this way then it worries me that the Leader of the Opposition and the opposition themselves are putting their base political interests ahead of not only the national interest but, more specifically, the lives of men, women and children, and the personnel of Customs and Border Protection, who are confronted with these situations each and every day.
The Leader of the Opposition can continue to assail the Prime Minister and can continue to argue about what might have happened 10 years ago and five years ago. What we know is that in the last number of weeks—indeed, most recently last week—the Leader of the Opposition has been provided with the best possible advice that the government has received, which says to him that Nauru will not work. Whatever deterrent it may have had in some limited way at some point before the people settled in Australia, that is not an option now. The people smugglers see the Nauru option as the Christmas Island option, just closer to the mainland of Australia. Unfortunately, that cannot work, if it ever did.
I can run through all of the reasons why there were major deficiencies in that option. I can also, of course, point to the fact that there were thousands and thousands of people who arrived on our shores after the introduction of temporary protection visas. Right now, however, the most fundamental issue that the parliament has to consider with respect to border protection is whether we are going to have consensus around whether executive government should have the capacity to put in place the most effective deterrent to prevent the people smugglers continuing their trade.
We have to make sure we come together and put in the most effective approach to reducing the chances of men, women and children perishing at sea and ensuring that the chances of any of our own personnel losing their life at sea are reduced as much as possible. These are the things that now concern me as the minister responsible for the operational side of this public policy area, and I do not believe that it is incumbent upon the Leader of the Opposition to continue to play politics with this issue.
It is now time that the Leader of the Opposition thinks about what he is doing and considers the ramifications of not entering into an agreement to allow the passage of legislation that would give executive government in this country the opportunity to accept the advice of the experts from the departments who have dealt with this issue. That is something that I believe that the opposition leader must turn his mind to. If he is serious about wanting to be perceived in this country as a leader, as a person who puts the interests of the nation first, then he has no alternative, I would argue, than to stop putting his political interests ahead of the national interest.
So I have to disagree with the Leader of the Opposition; I do not believe it is the case that the Nauru option is viable. It did not work effectively, in my view. It also coincided with the greatest repatriation of people because of the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and indeed the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It was a combination of factors that led to some of the repatriation that occurred, but the fact is that the people smugglers know that those who were not repatriated were settled either here or in New Zealand. That is not a deterrent. That is not something that is going to deter one person seeking to get on a vessel in Malaysia to come here.
I think, in his heart of hearts, that Tony Abbott knows that. In his heart of hearts the Leader of the Opposition knows that the Malaysian plan is the best possible plan. In knowing that, I think it is reprehensible and unconscionable conduct for the Leader of the Opposition not to allow the government of the day to enact the most effective plan that will protect the interests of this country, protect the efficacy of our borders, protect the interests of those people—
Mr Broadbent: It's not going to happen; you're wasting your time!
Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: I hear the interjection by someone who supports onshore processing, which I do not think the Leader of the Opposition would be proceeding with. Mr Deputy Speaker, if I could continue without the interjections—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! The honourable member will remain silent.
Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: This has been an area that has unfortunately ripped through the nation. There has been serious discord in our society for many a year as a result of this issue. It is one that we should never play politics with. The lives of men, women and children, of course, are endangered if we do not find the most effective approach to protect them, and the best way to protect them is to smash the business model—which is, of course, to allow people smugglers to say to them, 'Get on that vessel and you will get to Australia.' If we do not do that, and if the Leader of the Opposition does not support the government in that approach, then Tony Abbott will rue the day if he did not accept the proposition that we have to put the greatest and strongest deterrent in place to smash the people-smuggler model and to protect the interests of men, women and children; protect the interests of the personnel of Customs and Border Protection; and, indeed, protect the interests of this nation.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Before calling the honourable Deputy Leader of the Opposition, I would remind the minister that under the standing orders he is supposed to refer to the Leader of the Opposition and all other members by their title and not by their name.