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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 12351

Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (18:23): The views of those on this side of the House in relation to border protection are very well known. It is vitally important that the Australian government adopt and run a coherent and effective border protection policy. It must be the Australian government who has control over who comes to Australia. Failure to enforce a robust system of border protection has enormous negative consequences for our nation.

As I make these comments, I am mindful that I do so in the wake of reports that another vessel attempting this dangerous journey to Australia has sunk and there have been reports of loss of life. It also comes on top of the tragedy we saw in December last year, when the SIEV221 crashed at Christmas island, again with the loss of many lives. That brought home to Australians, in the most graphic way, the perils that are involved in making this journey illegally from Indonesia or other parts to Australia. We also know that it is highly likely that several, if not many, other vessels over the years have left Indonesia and never been seen or heard from again. Presumably those on board have been lost at sea.

Let there be no doubt in people's minds that the blame for these tragedies—the losses of life involved in this illegal journey from Indonesia to Australia—lies at the feet of the criminal syndicates of people smugglers who participate in this evil and insidious trade. People smugglers, contrary to what some in the community might believe, are not modern-day versions of humanitarians smuggling marginalised people to safety. Only the deluded would hold this view. People smugglers are sophisticated criminals who run a criminal business for enormous profit at the expense of the poor souls who have to pay to come to Australia in this way. We as a parliament must do everything we can to make sure that we close this business down. Obviously, as anyone who has followed this debate would know, how to achieve that remains the subject of some controversy between the opposition and the government. In light of the events that I outlined earlier, I do not intend to go through all of this today; but I do reiterate that this parliament must be resolute in tackling people smuggling, and until this resolve is shown the trade will be able to continue to flourish.

The bill before the parliament today, the Deterring People Smuggling Bill 2011, which we are dealing with in some urgency, does exactly that. It will ensure that the intent of the migration legislation that was amended by the Howard government in 1999 is made crystal clear in relation to the meaning of the words 'no lawful right to come to Australia'. As the minister stated when he introduced the bill, this will in no way infringe on the rights of people seeking Australia's protection from persecution within their homeland. Neither will it in any way alter Australia's international obligations in relation to these people.

The Howard government amended the Migration Act in 1999 to deal with people-smuggling offences, and in particular to make it an offence for a person to organise or facilitate the bringing to Australia of another person if that other person had no lawful right to come to Australia. The construction of the words 'no lawful right to come to Australia' is presently the subject of a question of law reserved to the Court of Appeal of Victoria, and this matter will be heard later on in November. Appeals along similar lines have been lodged in other jurisdictions.

This bill is intended to clarify that 'no lawful right to come to Australia' means that at the relevant time the non-citizen does not hold a visa to that effect, whether or not Australia may have any protection obligations under the refugee convention or for any other reason. To ensure that previous convictions remain valid, the clarification is to be applied retrospectively to 16 December 1999. As I said, the amendments affect neither the rights of individuals seeking protection or asylum nor Australia's obligations in respect of those persons.

The parliament is dealing with this bill with some urgency. It is clearly important that the law be clarified so that everybody in the community understands the intent of this parliament in relation to what it means to have no lawful right to come to this country. I appreciate that both the shadow Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, and I were briefed by the Attorney-General and the Minister for Home Affairs on this matter recently. It might have been preferable if we had had a little more notice of this bill being brought on today, but, regardless of that, the opposition does support it.