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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5869


Mr MURPHY (Reid) (16:32): This is a matter of public importance and it is sad that we have to have such a divisive debate as is taking place now and as always seems to take place. I find it particularly galling when I listen to the Leader of the Opposition during question time, to the mover of the motion, the member for Cook—who I have a great deal of time for—and to the previous speaker lecturing our government about the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, particularly given the recent history and statements of the Leader of the Opposition. He has himself vowed to tow the boats back to where they came from. That is hardly a compassionate solution, particularly as we know that many of the boats that come to Australia are barely seaworthy and have little chance of making it back to their point of origin.

I think the member for Cook referred to the 'embellished rhetoric' of the government in relation to this whole issue. I find that particularly galling given that I sat in this chamber at the time the Howard government and the member for Berowra, who was then the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, traded on that appalling crisis with the children overboard. We saw desperate people coming to Australia being portrayed in a very dark way. The politics at that time were a sad chapter in Australia's history—imagine if we were in the same position as those people: desperate to leave behind a life of crisis and to just get their basic human needs met in another country. It was positively disgraceful. It was a really dark chapter. Sadly, the now opposition, the then government, seem to have forgotten about that. I am trying not to be too negative, but that really sticks in my throat. Yet here we are today with the Leader of the Opposition and the members for Cook and Stirling lecturing us about having an inhumane policy. Let us not forget that we are talking about people who have fled dreadful circumstances in their own country and who have witnessed things we could never begin to imagine. How desperate and vulnerable they must be.

As you have heard, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship today announced the important cooperative transfer agreement with Malaysia, which I believe will go a long way towards putting an end to the disturbing business of people smuggling. The government wants to stop these already vulnerable people from being preyed upon by the people smugglers. We want to stop those people from risking their lives by getting on boats to come to Australia. That is why our policy is sending a very clear message to the world that people thinking about coming to Australia will not be processed in Australian, and certainly will not be guaranteed settlement in Australia. This policy is about putting the people smugglers out of business. We do not want criminals preying on, and profiting from, vulnerable people. We are serious about putting an end to this despicable trade in human life. That is why our government believes that these people have the right to have their claim for asylum considered compassionately. If their claims are found to be genuine, we believe the international community has an obligation to offer protection. We are certainly not shirking our responsibility as a member of the international community, and we are acknowledging that this is a global problem and a regional problem and we are not the only country to be faced with the question of what to do with irregular arrivals. Thousands upon thousands every day are pouring into Europe. In comparison, a very small number of people want to come to Australia. Importantly, we are also acknowledging that we cannot go it alone in solving this problem. In order to effect real change to solve this regional problem we need a regional agenda, and that makes sense. I appeal to the goodwill and the spirit of the opposition to try to work with the government to come up with a truly humane and compassionate policy which will send the very good message to the international community that we actually welcome people.

Mr Fletcher: You're the government. It's your responsibility.

Mr MURPHY: I hear the member interjecting but, sadly, conservatives in this country have used asylum seekers. The member for Cook talked about 'embellishing rhetoric' and the 'demonising' of asylum seekers, but those opposite have made a whole career of this, both in government and in opposition. There is no degree of sincerity about resolving this problem at all, as we have just seen over the last few days with the visit of the Leader of the Opposition to Nauru. You cannot tell the people of Australia that there was not a done deal before Mr Abbott left our shores to go to Nauru—as if he had to go to Nauru when his spokesperson, who had previously been there, would have been able to report to him everything about Nauru! But, no, he just wanted to exploit this very divisive issue in the Australian community and play the dark politics of asylum seekers. It is a very sad time for Australia when the opposition continues to behave in this manner.

We are sending a clear message that if you have a genuine claim for asylum, you are not better off paying a criminal who is attempting to profit from your misfortune and risking your life to try to make it to Australia on an unseaworthy vessel. This will only lead to asylum seekers being removed from Australia and their claims for asylum being placed at the end of the queue. The clear message is not to get on the boat. That is what we are saying with our policy.

I hear the concerns of members of the public that the proposed deal with Malaysia might not protect those who are sent here, but I believe the minister for immigration when he guarantees that the final agreement between Australia and Malaysia will address human rights concerns. Let us be honest—our government has a much better track record on treatment of vulnerable asylum seekers. I have referred to the disgraceful children overboard episode under the Howard government and how they traded on the politics of that. I believe that the Leader of the Opposition is continuing to mislead the Australian people, and that was never more evident than in the stunt of his visit to Nauru over the weekend. I understand the Leader of the Opposition claims that the processing centre established in Nauru by the former Howard government could be quickly reopened at little cost. I note that the Leader of the Opposition and previous speakers have given no indication of the cost of reopening Nauru.

Mr Keenan: Much less than Malaysia.

Mr MURPHY: It is all very well to say it is much less. We used to hear statements made by the former Prime Minister and the former Treasurer, Mr Costello, in the Howard government that under a conservative government interest rates would always be kept lower than under Labor. We have dispelled that hypothesis big time.

This framework agreement has a number of core elements, and I put on the record that 800 irregular maritime arrivals who arrive in Australia after the date of effect of the arrangement will be transferred to Malaysia for refugee status determination; in return, over four years Australia will resettle 4,000 refugees already currently residing in Malaysia; transferees will not receive any preferential treatment over asylum seekers already in Malaysia; transferees will be provided with the opportunity to have their asylum claims considered and those in need of international protection will not be refouled; and transferees will be treated with dignity and respect and in accordance with human rights standards. What that demonstrates is that we have a far more humane policy for looking after some of the most vulnerable people in the international community. Those opposite should all hang their heads in shame for making such dreadful politics out of this. (Time expired)