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Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Page: 3443


Mr MORRISON (3:28 PM) —This is a government that has lost its way again. As long as Labor has lost its way on border protection, the people smugglers will continue to find their way to Australia—and they do, in ever-increasing numbers: 9,188 people have arrived in 190 boats. It is clear that the people smugglers will continue to make hay while the Gillard sun of failed policy continues to shine on their activities. This year we have had an all-time record of 122 boats and counting—double last year’s number—and this continues to fill the Gillard government’s trophy cabinet of policy failures: most boats in a month, most boats in a financial year, most boats in a calendar year.

But that is not all. Beyond that there is the record of budget deficits and debt and the record of the pink batts fiasco and the record house fires that resulted from that. There is GroceryWatch, which the minister would be familiar with, Fuelwatch, which he would also be familiar with, and the school hall rip-offs and rorts. But I suspect that the trophy cabinet is not full yet because there is one big one yet to come, and that is the $43 billion NBN, which will make a strong challenge soon to enter that trophy cabinet of policy failures.

Contrast Labor’s failed record on border protection over the last three years of 190 boats with just 10 boats in six years under the last coalition government. Fewer than 250 people came during that time, after the full suite of measures were introduced. That is less than half the number of people that now normally turn up in a regular month under this government. It is worth noting that, between 2002 and 2007, the average number of asylum applications received in industrialised countries was just over 410,000. It peaked in that period, in 2002, at 609,000. That was the year that we had zero boat arrivals in this country. Last year there were just under 365,000 asylum applications. I think that puts paid to the government’s claims about soaring levels of push factors, because what is clear in this debate is that it is the government’s policy failures that are in error in this issue.

Where did it all go wrong? We got a very good indication of that this morning when we read in the Herald Sun that Ben Packham—after 18 months of a long wait, I note—was finally able to get the return on his freedom of information application. There is only one paragraph in the section that I have here but there are plenty of other blank pages that I noticed and that I cannot really read because they have all been taken out. One point that was made in this section makes it very clear. It says:

… a range of risk mitigation strategies—

This is what was said on 25 February 2008, just weeks after the government took up the Treasury benches opposite. The department said:

… a range of risk mitigation strategies have prevented significant boat arrivals in recent years,

That was the advice of the department to the government after they took office. In other words, the system was working. In addition to that, it said:

… current intelligence on issues including the closure of Nauru suggest the possibility of increased people smuggling efforts.

This was a clear warning that their early decision to close Nauru had sent a message to people smugglers and that, even more significantly, there were further risks that lay ahead. Instead of seeking to shore up our border protection regime, having heard this advice in the face of these threats, this government did the opposite. They followed through with the closure of Nauru. They abolished temporary protection visas. They gave people smugglers back a product to sell. The policy of turning boats back, promised by this government prior to 2007, they reversed and the long-held universal offshore processing regime soon became a thing of the past. Like the homeowner being told by the police that there was a burglar about, what this government did was the policy equivalent of opening the windows, leaving the back door unlocked and leaving the house unattended. That is what they did in policy terms when they received this advice.

This is a government that knowingly and willingly dismantled a successful policy regime it inherited from the coalition. They had the issue under control and, in the face of advice that risks were increasing, they chose to touch it and fiddle around with it. As with so many issues, everything this government touches turns to mush. Three years ago today you could count the number of people in the immigration detention network who had arrived in this country illegally by boat literally on fewer than the fingers on one hand. There were four. One, two, three, four—that is all. Three years later, we have in our detention network more than 5,100 people who have arrived in this country illegally by boat. If that does not wake this government up to its policy failures, then, frankly, I have no idea what will. There is no sign of a return from their slumber.

This is another record the government has set, with the blow-out in the population of our detention network. The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship claimed today, in his defence of the increasingly indefensible in his portfolio, that the success of the coalition policies cannot be borne out by analysis of the documents released today. If the minister is struggling with his comprehension, let me remind him of the words of his own leader in terms of the success of the Howard government policies versus those of his own: another boat arrival, another policy failure. That means 190 policy failures under his government: 36 since the election and 28 on his own watch. Part of the problem, I think, is that Labor is unclear as to what the job of the minister for immigration is when it comes to illegal boat arrivals. The minister’s predecessor, Senator Chris Evans, when he thought he was in a club at the University of New South Wales, speaking to academics, said: ‘My biggest failure as minister for immigration is not that I reversed a system that was working. It was not that I had allowed so many boats to arrive through my own failed decisions as a minister.’ His great failing was that he had failed to control the debate. That is what it is to this government. It is all about the talk; it is all about the spin; it is all about controlling the debate.

The new minister, who I understand was speaking in one of his local papers, thought that his job was to elevate the debate. The job of the minister for immigration is not to stop the boats; it is to elevate the debate. My tip for the minister for immigration—passed on to me by the Leader of the Opposition—is that the job of the minister for immigration, when you have such an unprecedented crisis of this nature, is to stop the boats. We are not auditioning here to be talk show hosts. We can leave that to Tony Jones. We are here to develop and implement policies that protect the integrity of our immigration program, and that means implementing policies that stop the boats.

