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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 7010

Mr TUCKEY (1:29 PM) —The opposition opposes this change to the legislation, and in my view for very good reason. It is not a wise move to send signals to the people smugglers of the world that further encourage them to entice people into a very risky process that can only be described, in terms of Australia’s refugee policy, as queue jumping. Queue jumping is not to be encouraged. I will read from some of the advice I received on the costs that the member for Makin just so proudly mentioned. In fact, the government, through a variety of budget measures, is spending about $400 million on various policies designed to restrict the activity of these people. Whilst they might be effective, in the present period where the government will eventually borrow some $315 thousand million one would think that there would be a policy within the government to attempt to reduce expenditure if other measures were as effective.

The Howard government progressively added to the provisions of the Hawke government in trying to get effective measures that by themselves discouraged the process conducted by people smugglers. Bit by bit, as the people who arrived realised they would most probably be sent back or otherwise not allowed into mainland Australia, it became apparent that that particular inexpensive legislation seemed to have effect.

In dredging around for an excuse, as this government does on all occasions, the government has said, ‘Oh, but this is all to do with increased violence throughout the world.’ Well, the war in Afghanistan has been virtually perpetual, going back to the days of Rudyard Kipling, and the circumstances in Iraq have settled down substantially—I might refer a bit further to the refugees that we might encourage or assist in terms of the people of Iraq.

The reality is that building the detention centre on Christmas Island, something I as minister was somewhat involved with at the time, was a very expensive process. I believe the detention centre was built at a cost far in excess of reality. I will take the opportunity of reading the Auditor-General’s report on that matter as soon as I am free of the duties of this House.

The fact is that we need legislative measures and a clear policy that says, ‘If you come, don’t anticipate being allowed into Australia and don’t anticipate having access to the entire court procedures.’ These procedures have been abused by their predecessors but, while they lost them progressively, it did extend their stay in the country significantly, consequently making it more difficult for Australian residents. Australian citizens seeking the services of the court to resolve commercial disputes and other issues of that nature could not get in, so crowded were the lists of our relevant courts. I think at one stage the waiting list, if I could call it that, at the High Court numbered about 160.

Persons who had arrived in this place, and are to be released from debt by this legislation, somehow or other found the money to progressively go from, presumably, a magistrates court or similar judicial body through to the High Court as a device to allow them to continue to stay in Australia—probably some did have children who, having been born in this country, had some qualification to citizenship. The interesting thing about those applications to the High Court was that they were typically withdrawn on the announcement that they were to be called on. These are the people who are portrayed by the member for Makin and other speakers as being traumatised, greatly disadvantaged and too hard up to refund the Australian taxpayer for costs they incurred in their processing or other activities. Rumour has it that the price of a dodgy passport to Indonesia in Afghanistan is somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000. So it is okay; they can pay that, breaking the law in the process, and when they get here and put Australian taxpayers to considerable expense in very difficult times—when their government is borrowing comprehensively, at burden to their children—we should forego any opportunity to recover moneys allocated in these circumstances.

Let us add to that the comment of the member for Makin: ‘This is a hugely expensive process.’ Well, I am not sure why that should be. If it is, and if there is a massive bureaucracy sitting there waiting to collect these dues, find them other employment. Considering the very system that is associated with collecting this money, hire a debt collection agency on a fee-for-service basis. If there are moneys to be collected, you do not have to have some public servant sitting behind their desk waiting for an account to come across their desk. That is silly. There is no reason why there should be a cost associated with collection.

There has always been—to a point of generosity, I would criticise—a process of forgiving the debt, unless it has happened on many occasions. And, as I pointed out, we are not necessarily dealing with people of small means. We have no idea what their international connections are once they get here, but typically they are found to be in reasonably comfortable circumstances after a while.

I mentioned earlier that these people are queue jumpers. I hope my staff member is still not looking; I thought I had forgotten this paper and I rang her up and said, ‘Please bring it down’, but I have it. If she is watching, she will have some words to quietly say about me! I looked at the figure of $400 million of expenditures, all designed to prevent entrance by people of this nature. The government are out there saying, ‘Look at all the money we’re spending.’ They measure excellence by expenditure on every occasion. They are happy to spend three times what it cost anybody else to build a school building, to prove they are doing a good job in looking after schoolkids. It is excellence by expenditure—$400 million in a series of initiatives of all sorts of amounts. It is all here, all budgeted amounts: $41 million, $62 million, $15 million, $6.3 million, $54.3 million, $11.3 million, $2.3 million, $7.4 million, $34.9 million. There is $82.8 million for the Federal Police. They are probably worthy of it, but should we need to have them up there, because the word has got out that Australia has become a soft touch? When we were a tough nut, we did not need them. The people were not coming; they were not risking their lives—the problem had ceased. And the minute—surprise, surprise—you relax those very tough laws, what has happened this week? Another 54 are sitting off Rowley Shoals. There are roughly 50 of these people a week.

