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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5059


Ms MARINO (ForrestOpposition Whip) (17:51): This bill, the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test and Other Provisions) Bill 2011, would not be necessary if the Labor government had not lost control of our borders and the minister for immigration was actually doing his job. It is that simple. It would not be necessary if the Labor government had not given the green light to people smugglers and given them the opportunity to make millions of dollars from asylum seekers. Given the free and easy open border policies of the Labor government and the way the government gave in to the demands of asylum seekers on the Oceanic Viking, I am not surprised that people smugglers have been encouraged to believe that they can get away with criminal behaviour.

One of the most consistent issues currently being raised in my electorate of Forrest is, without a doubt, that the Labor government have lost control of our borders. So many people are now actually angry. They are angry that the government has not only jeopardised Australia's strong border reputation but has recently revealed a massive $1.75 billion blow-out in taxpayers' funds used to pay for these shambolic and failed asylum seeker policies. My constituents do not trust the Labor government at all. They do not believe that Labor will stop the boats because the boats continue to arrive. Today we have seen another boat with 56 people aboard. The minister is now scratching around trying to be seen to do something.

We know that during 2001 people smugglers made 43 successful incursions into Australia. As a result, the coalition made tough decisions that made it perfectly clear that Australia was not going to be a bottomless pit of profit-making opportunities for people smugglers and would not encourage vulnerable people to put their lives at risk. This is the issue: they are encouraging vulnerable people to put their lives at risk. The effect was immediate. In 2002 just one boat arrived. Over the remaining years of the coalition government 25 illegal entry vessels arrived, an average of just over three a year from 2002 to 2008. However, in 2008 the newly elected Labor government threw open Australia's borders to people smugglers, literally putting up a sign that said 'Open for the business of people smuggling'. This unfortunately encouraged even more vulnerable people to put their lives at risk in dangerous and unseaworthy boats. In 2009, 61 boats reached Australia. In 2010 people smugglers earned their lucrative illegal income through 134 successful incursions.

The Australian people can see that Labor has well and truly lost control of our borders and my constituents continually tell me so. We know that 11,413 people have come here on 228 boats since August 2008, but this government has continued to deny the obvious. Now, after years of encouraging and allowing people smugglers to take advantage of the Australian government, Labor has decided that they need to do something. They are not quite sure what that something is and they do not know how to rectify a major problem entirely of their own making. I remember this phrase, and I hope members in this House do as well: the coalition found a problem and created a solution; Labor found a solution and created a problem.

The Prime Minister started by saying that detaining boat people on Pacific islands was 'costly, unsustainable and wrong in principle.' Then she back flipped by announcing that the government would try to re-open Manus Island. The Prime Minister also previously insisted that boat people could not be sent to Nauru because Nauru is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees. But now she has announced 800 boat people will be sent to Malaysia, which is not a signatory either. Australia will receive 4,000 asylum seekers from Malaysia for those 800 that are heading that way. We understand this policy comes with a cost of nearly $70,000 per person.

How this will actually work no-one knows. Australia has not finalised an agreement to transfer asylum seekers to Malaysia, PNG, East Timor, Thailand or anywhere else. This is yet another demonstration of the problems emerging from the Labor government rushing out in panic to announce the latest deal that is not actually a deal. We all remember the mining tax mark I and II, the carbon tax mark I and II, the NBN mark I and II—the list goes on. The government's handling of these varying border protection policies leaves Australians with no confidence. Conversely, it continues to give people smugglers great confidence to continue their activities. As I said, today another 56 people arrived. People smugglers are literally making a mockery of Labor's inability to manage Australia's borders. I see that the West Australian today reported that:

Federal police officers have carried out 100 wrist X-rays of Indonesian crew members claiming to be under the age of 18 since 2008.

But results of the scans have shown 60 of the so-called "children" to be aged over 18.

People smugglers are now not only bringing increased numbers of asylum seekers but they are claiming to be under 18. This is another issue for the government to deal with that they have created.

This bill attempts to ensure that a person will fail the character test if they have been convicted of a criminal offence while in detention. There have been more than three critical incidents happening every day in our detention centres. They are putting people's lives at risk. Incidents have included everything from deaths, escapes, riots, and fires to assaults, particularly assaults on the people who work in these centres. Of course, there has also been millions of dollars of damage.

It is intended that the changes in this legislation will provide a disincentive for people in immigration detention to carry out violent and disruptive behaviour, but it does not do anything to address the Labor government's failure to act to cancel or refuse visas. If someone fails the character test, a decision to grant a visa can still be made. The minister has indicated that in these circumstances he intends to still allow the granting of a temporary visa to these people. The coalition does not support the issuing of such visas. While we are supportive of the new criminal provision, it does not go far enough as it does not apply to every non-citizen. If the government is really serious about this issue, it will re-introduce the provision of ministerial direction No. 21, which allows decision makers to take the interests of the Australian community into account—that is, to 'regulate, in the national interest, the coming into and presence in Australia of non-citizens.'

People, not only in my electorate but right around the nation, are angry about the contempt for Australian law in detention centres. People are outraged by reports of asylum seekers intentionally damaging Commonwealth property and their lack of respect for the Australian communities in which they are being housed. Claims that during the 11 days that detainees were on the roof of the Villawood detention centre they were free to come down, charge their mobile phones and then return without any action has frustrated and upset people and it certainly sends the wrong message. The volume of people in Australian detention centres and the associated pressure on these centres comes as a direct result of Labor's soft border protection policies. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service is also being stretched beyond capacity. The Labor government has to take responsibility for the situation it has created. There is no-one else to blame. The Labor government has created this problem. We cannot allow the fairness and integrity of our immigration and refugee programs to be further compromised.