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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11015


Mr CLARE (BlaxlandMinister for Home Affairs, Minister for Justice and Minister for Defence Materiel) (15:45): This is a debate about the implementation of the full suite of border protection policies. And you cannot have a debate about the full suite of policies without referring to this report, because this is it: this is the full suite of border protection policies. These are the 22 recommendations developed by an expert panel led by the former Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston. This is what they recommended—a full suite of measures; 22—and we are the only party that is committed to implementing each and every recommendation in that report.

The opposition have refused to implement it. The Greens party has refused to implement it, as well. This is the full suite of measures and the opposition should agree to implement them. Let's have a look at each and every one of these recommendations.

Recommendation 1:

The Panel recommends that the following principles should shape Australian policymaking on asylum seeker issues.

The government agrees and supports these principles. The opposition's position on this is unclear.

Recommendation 2:

The Panel recommends that Australia’s Humanitarian Program be increased and refocused …

The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, a few weeks ago, indicated that we support this. We will increase our humanitarian program from 13,000 to 20,000. The opposition, in June, said that they would support this. Now they have said that they would be reluctant to support this increase. So they have rejected recommendation 2.

Recommendation 3:

The Panel recommends that in support of the further development of a regional cooperation framework on protection and asylum systems, the Australian Government expand its relevant capacity-building initiatives in the region and significantly increase the allocation of resources for this purpose.

The government supports this. The opposition presumably oppose it.

Recommendation 4:

The Panel recommends that bilateral cooperation on asylum seeker issues with Indonesia be advanced as a matter of urgency, particularly in relation to:

The allocation of an increased number of Humanitarian Program resettlement places for Indonesia.

Enhanced cooperation on joint surveillance and response patrols, law enforcement and search and rescue coordination.

Changes to Australian law in relation to Indonesian minors and others crewing unlawful boat voyages from Indonesia to Australia.

In the report the expert panel talks about restoring discretion to Australian courts. The government supports this recommendation. The opposition have opposed it.

Recommendation 5:

The Panel recommends that Australia continue to develop its vitally important cooperation with Malaysia on asylum issues, including the management of a substantial number of refugees to be taken annually from Malaysia.

We agree. Again, the opposition opposes.

Recommendation 6:

The Panel recommends a more effective whole-of-government strategy be developed for engaging with source countries for asylum seekers to Australia , with a focus on a significant increase in resettlement places provided by Australia to the Middle East and Asia regions.

The government supports this. The opposition are opposed.

Recommendation 7:

The Panel recommends that legislation to support the transfer of people to regional processing arrangements be introduced into the Australian Parliament as a matter of urgency .

This is the legislation that has been introduced and passed by this parliament. It is the legislation that we have developed and passed by working together. The legislation passed through this parliament a few weeks ago, to the relief of most Australians.

Recommendation 8:

The Panel recommends that a capacity be established in Nauru as soon as practical to process the claims of IMAs transferred from Australia in ways consistent with Australian and Nauruan responsibilities under international law .

This capacity is being set up right now and is in the early days of operation. We have ADF boots on the ground, and the second flight carrying asylum seekers arrived in Nauru this morning.

Recommendation 9:

The Panel recommends that a capacity be established in PNG as soon as possible to process the claims of IMAs transferred from Australia in ways consistent with the responsibilities of Australia and PNG under international law.

The implementation process for this recommendation is now underway, as well.

Recommendation 10:

The Panel recommends that the 2011 Arrangement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Malaysia on Transfer and Resettlement (Malaysia Agreement) be built on further, rather than being discarded or neglected , and that this be achieved through high-level bilateral engagement focused on strengthening safeguards and accountability as a positive basis for the Australian Parliament’s reconsideration of new legislation that would be necessary .

In the report it says that the Malaysia agreement is vital. In the press conference that the former Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston, held after the report was released he said that the Malaysia agreement was the best plan for the future. And Paris Aristotle, another member of the expert panel, had this to say about the Malaysia agreement:

In the long run … Malaysia is absolutely vital to this.

The government supports this recommendation. Not surprisingly, the opposition does not. So much for supporting a full suite of border protection measures. That was just the first 10; there are 22 recommendations in this report, and the opposition's position on them is much the same.

Recommendations 11 and 12 involve changes to family reunions. The government supports these. The oppositi on's position is still unclear.

Recommendation 13:

The Panel recommends that Australia promote more actively coordinated strategies among traditional and emerging resettlement countries to create more opportunities for resettlement as a part of new regional cooperation arrangements .

We support this. Again, the opposition's position on this is unclear.

Recommendation 14:

The Panel recommends that the Migration Act 1958 be amended so that arrival anywhere on Australia by irregular maritime means will not provide individuals with a different lawful status than those who arrive in an excised offshore place.

Again, the government supports this recommendation. The position of the opposition at this point is unclear.

Recommendation 15:

The Panel recommends that a thorough review of refugee status determination (RSD ) wo uld be timely and useful.

Again, we support this. The position of the opposition on this recommendation is not clear.

Recommendation 16:

The Panel recommends that a more effective whole-of-government strategy be developed to negotiate better outcomes on removals and returns on failed asylum seekers.