The government’s answer has been repeated failure. We have had the Oceanic Viking debacle, the discriminatory asylum freeze and the never, never solution for East Timor, and who can forget the Sea Patrol audition by ‘Commander’ Bradbury and the Prime Minister in Darwin. That has been the response of this government. The other response has been to simply open more beds. Something else this government can put in its trophy cabinet is that it has set the record in net terms for opening more beds in detention centres than in public hospitals. Maybe the Prime Minister should make Minister Bowen the minister for health. He could open ‘Bed Watch’ or something like that. Since the government were elected three years ago, they have announced the opening of an additional 6,000 places in our detention network, more than 3,000 of these onshore since the election, contrary to what they led the Australian people to believe during the election.

During the election, the government held out regional processing centres as their only policy to address the unprecedented rate of illegal boat arrivals. Even ‘Citizen Richo’, as he was described in this place, has described this proposal as ‘increasingly ridiculous’. Those in the region have been even more acute in their observations because they have described it as ‘an asylum magnet’. The Prime Minister of East Timor is still waiting for a proposal after almost five months since this thought-bubble bubbled to the surface. The Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship envisaged that this centre would accommodate 2,000 people. The Prime Minister cannot tell us that; we have to get that information from the secretary—the only person who seems to have thought about these issues. What we learn from this is that, since the thought was first bubbled by the Prime Minister, 2,424 people have arrived illegally by boat in Australia. So the government had better get a wriggle on because the capacity of this centre has already been exceeded by those who have arrived while the Prime Minister continues to think about her idea and not actually put one in place. There is no timetable; there is no budget—nothing is budgeted for this in MYEFO; there is no plan; there is no support for the proposal; and, as a result, the Prime Minister should frankly end the charade of this ‘increasingly ridiculous’ proposal, as described by the good ‘Citizen Richo’.

The costs of these failed policies are significant in both economic and human terms. Our detention centres continue to breach capacity. There are around 3,000 people on Christmas Island in facilities that can cope with a maximum of 2,500 and that were originally built for just 800 people. The budget has blown out by more than $1 billion, with annual costs in this output class rising from $111.5 million in 2008-09 to what is more than half a billion dollars this year. The full costs have still not been brought to book by the Treasurer, who claims that next year there will be a 50 per cent reduction in offshore asylum costs for this government. If the Treasurer is going to rely on that assumption for his budget surplus in the years to come, I think he should think again and I think the Australian people should think again. In fact, as Darryl Kerrigan would say: ‘Tell him he’s dreaming.’ Seventy per cent of the people in the network have been there for more than three months, compared to 30 per cent earlier this year. The government’s answer to all of this has been one of repeated failure.

We stress that it is about time that the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and the government came up with some real policies to address the deteriorating and rolling crisis in the detention network. Self-harm, protests, riots and brawls are once again regular features of our detention network. This is the inevitable consequence of Labor’s failed policies. This behaviour cannot be condoned, it cannot be rewarded in the assessment process and nor should it intimidate this government into further policy weakness. There is also the denial of a place, which we need to understand as a result of these policy failures, to those who are seeking our Special Humanitarian Program support as offshore applicants. Other speakers will also speak to that matter. The costs of this matter go beyond the financial costs. They go to the integrity of our refugee and humanitarian program as a whole. This is a mess of the government’s own creation. The way out is the same as last time, and that is to have policies that stop the boats.

The coalition has a clear and proven policy to stop the boats. We need to reinstate temporary protection visas and deny the people smugglers a product to sell. We need to reopen the Australian taxpayer funded third-country processing centre in Nauru—the closure of which started this fiasco. Unlike East Timor, they are ready, willing and able to go—the government just needs to pick up the phone. We need to demonstrate the government’s resolve by restoring the policy to turn back boats where the circumstances allow. We cannot and should not be intimidated by the threats and actions of people smugglers. We need to tighten the appeal system and use the UNHCR model for a review by a single case officer. This model is practised by them around the world and would end the process of taxpayer funded endless appeals. We need to end Labor’s no-doc entry process for illegal boat arrivals where fewer than one in five has documentation and they are ultimately given the benefit of the doubt. We need to do this by using the powers under the act to provide a presumption against refugee status where it is reasonably believed that those making claims have discarded or destroyed their documentation as recommended by people smugglers. We need to implement a fair dinkum returns policy to ensure those whose asylum claims have failed go back to their home country.

These boats have been turning up for two years, if not longer, and we are still waiting on a returns policy of this government that can address those failures. We cannot run a Hotel California policy on asylum seekers here. We cannot run a policy which says that, even when you check out, you never leave—because that is what is happening under the policies of this government. We need to quarantine the integrity of our Special Humanitarian Program by ensuring that the number of visas available to offshore special humanitarian visa applicants are quarantined and are given priority processing. They are the ones who should not be waiting longer because of this government’s failures. We need to give them priority processing over illegal boat arrivals and other onshore applicants who do not face the same risks as those who sit in our detention network.

These are real policies. Here is a seven-point plan that this government could pick up today, but instead we are stuck with more beds and more talk. That is where this government has left us. Their only response is more beds and more talk. They have got to stop pretending to be talk show hosts and focus on the debate. They need to focus on stopping the boats. That is the job of this minister who sits opposite me today. That is his job. He needs to take it up as his job and he needs to implement policies that stop the boats. (Time expired)