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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15482

Ms GILLARD (3:42 PM) —This issue goes to the heart of the moral legitimacy—or should I say illegitimacy—of the Howard government. The coalition turned the last election campaign into a referendum on who could best maintain the integrity of our immigration system. They won that election after polluting public opinion with what was nothing short of deliberately manufactured lies, and Minister Ruddock knows that from the `children overboard' affair. They denigrated and vilified genuine refugees to manipulate public opinion, and now we learn—after that election, after the `children overboard' affair, after SIEVX—that they have turned the integrity of our immigration system into their own political and financial plaything. They certainly decide who comes into this country and the circumstances in which they come. They certainly decide that, and it has got a dollar sign attached to it. That is what we know from these events. I am going to take you through these events—

The SPEAKER —Member for Lalor!

Ms GILLARD —in a way in which Minister Ruddock did not in his incredibly pathetic defence to what are serious allegations. Let us just go through this, Minister. Let us go through it very carefully. Here is a bloke who makes a protection visa application on 1 July 1996. He gets knocked back by the department on 10 March 1997. He gets knocked back by the Refugee Review Tribunal on 2 April 1997. He gets knocked back by the Federal Court in June 1998. An interested Liberal member of parliament, presumably held in some esteem because he is a parliamentary secretary, writes twice and it gets knocked back both times. What is Minister Ruddock's case here? His case is: `Two things changed my mind. One was a bishop.' I still want to know, Minister—and you did not answer this and you did not make it clear in question time—

The SPEAKER —Member for Lalor!

Ms GILLARD —and the only thing that would make it clear is tabling the file—when you were first approached by that bishop. Your answer today was `24 September,' and then, `He wrote on the 27th, but I talk to that bishop all the time.' The way of absolutely proving it—

Ms GILLARD —You have had your go, Minister, and you did not answer this allegation.

The SPEAKER —Member for Lalor! I have allowed a large number of `you's', but it is appropriate to address your remarks through the chair.

Mrs Crosio —Mr Speaker—

The SPEAKER —Member for Prospect; just 30 seconds or even three!

Mrs Crosio —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. You have allowed the minister in this parliament continually to use the word `you', yet you interrupt speakers on our side for doing the same thing.

The SPEAKER —That is an outrageous suggestion. I will personally run through the Hansard with a yellow pen and indicate the number of times that I drew the minister's attention to the matter while he was speaking. I have done the same thing to the member for Lalor. The member for Prospect was out of the chamber for some of that to boot.

Ms GILLARD —The way to have answered that allegation about when the bishop first intervened in this matter would have been to have tabled the file. The only answer that has been given to that relates to protecting the privacy of this protection visa applicant. We already have in the Hansard the person's name and the DIMIA file number. What more is there to protect? Minister Ruddock, if you want to give us that file, with the name scrubbed out wherever it appears, we will take it and look for when the bishop first contacted you.

Let us assume that the version the minister has put is the correct version. Since when did a bishop matter? As the shadow minister for immigration, my office is littered with correspondence from bishops, priests, nuns and rabbis, none of which has made a difference in section 417 matters. I asked the staff to grab the first three, and they have come back with these. I will see your bishop and raise you an archbishop! We have an archbishop in Adelaide who has personally intervened on behalf of an Iranian detainee—I think he is in the Baxter detention centre, but he is certainly detained. The request involved using section 417 of the act, but Minister Ruddock did not say: `Oh dear me, an archbishop. I'd better just put the tick here, because that is what I always do when I see a bishop making an application.' Instead, he wrote back and said: `Your request for the exercise of my power was referred to me. However, I have decided not to consider exercising my power under section 417 of the act.' Somehow a bishop was the difference in the minister's case, but an archbishop does not make any difference in this case.

Then, as honourable members on this side know, there are the East Timorese. There are more bishops involved in the East Timorese matter than there are on a chessboard. It is completely absurd to say that, if you responded to the interventions of church figures, you would not have already made a positive indication in relation to the East Timorese. Every Catholic bishop in Australia—and I note that Minister Abbott is nodding his head; he probably knows a bit about the Catholic Church—has made representations on behalf of the East Timorese. I can guarantee, through this debate, that there will be visas for 1,650 East Timorese, because you would look fools if you did not do that now!

On the issue of intervention by church figures, the stance of the Coalition for the Protection of Asylum Seekers is for no deportations. Bishop George Browning; the spokesperson for the Federation of Islamic Councils; a nun, Sister Aileen Crowe; another Uniting Church figure, Frances Milne; Sister Janet Mead, an advocate for asylum seekers; and a rabbi have made interventions but none of them has had positive results. Since when has the intervention of a bishop made a difference? I reckon that, if we could get some public transparency on your non-reviewable, non-compellable discretion, we would find that a church figure intervenes in most of them and that it is not the difference between your saying yes or no. I will go through all the correspondence in my office that relates to these church figures. I will write back to them with the suggestion that next time, instead of sending a letter, they ought to go to a Liberal Party fundraiser because it gets better results. Presumably we would get a discount for the East Timorese in bulk. If we get together $200,000 or $300,000 we should be right, because that, and not the intervention of the bishop, was the difference in this case.

