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Thursday, 27 September 2001
Page: 31711

Mr ROSS CAMERON (4:43 PM) —Today's subject requires reflection on the capacity of the two sides of politics to help secure Australia's future externally, which I presume refers to Australia's strategic relationship with the United States, internally, which refers to jobs, health and education, and the question of boat arrivals and the integrity of Australia's migration program, which straddles both the internal and the external. The coalition's policy on our relationship with the United States is very clear; it is unambivalent. We support ANZUS, we support our principal strategic ally, the United States. We will cooperate with the United States by all available means, both in the war on terrorism and more broadly in upholding the values of democracy and freedom around the world.

I do not really dispute the fact that the Leader of the Opposition is almost entirely in agreement with those sentiments. The difficulty he faces is that he leads a party that is very significantly divided on those issues. In fact, in the lead-up to this election the shadow spokesman for foreign affairs made it clear that he would be aiming to present the electorate with a clear choice in relation to Australia's strategic relationship with the United states. This follows Labor's long-term historical ambivalence about this external relationship. In 1963, Calwell and Whitlam, leading the ALP, opposed the establishment of joint facilities with the United States at Pine Gap. In the 1980s there was raging debate within the ALP about both the continuing operations of the joint facilities and whether all US warships should be able to dock in Australian ports or only some. There continues to be speculation at the branch level of the ALP that perhaps the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States was involved in the demise of Gough Whitlam. Those on this side of the House would suggest that Gough Whitlam did not require the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency to mastermind his own demise.

The problem for the Leader of the Opposition is that his party is attempting to straddle two quite different Labor traditions. Tony Blair is clearly standing right behind NATO and the United States, whereas Helen Clark immediately to our east has a quite different approach. Her view of Labor's strategic relationships is to run down the defence forces, to refuse American ships access to New Zealand ports, and to close the Air Force. The question for the electorate is what approach will this Labor Party adopt and, frankly, the answer is very uncertain.

When James Kelly, the Assistant Secretary of State from the US, arrived he made a beeline to Kim Beazley's office to ask a simple question. Following the outcome of Labor's caucus meeting in Hobart which said that the Pine Gap facility should not be made available to the US in the prosecution of its missile defence policy, James Kelly had a simple question for Kim Beazley, and it was this: `If Australia becomes aware through its Pine Gap facilities that an intercontinental ballistic missile has been launched against a city in the United States, will Australia give the United States that data?'

It was a pretty extraordinary question for an assistant secretary of state to be asking a leader of a political party that is meant to be one of its most solid strategic allies. Kim Beazley, realising the internal incoherence of his position—as if we are going to have data managers sitting there over that seven-minute period between the launch of an ICBM and its arrival at its target in an American city deciding which of the data we are going to give and which we are not going to give—came out and unequivocally indicated to James Kelly that Australia would provide the data. But that was in complete contradiction to the policy adopted by his caucus and by the shadow spokesman for external affairs. We hope that a Labor government will be capable of securing Australia's future but, frankly, the answer is far from clear.

In relation to boat arrivals: again, you see on this side of the House a relatively clear and unequivocal policy. We took the view that Australia's exposure to boat arrivals at both the push end—the factors driving this acceleration of arrivals—and the pull end— the sort of reception received—was out of whack, out of sync, and that the entire issue needed to be re-engineered. John Howard took a clear-cut and courageous stance, a stance which subjected him to considerable external criticism. When John Howard, the Prime Minister, leads a government he leads it in Australia's national interest. He is not looking over his shoulder at every point to seek the imprimatur or blessing of some collection of nations, many of which have the most appalling human rights records but lecture us about what our approach should be.

This government determined to maintain one of the more generous per capita refugee migration programs anywhere in the world. The point was not whether we should continue to receive generously and warmly a proportion of the world's refugees and asylum seekers, but whether those who could simply present themselves on our shores ought to be able to push out of the queue all those who had been patiently waiting, who had applied by lawful channels and who were entitled to expect to come through the front door. They are being pushed out by this apparently unlimited exposure to boat arrivals. We took a series of measures to strengthen disincentive and discouragement among the transit states such as Indonesia—and I congratulate the ministers for immigration, for defence and for foreign affairs who went to Indonesia and constructively negotiated an arrangement with the Indonesian government that would require all arrivals to demonstrate their bona fides to ensure that Indonesia did not become a blind eye transit centre or staging point to Australia. Then we introduced the Border Protection Bill 2001 and subsequently the judicial review bills.

I am open to the prospect that a party such as the ALP may have a view different from the government on this issue. The difficulty is that it is almost impossible to discern through the pea soup of Labor policy what they actually stand for. Firstly, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Beazley, indicated that he would stand shoulder to shoulder with the Prime Minister, that it was good policy, and that it was practical and humane. As soon as the Border Protection Bill 2001 was presented to the parliament, we found to our astonishment that it was defeated by Labor and the Democrats. We then got this commitment from the ALP that they would oppose the judicial review bill on the basis that it was unconstitutional. Subsequently, as a consequence of the laceration the ALP received at the hands of, principally, public opinion, we get this absolute volte-face, this backflip, where Kim Beazley would have the electorate believe that you cannot put a cigarette paper between him and the coalition on the issue of the protection of Australia's borders.

At the same time, if you listen to the other voices coming through you get a different view. The member for Grayndler, a parliamentary secretary in the ALP, this week at Labor's caucus made a point of indicating that he thought Labor's support for these measures would go down in the history of the party as one of the great shames and embarrassments of the Australian Labor Party. We had Senator Jim McKiernan in the other place saying:

... I give notice that I shall do whatever I possibly can to get this changed ... when Labor win office at the forthcoming election.

Senator Chris Schact, as shadow minister, said:

... it will not work in a number of ways.

The Leader of the Opposition is wanting to hold out this view out of one side of his mouth while all of these disparate voices essentially—

Mr ROSS CAMERON —The member for Reid is a powerful figure in the Left. He ought to get to this rabble of the Left which has been the weeping sore of the ALP since the Second World War. They are not part of a team. There is no coherent position.

Can I turn to the bread-and-butter domestic issues of health, education and jobs. Starting with jobs: as the minister for employment pointed out during question time, when I was elected as the member for Parramatta in 1996, unemployment was over 12 per cent. Today unemployment in Parramatta is under three per cent. In relation to education, under this government we have seen a 43 per cent increase in funding simply for public schools, since we were elected in 1996. It has been quarantined from any cuts. It has increased every year. It is a record of sustained commitment. In the area of health, we have seen our minister for health receive the highest international award for his work in diabetes. We have seen the rapid escalation in the rates of immunisation among children. We have had increased rates of bulk-billing. Mr Deputy Speaker, there is a choice going into this election. One side of Australian politics has a clear, coherent, sustained policy position. The other side is a rabble. I leave the choice to the wisdom of the Australian people.