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Thursday, 20 June 2002
Page: 4056

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) (1:15 PM) —I will not keep the House long. Much of the debate today on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002—and I thank honourable members for participating in it—has been made about the politics of this issue and the exploitation that the opposition believes is occurring in relation to this measure. I would make only point in relation to that: if you really believe it, you can defuse that political issue easily by supporting the legislation. This issue does not have to divide the government and the opposition. It is an issue that can be easily resolved by your support; it does not have to be an issue.

The question you have to ask yourself is: why is it an issue? It might logically be argued to be an issue worth pursuing if you could see in what the government is proposing some detriment to Australia or Australians from excising from the migration zone certain offshore islands and certain external territories. There may be some validity in the argument if you could point to an actual detriment that Australians would suffer; but there is no detriment. The opposition are trying to raise one. They are trying to suggest that this in some way compromises our sovereignty. Let me make the point that this legislation is an exercise of our sovereignty. It is demonstrating that we can amend an act of parliament that prescribes for certain purposes that some people can lodge valid applications if they are within those parts of Australia that are not excised; but, if they are in those parts that are excised, they cannot lodge a valid application for the purposes of migration. That is an exercise of sovereignty. It in no way detracts from our sovereignty. If the argument that was being advanced had any validity in relation to sovereignty, the opposition would have raised it last year. If they seriously believed that this was an argument about sovereignty, they would not have supported legislation that excised Christmas Island and Cocos Island from the migration zone.

Mr RUDDOCK —I am simply saying that if you were arguing that this—

Mr Swan —Sneaky behaviour!

Mr RUDDOCK —I will go back and repeat it for you. If it is a serious political issue, then all you have to do to defuse it is to support it. The shadow minister knows that this issue was raised by me before the matters were implemented, when I invited her to speak to me behind the chair on Thursday.

Mr Swan —Behind the chair!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Barresi)—The member will cease interjecting, and the minister will refrain from responding to interjections.

Mr RUDDOCK —No. It was to indicate that there would be a full briefing for her on those issues which I was seeking to arrange. I make the point that if there was a serious issue in relation to the question of sovereignty, it would have been taken up by the opposition at the time when the first excisions occurred. It was not taken up. So why take it up now? Some people have raised the question of why this issue is being pursued now. Let me deal with that. The reason that it is being pursued now is that we have credible information, which we have adverted to publicly and which was contained in newspaper reports in Indonesia, about a vessel that was intent on reaching the Pacific Ocean and intending to travel through the Torres Strait. Certainly, those reports were last month, and the advice that I received from officials—and you could have checked this at the time with officials—was that this matter should be pursued. That advice came to me either the day before or on the day that I first raised this matter with the shadow minister. That issue could have been checked at the time that you saw officials. You know the advice from those officials: their recommendation to government was that this excision decision should be taken.

Why are we taking these excision decisions? It is because we know that this is a changing game. People smugglers are not inclined to say, `Gee, they have fixed it all. The game's up. We are not going to try again.' That is the reality. Let me assure the honourable members opposite that we will continue, as we see developments and as we get advice, to bring forward proposals to maintain the integrity of our borders. Let me assure those opposite that there will be further requests from time to time. I will endeavour to give you as much notice as possible. I will talk to you about these issues. I will give you every opportunity to cooperate with us. But we will not be deterred from doing what is in the national interest because there are some people saying, `We think we have a veto.'

I have sat in opposition and I know that there are some matters where you will have a coincidence of views, and you will move forward. I know that there are some times in which the opposition, for its own purposes, will need to take a different position. I understand that. I suspect the reason that the opposition are taking a different position on these matters is that they believe that, because of some internal pressures, they have to respond to those. That is what I suspect. I do not know. I suspect that it is more related to the internal divisions that we have seen in the Labor Party on these matters, and that you need to contain them in some way by differentiating yourself on these issues. You could honestly come forward and say, `That's what our position is and that's why we're doing it.'

I can assure you that when I wake up in the morning I do not say, `What can I do today that is going to divide the Labor Party?' I do not do that. I just happen to believe that there are some issues that are important in the national interest, and I happen to believe that immigration programs and refugee and humanitarian programs which focus on those people who have the greatest need for our compassion and our understanding ought to be supported. The fact is that I do look at what the opposition suggests from time to time. I am not churlish: if you come up with a good idea and it is worth pursuing, I will take it and I will implement it and I will even give you the credit. Give me the good ideas. I am not churlish; I do not mind doing that. Give me good ideas that are going to protect our borders and that are worth pursuing and we will act in the national interest. I have looked very carefully to see where the new ideas are. I assumed that they would be in the opposition's second reading amendment that we have before us today. It says that we should implement:

... a comprehensive long term solution including;

(a) dealing with the problem at source ...

That is what we have been doing.

Ms Gillard —How much money are you spending on aid?

Mr RUDDOCK —We spend a lot of money on aid and we have increased the amount of money on aid to the UNHCR this year—not to their core budget but to programs that are going to directly assist refugees. It is not to be spent in Geneva but to be spent on the people who are refugees. We are dealing with the problem at source.

