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Tuesday, 25 November 2003
Page: 22710

Mr RANDALL (2:33 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister inform the House of the government's response to the international measures taken to support border protection in Australia, and are there any alternative views?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Canning for his question. I know how concerned he is about this issue. There are a lot of reasons why the government has a tough approach to illegal migration and people-smuggling. To put it into a global context, there are about four million people a year who are smuggled or trafficked across international borders, generating an estimated $US10 billion worth of revenue. This is a massive business. According to Interpol, it is comparable with the profits made from drugs and arms smuggling. So, whatever political criticisms the government suffers, we regard it as important to counter this evil trade.

We have taken tough measures, with our regional neighbours—through the Bali process; through bilateral cooperation, in particular with Indonesia, obviously; and through the establishment of offshore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. These are all important components of our border protection policy, but we must have deterrents here in Australia in order to reduce the `pull factor'. Of course, that is why the government has taken the decisions that it has taken on excision, which was once supported by Labor and is now apparently opposed by Labor. There is no doubt at all that, if people smugglers can convince people that they can deliver them to the shores of Australia, then those people smugglers will get business and more business. There is simply no doubt about the logic of that argument. Therefore, it is crucially important to continue with the strong and successful policies we have to stop those people getting to our shores.

Is there an alternative approach? Yes, there is Labor's approach, which will put the people smugglers back in business. They will abandon most of what the government is proposing and allow the people smugglers to deliver people to Australia. The only positive proposal that comes from the Labor Party is to establish a coastguard, which, according to the member for Gellibrand, would involve three motorboats covering thousands upon thousands of square kilometres of sea, where there are 500 fishing vessels at any one time, but no excision, no offshore processing and no strong stance by the Australian government to deter the people smugglers.

What would the coastguard actually do? It is a very interesting question to ask. Labor's coastguard would bring the boats to Australia! That would be the job of the coastguard. It would not be to turn the boats back, which Labor is opposed to. Labor's coastguard would become a `coast guide'. Bringing people to Australia would be its only role. All I can say is that this simply underlines the bankruptcy of the Labor Party's approach to dealing with the evil trade of people-smuggling.