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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5051

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (17:15): Of all the member for Moreton's contribution, the point I would agree with him on is that there are no quick fixes. Unfortunately, there has been an absolute quick failure. When the government decided that they were going to change a workable system, a solution, and create a problem, they were highly successful with that. They have certainly made the circumstances of a lot of people different over their time since they changed the immigration policies. They have filled up the Christmas Island detention centre and created and filled up detention centres around the country. There is no doubt that the only quick thing that this government has done is failed spectacularly.

That brings us to the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test and Other Provisions) Bill 2011. This bill comes to the House to try to end the embarrassment that the border control failures of the government continue to deliver for the government. The reality is that television cameras have bought into the lounge rooms of my constituents and all Australians the images of riots and misbehaviour in immigration detention centres around the country. The newspapers report the stories of what is going on in the detention centres and the costs of that.

The reality is that the people of Australia are pretty unhappy with the assaults, the riots, the damage and the abuse of the taxpayer provided facilities. There are stark contrasts, of course, where those who are in these detention centres get everything for free, and then some create trouble and destroy the facilities. The contrast is that that is against those on fixed incomes: Australians who do not get free accommodation, do not get free food, do not get free internet and do not get free cigarettes, nose-hair trimmers or other goodies for attending sport or classes. Australia is a very tolerant country. Australians do not mind helping out those who are down and need a hand up, but they do expect accountability.

This bill is a reaction to the scrutiny that only the coalition has provided on this matter. The questions and the close examination provided by the member for Cook, the Leader of the Opposition and many of us on this side have forced the government to at last act in the face of increasing community outrage. I am in favour of these criminal provisions, but this legislation does not go far enough. These are the sorts of legislation and measures that should apply to all those who are noncitizens and commit crimes that attract a custodial sentence, not just those in detention centres. There have been many cases where I would have liked to have seen the cancellation or refusal of visas.

Leading on from this, I again turn my attention to the common theme that my constituents so often raise with me, and that is accountability. Accountability for bad behaviour is a concept that really does mirror the expectations of the Australian community. I think that it is correct that the majority of Australians want due processes to be followed in dealing with those who seek asylum and they want the law obeyed. They want the facilities provided to be respected. They want absolute loyalty and respect for this nation from those who came here to escape another place. It is also true that the vast majority of Australians want judicial liability and process for those who break the law. Australians want those who waste taxpayers' funds and damage taxpayer funded facilities to be responsible for their actions. The vast majority of Australians expect these things and I for one do not think that the expectations of the wider Australian community are unreasonable. After all, we are here to represent the Australian community, the people of our electorates, so that is correct.

In recognition of these matters, in August 2001 the then Attorney-General, the Hon. Philip Ruddock, issued directive 21 in relation to visa refusals under section 499 and for cancellation under section 501 of the Migration Act. In that directive, three primary considerations were mandated: firstly, the protection of the Australian community, next the expectation of the Australian community, and, finally, the best interests of the child or children where they are involved. I certainly supported and appreciated those considerations. As a representative of Western Australia and the representative of the people of Cowan in this place, I reiterate that those I speak to have a clear view that their expectations are valid and should be reflected when decisions are made in relation to visa refusals and cancellations.

However, it was the case that in June 2009 the then minister for immigration, Senator Evans, cancelled directive 21 and, instead, issued directive 41. Unfortunately, what directive 41 took out was the consideration that the expectations of the Australian community be considered when looking at visa refusals and cancellations. I make the point that taking the expectations of Australian people out of this issue is a retrograde step.

I also take the opportunity to speak on the need for a greater level of transparency in this portfolio area. When we look at the series of events that were the catalyst for some action and this bill today, there is an increasing concern that, with each embarrassing revelation that afflicts the government, there is an increasing intention that information will be restricted. There are the details of the Malaysian rip-off swap deal, the treatment that faces those who are sent there regardless of the national guarantees, the riots and the damage to our detention facilities, the general abuse of those facilities, the assaults, and the special deals that are available to those who are being detained and that are provided by the taxpayers absolutely free of charge. These are certainly the sorts of matters that need to be reviewed. A parliamentary review into these matters is required because what this country faces is an absolute crisis. The huge blow-outs in costs, the huge number of people now in detention, the assaults and the mismanagement of this portfolio area are the reasons why this entire matter must be looked at in detail. In returning to this bill I say again that I am in support of any attempt to ensure that accountability is sheeted home to those doing the wrong thing. There is a very strong belief by my constituents that criminal action and behaviour by those in detention and those allowed out into the community must involve accountability. The minister must be ready to cancel visas to ensure that the safety of this nation is addressed and that the sorts of people we take as refugees are known by their law-abiding integration into this society and that we do not take the sorts of people who find fault and who are defined by the crimes they commit.

The trouble with what we have seen at Christmas Island and Villawood and in incidents such as the SIEV36 fire and explosion is that there is a group of people that have a predilection towards crime and trouble. We should not give them an excuse for their bad criminal behaviour by blaming mandatory detention. They knew the rules when they came by boat and the bleeding-heart lawyers and advocacy groups are assisting the trouble with their endless appeals causing long delays.

Leaving the criminality aspect behind, I will turn to the character test and I would like to mention subsection 501(6)(d)(v). In that subsection a person can fail the character test if they 'represent a danger to the Australian community or to a segment of that community, whether by way of being liable to become involved in activities that are disruptive to, or in violence threatening harm to, that community or segment, or in any other way'. There seems, therefore, to be sufficient latitude for rejecting visas for all those who riot or destroy property or assault or try to scuttle boats.

Regardless of charges there are the options in section 501 to reject these sort of people. The provisions exist and there has not been an attempt by the government to upgrade these provisions. The problem is that we have a minister without the courage to act. We have a minister who has implied that there is a need for upgrading these provisions but has not acted to make such upgrades in this bill. That is the problem at the core of this attitude by this government.

I say again that the real refugees are those who are stuck in refugee camps and are in fear of their lives. Real refugees have escaped across borders and now languish in refugee camps across the nearest border. They do not have the money for airfares to fly to people smugglers. They do not have the money to cross through several countries, or move through international airport departure lounges. They do not have the money to pay the people smugglers. Real refugees are stuck in refugee camps and deserve our concern because they suffer from malnutrition, malaria and other such afflictions. It really does irritate me when those with money exploit this country and this government's failed border policies, and that they do so with the connivance of advocacy groups that should be supporting real refugees.

There was a time when the borders of this country were strong, where those that came under the humanitarian program were literally those from refugee camps. This was a time of strength but also compassion. What we have now is a lack of control by this government and a misplaced focus away from those that need our assistance. I say let us particularly look to those refugee camps on the Burma-Thailand border, where there are the sorts of people that need our help and fit into this nation very well.

We need amendments to this bill to extend its scope, and I will be supporting that course of action. Yet we also need an inquiry into this whole portfolio area. It is the right time for a fundamental look at the crisis that afflicts the immigration detention system in this country. I call upon the crossbenchers to support the coalition's plan for a parliamentary review. The system is broken and must be examined in detail before any more lives and money are thrown away on the failures that this government has overseen and continues to oversee.