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Wednesday, 13 March 2002
Page: 1168

Mr HAASE (2:40 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister update the House on the outcome of the recent people-smuggling conference held in Bali, co-hosted by Australia and Indonesia? Is the minister aware of any alternative approaches?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Kalgoorlie for his question. I recognise the great interest he has in the issue of people-smuggling. He raises this issue very much on behalf of his constituents, who I know are particularly concerned about this issue given the geography of the electorate of Kalgoorlie. The Australian government hosted with Indonesia what has become known as the Bali conference on people-smuggling. This was a very significant conference, attended by 38 ministerial level representatives from countries of origin, transit and destination that are used by people smugglers. Importantly, this meeting very significantly raised the profile of the campaign against people-smuggling in the region, with ministers agreeing in particular on the importance of legislative measures to criminalise people-smuggling and trafficking. In many countries of the region people-smuggling is not a crime, and there was a consensus that the countries involved needed to improve their legislative regimes.

There was also agreement that there should be cooperative action in fields such as intelligence sharing, law enforcement, border management and return arrangements. At the end of the meeting I appointed John Buckley, who is our outgoing ambassador to the Philippines, as the Ambassador for People-Smuggling Issues. I was also pleased that, at the meeting, Afghanistan confirmed its willingness to accept Afghans who choose to return home. There was a very useful contribution made by Afghanistan at the meeting.

The honourable member for Kalgoorlie asked if there are any alternative approaches. All I can say is that the alternative approaches of the Australian Labor Party cause one to question the credibility of the Labor Party as an opposition. I note, for example, that on the Sunday before the Bali people-smuggling conference the opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, the member for Griffith, went on an ABC program called Insiders—the informal program. The member for Griffith said that the people-smuggling conference would not really be effective because `Pakistan will not be represented at the conference, either by its foreign minister or any other minister'. He went on to argue, using a cricketing metaphor, Prime Minister, that this was like the International Cricket Council having a meeting without England. That does cause you to reflect. I think his point was meant to be, if I can put it that way, that this meeting would not be credible without Pakistan's participation. The opposition often alleges that the government's standards of integrity are not high enough, which seems to suggest that the opposition's standards must be very high. The fact is that, despite this allegation, the minister for the interior of Pakistan very much enjoyed the Bali people-smuggling conference, as did his officials. The meeting was a great success. The opposition ran a line that the conference was not going to work because Pakistan was going to be absent, but Pakistan was there, and not only at ministerial level.

Why wouldn't the opposition be deceptive on this sort of an issue? After all, at the last election they ran the greatest deception of all, which was—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr DOWNER —And they laugh at it! The greatest deception of all, as we know on this side of the House, was that the people over there said they supported the government's policy on border control, knowing all the time that if they were to win the election they would change the policy. And when they lost the election—those who were elected in marginal seats having got elected on the basis of their supporting the government's policy—they went out and abandoned it. What is the Labor Party's policy now on these issues? The opposition spokesman on foreign affairs said at the end of November that there would be a review process:

I would imagine it would take some months. During the period of our policy review we couldn't articulate an alternative policy.

He went on to say, meaningfully:

I mean, it's logical ...

Then we have the member for Lalor, who is the opposition spokesman on immigration, saying later:

However, we've now got three years to review the policy. The policy that's right for Australia in 2005 might be quite a different one.

I will tell you what the Labor Party's policy in 2005 will be: it will be the government's policy because when an election draws near the Labor Party will abandon its three-year policy review and its policy debate, and just do what it did before and adopt the government's policy. Months have passed now since the last election and we expect the Labor Party to start coming up with a few ideas and a few policies, not just smear campaigns. If I may say so, it is pathetic when a Leader of the Opposition only ever sees, to the best of my knowledge, Asia from 35,000 feet up in the seat of a plane. All I can say is that this is an opposition which has no policy except a three-year review. It is a pitiful reflection on a pitiful opposition.