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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5054


Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (17:26): I rise today to speak on the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test and Other Provisions) Bill 2011. As I read the bill I was very concerned that the person who is failing the character test in putting this bill forward is the minister. Much has been made about the toughness of this measure and the outcomes that it will deliver. As I went through the bill and looked at what it does, I found that it does nothing more than is available to the minister now. The minister already has powers available under the act. Under the minister's powers he can refuse a visa.

When the minister was talking tough in introducing this legislation after the riots and after the unconscionable actions of some individuals I expected to see a piece of legislation instructing, 'If you do this then this will happen'—no 'if', 'and' or 'but' about it. But the amendments to this act only introduce what the minister may refuse visas for. That is the key point: this bill does not say, 'If you do this you will be denied a visa.' This bill says, 'If you do this the minister may refuse you a visa.' It does not change one thing. Perhaps that is why today we saw yet another boat coming into Australia. It was a boat carrying another 56 illegal immigrants, bringing the total to 11,413 since August 2008—a total of 228 boats.

So all this tough talk of legislation designed to toughen up the stance on border protection and all this talk about moving people offshore for processing—if they can ever get it right—is failing. It is failing because it is megaphone diplomacy without any substance. And nothing could prove that more than this bill. As I have said, it is called the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test and Other Provisions) Bill 2011 but the only person who is failing that character test is the minister.

I needed to look no further than the minister's second reading speech where he said, in part:

If a person fails the character test, this can be used as a basis for the refusal of a visa application or the cancellation of a visa that is held by a person.

It goes on to say:

Similarly, section 500A of the Migration Act provides that the minister may refuse the grant of a temporary safe haven visa—

He said not 'will' but 'may'. That is the key point: it is no different to what currently exists.

I point out to the House that Australia has standards of socially acceptable behaviour. I understand the plight of many of these people, but I cannot understand why, when you have come from an impoverished, dangerous environment, you would bring those arguments here to this country or, whilst seeking to gain access to this country and show yourself to be a model citizen worthy of being granted a visa or citizenship, resort to the kinds of acts that we have witnessed. I return to the Villawood riot. Millions of dollars worth of damage was done by a number of people—exactly how many is not yet determined—who burnt the place to the ground. They felt they were not being processed and given visas fast enough and decided they would burn the place to the ground. How Australian is that? They want to come to this country and one of the first things they do on Australian soil, while they are being assessed, is burn the building providing them protection to the ground, endangering not only their own lives but the lives of their fellow detainees and those who are there to keep them secure.

It does not end with the Villawood riot. That was not an isolated incident. In fact, there were riots on Christmas Island where they burnt buildings and extra police had to be sent to stop the rioting. The average person in Australian society would sit there and think, 'Are these the kinds of people that I want as my fellow Australians? Do I want to share this country with the sorts of people who, when they decide they have had enough, will set fire to the place or create a riot or a disturbance?' Yes, that is the way to model yourself to be an Australian citizen.

It is reported that there are three major incidents every day across the detention centres. I say to those detainees awaiting processing and approval: if you want to be accepted into Australian society, act in a manner such that your fellow Australians would say, 'Welcome.' I cannot imagine too many people, except those in the Labor Party and particularly those in the Greens, who, following these acts, would turn around and say to anyone, 'You've just burned my home down, created a riot and put people in hospital—come on in. We want your sort of people in this country.' The people who come into my electorate office say 'No'. They say that they have had enough. It is the taxpayers—the constituents that I represent—who are picking up the bill for the damage that is being done and the extra security required for people who have supposedly come to Australia seeking a safe haven and peace. There is no safe haven and peace when you are in a detention centre and are trying to burn the place down.

In another failed test of integrity, Prime Minister Gillard during the election campaign said that she had had all the discussions and that there was going to be an offshore processing centre in East Timor. The only problem was that she forgot to tell most of the East Timorese parliament. Then she was going to Manus and then she was going to Malaysia. I have to say: I want the Prime Minister to sit with whomever I am next going to play poker against. I would just love her to be sitting on the other side of the table calling the odds—put up $800; get $4,000 back. I would just love to be playing poker against her, and what a poker face she has. She can come out in the community to do press conferences, put her hand over her heart and say, 'I've cut the deal in Timor,' or, 'We're going to Manus Island,' or, 'What a deal I've cut in Malaysia,' but will not pick up the phone and talk to the President of Nauru. This Prime Minister has also failed the integrity test—the character test—and lacks the leadership that Australia is looking for. Tough decisions require tough people and people with character. It is an easy decision to just open the borders to the queue jumpers, pushing to the back of the queue those who have been in detention centres around the globe, desperately seeking protection and awaiting their turn while being properly and adequately processed and assessed.

I have a couple of figures to put on the record. In 2002, no boats arrived in Australia. In 2003, there was one boat with 53 people on board. In 2004, there were no boats. In 2005, there were four boats with a total of 11 people on board. In 2006, there were six boats with a total of 60 people on board. Then it started to escalate. In 2007, there were five boats with a total of 148 people on board—and it goes on and on. Now, we have gone from having four people in detention when this government came to power to having 11,413 people in detention. This government claims that it has grown our economy; the only thing this government truly has grown is the number of illegal arrivals into the country. It is an absolute disgrace. If the government think that this bill will do anything to deter those violent acts, to deter the criminal activities that have been occurring, then they need to come in here and amend their own bill. This government need to show that they have the strength of character to remove the 'may' provisions. In order to earn the confidence of our fellow Australians, they need to state clearly to those in detention centres, 'If you do this you will not come into Australia'—not 'will not', not 'may not', and not 'at the minister's discretion'. That is what strength of character is, but unfortunately this government repeatedly fail the character test, and they fail the integrity test over a range of issues. They failed it by stating that there would be no carbon tax, and now there is a full push for it. They failed it when they said they would drive down pressures on the cost of living. They failed it when they said they would stop the boats, and all they have done is to grow and escalate it.

There is one thing that needs to happen. This government needs to show some integrity and some character, and this applies not just in a detention centre but in the community. It needs to go on the front foot and say, 'If you are a criminal in our community while you are on a visa, then you need to be denied that visa and you need to be deported back to where you were.' After all, the common catchcry from people who have come here as illegal boat people is that they wanted a safer haven. That safe haven does not include committing crimes.

I do not intend to take any more time of this House other than to say: I am disgusted that the government would seek a cheap political media shot by introducing this legislation, because in reality it does nothing to toughen up anything in relation to the illegal activities and crimes being committed by people in detention centres.