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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23624

Mr CAUSLEY (2:49 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is the minister aware of the ongoing success of the United Kingdom government's tough approach on people-smuggling and of new legislative measures it is taking to deal with this problem? What is the minister's response to this, and are there any alternative views?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Page for his question. The Blair Labour government has recently announced tough new measures to deal with people-smuggling and has introduced legislation into the British parliament to make asylum laws more stringent: to fast-track deportations, to prosecute people who arrive without travel documents and to make people-trafficking itself an offence within the United Kingdom. The fact is that the British government, the Blair Labour government, has been increasingly tough on people-smuggling. One of the consequences of that is that it was able to announce at the end of last month the removal of 27 per cent more failed asylum seekers than in the previous period; in other words, it is having very real success.

The honourable member asked if I was aware of any alternative views. The difference between British Labour and the Australian Labor Party is that the Labour government of Mr Blair—the man who supported the coalition of the willing but is never criticised by the Australian Labor Party—has been prepared to take tough action against people smugglers. At one stage, back in September last year, the present Leader of the Opposition liked the policy of the Blair government. He said that the Australian Labor Party needs to:

... cross-over and solve the problems of crime, people trafficking and national security. In large part, this explains Tony Blair's success.

Why the Leader of the Opposition would be opposed to so many of the sorts of policies that the Blair Labour government introduces and yet praise its success is a mystery to all. After all, when the Leader of the Opposition came back to Australia he joined with his colleagues in voting against excisions.

Mr Latham —What about a coast guard?

Mr DOWNER —The Leader of the Opposition interjects about his coast guard. I say `his' coast guard because he was one of the shadow ministers, I understand, who was responsible for authoring the tin-pot coast guard policy. It would cost over $600 million. It would replace the role of the Navy and would lead to three motorboats being purchased to cover 59,000 kilometres of coastline with no excision policy. But what would be the job of those three motorboats? What would they be expected to do? It is pretty obvious. They are not in favour of an excision policy. They have criticised the government for towing the boat SIEV14 back to Indonesia. It is perfectly obvious what the Leader of the Opposition's policy is: it is for the coast guard—if they can find the boats—to bring those boats to Australia. I have said before that this would not be a coast guard; this would be a `coast guide', guiding the people smugglers' boats to the Australian shore.

I want to say, finally, that this government does support cooperation with Indonesia. The opposition used to, before the current Leader of the Opposition came along. We now know, from what he said as quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald of January last year, that he believes:

... Indonesia, in a highly irresponsible and illegal manner, has tried to pass on the flow of asylum seekers to our country.

I also note that, on 10 December last year, the Leader of the Opposition attacked Indonesia for not adopting an Australian Labor Party policy. He said:

... our nearest neighbour to the north, Indonesia ... does not have a coastguard either. It is no wonder ... we are vulnerable to people-smuggling over the medium term.

So he lectured Indonesia about why they should have a `coast guard' of some kind—telling them that they were irresponsible and behaving illegally—and opposed a policy of excision. It stands in stark contrast to the toughening up of British Labour's approach to these issues and simply demonstrates the confusion of the Leader of the Opposition on most policy issues.