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Thursday, 25 November 1999
Page: 12734


Mrs SULLIVAN (5:46 PM) —I rise to speak on the Border Protection Legislation Amendment Bill 1999 . I have a longstanding interest in immigration and refugees, and I feel moved to enter this debate very briefly in light of some of the things that have been said about the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. The minister of course has mounted a very capable defence of himself, but somebody from the government needs to say a few words on his behalf. I have had years now of dealing with this minister on the subject of immigration, both in opposition and in government.

The member for Bowman made the statement that the minister is a decent, caring and compassionate person. I agree with that statement, and I am going to extend it by saying that I believe he is recognised more and more throughout Australia as we all know him to be—a man of integrity who has worked very hard to return integrity to our immigration and refugee policy. The Border Protection Legislation Amendment Bill 1999 is of a piece with the actions in this area of the minister and of the Howard government.

I have been in parliament for a few years and was very active in the immigration and refugee area more than 20 years ago when we were getting boat people from Indochina. I remember the alarm bells that that set off in the community, and some of the fairly wild things that were said around the place by people nobody in this chamber would associate themselves with. The feeling in the community was: what is the security of this country when people just start to arrive on our shores? There is that same feeling now. There is a very deep concern about what the arrival of all these boatloads of people means for the future of the country.

Australians are a compassionate and altruistic people. Most of them are very happy to help people who are in need, and they recognise that this is a nation that has international obligations to genuine refugees who, for the most part, are accepted with sympathy and understanding. I have a very deep concern about the people trafficking—I cannot speak for the minister, but I am sure it is his view, too. Some people see it as a threat to the integrity of our borders. It is something that carries with it the potential to damage our interest to genuinely helping refugees and others whom we would want to help.

Generous people do not like to feel they are being used, and there is a growing feeling that these people are using Australia. The measure that the minister has put forward in this bill is a very reasonable one—people who have other acceptable options should take them, and we should see that they do so that the integrity of our refugee policy is not undermined no matter what the force of numbers that are being brought to bear. We will remain steadfast in that. We will not allow our well-intentioned refugee procedures to be used by people who are just queuejumping in an immigration process.

I applaud everything that the minister is attempting to do. Personally, when I see him on television in the context of `yet another boatload', I listen very closely to what he says because I know it will be very sound and it will be very important for our immigration and refugee policies. I believe that the minister has been very temperate indeed in what he has been saying. He has nevertheless recognised the need and the right of the Australian people to know something of the magnitude of the problem. I am sure that, when he makes statements about what his intelligence is on the magnitude of the problem, he would never do it in an alarmist way and that he would give very close consideration to the need for the Australian people to know that intelligence. (Time expired)