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Monday, 26 October 2009
Page: 7003


Senator FURNER (3:58 PM) —I rise this afternoon to take note of answers, and I do so on the basis of putting into perspective where this argument really sits: it is really about the situation the world is currently in. There are a large number of displaced people that are looking for a home to come to and settlement in a more stable, democratic nation, such as Australia. You cannot blame them for that. Unfortunately, they are being targeted by people smugglers who choose to use them and who take advantage of people that are in unfortunate situations. The reasons behind the surge in numbers are no doubt things like natural disasters in our region, war and conflict in our neighbouring countries, and climate change. No doubt we will see an increase as climate change bites into the world and people lose their homes and their land as a result of tidal surges.

But people smuggling is not just an issue for Australia; it is a global and regional problem. The commitment of our neighbours through bilateral cooperation and the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime is critical to addressing this most serious issue. Since September 2008 there have been 19 arrests of facilitators and organisers of people-smuggling ventures in Indonesia alone. Since September 2008, the Australian Federal Police has also charged 55 people with offences under the Migration Act 1958, including 51 illegal crew members and four alleged Australian based organisers. These offences attract a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment.

The Australian government remains vigilant and committed to protecting Australian borders. Trafficking in persons is a modern-day form of slavery that involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people in order to exploit them through forced labour or servitude. The report that the Australian Institute of Criminology released recently indicates that most people who are being smuggled or trafficked into Australia come from southern Asia and about 95 per cent of them are women who are put to work in the sex industries. Two cases were also brought with regard to alleged forced labour, an area of increasing regional concern.

Australia has adopted a whole-of-government response to people trafficking which includes a national policing strategy and specialist police investigation teams, enhanced visa arrangements, a victim support program and regional cooperation efforts. But what is the alternative when it comes to the opposition? We heard recently from the other chamber that Liberal backbencher and MP Philip Ruddock has made some claims on asylum seekers based on nothing more than his own opinion. I note that he has called for the reintroduction of the disgraced Pacific solution and temporary protection visas. The Liberal Party was silent when these measures were scrapped last year. It is now Liberal Party policy—though there is some division within the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party wants to debate immigration policy but has no policy of its own to put forward.

The reality is that we have had irregular boat arrivals to Australia in 25 of the past 33 years. From 1999 to 2001, under the Howard government, there were 12,176 boat arrivals. That tells you a bit about the policies that the opposition wanted to retain and wanted to rely upon in the past. In 2008 and 2009 we have seen a resurgence of mainly Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers who have fled their own countries and are seeking safe haven in Europe, North America and Australia. So it is a global problem; it is not a problem that is associated with Australia alone. Therefore, we need to address this issue globally.

This government’s message to people who are thinking about illegally entering Australia is: ‘Think again. If you are not a genuine refugee, you will be quickly sent home.’ We have invested a record amount in surveillance and interception, and in the budget we announced an additional $654 million— (Time expired)