We read separately—and I did not exactly find it in these documents—of additional appropriations to run the detention centre out at Christmas Island. We read of the local people complaining that they can no longer get fresh vegetables because they have all gone to the detention centre—and why? Why did it change after the legislation was softened? You do not have to have the intellect of Albert Einstein to work that out. You change the law, and then you go out and spend $400 million to try and address the consequence. In my mind that, in these very difficult times, is something that is unwise. To go further by making it public that you can put the Australian taxpayer to all the cost you desire and not have to pay it back is not fair to other people who are looking each week at their budget. A member of that family may have lost their job or be unable to get one, as young people are now, and this parliament is proposing another measure to add to that burden.

These people are queue jumpers. I say they are queue jumpers because every year the Australian people, through the activities of this parliament, invite 13,000 refugees to Australia. These refugees are people who have left their homeland, have been assessed by the United Nations as being genuine refugees and have moved to that locality which is presumed to be the closest to where they can be safe. Having been assessed by the United Nations they go on the list and offers are made by, typically, Western countries around the world, and on a per capita basis Australia is one of the most generous. I think more people per capita of their population are allowed into Canada, and Australia is next. So there is no shortage of compassion. Nobody in this debate from this side is saying: cut that quota. I have a view that we might be more specific from whence we get these people. Without implying a religious inference, I have had representations in my own electorate from an Iraqi Christian. The reality is that this Iraqi Christian, who is a surgeon and giving an extremely good service in part of my electorate where surgeons are pretty hard to find, pointed out to me that the Iraqi Christian community have always been the educated sector. Apparently, Saddam Hussein recognised this to such a point that woe betide you if, as a person of Muslim faith, you attacked these people on the grounds of their Christianity. He knew they were the people who were running his country for him—they were the engineers, they were the surgeons and they were delivering those services, whilst the Muslim community went to university to come out with a degree in reading the Koran. That is not suitable for operating on people, it does not teach you how to build roads and it does not teach you how to build buildings or undertake engineering and other such activities. During the troubles in Iraq those people have been driven as refugees to Syria and other destinations because, during the period when there was virtually no control and one religious group was taking it out on another, the Christians got it worst. I do not think many of them want to go back.

I would like to think that the list of the 13,000 included more of those people, because on arrival they will not incur debts; they will be welcomed and employed forthwith. That does not apply to many of the people whose refugee status is properly recognised and who come through the appropriate channels. The personal circumstances of a valuable refugee in their country of persecution are no different to those of one who comes here. Tragically, there was a family whose child died virtually as they got off the plane, and criticism was levelled at local assistance people because the family concerned—and they were photographed in a brand-new home unit—did not know English and had never used a telephone in their lives, and consequently could not help themselves when their child was very ill. The child probably should not have travelled in the first place. There is the comparison. There are people with refugee status sitting in countries surrounding Iraq who are of Christian faith and are very welcome in this community as far as I am concerned because they would bring professional qualifications and experience with them. This, however, is a side issue.

In the last couple of minutes that I have, I intend to talk again to the fact that this government—by its own admission, in figures that I now have a copy of—is spending $400 million over four years. Some of it is over two years; nearly $100 million is to be spent over two years. Why? Because now the government has to put up all these barricades; Australia has to have a strong body of Federal Police in Indonesia running around trying to catch the people smugglers. The people smugglers gave up on Australia in the latter years of the Howard government. Why? Because of administrative and legislative procedures. It did not cost us much to run that $400 million detention centre at Christmas Island, because we had no-one to put in it. They did not come. Now it must be close to full. What is the message here? Some of them probably have detection beacons on board their boats so that it takes less time for our naval and customs authorities to find them. One of the boats that had the benefit of the sophistication of a GPS went straight to Christmas Island. It turned up and was tied up to the jetty and they said, ‘We’re here; arrest us!’ Why did they do this? Because they knew that within three or four weeks they would be on the Australian mainland at a cost to the Australian people. I do not know how much money they have stashed away somewhere else in the world, but they are typically economic refugees. They are not necessarily those who are suffering; they are queue jumpers.

All this legislation does is open the door a little wider. It can be argued that very few people paid it and therefore it is not a reason to keep it. We conceded after the election, because of promises made in the election campaign, that the government would relax some of the conditions. That has been done. Instead of people being told, ‘Stay out there until we repatriate you to your own country’—if we can find out where that is—people now know that the sooner they get picked up by the Navy or Customs, the better it is for them. I hope they are safer than in the vessels.

I add that we had a tragedy concerning a boat out there. The Federal Police conducted an inquiry and reported to Treasury in a matter of days but are unable to tell us who lit the fire on that boat. Of course, the naval personnel and others know who did it and how it occurred. It reminds me of a colleague who said, ‘If 14-year-old kids can find a drug dealer, why can’t the police?’ The police are pretty quick doing the Rudd government’s bidding, but they have yet to resolve the circumstances surrounding the fire on that boat. (Time expired)