Again, the government supports this recommendation, as it supports the full suite of recommendations; the opposition's position is still unclear.

Recommendation 17:

The Panel recommends that disruption strategies be continued …

We support this, and presume the opposition would do the same.

Recommendation 18:

The Panel recommends that law enforcement agencies in Australia continue their activities in countering involvement of Australian residents who are engaged in funding or facilitating people smuggling operations.

We support this. The position of the opposition presumably is to support, but it is still unclear. The opposition have not gone through each and every one of the recommendations put by the expert panel and indicated their support or otherwise for every single one of them.

Recommendation 19:

The Panel notes that the conditions necessary for effective, lawful and safe turnback of irregular vessels carrying asylum seekers to Australia are not currently met …

This is an important one because this is the 'turn back the boats' proposal that the opposition have been putting in this debate for some time. In the report written by Angus Houston, the former Chief of the Defence Force, he makes it very clear what those conditions need to be. At page 53 of that report he says:

The State to which the vessel is to be returned would need to consent to such a return.

In other words, Indonesia would need to consent to the return of a boat turned back. That consent does not exist. Indonesia does not support this. This MPI is about the implementation of a full suite of measures, and the opposition talk about turning back the boats. Angus Houston, former Chief of the Defence Force, has said this is not possible unless Indonesia allows that to occur.

I spoke about this in the House when we had a similar debate last Tuesday, and I quoted what the Indonesian foreign minister, the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia and other senior Indonesian officials have said on this matter. It bears repeating. This is what Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian foreign minister, said about this issue in March of this year:

… simply pushing back the boats where they have come from would be a backward step.

He also said in March:

The general concept of pushing boats back and forth would be an aberration to the general consensus that has been established since 2003.

Later that month, March of this year, he was again asked a question about turning back the boats, and he said:

Now, from that kind of mindset … naturally it would be impossible and not advisable even to simply shift the nature of the challenge from any … continuum to the other.

That is the foreign minister of Indonesia saying it would be a 'backward step', 'an aberration' and 'impossible'.

He is not the only senior Indonesian official who has made it very clear they would not support this, that they would not allow this to occur. The Indonesian Ambassador to Australia in March of this year said:

… if you take that policy, it means that you bring all the burdens to Indonesia and what about our cooperation?

That is the Indonesian ambassador indicating that they do not support this either. A senior Indonesian public servant was interviewed about this in July by the Sydney Morning Herald, and he said:

It's exactly like you going to someone else's house and throwing dirt there … Why would we take something that is not our property?

So you have the Indonesian foreign minister, the Indonesian Ambassador and senior officials inside Indonesia all saying that they do not support this, that they would not allow this to occur, and you have Angus Houston, the former Chief of the Defence Force, saying in the report at page 53 that you cannot do this unless the state that you are returning the vessel to allows this to occur. The Indonesians have made it very clear that they would not allow it to occur, so it is not possible to implement that.

Even if you could implement that, would you really want to risk the lives of Australian personnel? In the Australian newspaper in January, a senior naval officer said about turning back boats—

Mr Keenan interjecting

Mr CLARE: Australian Navy personnel, whenever they have to perform tasks in the open seas, are at risk—I recognise that. But why should we put them under more risk than they already are? Do not just accept my view about it. The member for Stirling does not need to accept my view of it. Accept the view of senior naval officers serving in the Australian military right now. This is what one of them said on 25 January to the Australian newspaper:

They will disable their boats when they see us coming, they will burn their boats. The policy will encourage them to do so and it will place lives—navy lives and refugee lives—at risk.

Last week—the member for Stirling participated in this debate—I listed a series of boats. In 2001, attempts were made to turn these boats back. The attempts failed, and injuries and other dangerous things occurred. I made the point there that the most dangerous example of turning back boats was what happened in 2009 with SIEV36. In this case the boat was not turned back but the people on the boat thought that it was going to be. There was an explosion on the boat. Five people died and 40 people were injured, including Australian Defence Force personnel. One of the Australian Defence Force personnel was Corporal Jager, a medical officer. She needed to be rescued by other Defence Force personnel when her life jacket failed to inflate and two asylum seekers tried to push her aside to get into the rescue boat.

This was a case of Australian naval personnel putting their lives at risk. It all happened because the people on the boat thought the boat was going to be turned back to Indonesia. Again, do not accept my word for it; accept the word of the NT coroner, Greg Cavanagh, who in his report said:

If there had not been a Warning Notice served which suggested return to Indonesia, and if it had been made clear to the Afghan passengers that they were being taken to Australia and not returning to Indonesia, again the explosion probably would not have occurred.

That is what this is all about, and that is why we do not support turning back boats—because of the unnecessary risk that it places Australian naval personnel in, people like Corporal Jager. It is a danger to Australian Navy lives and to the lives of the other people on the boats. That is why we will not do it.

There are other recommendations too. Recommendation 20 we will implement; the opposition will not. Recommendation 21 we will implement; the opposition's position is unclear. The opposition's position on recommendation 22 is unclear as well. We agree to all of the recommendations in this report, the full suite of measures. We are the only party committed to implementing all of them. The opposition will not. The Greens will not. If they are committed to the full suite of measures, they should implement all of them. (Time expired)