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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 12091


Senator SCULLION (6:57 PM) —I rise tonight to put on record my total support for this government's immigration policies. I do not really need to defend the integrity of the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Mr Ruddock, his actions or the wonderful policies that he has built, has implemented and continues to defend, but I find it very hard to listen to the grubby, dirt-digging tactics of the Australian Labor Party in that other place and their attempts to somehow besmirch the good name of Philip Ruddock. Their attempts bring only discredit on the Australian Labor Party. This person has shown himself to have the highest levels of integrity and credibility of probably any minister of immigration throughout the history of the Australian parliament.

I find it very difficult to believe that a previous Labor minister for immigration is attacking this government for our policies on immigration. The policies that this government now has in immigration are very much the cutting edge and the benchmark for immigration and migration control and border control policies in the world today. I certainly think the British—New Labour—have taken a very interested view of Australia's immigration policies in this area. The old Labor that we have here should really be keeping an eye on that because New Labour have decided that they need to put an immigration policy in place that actually takes into account issues like national interest and talks about the economic outcome for your country, selecting the right people, looking at some of the really good parts of our policy that recognise prioritising humanitarian issues and humanitarian outcomes for those who are very needy.

Senator Bolkus, who presided over the immigration policies of the previous Labor government before 1996, must be squirming in his seat when he tries to compare the pathetic policies of that stage with the policies of the Australian government of today. But do not take my word for it, Mr Acting Deputy President: there are always people within the Australian Labor Party who are prepared to put in their two bob's worth. The Australian Labor Party's finance minister at the time, Peter Walsh, described Australia's immigration program as administered by Nick Bolkus as one characterised by cave-ins and blow-outs—not much of an endorsement for someone who had a place in the same cabinet.

You have to look for an independent view on these things. Katharine Betts, a Monash based researcher, wrote a paper entitled `Immigration and public opinion: understanding the shift'. It is really good every now and again to look at what the Australian community really wants out of something and to try to reflect some of their views. That research paper says that opposition to immigration has declined since 1996. Going further you can say that there are many factors that have produced this change, with no doubt the single biggest factor being the election of the coalition government. I am not so sure the election was the primary issue, but certainly the bringing on of sensible immigration policies brought about some transparency, some probity and took away the mismanagement and the shambolic processes of the previous immigration program.

I can remember some of the great panaceas. Let us talk about the class visa. Maybe it was just too difficult for them in those days to go through people one at a time and to consider and respect the individual circumstances that these people found themselves in instead of saying: `It's all too hard. We'll run a ring around them and generally have a bit of a look at it.' The last little class visa action that went like that ended up, I think, in a serial migration into Australia of 42,000 people. It was political expediency and incompetence. There is absolutely no way you can look back at history and those sorts of policies and say that this was well thought out and considered or that they could have anything else except for the shambolic outcome that they delivered for Australia. Not only was it a shambolic outcome, but we should look at some of the 42,000 people and look carefully at who was not able to come to this country. We have to look at people on humanitarian lists. I am talking about people like a Somalian lady who is in a refugee camp in Somalia. The only reason her life gets better every month is one of her children dies. That is the sort of person we need to give priority to and that is why we need to make sure that we have a visa process and a refugee and asylum process that deals with the individual needs of individual applicants.

I have obviously been very concerned about the processes of the East Timorese and I have looked very much at our policy on this matter. Senator Crossin stood up in this place last night and basically took most of the credit. She certainly said that I had done absolutely nothing about this matter. I want to put on the record the unbelievable selective memory of people in the Labor Party. Here she is saying, `Why didn't you have a visa class?' When the East Timorese needed a class visa action—although I would not have agreed with it; it was bad policy, but the Labor Party probably would have handled it— where were they then? Absolutely nowhere. Every Australian looked at the Santa Cruz cemetery massacre and felt absolutely dreadful about it and thought, `How can we help our neighbours?' The Labor government said: `We'll tell you how we'll help. We'll talk about it for eight years. We'll allow this shambles to go on and on. We'll quote some colonial aspect of the UNHCR determinations. We're part of this convention, but we're going to take the worst part of it and say, “We think you have dual citizenship; go back to Portugal.”' The vast majority of East Timorese, had they been assessed for asylum at the time—and some of them have showed me their letters from the review tribunal process, and the review tribunal process identified this—had they been considered and triaged through that process, would have been given permanent resident status. This was eight years ago. It is pretty hypocritical.

It is really up to the coalition to resolve the issue—and we have. We are now looking at the roll-out for that sort of stuff. It is absolutely fantastic. Senator Crossin claims credit. All I can remember is the Labor Party, particularly Senator Crossin and others— you have to help where you can—going to fundraisers and sitting around sipping tea and saying: `It's a terrible thing that the government won't do this for you. I'm not going to share with you any real history. It is a terrible thing that the Howard government won't do this for you.' We kept saying: `We are doing it. We are sorting out the shambles.' And that is exactly what has happened.

Then of course we have had the Crossin amendment or, should I say, the Clayton's amendment—the amendment that you have when you are not having an amendment. You talked about it to the media: `Will Scullion vote on our amendment?' Well, Scullion went down to the Table Office and said, `Do you have the amendment?' and they said, `We're sorry, Senator, there is no amendment here; we've never heard of the amendment.' Right up until the last day of sitting, no amendment at all was put to this place. It was actually reported in the paper that Dave Tollner had voted on an amendment. You talk to Senator Crossin and ask, `Why don't you take the opportunity to clear it up?' but there is no question of that happening. What have we done? It is about leadership. You talk about self-promotion. She says, `You've done nothing; we haven't seen you.' It is very un-Australian to say, `The first thing I'm going to do about these people is rush over to the newspaper and tell them what I'm going to do.' It is un-Australian and it is not the way I do business.

We actually make things work. I have had meetings with over 75 per cent of the refugees. I have had long meetings to ensure that I can amplify their cases and the circumstances that fall under section 417, the ministerial discretion section, and ensure that the minister does not miss out on any nuance. I continue to support and explain things to them, unlike someone who stood in this place last night and said, `Be afraid.' She said: `When the minister writes you a letter and says, “I am prepared, subject to the health situation et cetera,” that does not necessarily mean he's going to let you in.' What rubbish! All I can say is that at worst it is political opportunism and at best it is thoughtless incompetence. I remind you once again of the fantastic line—and it is absolutely commonsense—`We decide who comes to Australia and the circumstances under which they come here.'

Senate adjourned at 7.06 p.m.