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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5065

Mr SLIPPER (FisherDeputy Speaker) (18:15): I am very pleased to have the opportunity to join the debate on the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test and Other Provisions) Bill 2011. It is obvious—and any objective person looking at the facts would have to accept—that under this government our border protection policy is in tatters. Compared with the record of the former Howard government, this government has completely lost control of Australia's borders and it has turned the seas around this nation into a superhighway. There is an incentive for people to seek to come to Australia as unauthorised arrivals because of the record of this government in allowing so many of those who have arrived in this way to stay here on a permanent basis.

Let us look at the facts. Since August 2008, 228 boats have arrived. Many of them slipped through the detection net and were unexpected when they appeared off Australia's offshore islands. Eleven thousand four hundred and thirteen people have arrived in this manner. Some 56 arrived only today. On any sort of clear-headed assessment, the government's policy has not worked, and it should be obvious to anyone that this government needs to sit down and reconsider the situation.

No matter how well intentioned the government are—and I do accept that they are well intentioned—it is obvious that their policies have comprehensively failed. What they really ought to do is to go back to basics. They should go back to scratch. They should look again at what has worked in the past, look again at what is not working now. Even if they have to absorb a modicum of political embarrassment, they should say that the policies of the former Howard government with respect to border protection were infinitely more effective. The former government said, 'We will lock anyone up who enters Australia illegally,' and that proved to be a very powerful disincentive for people smugglers. People smugglers are amongst the most evil people in the world. I think everyone agrees with that. But, if you make it not viable for people smugglers to stay in business, then obviously they will move their evil and pernicious traffic elsewhere in the world.

Many people who seek to come to Australia illegally are economic refugees. One can understand why they would want to leave the conditions in their home countries and come to join us here in Australia, a country that has freedom. We have a sense of democracy, a sense of fairness. We enjoy the rule of law. So one cannot dispute the fact that people would want to come here but, if we are going to have an immigration system with integrity, it has to be one that has checks and balances, one that has appropriate penalties and one that acts as a disincentive to people smugglers who take people's money and bring people here.

The current situation with the people smugglers is completely undesirable from the point of view of the Australian people as a whole, but it is also a very unfair situation because we have a finite capacity to absorb humanitarian refugees. We have a quota for this purpose. If people jump the queue then it means that genuine people who have been going through the appropriate processes will have a lower likelihood of being admitted to Australia than would otherwise be the case.

I can understand the attractiveness to the government of the five-for-one deal which has been heavily talked about and heavily promoted with respect to Malaysia. Clearly Malaysia gets a very good deal: for up to 800 unauthorised arrivals, we will absorb 4,000 people who are currently in Malaysia. It seems like a pretty dud deal as far as Australia is concerned. The only silver lining in the cloud from the government's point of view is that, if people do come as unauthorised arrivals, they will probably be sent off to Malaysia and they will go to the back of the queue. Hopefully that will discourage people smugglers from continuing to do what they do. It still seems a pretty bad deal for Australia because we are accepting 4,000 people in exchange for 800. If the government had opted for the policies of the former Howard government then we would not have the boats arriving and we would not have the problem.

Australia is a very generous nation. We are a compassionate nation. As you go round our country you will find that people are well aware of the benefits of migration. After all, most of us came here as migrants in one way or another. But Australians have a sense of fair play. They understand that we are a country which has amongst the highest per capita absorption of refugees from countries around the world. But it is imperative that our borders be protected so that we are not overwhelmed by illegal boat arrivals, which place strain on the integrity of our immigration system and processing and can become a financial and social burden.

When one looks at what the government is proposing to spend on unauthorised arrivals and processing and transporting them and detention centres, one can see that this places a very great strain on the budget and makes it more difficult for the government to achieve the objectives sought by the Treasurer in his budget of returning the budget to surplus within a finite period. If one could reinstate our border protection policy, one could stop the boats from arriving. The government would not have to spend what it is proposing to spend and the budgetary bottom line would be so much better off. I also do not understand why the government says it will not use the detention facilities at Nauru, which have been paid for by the Australian taxpayer. Nauru is prepared to be of assistance in this matter. It would be good for Nauru; it would be good for Australia. The facilities are already there. It would not take them long to recommission the detention centre. Yet we find, to the contrary, the government seems to be hawking its wishes from one country in the region to another, when there is already a very obvious solution.

