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Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 3786

Senator WORTLEY (4:17 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Rudd government’s commitment to Australia’s border security. As the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has said in this place, the government is devoting unprecedented resources to protecting Australia’s borders and developing intelligence on people-smuggling syndicates. We are working cooperatively with Australia’s regional partners to disrupt people-smuggling ventures overseas and we are subjecting people smugglers to the full force of Australian law. People-smuggling is exploitative and dangerous. People smugglers are motivated by greed and they work in sophisticated cross-border crime networks. They have little regard for the safety and security of those being smuggled, endangering their lives in unseaworthy and overcrowded boats.

Australia, under the Rudd government, has one of the toughest border security regimes in the world, with a system of extensive air and sea patrols, excision and offshore processing and mandatory detention of unauthorised boat arrivals and unlawful noncitizens who pose a risk to the Australian community. Those opposite know the government has acted and is acting to protect Australia’s borders. What we see again here today is an opposition reverting to its fallback position of scaremongering on matters of national security. When all else fails what do those opposite do? They play the border protection, illegal immigration and asylum seeker card. Unlike most of those opposite, this government recognises that tough border security needs to be balanced by fair and humane treatment of asylum seekers and others in immigration detention. That is what those opposite really appear to be objecting to.

There have been many accounts of the dreadful predicament in which detainees found themselves on arrival in Australia and of the struggle of refugee advocates to assist those in detention under the former coalition government. Many of these describe the conditions under which detainees existed during the years leading up to and including the coalition’s so-called Pacific solution. Those accounts are invariably relentlessly heartbreaking reading and inevitably refer to the political environment in which people were incarcerated indefinitely. They were numbed, isolated and dehumanised by word and deed. Worse even than this, children were born in detention, incarcerated behind razor wire and subjected to terrible sights and sounds, the like of which our own children have never experienced and I trust never will. Among the detainees were people suffering psychiatric problems as a result of war, trauma and deprivation, suffering significant mental health problems which could only have been exacerbated while they were in what often was long-term detention. It was indeed an embarrassment not only to those opposite—to the coalition—but to us individually and collectively as a nation. Consider over the years that those opposite were in government the sinking of SIEVX, ‘children overboard’, the Tampa, children behind bars, TPVs, desperate self-mutilation and hunger strikes—a national and international embarrassment. In 2000-01, 1,923 children were held in detention centres. The Australian Human Rights Commission found that in December 2003 children had spent an average of one year, eight months and 11 days in detention. It found that in October of that year more than 50 per cent of all children detained had been held for more than two years.

Consider the mistreatment of detainees under the Liberal watch, highlighted by a series of protests, riots and hunger strikes at Woomera from June to November 2000. Under the then Liberal government there were episodes of mistreatment, illegal detention and deportation, self-harm, psychiatric illness, breaching of our international obligations and demonising of people who had simply sought our help. As we know, to add insult to injury, many of those who were eventually released and allowed to join the greater community were actually billed for each day of their detention.

The values that underpinned this regime are not shared by the Australian people and they are not shared by this government. Labor’s platform on coming to office included a pledge to implement more humane detention policies and, with this, implementing strict and sophisticated border security protocols. Protecting Australia’s borders and airports from threats of terrorism, people smuggling, organised crime, illegal foreign fishing and the trafficking of illicit goods is a top priority.

The government has introduced legislation that reflects this, including the Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2010. This bill bolstered the government’s hard line and comprehensive approach to combating people smuggling by enhancing the Commonwealth’s anti-people-smuggling legislative framework. The bill ensures that people-smuggling activities are consistently and comprehensively criminalised, with a new offence for providing material support for people smuggling. The bill equips our law enforcement and national security agencies with effective investigative capabilities to detect and disrupt people smuggling. It demonstrates the government’s commitment to addressing the serious nature of people-smuggling activities and targeting those criminal groups who seek to organise, participate in and benefit from people-smuggling activities. Unlike the opposition, which for years incompetently ran border security as a politically motivated scare campaign, this government has always recognised the need to remember it is dealing with human beings here. Strong border security is vital and it can be managed humanely.

In July 2008 we honoured the commitment that we made prior to the election by announcing seven key immigration detention values designed to improve detention policy and practice into the future. The seven detention values include that mandatory detention is an essential component of strong border patrol. To support the integrity of Australia’s immigration program three groups will be subject to mandatory detention. They are: firstly, all unauthorised arrivals for the management of health, identity and security risks to the community; secondly, unlawful noncitizens who present unacceptable risks to the community; and, thirdly, unlawful noncitizens who repeatedly refuse to comply with their visa conditions.

The government does take border security seriously and it has made a $1.2 billion investment in border and aviation security. This includes a major investment in the purchase of eight new patrol vessels with improved surveillance and response capabilities and greater range to replace the current ageing Bay class vessels. The government will also provide additional funding of around $42.6 million over four years to meet project implementation and enhanced operating costs, $163.2 million over four years to continue initiatives to combat illegal foreign fishing, $32.9 million over four years for investment in work with Indonesia to better manage the issue of people smuggling within Indonesia and the region, and $15.7 million over two years to ensure the continued presence of a dedicated vessel at Ashmore Reef. I could continue with the investments that the government has made to ensure the protection of our borders, but my time is running out. We as a nation have a duty and a need to protect our borders from threats while protecting the rights of genuine refugees. (Time expired)