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Tuesday, 18 September 2001
Page: 30869

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) (5:06 PM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

The Australian public has a clear expectation that Australian sovereignty, including in the matter of entry of people to Australia, will be protected by this parliament and the government.

The Australian public expects its government to exert control over our borders, including the maritime borders to our north.

In the light of growing threats to our borders I am introducing a package of three interrelated bills today.

These bills are the Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration Zone) Bill 2001, a consequential bill and finally a bill to enhance our border protection powers and confirm that recent actions taken in relation to vessels carrying unauthorised arrivals, including the MV Tampa, are valid.

Before providing an overview of the objectives of each of these bills, I need to explain why we are doing this—why we are doing what the Australian public expects we should do.

Growth of unauthorised boat arrivals

We all know about the dramatic increase over the past few years in the number of unauthorised people who have been arriving in Australia by boat—we read about it every month in our newspapers.

In the late 1970s we had some unauthorised boat arrivals from Vietnam, in the late 1980s some from Cambodia, and in the mid-1990s some from the People's Republic of China.

However, these were comparatively small in numbers, and importantly Australia could have been considered as a country of first asylum for people fleeing some of these countries.

What has changed since then has been the growth of organised criminal gangs of people smugglers who are motivated not by any desire to help others, but by base motives of greed.

This form of organised crime is found throughout the world and preys on people who are unwilling, for whatever reason, to go through normal procedures for entry to the country of destination.

Many of the people moved around the world by these smugglers have either no protection needs or have bypassed effective protection arrangements in countries closer to their home, simply so they can achieve their preferred migration outcome.

To give some indication of the way in which people-smuggling has affected Australia, in the financial year 1998-99 there were 921 unauthorised arrivals by boat on Australian shores.

In the financial year 2000-01 this number had increased to 4,141 unauthorised arrivals.

In the last full calendar month—August 2001—no fewer than 1,212 people arrived in an unauthorised way on Australian shores.

Work of government to combat people smuggling

So it is apparent that these criminal gangs have been targeting Australia, among other countries.

We as a government have worked assiduously to counter this evil trade.

We are working with other governments and with international organisations towards prevention of the problem by minimising the outflows of people from countries of origin and secondary outflows from countries of first asylum.

We are also working with other countries to disrupt people smugglers and intercept their customers en route to their destination.

I tabled earlier today a copy of a paper that I recently released that details the work we have been undertaking.

However, regardless of much effort by many governments, law enforcement agencies and international organisations, the illegal trade in people-smuggling persists.

The smugglers don't care what happens to the people who get on boats arranged by them.

They don't care what happens to the boats themselves.

They don't check to see whether the people being smuggled are criminals or genuine asylum seekers.

The only thing they care about is getting paid.

According to media reports, there are at least another 5,000 people currently in Indonesia, and possibly additional numbers in Malaysia, who are waiting for arrangements to be finalised with the people smugglers for travel to Australia by boat.

Further media reports indicate that the smugglers are determined to collect their payments and continue their dirty business.

We also know that the steps we have taken, and will take, to front up to the most recent arrivals are being watched as a sign of how determined we are to deal with these questions.

We have to act to show our strong determination that these smugglers do not get their own way.

The Australian public demands it.

The government is determined to stop these smugglers, and this package of bills is an important measure in achieving these goals.

More important than public perception and the issues of sovereignty ought to be our capacity to help those who have the greatest need for a protection outcome where the opportunities are diminished when smugglers effectively steal the places.

The third in this package of bills will provide for minimum mandatory sentences for people convicted of people-smuggling offences under the Migration Act.

The changes will provide that repeat offenders should be sentenced to at least eight years imprisonment, whilst first offenders should be sentenced to at least five years.

Those provisions will send, in my view, a very important red light to would-be people smugglers.

This first of the three bills is designed to fulfil the commitment the Prime Minister made on 8 September to excise some Australian territories from the migration zone.

The territories principally involved are the Ashmore and Cartier Islands in the Timor Sea, Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, and offshore resource and similar installations.

The government has also decided that the territory of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands should be excised from the migration zone with effect from noon yesterday, 17 September.

These territories will become `excised offshore places', which will mean that simply arriving unlawfully at one of them will not be enough to allow visa applications to be made.

The effects of this bill will be limited only to those who arrive without lawful authority.

Australian citizens and others with authority to enter or reside in the territories will not be affected.

I will shortly be introducing the second in this package of bills, which will deal with consequential matters flowing from the decision to excise these territories from the migration zone.

The third bill that I will introduce today will deal with validation of the government's actions in relation to vessels carrying unauthorised arrivals, such as the MV Tampa, and to enhance our border protection powers.

The package should not be misinterpreted as `fortress Australia' legislation.

Australia will continue to honour our international protection obligations.

We can be, and we are, justly proud of our immigration record and our welcome to settlers from all over the world who have come to Australia lawfully.

Since 1945, almost 5.7 million people have come to Australia from other countries.

Almost 600,000 of those have come to Australia under our refugee and humanitarian programs.

Today, nearly one in four of Australia's 19 million people were born overseas.

Australian society has embraced people from around 150 different ethnic groups and nationalities.

A central part of Australia's commitment to migration has been its open and generous refugee resettlement programs.

On a per capita basis, Australia is second only to Canada in its generosity to refugees and people of humanitarian concern.

Australia's record is impressive against any measure and has been achieved by the determination of many governments to ensure that our programs are transparent and fair.

However, the success of migration to Australia also depends on the integrity that our programs have demonstrated.

This integrity cannot be maintained if Australia's maritime borders can be crossed at will.

The message that we, as a country, want to send has two elements:

Australia is a country whose nation building record owes much to those who migrate here, and we will continue to welcome those whom we invite.

But we will not tolerate violation of our sovereignty and we are determined to combat organised criminal attempts to land people illegally on our shores.

In summary, this is an important package of bills for both the government and the Australian people.

It will significantly reduce incentives for people to make hazardous voyages to Australian territories.

It will help ensure that life is made as difficult as possible for those criminals engaged in the people smuggling trade.

Most of all, it will ensure that the integrity of our maritime borders and our refugee program is maintained.

I commend the bill to the chamber and table the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Dr Martin) adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for the next sitting.