Let me deal with the next one:

(b) providing for the care, protection and processing of asylum seekers in countries of first asylum through additional resourcing of UNHCR and of Australia's on site immigration processing capacity;

We are maximising the number of places we have in our refugee humanitarian program for offshore places by containing irregular movements to Australia. That is what we are doing: maximising the number of places available. We have already increased the number of places this year, and we will increase them further next year if our measures continue with the level of success that they have had to date.

We have also been providing additional resourcing to the UNHCR. Who do you think is paying the UNHCR to do the processing in Indonesia? Australia is. Who do you think is paying the UNHCR to do the processing on Nauru? Australia is. We are involved in providing for the care, protection and processing of asylum seekers; and, yes, we believe the most appropriate place for that to happen is in a country of first asylum where we can make choices as to who, amongst what will be always a much larger pool of people than we can actually accommodate, has the most urgent need for a resettlement place. But it does not matter how many more places we provide—you could double the number of places tomorrow. It would not stop people getting into boats if they thought they were going to get a better outcome, even if we allocated an extra 12,000 places to the refugee program. If you were going to have done it in Pakistan, there would have had to have been two million places to satisfy all of the needs. Providing additional places is not going to stop people who think that by engaging a smuggler they can get a better outcome.

Next you say:

(c) securing regional and global arrangements ...

We have been. Even the Leader of the Opposition acknowledged that we have been doing that when he referred to the arrests that have taken place, which Australians have been able to obtain. What he is saying is, `Get everybody else arrested!' If we could, we would; but the fact is that, when people are outside your jurisdiction, there are some limits on what you can do.

Let me deal with Indonesia. Indonesia is cooperating in the way in which it wants to cooperate with us. There are some people who believe—I think somewhat naively—that you can go to another country and say to them, `Look, we have had a few miraculous ideas about how we can deal with our problem in your jurisdiction.' That is what happened in relation to Indonesia back in the seventies and eighties, when governments of your persuasion and my persuasion were able to require, if you want to use the term, Indonesia to detain people on the island of Galang—and they did. Most Vietnamese asylum seekers never reached Australia. There were very few boat arrivals in Australia, and the reason was that Indonesia detained—

Mr RUDDOCK —No, not tens of thousands.

Mr Snowdon —A thousand through Darwin.

Mr RUDDOCK —Yes, about 1,000. That is right. Most of the hundreds of thousands of people who left never made it to Australia. Many would have liked to. A lot of them remained on the Indonesian island of Galang. The point I am making is this: the Indonesians remember that and they believe they were left with a major problem. It would not matter whether the member for Lalor were negotiating it, Kim Beazley were negotiating it or Simon Crean were negotiating it; the Indonesians are not about to implement detention arrangements to help us. That is the reality. You can say, `Look, we could do a better deal.' But the reality is that where those arrangements can be put in place they are being put in place.

Next you talk about:

(d) co-operating with the UNHCR in developing a comprehensive framework ...

Nobody has been working harder with the UNHCR to get them to think about how they can deal with these issues and to get them to focus on it, but the UNHCR, in dealing with these issues into the future, are not going to stop people getting into the hands of people smugglers. They may help us resolve how we get some people home, they may help us resolve how we will get resettlement outcomes, they may help us deal with a range of issues where they have some capacity, but they are not going to put in place a comprehensive framework which will stop people seeking better outcomes for themselves if they can engage people smugglers.

Next you talk about:

(e) developing a 24 hour 7 day a week `cop on the beat' through a purpose specific coast guard;

We dealt with that during the election. The fact is we have been getting in place returns to Indonesia, and one of the major reasons we have seen the change in relation to the people-smuggling operations—the very reason they are trying now to get at us through accessing our offshore islands and also other territories, and the reason we have to deal with this very issue—is that they are changing their modus operandi because we went about ensuring that there was an effective return through the actions of Coastwatch and the actions of our navy. Dealing with `effective processing', let me just say there is the Constitution and there are issues that have to be dealt with in getting speedier processes. I want speedier processes as much as anybody else, and for a long time I was denied any of those remedies. Then you talk about:

(g) ensuring that asylum seekers whose claims have failed are quickly returned”.

I want people returned as quickly as possible, and there have been more creative measures to put those arrangements in place than you have ever suggested. Let me just make the point that I have been through (a) to (g) and there is nothing there that is not being done by this government or that could be reasonably expected to help us in dealing with these issues. The fact is that there is a bill before the parliament. It involves no detriment to the Australian people. What it means is that there would be a very clear message that we are determined to continue to maintain the integrity of our borders. If you think there are any politics involved in this, support the measure. It would defuse this overnight, I would go away reasonably happy and you would be able to absolve your concerns that you think in some way people are exploiting your divisions.

Ms Gillard —I understand that I have an opportunity to reply to the minister's statement?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Barresi)—I call the member for Lalor.