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Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Page: 2689


Mr MORRISON (4:25 PM) —Today’s matter of public importance deals with the government’s failure to act competently and provide factual information. In my own portfolio of immigration and citizenship—to borrow a phrase from the previous speaker—there is a lot of inconvenient truth for the government. In the short time I have available, there are many matters that I could mention to highlight how misleading and how untruthful the government has been and the extent of the failures of this government in this area of policy.

We could go back to the great statement of the former Prime Minister, who said in relation to the Oceanic Viking that there was no special deal. We all remember that one, and we all remember the very special deal that they received on that occasion. Or we could go to another example—when, as recently as this morning, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship told Fran Kelly on the ABC that all of those who had broken out of the North West Point detention centre had been accounted for. But in the Senate this afternoon we learnt that all had been accounted for except for four. Apparently, four detainees here or there breaking out of our detention centre is not something we can take terribly seriously, according to the minister.

This is a government that continually peddle mistruths, misunderstandings and inaccurate information about the scale of their failings. Most fundamentally, these failings and these mistruths appear in one of the most important documents the government publish each year, and that is their own budget. In the budget this year, for 2010-11, the government came in here and asked for $471 million for asylum seeker management. That is a lot of money—and it is certainly a lot more money than they asked for the previous year, which was around $170 million. What was more troubling was that they said that this was only going to be in order to accommodate some 2,000 arrivals this financial year. That figure was exceeded by about December in this financial year, if not earlier. The government then came back into this place for their own budget most recently and asked for another $290 million, on top of the $470 million, to pay for the blow-out in their costs due to the failure of their policy of asylum seeker management in this country. It is now costing $760 million in the additional estimates.

But the untruths do not stop there, because it says in the additional estimates that the costs for asylum seeker management are going to fall from $761 million this year—and this is in the government’s budget—to $239 million next year. So there is going to be a half a billion dollar decline in the government’s budget from this year to next financial year. That is the untruth that this government are trying to present to the Australian people about the cost of their failures in border protection. If costs stay at the current level of $760 million a year over the next three years, that is going to blow a $1½ billion hole in the government’s budget. That is on top of the $1.4 billion excess they have already had in blowing out costs in this area. So the government cannot even get the costs right in their own budget or tell the truth about the real costs of their policy failures.

Then there is the great statement from the government about push factors causing the problems that we are seeing writ large on a daily basis—whether it is riots or boats turning up or the various other chaos we see around the country in relation to this matter. They say that it is all because of push factors and they are not to blame. The UNHCR recently released their figures for the first six months of 2010. That showed that, in the 44 industrialised countries, there was a 13 per cent decline in asylum applications around the world, but in Australia there was a 78 per cent increase. There was a 78 per cent increase in Australia compared to a 13 per cent decline all around the world—whether you are talking about the European Union, where figures fell by as much as 15 per cent, or if you are talking about non-European countries or North America, where figures showed there was an 11 per cent decline. In Australia we defied the rest of the world, and the government say it is due to push factors. No, it is due to their own policy failings.

They also said that Nauru and the Pacific solution did not work. I do not know what figures they are using to back that up; all I know is that in the six years that followed the introduction of that solution the boats basically stopped coming. One day in 2008 they started coming again; that was when they reversed the policies of the previous government.

They said that the Pacific solution was a terribly costly solution. In fact, Senator Evans, in February 2008, said:

The Pacific solution was a cynical, costly and ultimately unsuccessful exercise introduced on the eve of a federal election by the Howard government.

By the government’s own admission in this statement, the total running costs for the Pacific solution at both Nauru and Manus Island was—and you may remember this figure—$289 million. That is less than the government asked for in this year’s budget alone as a top-up. Apparently that $289 million was an excessive waste of money over almost six years; but they spent that in six months. This is what the government says is a waste of funds.

They also say that basically everyone who went to Nauru and Manus was ultimately resettled from the OPCs to Australia or other countries. In fact, they say it was 90 per cent; that is the minister’s favourite figure. But I have to refer him to the statement of Senator Evans:

A total of 1,637 people—

this is while Senator Evans was the minister for immigration—

were detained in the Nauru and Manus facilities, of whom … 70 per cent—

not 90 per cent but 70 per cent—

were ultimately resettled from the OPCs to Australia or other countries. Of those who were resettled, around 61 per cent … were resettled in Australia.

Of more importance was the report by Labor Senator Peter Cook about the Pacific Solution. He said:

The so-called Pacific Solution has achieved its objective of preventing on-shore processing of unauthorised boat arrivals. … those who are successful in their claims have no presumed right to resettlement within Australia.

That is why the boats stopped: because we took away the certainty of the product that the people smugglers were selling in Indonesia and throughout the region. That is why it worked. The government does not want to believe this works, but the figures speak for themselves: the boats stopped and the program worked. It has cost less in six years than this government asked for in six months, yet they peddle this myth that they do not want to go back to Nauru.

They also said before the election that they would not be expanding the onshore detention network. They were almost right—except for 4,900 additional beds that they have announced since the election. This is a government that has announced more beds in the detention network than they have announced for public hospitals—and they are apparently the ‘health government’. Maybe, if public patients were able to get a bed in a detention centre, they would be better off. But they cannot get a bed there because all of those beds in our detention network are very much full. This is a government who said they would not be expanding the onshore detention network.

They did say they would open beds in East Timor though. It has been eight months since the Prime Minister stood at the Lowy Institute and said, ‘We are going to establish this you-beaut processing centre in East Timor.’ Eight months and more have passed and we are no closer to it today—in fact, we are further away from it than at any time prior.

I compare that to the performance of the Howard government, who announced the establishment of Nauru and 19 days later it was open for business. So in 19 days John Howard achieved what this government has not been able to achieve in eight to nine months. We continue to see this East Timor processing centre being something of the never-never.

There is also the great deterrent the minister has talked about, ‘If people get a no, they go home.’ On 19 October the minister said that the biggest disincentive we could put on people coming to Australia is, ‘If you are not a genuine refugee, you will be sent home.’ Senate estimates revealed that over a period of two years when the boats have come, four people from Afghanistan have gone home voluntarily. This is the big disincentive and it does not operate when you get to the ground.

Finally, I note that the asylum freeze has probably been one of the greatest contributing factors—other than boats arriving—for this government which has created the chaos we have seen on Christmas Island in recent times. The Prime Minister described this when she was Deputy Prime Minister as a ‘decision in the national interest’. I ask her this: is it in the national interest that we have riots on Christmas Island caused by the failure of this government to get a handle on its borders and its detention network. It is clearly not the case.