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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 12353

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (18:36): People smugglers are criminals. They should be tried as criminals in our courts, and there should be no doubt that if they are found to have been engaged in the act of people smuggling they should be convicted as criminals and face harsh penalties. In this parliament there has been disagreement about some matters. In this matter, there is agreement.

It is people smugglers who are responsible for deaths at sea. It is people smugglers who are responsible for their own crimes. We in this place must do all we can to ensure we have policies that address these matters. But let us not misunderstand one thing about who the criminals are: they are the people smugglers. Their actions seek to exploit vulnerable people for their own profit, as speakers on both sides of the House have said. Their victims are put at great risk, and too often we see the results of that risk.

As the minister at the table mentioned earlier, this afternoon we have, sadly, heard further reports of another tragedy to our north, off the coast of Indonesia. We will await further details. I am sure the government is waiting on briefings as well, and we appreciate the information we have received from the government on this matter. It comes as another vessel has been intercepted today, which adds to those that have come before.

The Deterring People Smuggling Bill 2011 is a matter of agreement between the government and the opposition. It is also a matter of urgency. No-one in this place wants to see those who have been involved in these criminal acts being allowed to slip through the net, because, where they have been detained and prosecuted, we wish to see a conviction. The bill seeks to provide clarity, retrospectively, that a person has no lawful right to come to Australia if, at the relevant time, the non-citizen does not hold a visa—that is, in effect, whether or not Australia may have protection obligations under the refugee convention or for any other reason.

This clarification is made necessary by a series of appeals arguing that it is not unlawful to enter Australia for a reason under the refugee convention. Courts may have their opinions on these things; but what the parliament is saying here today is that this parliament has an opinion about these matters, and we are making it crystal clear what constitutes this unlawful act.

Article 31 of the refugee convention is informative. It is titled 'Refugees unlawfully in the country of refuge' and it states in its first part:

The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.

It is not illegal to seek asylum; it is illegal to enter Australia without a valid visa, and we have different rules and systems for dealing with those who would seek to enter Australia illegally, regardless of what subsequent claim they may make, lawful or otherwise. The mode of their entry is relevant, and we have had for some time now separate systems for dealing with offshore entry persons. But in making that point I return to the original point, and that is that those who facilitated that unlawful entry—those who have facilitated that illegal act—need to be held to account by our own laws.

So tonight we are pleased to support the government in ensuring the speedy passage of this bill through this House. We will continue to hold strong views about the matters that we have had some disagreement upon. We hold those strong views because of our very long-held belief that a system that ensures that we deter illegal entry to the country will produce a result where lives are not lost at sea and where the immigration program—of which we are all proud—is enabled to have integrity and where the 13,750 places that are available under the refugee and humanitarian program are given to people whom we believe are in greatest need and whom we are in the best position to assist. That is what we want to see as a result of this program. That is why we are pleased to stand with the government today and support the bill before the House.

To conclude my remarks, I note, on behalf of the coalition, that the reports that we have heard from Indonesia are of great concern. We send our thoughts to those who are directly affected. We thank in advance the Indonesian authorities for what will be their cooperation in seeking to understand what has occurred here. We thank the government for the reports that they have already provided to us, and we await further news. I fear that that news will not be good, and, as we hear that news, I think it is important for us all to remember who the criminals are in this situation: the people smugglers.