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Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Page: 3447


Mr BOWEN (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) (3:43 PM) —The member for Cook had an opportunity to bring some honesty to this debate on behalf of his party. He had an opportunity to come clean on his policies, but instead we had a reprise of the election campaign—a call for real action. I am more than happy to go through the charade of real action that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister present as their policy. The shadow minister put forward his plan, he called it a seven-point plan today of so-called real action. I am more than happy to go through it, point by point, with the shadow minister, with him having taken the opportunity to raise it in the House.

What a charade it is. We have, first, temporary protection visas. The shadow minister is very proud of temporary protection visas. He seems very proud of the fact that the number of people who came to Australia by boat after the introduction of temporary protection visas went up. He points to the fact that the number of boats went down, as if that was a great achievement, but singularly ignores the fact that the number of boats went up. Even more tellingly—


Mr Laming —So what!


Mr BOWEN —‘So what!’ he says. The number of people went up and the member for Bowman, in a brilliant interjection, which must be recorded in Hansard, says, ‘So what!’ A policy was introduced which was designed to reduce the number of people coming to Australia and it increased the number of people coming to Australia. My honourable friend, the genius from Bowman, says, ‘So what!’ What it means is that it was a failed policy and it was failed in more than one respect.

The shadow minister takes great delight in lecturing us about encouraging people to come to Australia by boat. He lectures us that domestic policies can encourage people to get on a boat and come to Australia. He would know, because the temporary protection visas encouraged women and children to get on boats and come to Australia. In 1999, 13 per cent of asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq were women and children who arrived by boat and, by 2001, the two years of the protection visas had increased that to 48 per cent. Maybe the member for Bowman would say, ‘So what!’ about that, but he has gone quiet all of a sudden because not even he would say, ‘So what!’, not even the member for Cook would say, ‘So what!’, not even the Leader of the Opposition would say, ‘So what!’ because they would acknowledge—I would think—that it is a bad thing that a policy would encourage women and children to get on a boat.

Then we have stage 2 of the real action charade—and this is turning the boats around. I was very encouraged to hear the shadow minister for immigration on radio 5AA recently accept that it was a very limited set of circumstances where you could turn the boats around.


Mr Morrison interjecting


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—The member for Cook will contain himself.


Mr BOWEN —The member for Cook could have taken the opportunity in his MPI contribution to tell us what those limited circumstances are. I think the Australian people have the right to know what he as the alternative minister thinks those limited circumstances are. The member for Berowra has indicated publicly in the past that we are right when we point out that you cannot turn the boats around.

The member for Cook might want to indicate where he is going to turn them around to, given that Indonesia will not accept them. He might want to indicate to the naval personnel in Australia’s north in what circumstances he would ask them to risk lives by turning boats around, risking that they would be sunk. The member for Cook might have taken the opportunity to let our naval personnel know when he would ask them to risk their lives. He still has the opportunity at any time of his choosing, but he has not taken it in this debate. At least we know it is a very limited set of circumstances.  That is a relief. The alternative Prime Minister sitting in Kirribilli on the boat phone would not need to do it very often, because we know that they would say it is a very limited set of circumstances but we do not know what it is.

Then we have had the reopening of Nauru—the third stage of the real action charade. We had the shadow minister for immigration in his Jessica Fletcher moment on the doors waving documents, saying he had a smoking gun, he had found the weapon. But he did not repeat different parts of the information released in relation to the same FOI request. He could have quoted this document, which said:

… results of the previous government’s policy of excision as part of the suite of broader measures are unclear.

Or he could have quoted this one:

The vast majority of those who arrived at excise offshore places and who were found to be refugees were settled in Australia and New Zealand.

He chose not to quote that. We closed Nauru because it was the right thing to do. The shadow minister lectures us about the length of time that people are in detention. What did we find when we came to office? The average length of stay for people on Nauru was 501 days, a year and a third. And the longest wait in Nauru was five and one-third years, and the member for Cook lectures us about the length of time that people are in detention. It was five and one-third years.


Mr Morrison interjecting


Mr Ruddock interjecting


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Cook and the member for Berowra will both cease interjecting now.


Mr Ruddock interjecting


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The honourable member for Berowra will cease interjecting.


Mr BOWEN —I am more than happy for the honourable member for Berowra to keep going, Mr Deputy Speaker.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —But I am not.


Mr BOWEN —It is most enlightening, but I respect your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker, out of respect for your office. The shadow minister for immigration had the opportunity to be honest about the Nauru policy. He had the opportunity—and he still has it, to be honest—about whether people processed in Nauru did or would have the right of legal appeal to judicial review in Australia. The member for Cook could tell us: has he sought legal advice on whether people processed in Nauru by Australian officials would have the right to appeal? We have seen him slipping and sliding over this, either misunderstanding or misrepresenting the law on appeals from Nauru into Australia. The member for Cook has yet to confirm whether he has received that advice from somebody other than from ‘Lord Brandis of Brisbane’ for a change. That might be nice. But that is part of his charade.


Mr Morrison interjecting


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Cook will cease interjecting.


Mr BOWEN —Of course, we have the minor technical issue—the member for Cook says Nauru would be open by now; it is ready and waiting to go—that there is no centre available in Nauru. It has been converted to a school and it has been converted into government offices.


