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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1949


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (16:20): The shadow minister for immigration made great moment of the fact that the Howard government introduced record numbers of migrants to this country, yet at the same time polls showed that people supported that. Clearly that research from the Scanlon Foundation is interconnected with people's degree of confidence in the economy and other factors. However, one factor the Howard government did not have to deal with was an opposition spokesperson who has attempted to demonise, to marginalise and to put to the Australian people, 'Perhaps you should be worried and terrified about the people coming in the boats.' There was not an opposition pushing that line at any stage. That might be why there was significant support for migration, even at a time when boat arrivals went up for a period after the election of the Howard government. They did not have to deal with an opposition spokesperson, a man who usually ignores and derides the refugee convention, who, when an eight-year-old child was being offered transport to his parents' funeral, said:

Well there's nothing in the refugee convention which covers this situation and places an obligation on us and I think people would be rightly, from what they've heard, angry about this.

He thought it was a waste of government money for Australia to finance transport for an eight-year-old child to attend his parents' funeral when those parents had perished on a boat coming to this country. The same opposition spokesperson in the last week, because of one rape case by an asylum claimant, said that there should be protocols on their release. We all know that anyone released is supposed to subscribe to certain standards, but he said that residents should be advised if a refugee asylum claimant was put in their suburb, implying again that perhaps all of these people are rapists and murderers. It ignores the statistical reality, the criminology facts of this country, that the level of convictions of released asylum seekers is far lower than that of the general Australian population. What this opposition is essentially pushing is an implication that these people are in some ways people you should be terrified of and that their claims are illegitimate.

The other part of the opposition's position is that, in some manner, these people are economic migrants and they are not suffering any fear of persecution. If that was the case, we would see these boats filled with Bangladeshis, Indonesians, Nepalese and Yemenis. They are all countries where people live in very poor circumstances. In many of these countries, people could just as easily get on the boats. In fact, that applies to Indonesians far more than the others. But the people on the boats are not coming from these countries, and the opposition knows that. They are coming from Afghanistan. As we know, in recent weeks there has been a series of bombings in Qatar and Pakistan of the Hazara minority and other Shiites. There have been constant bombings in Pakistan of the Hazaras and murders in the streets of the cities.

We know that some of the other claimants are coming from the Middle East. Clearly, many Iraqis—Mandeans, Christians and, on various occasions, Shia and Sunni—came because of the struggles in that country as the power balance shifted regionally and nationally. We know that some of the people on the boats are coming from Sri Lanka. There has been an upsurge in the numbers from Sri Lanka. This has nothing to do with who is in government. It has nothing to do with politics in this country. It has got everything to do with the Sri Lankan civil war. The established world believes that a significant number of Tamil Tigers were murdered in the aftermath of that war.

There is a clear correlation between who is coming on the boats, where they have arrived from and the situation in their homeland. The opposition's attempt to say, basically, that this is interconnected with government policy in Australia, that it is somehow all about queue jumping and that it is all about people who are coming here for financial reasons is ridiculous. We know that there are reasons that people would seek to come to this country. In the period of this government, the economy has increased by 13 per cent. Our GDP, of 3.1 per cent, is four times better than the average GDP of the rest of the developed world. We know that our key interest rate is three per cent and that our unemployment is only 5.4 per cent. There are reasons that people would seek to come to this country—for advancement, for financial reasons. No doubt the way the economy is being managed is a strong incentive for people to try and come here by boat, for financial reasons. But, as I say, there is a clear correlation between where they are coming from and what is happening in those countries.

We have from the opposition platitudes and slogans—they are basically going to tow the boats back. When their leader went to Indonesia and had meetings with the Indonesian president, he talked about how good the lumpia was, he liked the nasi goreng that they had for dinner and he liked the ayam chicken. He discussed all of those things with the Indonesian president—how good the banquets were and how nice the rooms were in Indonesia. But he never once talked about this policy of towing the boats back. He did not have the guts to put it to the Indonesians. What is going to be the reaction of the Indonesians—a country we have to deal with, a country we depend on in regards to illegal boats and a country whose cooperation we need—if they basically have to receive all of these boats back? I think we all know what their reaction is going to be.

There is going to be another gathering in relation to the Bali Process in April. That is where these things are solved by cooperation in our region. The other party that is crucial to our country and how we deal with immigration is Malaysia. What happened in regards to Malaysia? The opposition says, 'Let's send some people back to Iran because it's not a bad country.' In Iran they execute 13-year-old kids and they suppress any people who do not share their religious beliefs—that is not a bad country for the shadow minister to support people being sent back to! But Malaysia is so dreadful! This Labor government—they are so sadistic!—are going to send to people to Malaysia, a country which is currently having democratic elections and a country which has many institutions similar to our own.

The opposition got together with the Greens for 12 months, after the High Court rejected the government's position. When we saw a solution through the Malaysian concept, they lined up with the Greens to block it. This government has come down with a series of recommendations that do not come from the Prime Minister and do not come from the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship; they come from a panel including Angus Houston, the former Chief of the Defence Force, who is a person of some credibility, and Paris Aristotle, who is well known in this policy area. They came up with the recommendation that we return offshore process to Nauru and Manus Island and that we have a no-advantage policy—that people who come here by boat do not get any advantage over the people in refugee camps overseas. Basically, that is what this government is pursuing.

I now want to turn to 457 visas. This government is not going to apologise for trying to do something about the huge numbers of contrived entrances to this country and the employers trying to undermine Australian conditions. We had a defence from them other there: one of their speakers said that the government does not want the benefits of skilled migrants. They referred to the Snowy River scheme. Let's get real: the conditions under which people entered this country as skilled migrants for the Snowy River scheme and similar proposals were a lot different to what is being suggested here today. People had to work for a significant number of years under clear controls. We had a situation in this country where the unions were more powerful. There was more labour regulation and more industrial relations regulation. It was extremely difficult to undermine Australian workers' conditions through skilled migrants.

What we have now is a sham system. The opposition are basically, on behalf of the big end of the town and the large corporations, opposed to any restrictions whatsoever in regards to the entry of temporary migration in this country. The shadow minister, who is so hard on everything else about immigration and so down on any other migration stream, ran out there in August and said: 'With our current levels of temporary labour migration under the 457 program, there is room for expansion.' There were record numbers last year, and he said we should be bringing more temporary skilled migrants into this country.

I want to make one final point. The opposition are trying to say that this government is racist because it is clamping down on employer abuse of our industrial relations system and 457 visas. The jobs being protected are actually the jobs of many migrants in this country.

Many of the people who are being undermined, are people who, themselves, migrated. I had a Bangladeshi Muslim resident in my electorate ring me up last week and say, 'Laurie, what's wrong with the government of this country saying that it wants to protect Australian jobs first? Why doesn't the government get more hardline about this?' That is the sentiment of the Australian people. They have had a gutful of the way the system has been abused. There has been an investigation over the last year. This announcement is overdue, and the opposition should get out of the way and stop defending the big end of town and the large corporations, who are undermining Australian conditions through temporary skilled migration.