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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8647

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (09:16): I am pleased to support the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 because this bill is the first step in cleaning up the giant mess that will be recorded as one of the most catastrophic failures of policy in our nation's history. And we all know that history. Back in 1999, under the Howard government, we had a problem. In that year 3,721 asylum seekers embarked on that dangerous voyage on 86 boats. The following year people smugglers sent 2,939 asylum seekers off on boats. In 2001, 5,516 made that dangerous voyage on 43 boats. And during that time we had lives lost. Over 353 people were drowned at sea during that period.

One of the most vocal critics of that situation at the time was our current Prime Minister, who said, 'Another boat arrival; another policy failure.' So the Howard government took the necessary action with a three-pronged policy: processing on Nauru, temporary protection visas and turning the boats around where possible. And it worked.

Between 1999 and the introduction of the Pacific solution in late 2001 over 12,000 asylum seekers had arrived by boat. In the entire seven years of the Pacific solution, between 2002 and 2008, just 278 asylum seekers arrived—an average of fewer than 50 a year. The facts are that the Howard government policies worked. Lives were saved. In the seven years following its introduction no deaths were recorded. And by the time the 2007 election rolled around just four people were left in detention. However, for his efforts Prime Minister Howard was the victim of grubby politics and point-scoring. He was vilified and denigrated and abused from pillar to post.

And then we had the election in 2007 of the Rudd government, which, after coming to power, commenced to unwind all three pillars of Howard's proven and successful policies. And while the chardonnay set clinked their glasses and toasted the unwinding of the coalition's policies the people smugglers celebrated with them. Labor had put them back into business.

Labor's policy was summed up by the comments made by the immigration minister, Senator Evans, who in November 2008 said:

Labor committed to abolishing the Pacific Solution and this was one the first things the Rudd Labor Government did on taking office. It was also one of my greatest pleasures …

How tragically misguided. Look what we have seen since. Since Labor took power in November 2007, a total of 22,518 asylum seekers have been escorted by our Navy to Christmas Island on 386 boats. That number, 22,518 people, is more than the entire populations of many of our country towns, such as Goulburn, Armidale, Forster-Tuncurry, Cessnock, Grafton or Taree.

And we have seen asylum seekers riot at Villawood detention centre, setting fire to nine buildings, including a medical centre and dining hall. In July last year, we witnessed the spectacle of Australian Federal Police having to fire tear gas and bean-bag rounds at asylum seekers on Christmas Island after riots broke out. We have seen the 2009 tragedy of SIEV36, where asylum seekers set fire to the boat while Navy personnel were on board. Five passengers were killed in the explosion, and Navy personnel were injured.

We had the morale of our Navy undermined, when a sailor was recently admonished by an asylum seeker who wanted more care taken with his bag because it contained a laptop. Another sailor lamented, 'Last I checked, I was not a baggage handler at the airport but a sailor in the Royal Australian Navy.'

And we have seen damage to our international reputation, with Australia having been accused of breaching the rights of Indonesian children by jailing them as adults after they came as crew on the boats. And we had the Four Corners expose of the adventures of Captain Emad, where an alleged leader of a people smuggling racket had successfully disguised himself as an asylum seeker and was operating within a very few kilometres of this very parliament.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member for Hughes needs to return to the bill before the House. It has been a wide-ranging debate. He has given us a good history lesson, but he needs to refer to the bill.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: Another reason this bill is important is to rein in the costs. But we have seen the blow-out in costs: $4.7 billion—$4,700 million! We will never know what services, what infrastructure, the Australian community has missed out on because of that $4.7 billion.

Let's look at those numbers again to see why this bill is important. In the seven years of the Pacific solution, 2002 to 2008, 278 asylum seekers arrived. In the 4½ years since these policies were introduced, over 22,000 asylum seekers have arrived. Yet, despite all this evidence, for four long years, all we have seen from this government is denial. We have seen the fraud of the East Timor solution. We have seen the farce of the Malaysia solution, struck down by the High Court.

We should never forget that the coalition has called on the government to reopen Nauru no fewer than 106 times. Instead of taking the necessary action, this government has given us every excuse under the sun as to why they cannot open Nauru. Firstly, we had the excuse that Nauru was not a signatory to the UN convention. This time last year the Prime Minister claimed in this very parliament that Nauru would not work and should not be reopened because it would be a waste of taxpayers' money. No wonder members of this government are hiding in their offices, not participating in this debate! The history records that the Howard government was right and its policies should never have been reversed.

I say enough is enough. What about our Westminster system of ministerial respon­sibility? Our very system of government is built on that principle, whereby a minister takes the blame if something goes wrong. It is a fundamental tenet of our Westminster system that cabinet ministers bear the ultimate responsibility for their actions. But it is hard to completely blame the hapless minister for immigration, for we know, from reports in the Australiannewspaper yesterday, that on 13 October last year our immigration minister saw the light and urged our Prime Minister to reopen Nauru to stop the boats. We know that argument was rejected, and it was reported yesterday that it was rejected simply for political reasons.

We would have hoped that the immigration minister would have had the backbone to resign from cabinet. Instead, he continued to be part of the charade and part of the denial, and the boats kept coming. Since that time, 10 months ago, 123 boats have arrived, carrying 9,777 asylum seekers, and the death toll has risen. Another 338 people have drowned. Let's call a spade a spade. If the Prime Minister had not been so stubborn, if she had put the national interest first, ahead of her own political interest, the human tragedy and the cost of Labor's failed border protection policies could have all been avoided.

At the end of last week the expert report was received. After reading that report, a true leader would have put their ego, their vanity and their pride to one side, walked into this parliament, stood at the dispatch box, looked the public in the eye and said those three magic words: 'I am sorry.' The Prime Minister should have said, 'I am sorry for vilifying former Prime Minister Howard and his asylum seeker policy for over a decade—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Hughes has to talk to the bill.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: I am, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: No, you are not. I would ask you to go back to the bill. Thank you.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: This bill is important. It seeks to reopen Nauru. Before we deal with that, one of the important steps is to acknowledge the mistakes of the past. Those mistakes from the past go to saying sorry. As I said, the Prime Minister truly ought to come to the dispatch box and say she is sorry to the Father of the House, who is proudly sitting in front of me, the member for Berowra. Our former immigration minister for years had to suffer bile, abuse and venom being spat at him, when he had the policies that worked, that stopped boats and stopped lives being lost.

A true leader would say, 'I am sorry,' to the Australian taxpayer for the $4,700 million that has been wasted. A true leader would say sorry to our Australian Navy, which has turned into a water taxi service, ferrying tens of thousands of people on leaky boats to Christmas Island. A true leader would say, 'I am sorry,' to the thousands languishing in refugee camps around the world whom this government's policies have pushed further back in the queue. We should never forget the Prime Minister's words:

If more boats arrive, fewer people can be sponsored under our special humanitarian program.

That is what has happened—more than 8,000 people have been pushed back in the queue and are languishing in refugee camps around the world. Finally, a true leader would walk into this parliament, stand at the dispatch box and say they were sorry for the almost 1,000 people having drowned at sea since Labor undid these policies.

It would help if we just had a simple admission that this government was wrong, rather than the deferral of responsibility—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Hughes will refer to the bill or I will sit him down.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: There is quite a lot more I would like to say on this bill; however—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: There is a difference between talking on the bill and talking to the issue, and that is the point I am trying to make. Before the House at the moment is a bill, and when you are speaking to the bill that is what you must refer to.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: There are many other speakers on our side who wish to speak on this bill, and as there is a risk of being cut short and guillotined I will leave my comments there.