Mr Morrison —I’ve been there.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I warn the honourable member for Cook.


Mr BOWEN —and those other parts have been dismantled. So there is that minor technical issue.


Mr Morrison interjecting


Mr BOWEN —The member for Cook complains that there is no provision—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I remind the member for Cook that he has been warned.


Mr BOWEN —in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook for a regional processing centre. The difference is that we have not said that it would be running this month. There is no provision in the opposition costings for a Nauru processing centre either. They went through the whole election campaign. How much was in the costings? A big fat zero.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The minister will resume his seat. The honourable member for Cook will absent himself from the chamber under the standing orders.

The member for Cook then left the chamber.


Mr BOWEN —It is a shame to see him go, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I do respect your ruling. Of course, we have had the latest chapter in the real action charade and this one even tops the boat phone for wacky ideas. This is one that has come out from the shadow minister in more recent times, the announcement that the first 3,750 boat arrivals in Australia each year would receive a protection visa and others would presumably go into indefinite and arbitrary detention. This is a masterstroke of a policy! So we create a scramble to be one of the first 3,750 people to get to Australia in that period, and if you happen to be the 3,751st you stay in detention indefinitely on an arbitrary basis and your application will not be processed. Once again the member for Cook has the hide to lecture us about the amount of time that people might spend in detention when his policy is mandatory, arbitrary detention.

All of this was put to the House in a motion moved by the member for Cook in recent weeks, that this was the Liberal Party policy and they called on the House to vote for it. The Liberal Party then tried to withdraw that motion in the Selection Committee. I wonder why that could be the case. Perhaps it is because they could not guarantee a unanimous vote on their own policies by their party room. When it did come to a vote, when the Selection Committee had the hide to force them to vote on their own motion, conveniently we found that some members of the opposition were paired so they avoided the embarrassment of having members of their own party vote against their policy, because there are honourable members opposite who know that things like temporary protection visas are a cheap and nasty policy which have no effect.

We have the shadow minister say we need a returns policy, and that is one area where the honourable gentleman and I agree; we do need to see people whose asylum claims have failed returned to their country of origin. Recently, as is on the public record, I have been progressing a returns agreement with Afghanistan. In going through this, I asked my department officials, ‘How many people from Afghanistan who arrived in Australia on an unauthorised boat in the years of the Howard government were returned involuntarily to Afghanistan? Over the 12 years how many were returned?’ Zero, not one—and again we find the member for Cook lecturing us about the need for a returns agreement, lecturing us about the need to return people who are not accepted as genuine refugees in Australia.

This government has been getting on with the job of progressing that, because we believe in taking those sorts of actions whereas the opposition prefer rhetoric. They prefer rhetoric to action. The Leader of the Opposition loves rhetoric like ‘peaceful invasions’ and ‘armadas’. He loves to stoke the issue but he does not want to stoke the policy response. Real action involves breaking the business model of people smugglers. It means engaging with our regional partners to remove the incentive to move from country to country within the Asia-Pacific. But it escapes the wit of the opposition to think of that. It escaped them for 12 years and it escapes them now because it is all too hard.

Instead we see their tired old policies of a bygone era and what we will see is an increasing call for the opposition to come clean and be honest about their policies, not to engage in rhetoric. We saw this again in recent days when the shadow minister was asked this: if the minister for immigration and if the government introduce a package into parliament to deal with the High Court case which opened up judicial appeal for people from offshore areas, what would be your response? He was entitled to say, properly, that they would need to look at it. He was entitled to say they had not yet been briefed by the government, which had not yet reached their position, but they would keep an open mind. That is not what he said. He gave a very clear indication that the Liberal Party would not support it. So it does not matter what the government does in policy terms as the opposition are more interested in scoring points than in coming up with a detailed policy response.

We want some honesty from the opposition. We want some honesty from the opposition about Nauru. We want to know about the legal advice they may have received about whether it would open up channels of appeal into Australia. We want to know how much it would cost. We want some honesty about the farce of turning back boats and about when the shadow minister and the alternative Prime Minister would authorise naval personnel putting their lives at risk to turn back boats as part of their policy stunt. We want some honesty about the latest little farce of a policy, about this scramble and this move to indefinite mandatory detention, this latest symbolic farce in the policy development of the opposition. Some honesty about this from the opposition would go a long way.

We will engage and we have engaged in an honest public policy discussion about these issues. We have said very clearly that these are issues that we are dealing with. We recognise that 6,170 people claimed asylum in Australia in 2009 and that makes us the 16th in the world and the 21st per capita in relation to asylum claims around the world. That compares to 33,250 in Belgium, 41,980 in Canada, the same number in France, 27,650 in Germany, 17,600 in Italy, 17,230 in Norway, 24,190 in Sweden, 14,490 in Switzerland, 29,840 in the United Kingdom and 49,020 in the United States of America. So these are issues, and we will deal with them in an open and honest way, something the opposition have singularly failed to do. They have their cheap policies and they have their sound grabs but what they do not have is sound policy. Sound policy not sound grabs—that is what we want to see from the opposition and perhaps we might hear it from the shadow minister for border protection as we did not hear it from the shadow minister for immigration.