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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6476


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (11:55): I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this bill and I commend the previous speaker for his contribution. Australia is a country of migrants—we always have been; we always will be. Ever since the First Fleet turned up in 1788, we have been a nation of immigrants.

The people who drove the bullet trains across the Blue Mountains were not born in this country. The people who herded the sheep and cattle on our great plains were not, by and large, born in this country. Some of the Aboriginal stockman were, but, by and large, the people who developed our great pastoral industries in the 19th century were not Australian-born. The people who came to this country in the 1850s and the 1860s to develop the mining industry were not born here. But they became absolutely outstanding Australian, because they came to this country with a dream to build a better future for them and their children. They saw this country as a great land of opportunity. It was then; it is today.

The marvellous thing about this country of ours, almost unique across the world, is that people have come to this country from an extraordinary diversity of backgrounds, cultures, races and religions and made a home here. They have contributed to the richness of a diverse, yet cohesive, society. This is almost unique in the countries of the world. People have come here and left their antagonisms behind because of the gravitational pull of our culture and because of the genial quality of the Australian way. It is a heroic dimension to our national life, and long may it continue.

Six million of us were born overseas, but those six million came to this country to make a life, to work hard and to build a nation. The thing which is troubling about this legislation and the messages that we are getting from senior members of the current government is this suggestion that people who come to this country to work and to pay taxes are somehow stealing our jobs. This is a contemptible suggestion. It is a contemptible and false suggestion. People who come to this country to work and pay taxes from day 1 are not stealing our jobs, they are building our nation. That is what they are doing. That is why the coalition is so concerned about this bill and the general messages that we are getting from the government on this issue.

It has not always been this way. When the previous minister, Mr Bowen, was the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, he quite rightly praised skilled immigration. In the middle of 2011 he said:

And anyone who tries to tell you the 457 visa program is not working, needs to take another look at the facts.

That is what I respectfully suggest that members opposite should do: take another look at the facts. The facts are that this program has been good for Australia. It was good for Australia when the Howard government started it; it was good for Australia when the current government continued it. It was good for Australia then; it is good for Australia now, and it should not be tampered with or undermined by members opposite.

But we all know why this is happening. It is happening because this government has a political problem. So never mind the facts; never mind that everyone who has seriously looked at this knows that the system is working well and if there are one or two problems or abuses they can be sorted out in the normal course of events; never mind that this government which is now complaining about 457 visa entrance has actually increased 457 visa entrant numbers to an all-time record in the last financial year of some 120,000. Never mind the facts, the government has got a political problem. So what do they do? Yet again, they look for someone to blame. They look for more people to demonise in their attempt to hold onto office. Yes, this government has a serious political problem on its hands. It is the border protection disaster, which has meant that since August 2008 we have had more than 700 illegal boats and more than 44,000 illegal arrivals by boats, a problem that this government cannot solve, a problem that this government has effectively surrendered to the people smugglers.

So what do they do? They could address the real problem, but instead they have decided to raise a false problem. Instead of tackling the real problem of boat people and people smuggling, they are attacking the false problem of people here on 457 visas. They cannot get tough on illegal arrivals by boat so they have decided to get tough on legal arrivals by plane. They cannot stop people coming to this country illegally and unsafely by boat so they are going to get tough on people coming to this country legally and safely, and working and paying taxes from day one. It is a shame.

It is a tragedy for our country that we have come to such a pass under such a government. What this government is doing is so transparent. That is why Dr Peter McDonald, one of our leading demographers and a long-time adviser to governments including this government, has described what the government is doing here as 'nasty'. That is why one of the honourable members opposite—and I do mean honourable member opposite—the member for Hotham, Simon Crean, has said that what the government is doing here is simply 'dog-whistling'. And I say to the minister at the table, a decent man: surely, if the Prime Minister is not better than this, you ought to be better than this and the government should not be further proceeding down this embarrassing path.

It is not just the fact that the government is dog-whistling, as the member for Hotham says; it is not just the fact that the government is addressing a non-problem, there is also the element of hypocrisy here—complete hypocrisy. I have got nothing against the Prime Minister having someone working in her own office on a 457 visa. If he is the only person who can do the job, fair enough, and for all I know, there was not a single Australian capable of giving adequate political advice to the current Prime Minister. For all I know, not a single Australian wanted the job. So I have got absolutely nothing against the Prime Minister having someone in her office on a 457 visa. I do not say that that person is stealing the job of an Australian. I assume that that person is making a unique and special contribution to our country. But, if it is right in the Prime Minister's office, why is it not right for the other employers in this country? If the Prime Minister did not have to advertise, if the Prime Minister did not have to engage in six months of labour-market testing, why should every other employer in this country? It is wrong in principle, it is demonising decent Australians and yet again it is illustrating the hypocrisy of this Prime Minister.

The first law of good government is 'govern for all Australians'. The first rule for anyone who would be Prime Minister of this country is that you have to grow in the job. It is all right being a tribal chief as a party leader, but once you become the Prime Minister of this country, you have to be a leader for our nation; you have to be a Prime Minister for all of us. And that is the problem with this Prime Minister. Whatever lip-service she might have paid to this notion in practice—whenever it has served her political purposes to divide our nation, whether it is on the basis of class, gender and now country of birth—she has taken that path. It is just not good enough.

We saw about 15 years ago a member of this parliament set out to divide this country. We saw a member of this parliament set out to make perfectly decent Australians feel like strangers in their own country, and I never thought I would see the day when it would not just be an independent member of parliament, a disendorsed member of a political party, but the Prime Minister of this country setting out to deliberately divide Australian from Australian to serve a political purpose. It is an embarrassment. That is the best you can say about it, that it is an embarrassment. Many people right around this country are saying that it is worse than that. Members opposite are saying that it is worse than that, and who knows what action they might take to try to ensure that we do not for very much longer have a Prime Minister who is deliberately setting out to divide our country.

It was the great Dr Johnson who said a long time ago that 'patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel'. Everyone in this chamber, including the Prime Minister, loves our country. But true love for this country is expressed by trying to unite us, not by setting out to divide us. True love for our country, true patriotism, means putting the nation first. That is what it means; not trying desperately to cling to office using ever more desperate stratagems to cling to office, as this Prime Minister is now. This bill is yet another manifestation of the desperate stratagems that this Prime Minister has sunk to in her desire to cling to office. This bill is false patriotism from a failing government, and that is why it should not be proceeded with.

The people of this country appreciate that which has made us what we are. The people of this country understand that our people have come from everywhere, and what unites them now is a desire to work together to build a better Australia. We appreciate our debt to the migrants of this country. We welcome everyone who is prepared to come to this country the right way; to join the team, to work and to pay taxes from day 1. Never, never, never, will you find from this coalition any attempt to say that there are first-class and second-class Australians: first-class Australians who were born here; second-class Australians who were not. I am proud of the diversity of this coalition. I am proud of the fact that we are embracing the Australian people, regardless of background, religion and regardless of where they have come from. I humbly submit to members opposite that it is not too late for them to stand up for decency and do the same.