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Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Page: 722


Ms RISHWORTH (5:35 PM) —In response to the member for Mayo, while this side of the House is clearly talking about going forward on important reform in the Murray-Darling Basin, I wish him the best of luck in his party room as he tries to get results for his electorate. I think he will have a very hard road to travel. I wish him the best of luck and I hope he is able to get the coalition parties, both the National Party and the Liberal Party, on the same side, but I think it will be very difficult for him. Let us talk about the matter of public importance on border protection that is before the House today. I always enjoy these debates when those on the other side are in denial and say that this is not a global problem or a regional problem but just a problem for Australia. The member for Stirling said there was no evidence and wanted evidence. I will provide him with some evidence.

First of all, Afghanistan is the source country for most irregular maritime arrivals to Australia and, according to the UNHCR, in 2009 Afghanistan became the main country of origin for asylum seekers in industrialised countries worldwide. The last time Afghanistan was at the top of this list was in 2001, when there was a surge of boat arrivals under the Howard government. Afghans lodged asylum claims in 39 out of 44 industrialised countries worldwide, and Afghanistan was in the top five source countries in 17 of 27 European Union states last year.

That is just a little bit of evidence that suggests that this is not just a problem in Australia; indeed, that this is a global problem. While the opposition denies this and continues to make out that this is a government problem and a failure of policy, the government, on this side of the House, is getting down to the business of actually looking at this problem both internationally and in a regional way. The opposition is not interested in this. We saw this during the election. They do not let facts get in the way of a good slogan, or indeed a good boat phone—or bat phone. During the campaign I always imagined there would be a big red phone, similar to the one that Commissioner Gordon used in the early series of Batman, and Tony Abbott would sit on the other end of this phone and when a boat came near our shores the commander or someone on the boat would ring him, and Tony Abbott would answer and make a decision on his bat phone.

So the opposition had this big thought-through policy for the election, and even in this new parliament they have failed to really look at this problem in a considered way; in a way that considers both regional and international aspects. In sharp contrast, the government is looking at this in a very serious way. I commend the new Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Minister Bowen, who has held talks already with senior officials of the Malaysian government and has had some very constructive meetings in East Timor. Those on the other side feign interest by saying they do not want people to get on boats, and that is exactly what we on this side of the House also do not want. We do not want people smugglers to profit from innocent people, and we do not want people smugglers to make profit from desperate situations. So what are we doing? We are looking at a regional framework. We are working with our regional partners and looking at how we might disrupt this people smuggling and take away this very dangerous route to Australia.

The opposition are not so interested in these people. They have made it quite clear that they want to turn the boats around and that, in doing so, it will not endanger the lives of any of the refugees on the boats and it will not endanger any of our personnel! Of course it will not do that, say the opposition. But we know that it will. Turning boats around has serious consequences. In fact, if the opposition were truthful about this issue they would recognise that, while the Howard government pretended to be strong on this, it did not turn any boats around after 2003. But this continues to be their simplistic solution. They are not looking at this as either a regional or a global problem.

This government is working with its neighbours to establish a regional protection framework, including a regional processing centre, because we believe it is the most effective and sustainable way for our region to remove the incentive for people to undertake the dangerous sea voyages to Australia that put their lives at risk. A regional processing centre will serve to deter irregular movements to Australia by sea, dealing a serious blow to people smuggling. This is part of our policy but we are also, as announced by the minister yesterday, looking at ensuring that children are not kept in detention. We have seen a bit of hypocrisy from the other side. In question time today we saw the opposition trying to spin by on the one hand saying they are not happy with this announcement that Minister Bowen has made, not happy that unaccompanied minors and young children are being moved out of detention, but on the other hand trying to get credit for the fact that it was a Howard government policy that the minister acknowledges he utilised.

There does seem to me to be an awful lot of opposition spin and hypocrisy in this issue. There is no thought-out, considered policy, and instead we see recycled policies that supposedly worked before, such as temporary protection visas. As the minister pointed out, under the temporary protection visas, which were supposed to send so many refugees back home, 90 per cent of people stayed in Australia on a long-term basis. We have not really seen a deterrent. We have seen the Nauru solution, which gets peddled out time and time again, and once again this is a simple catchphrase from the opposition to disguise the fact that they do not have a policy—not a long-term policy that will actually go to solving this issue; not a long-term engagement with how we can actually stop this dangerous irregular travel.

The opposition, instead of engaging with our regional neighbours, want to go it alone when it comes to offshore processing. Unlike the opposition, Labor is committed to getting the right regional centre established, with the cooperation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in a country that is a signatory to the refugee convention. This is really important because we on this side of the House will not shirk our international obligations, and we will ensure that people are treated decently.

We do want to interrupt people smuggling. That is our main aim: to make sure that women, children and families do not get on boats and make this dangerous voyage. But, if families and children do get here, then we will ensure—and I thought this was a bipartisan agreement, but I am sure we will see from the shadow minister, as the days unfold, a lot of ducking and weaving when it comes to this issue, as we saw in question time today—that they are not kept in detention.

Let us be clear on this issue: we do have strong border protection. In fact, the measures announced in the 2010-11 budget build upon a $654 million border protection and anti-people-smuggling package announced in the 2009-10 budget. The government has established a dedicated Border Protection Committee of cabinet to drive a whole-of-government strategy to combat people smuggling.

The government has also created a single point of accountability for matters to relating to the prevention of maritime smuggling, with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. As a government we are taking this issue incredibly seriously. We are looking at long-term solutions, not short-term slogans; and we are certainly not looking for a big red boat-phone— (Time expired)


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Order! As no-one else is rising, the discussion is now concluded.