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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26763

Mrs MAY (2:31 PM) —My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. Would the Attorney-General advise the House on the success of the government's efforts to maintain the integrity of Australia's borders?

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) —I thank the honourable member for McPherson for her question. The member for McPherson has been very interested in these issues over a considerable period, and given the nature of her electorate the question is of special significance. Of course, protecting the integrity of our borders remains a continuing and high priority for this government.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Grayndler.

The SPEAKER —The member for Grayndler now chooses to defy the chair, and I will deal with him.

Mr RUDDOCK —The number of boats attempting to reach our shores with unauthorised entrants has dropped to an almost insignificant number in the last three years. There are other aspects to border protection, including issues relating to drugs. The number of drug seizures that have occurred has resulted in a massive reduction of the supply of illicit drugs to the Australian market and, according to a survey under the national drug strategy in 2001, there were 23 per cent fewer Australians using illicit drugs. Since the launch of our Tough on Drugs strategy, Australian law enforcement agencies have stopped more than nine tonnes of serious illicit drugs from reaching Australia's shores.

I am very much aware of proposals that impact upon our border security and particularly our capacity to deal with unauthorised border arrivals and drugs. Therefore I am surprised when I see proposals from Labor to set up a coastguard, drawing largely from resources of existing services but also having a policy of bringing unauthorised arrivals into the migration zone—something that I have noted is a `meet and greet' policy. A coastguard with 13 patrol boats and using snipers in helicopters to shoot out outboard motors on boats attempting to breach our border security ought to be seen for what it is. It is a cheap take from the United States, where it is used to stop high-speed motorboats used by Colombian drug cartels from shipping narcotics into the United States. These boats are referred to as `cigarette' boats or `go-fast' boats because of their shape, and they have a speed of up to 50 knots. I am asked whether we have ever seen these sorts of vessels being used to smuggle drugs or people into Australia. The advice I have is that no such vessels have been used to smuggle drugs or people into Australia.

The vessels that we see are generally wooden fishing boats. On a good day they may reach five knots. The people smugglers instruct their passengers, if they are apprehended, to sabotage their motors so that the vessels cannot return those people to where they have come from. In fact, one of the major factors that has enabled us to deter people smugglers and people-smuggling operations is the fact that we have been able to secure vessels that have not had their motors damaged and have been able to ensure that they return to where they have come from.

So what do we have? We have the Labor Party now with a `meet and greet' organisation—the `coast guide'—who also want to emulate Miami Vice and shoot out the engines of the boats coming to Australia. That is shooting out the engines of boats that move at about five knots an hour and are possibly carrying women and children. Now you do not need the smugglers telling people that they have to sabotage their boats; they can rely upon the Labor Party and their sharpshooters to do it for them.