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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 5334

Mr MORRISON (4:26 PM) —Today’s editorial in the Sydney Daily Telegraph highlights the matter of public importance before the House today. It says:

The constant arrival of claimed asylum seekers off Australia’s northern coastline comes with a dreadful toll. More than 150 men, women and children, lured by the promises of people-smugglers and a belief that Australia offers easy sanctuary, have drowned at sea since 2008.

This is a cost rarely mentioned in considering the ongoing issue of asylum seekers. And then there is the financial cost which, while of lesser concern, is now becoming outrageous.

It goes on to say:

… the Rudd Government seems unable or unwilling to take serious action to stop it.

Inaction is driving the various costs involved in this higher by the day.

There is nothing humane about policies that encourage people to risk their lives in the hands of people smugglers. People die on boats. This is the inconvenient truth of the asylum seekers debate and the reality for at least hundreds who have perished at sea.

People smugglers are not the modern-day equivalent of Oscar Schindler, as some in the public debate romantically suggest. Today’s people smugglers are criminal syndicates. They put others’ lives at risk for their own profit. If the Prime Minister spent as much time and energy in this House trying to destroy the profits of people smugglers as he does trying to tax the profits of our minerals sector, then perhaps things would be different. But they are not different today. Today we have boats arriving at a rate on average of three per week. This compares to an average of just three per year over the last six years of the Howard government. More people have arrived this month than arrived in total during the last six years of the Howard government once our full suite of measures was in place.

In fact, we have had more people arrive illegally by boat in the first five months of this year than in the 13 years following the end of the Vietnam War. Contrary to popular myth, large numbers of people and boats did not arrive on our shores following the Vietnam War. The boats and their passengers were diverted to offshore processing centres, in places like Galang in Indonesia, as part of a plan supported by the Fraser government. During this genuine regional crisis, Indochinese asylum seekers were processed offshore and resettled in the same way as they were processed at Nauru and Manus Island and resettled under the policies of the Howard government. In this context, Malcolm Fraser was indeed a pioneer of offshore processing.

Whatever our critics might argue, the Australian public know that John Howard and his government stopped the flow of boats. They have now returned, under this government’s failed policies, at an unprecedented rate of arrival. Under the Howard government’s policies, people were no longer risking their lives on boats, as they had previously. People smugglers were no longer earning the superprofits they are today. In fact, they were not earning superprofits or profits at all at that time. Our courts were no longer jammed with endless appeals from those seeking to have the rejection of their asylum claims overturned and to have their stay extended. Our detention population had fallen by the time we left office to just 449 people, of whom only four had arrived by boat, and just 21 children were being detained.

Detention centres such as Curtin and Baxter were closed. New state-of-the-art facilities were built on Christmas Island to cope with the modest arrivals anticipated under the coalition government’s policies—not the policy failures of this government. The coalition introduced reforms to remove children from formal detention and to process health, identity and security checks in parallel with refugee status determination. Those reforms made detention more humane and significantly improved processing efficiency to reduce the time people spent in detention. Those reforms remain coalition policy. The Howard government was confronted with a problem and it delivered a solution. This was done in the face of global asylum applications which at that time were more than 50 per cent higher than they are today.

Sadly, the number of refugees and people seeking asylum around the world remains high today. Of the 10½ million people around the world who are refugees—or the 10.4 million, I should say, having just seen the latest report for 2009, which is slightly less—less than one per cent will receive a resettlement in a third country such as Australia. This is a genuinely unique and very precious opportunity that is on offer to a very small number of people.

Throughout the coalition’s time in government, we maintained a strong resettlement program and we remain committed to this program today. We are still the most generous country per capita in terms of resettling refugees around the world and we boast, as we have for many years, of one of the best resettlement programs anywhere in the world. But, in contrast to the coalition’s policy, the Prime Minister’s policy serves to provide these places to those who seek to gain places by an illegal mode of entry, displacing those who have come by legal means and who have sought their asylum from offshore places in refugee camps. Those who have come by an illegal method have effectively taken the place of those who would have come by another method and who would have been given the support which is so precious and which is so given by a generous Australian community.

But what about those who come to this country by plane, as is often said? Those who arrive by air typically have a valid visa for entry and only a small minority arrive illegally without documentation. I am yet to learn of an asylum seeker who has perished on a 747 heading for Australia. That said, the coalition’s temporary protection visa policy will apply equally to those arriving illegally by air or those who have overstayed their visas and have sought asylum as it will to those who arrive illegally by boat.

The natural consequence of the Rudd government’s failed border protection policies is that our detention centres today are full again and the costs are spiralling out of control. There are now more than 3,600 people in detention. Since the abolition of temporary protection visas, the number of children being detained has grown to 452. There were, as I said earlier, 21 children being detained when the coalition left office. Under this government’s policies, there are now 452 children being detained. So do not be deluded: when boats are arriving at the rate under this government, there are always going to be children coming on boats, but if no boats are coming then there will be no children coming on boats. Under this government, people are being detained in tents, in overcrowded facilities and in remote areas, including the Curtin detention centre closed by the Howard government and reopened by the Rudd government.