The other thing that the minister says makes a difference is having Australian family. He then contended that somehow this only came to his attention on the third 417 matter—not the first one, not the second one but the third one. If that version is right, the member for Parramatta is the most incompetent member that the House of Representatives has ever seen. Who would put together a letter and go to the minister for immigration—so interested that he went twice—without having interviewed the people involved and marshalled every fact in their favour, including Australian family? Minister, members on this side represent very multicultural electorates, and many of them do write to you and seek to see you about these sorts of matters. When they do, they make sure that they have every fact. If the member for Parramatta is that incompetent, you can prove it today by tabling the file. If what you are saying is that—

The SPEAKER —Member for Lalor!

Ms GILLARD —the member for Parramatta could not be bothered putting in the details of people's family circumstances, and DIMIA, the RRT, the Federal Court and the lawyers acting for this bloke never worked it out and used it as a fact—which would be truly extraordinary—then prove it by the production of the file. The fact that you have not put the file before this parliament can only lead us inexorably to the conclusion that the file does not support the case that the bishop was the difference—a contention that we know from other files is clearly absurd—that it does not support the case that you only came to know about the family when you looked at this matter for the third time, and that it must support the case that you knew about these things earlier.

Let me make an additional point on the issue of competency. There is an old saying in Australia: the money or the box. I think this motion should be the money or the incompetence, because if the minister is truly saying it took until the third 417 for him to become apprised of the basic facts of this matter, then he is saying to the Australian community that he weighs in his hands matters that could go to life and death—because that is what can happen if people are returned in bad circumstances overseas—without having taken the opportunity to inform himself of the simplest facts that relate to them.

If that is really the case—the money or the incompetence—I am still barracking for the money. But the only alternative case is gross incompetence—incompetence by the member for Parramatta and by you—because why would you be dealing with a matter as serious as whether a person who has claimed persecution can stay in this country without having got every fact before you and having weighed it? You stand condemned either way, and this censure should be carried.

As I say, I am still barracking for the money. Why am I still barracking for the money? Because we know there was a fundraiser; that has not been denied. We know Minister Ruddock was at the fundraiser; that has not been denied. He has clearly conferred with a ministerial colleague about the fundraiser—we suspect that to be Minister Abbott—so Minister Abbott was there. We understand that there were other members of parliament, or at least one other member of parliament, there. We know $22,000 was raised. Mr Speaker, I presume you are above fundraising because of the high office you hold, but those of us who engage in fundraising know that $22,000 is not a bad haul on a night for a fundraiser at a Lebanese restaurant called Romeo's. I will have a quiz night in my electorate tomorrow night and, let me tell you, I will be lucky to walk away with $2,200, not $22,000. That is the way that political party fundraising goes when you have got a dinner here, a plate of dips there and a raffle to follow. We all know that is how it goes.

There was $22,000 raised at a night at Romeo's restaurant. That is not denied. At no point has the minister actually come in here and said, `I guarantee that no money was donated to the Liberal Party on behalf of this protection visa applicant. I guarantee that.'

Mr Crean —Do you guarantee that?

Ms GILLARD —Why not?

The SPEAKER —The member for Lalor will address her remarks through the chair. Painful as it may be, you should be having eye contact with the chair, not with the minister.

Ms GILLARD —It will be my pleasure, Mr Speaker! Can I say to you rhetorically, Mr Speaker, that if the case was that no money had been donated to the Liberal Party on behalf of this protection visa applicant then you would expect a minister subject to a censure motion to walk in and say that. After all, we have got this censure motion because the government actually thought it was all a good idea at the time. If it was all a good idea at the time, I know what I would have wanted if I were minister for immigration. I would have wanted a file that I could table that completely exculpated me from every allegation made, and I would have wanted to walk in here and say, `I guarantee 100 per cent that no money was donated to the Liberal Party on behalf of this visa applicant.' That has not happened. I do not know who is responding next for the government, but perhaps that person can actually give that guarantee.

These allegations were raised in this place yesterday, properly—and I resent any implication that they were not raised properly—because we are entitled as the opposition in this country to be assured that the visa allocation system is working properly. We are actually concerned about the integrity of the migration system. We on this side of the House are actually concerned about queuejumping. On that basis, yesterday we raised matters properly going to the integrity of the visa allocation system and queuejumping. They were related to a Liberal Party fundraiser. The minister involved and the member involved, whose fundraiser it was, have had overnight to confer. If you are able to 100 per cent rule out the making of a donation then, rhetorically, Mr Speaker, I ask you: why wouldn't you? And it has not been done.

I conclude by saying this: we have got a man who, on the third occasion in front of the minister, gets a visa.

Mr Ruddock —Two.

Ms GILLARD —We know that there was a donation made in between. The two issues advanced by the minister do not stack up on a proper examination, and there has been no objective backing of them made by tabling the file. If you want to answer this allegation, get the file out and make the guarantee, otherwise we are entitled to conclude—and people listening to this debate are entitled to conclude—that there is something here that smells and should worry them greatly about the integrity of Australia's migration. This is the political party that says, `We decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.' What is the price?

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa!