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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8666

Mr VAN MANEN (Forde) (10:34): I, like many of my colleagues contributing to this debate on the Migration Legislation (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011, stand here today curious as to why we are seeing only one leg of the policies we have been promulgating for the past 10 years or so being reintroduced. But I suppose, as with anything with this government, something is better than nothing. We have spent the past 4½ years, which has been more than long enough, saying that offshore processing on Nauru or Manus Island or elsewhere was the solution to the people-smuggling business, and we proved that in our time in government.

That is more than four years in which the Prime Minister has said it would not work, and now we have the expert panel recommendations that vindicate our stance over these past 4½ years. In that time we have watched as the strength of our border protection framework has deteriorated. The fragile state of our borders has boosted the people-smuggling trade and, sadly, has resulted in nearly 1,000 people—as we can best ascertain—losing their lives at sea.

But it is heartening to see that at least the member for Moreton has recognised, as reported in the Telegraph today:

Any party which has a policy that results in 700 deaths at sea needs to revise its policy. Maybe we should have revised it earlier.

I can only concur with those comments. As we have seen over the past 4½ years, some 22½ thousand people arrived in 386 boats. While the boats roll in, the costs continue to blow out and the Prime Minister has refused to accept our recommendations over that time, which included reopening Nauru. It has taken a so-called expert panel to produce a report that vindicates our policy stance over the past 4½ years, and five or six years prior to that, to give the green light to Nauru and a red light to Malaysia.

This has left the rest of us wondering why this did not happen years ago, or even six weeks ago when we were last in this place having this debate. The stubbornness and pig-headedness of this government and the failure to recognise or acknowledge what works—maybe because it was not their idea—has resulted in lives being lost and in taxpayers' money being wasted.

The panel has made 22 recommendations, including: reopening of Nauru and Manus Island for offshore processing; introducing legislation to the parliament to allow offshore processing of illegal boat arrivals at designated countries and provide parliament with the provision to allow or disallow the legislative instrument that designates those countries; and prohibiting family reunion through Australia's humanitarian program for people arriving by boat instead making boat arrivals apply for family reunion through the family stream of the migration program. The report says that turning back irregular maritime vessels or as we call it 'turning back the boats' can be operationally achieved and can constitute an effective deterrent to the people smugglers. These are just some of the recommendations contained in the Houston report.

The Prime Minister has said in this place over the past 24 hours that the government is now willing to pursue or reopen Nauru and Manus Island, and we sincerely hope that that is followed through, is well managed and well instituted, because the government's track record to date on any number of programs leaves a lot to be desired. As has been mentioned by my colleagues' contributions, the reopening of Nauru is one part of a three-part strategy we as a coalition had in place that successfully stemmed the tide. The other components of that are turning the boats back where it is safe to do so and temporary protection visas. We have consistently argued that these proven policies have worked in the past and will work again today. It is that combination that is going to provide the ultimate deterrent. I must stress that it is only the proven policies of the coalition that will ultimately provide the solution to this ongoing problem.

For now, let us not waste any more time and let us not waste any more lives or blow any more of our taxpayers' hard earned money. Let us have this initial start of reopening Nauru and Manus Island brought to fruition and implemented so that we can start working towards a long-term sustainable solution to this problem.