This year’s budget outlines a budget blow-out of more than $1 billion on offshore asylum processing costs. Yet these estimates mask an even bigger blow-out. The Rudd government is predicting just 2,000 arrivals in 2010-11 and in the following year 1,260. In this year’s budget they assume 4,500 people will be coming to Australia—having forecast in the budget a year ago that only 200 people would come. So far this year 5,352 people have come and the year is not out yet.  This means that the government is forecasting a drop in illegal boat arrivals of more than 60 per cent in 2010-11. According to the budget presented in the House by this government a month ago, in just a few weeks time we are going to have a 60 per cent decline in the number of people coming illegally by boat to this country. It is no wonder that in estimates Senator Evans, the minister responsible, said, ‘I am not very confident that we can with any surety say that the 2,000 figure that is used for the accounting purpose in that budget paper can be supported.’ He does not believe it. He does not believe his own budget papers.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has lost control of our borders and of his own budget. The government’s immigration budget is a work of fiction. It assumes boats will just stop coming in two weeks time, without it taking any of the hard decisions needed to deliver that outcome. Perhaps the Prime Minister believes that he can just spin these boats away like he does with all the other problems he has generated for himself. He thinks he can just spin them away out there in the 24-hour news cycle. Perhaps he thinks he is Obi-Wan Kenobi and that he can perform the Jedi mind trick on the boats. He can say, ‘This is not the country you were looking for,’ and somehow they will just go away. Maybe that is the policy, because when Senator Evans was asked in estimates about whether there was any change of policy to back up a 60 per cent fall in illegal boat arrivals, his answer was: ‘No. There’s no change of policy. We just think it’s going to happen.’ There is no need to make hard decisions, no need to do anything of a policy nature and no need to have any resolve. You put it in the budget and then the boats just go away. If only it were that easy. This side of the House knows from when we were in government how difficult these things are to achieve and what is necessary to achieve them. Not even Minister Evans believes his own budget. If boats continue to arrive at their current rate of three per week, carrying more than 600 people per month, Labor’s projected surplus will vanish, along with whatever is left of their budget credibility.

Included in these cost blow-outs is the cost of the charters. That was revealed today in the Daily Telegraph and other News Limited papers, reporting on Senate estimates. In the 10 months to January the department chartered 62 flights to and from Christmas island, at an average cost of $134,000 per flight—an increase of more than 240 per cent on the previous year. They expect to expend a further $8.1 million next year. This means ‘Air Kevin’ from Christmas Island will be going more than twice weekly under the Rudd government’s failed border protection policies. That will be an increase in their business. This brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Kevin 747’. Of those two groups transferred to Villawood in late March and early April, the Prime Minister said in his big statement:

Our view as a Government is that when it comes to asylum seekers, if they do not pass the test of being legitimate asylum seekers, then they are sent home. That is what has happened with the decision made about this group of 90 or 100 asylum seekers, and that is why they are currently being processed for return back home.

That was reported in the Australian on 29 March. They are still there. They are seeking appeals and those who have finished their appeals are now joining a High Court action. So it is back to the bad old days of asylum seekers lining up in our courts to extend their stays. The coalition policy of offshore processing in a third country ended those types of claims.

Under this Prime Minister, the government can refuse to assess a person’s asylum claim purely on the basis of their nationality. Those on the other side of the House might want to run and hide on this issue and pretend this is not a big deal. But they know that that decision on 9 April was absolutely and utterly discriminatory, and they should be ashamed of it. What they have said is: ‘If you’re an Afghan or you’re a Sri Lankan and you want to claim asylum in Australia then we’re not even going to assess your claim, not because of your circumstances; it is because you are an Afghan or a Sri Lankan.’ The members opposite know that the convention is very clear on the point that you cannot discriminate on the basis of someone’s nationality. They should be ashamed of that policy. Since they announced that policy, at least 30 boats, carrying over 1,000 asylum seekers, have come to Australia. The policy has proved to be as discriminatory as it is ineffective.

Is it any wonder that those running these boats to Australia are in no doubt about the resolve of this Prime Minister? He simply has no resolve. No-one knows where the Prime Minister stands on this issue. One day he is freezing asylum claims and the next day he is pretending to be Mother Teresa on these issues. You cannot work out where this guy stands on the issue of asylum seekers. On this issue, he has walked both sides of the street—and taken a good stroll on the nature strips as well. Whether it is his abandonment of the policies that worked or his abandonment of his resolve when he rolled over on the Oceanic Viking, the people-smugglers have his measure. No wonder Sajjad Hussain Noor, a people-smuggler in Indonesia, told SBS:

… the door is open, if a door is open anyone can come in … people think its easier in Australia … you can become an Australian citizen straight away.

I do not doubt that the one-third of Australians who do not support the coalition’s strong border protection policies are motivated by a genuine sense of compassion. What I am disappointed about is that those opposite and others in this debate cannot acknowledge that pursuing policies that stop boats saves lives, stops putting people at risk and opens up opportunities for people in camps all around the world to have their chance of resettlement in this country. This government is denying them that chance because they simply cannot work out who they are and cannot pursue a coordinated or consistent policy on this matter. The coalition has the support of the Australian people on this issue because they know where we stand. By contrast, the Rudd government’s policies have failed and they know it. (Time expired)