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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 6406


Senator SCULLION (3:28 PM) —It is vary rare in this place when those on the other side throw taunts like ‘racist’ across the chamber. It is just as well because being attacked by those on the other side is like being attacked by dead sheep. I will ignore it on this particular occasion. They talk about compassion, about feeling and about being a caring country. Well that we are. We put in place an important sweep of policies to prevent people from seeing as a reasonable option putting their belongings, their family and their children upon a boat which had, at best, only a reasonable chance of making the voyage. That was a compassionate and thoughtful approach to policy. Perhaps it is difficult for those on the other side to defend their policy, which has failed absolutely. Labor quite often use the new term ‘evidence based policy’.


Senator Cash —Give us the evidence.


Senator SCULLION —I will, Senator Cash. The evidence is quite stark. There has been a heightened incidence of vessels coming to Australia. At the height of it, we had up to 4,000, down to 3,000, 75, 54 and 19 boats. So we changed the policy. We said: how can we provide a legislative environment that will convince people not to put their families and their children upon a boat? We made a number of legislative changes. If you have a look scientifically at the empirical evidence, you will see that it shows our policies worked. In fact, the number of boats went from 75 to 54 to 19 and then to zero, three, zero, eight, four and three. You could say that there were a few people coming over but those policies have had a significant impact. They were excellent policies, put forward by a government which knew that were signatories to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and that we would stick to that convention and ensure that we provided a disincentive package, which clearly worked.

But, suddenly, in 2007-08 something changed. What changed was Labor’s policy. You can imagine the people smugglers saying, ‘What are the conditions of our business? It is very difficult to get to Australia. When you get to Australia, unfortunately, they have this nasty mandatory detention.’ That was softened and we took families out but we ensured that there was mandatory detention. On Australia’s approach to forum shopping they said: ‘It’s really difficult. What happens is that, if you go there, they actually believe in the convention that they signed. You can go to Australia but it will not guarantee that the forum you choose, which is Australia, will be where you stay.’ Because we were signatories to a convention that said that is not the idea that everybody signed up to: that if you come to Australia you can get a migration outcome.

So when they were sitting down at Christmas, they would have said: ‘What’s my Christmas list? Dear Santa, I want to make it easier to get to Australia. I don’t want any detention. What about having a few work rights and welfare rights when people get there? Perhaps I could also offer a permanent migration outcome.’ I am sure that they did not vote but they might as well have, because that is exactly what they have got. That is the new environment. And how did we get there? We have made some policy changes. We will slip in straight away ‘abolish the Pacific Solution’, meaning that all applicants will be resettled in Australia, rather than meeting the requirements of the convention. ‘We’ll abolish temporary protection visas. We’ll end the option of returning boats of embarkation.’ Now that was difficult, wasn’t it! Send home a poor old people smuggler trying to make a buck who says: ‘Off we go. We get to the border and Australia tows us back. It was so frustrating—very annoying. People stopped going and people wanted to stop buying my product. It was a terrible business. Now, though, you go out there and they will throw you a towline and they’ll take you across.’ I will tell you what: it is all about inputs and outputs in business, and if you can save half your fuel it is a good thing.

So, then the government abolished the detention debt. The attempt for us was to ensure that we prevented repeat offenders. We abolished the 45-day rule. We publicly announced that the Navy will not actually be operating between December and February because that is the calmest time—


Senator Parry —It’s the peak period.


Senator SCULLION —That is the peak period for business. So the effect of this policy is that it is easier to reach Australia. You are released into the community after a pretty short time. You have work rights, and if you do not have work rights you have welfare rights and permanent migration outcomes. Why would you not say, ‘That’s the product I want because that’s the outcome I want.’ So you wonder why it happens. It has happened because we have had a disastrous change in policy. That policy means that people now seek to get on boats to come here. The reason they all seek to come here is that Labor has failed in its policy. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.