Labor has failed with its border protection policies, and most people in the community, in any part of the country, would agree that that is in fact the case. Our immigration detention centres are stretched and have become places where we have riots. We find that detainees are destroying the property of the Australian taxpayer. While one has to applaud the contents of the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test and Other Provisions) Bill 2011 upon first reading—and no-one could possibly object to what is contained in the bill—the bill simply does not go far enough. It is interesting to note that people who are not in detention but who commit offences are not caught by the provisions of this bill.

It is also strange to read that you can have a situation where, even though a person fails the character test, the decision to grant a visa can be taken, particularly if the person is found to be a refugee and cannot be returned to his or her country of origin. I am also advised that the minister intends to issue some sort of new temporary protection visa. Maybe it could be referred to as a return pending visa. But it is simply unacceptable, in my view, to grant visas to people who fail the character test. We have enough problems in this country already with law and order. To admit to Australia to live here on an indefinite or permanent basis those people who fail the character test is not what the Australian people want. I would encourage government members to go to any shopping centre in the country. They would find when they talk to ordinary, decent Australians, regardless of how they vote at elections, that people want appropriate levels of border protection. There is a very great level of unhappiness in the community that 228 boats have arrived since August 2008. There is a very great unhappiness that 11,413 unauthorised arrivals have somehow managed to trespass across the border to arrive here and have had to be dealt with in accordance with Australia's immigration laws. People are exceedingly unhappy that today another 56 people have arrived.

One ought to never forget that, while we talk about 'unauthorised arrivals', these are people. These are people who obviously have hopes and aspirations for a better life. They clearly must be treated with compassion, but if we had an appropriate level of border protection they would not be here and they would not actually need to have the processes which are being set out in this bill and in other bills applied to them. If we could re-create a situation where Australia's border was properly protected, we would not have these unauthorised arrivals. They would not be here; they would be somewhere else and we would not be talking about the matters we are currently talking about. It is interesting to note, however, that the government has not been prepared in this legislation to go further and to say that those people who commit offences when they are not in detention are similarly caught by these provisions.

Australia is a country which has Judaeo-Christian values. We are a country which does in fact accept our fair share of the refugee burden from around the world. We are not a heartless nation. We do care about others in strife, and we have proven time and time again that we are good international citizens. Collectively as a country we dip our hands into our national pocket to assist people overseas in times of difficulty. While most Australians sympathise with genuine refugees and the hardships they face, they understand the need to maintain diligence in processing and to have appropriate examination of new refugee applicants. They do not want common sense thrown out the window, and they want to do all they can to protect our Australian people and to maintain the way of life and level of safety that we are privileged to enjoy in Australia.

We as a country want to have only those people who are of good character. While the bill certainly strengthens the current provisions, it does not go far enough. Most Australians are outraged when they hear about the riots and the protests which have taken place on Christmas Island and at Villawood. That indicates that these people have no respect whatever for Australia, its laws or its property and that they believe they have the right to do what they want. Even the thought of a deputy secretary of the department having to plead with people to come down from where they were is unacceptable. What happens is that a certain number of people play on the basic decency and good values of Australians.

We are a relatively small nation and we would be silly to put at risk the things that make Australia the wonderful country that it is by going soft on those who claim to be asylum seekers and as a result seek to take up residence in Australia. It is very important that anyone who commits violence, destroys property or breaches the peace while in detention is not allowed to remain here. It is certainly unacceptable that some people have vandalised and trashed the accommodation that has been provided by the Australian taxpayer. That does not sit well with the Australian people and our sense of fair play. It is certainly a bizarre type of behaviour, akin to biting the hand that feeds you. In the very short amount of time left to me, let me say that these changes to the Migration Act 1958 aim to improve the behaviour of detainees and to bring about consequences for those who behave badly. The bill is a step in the right direction. It does not go anywhere near far enough. I, on behalf of the people of Australia, implore the government to consider strengthening the provisions of this bill so that it will achieve what the Australian people would want it to achieve.