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Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Page: 2809

Mr SLIPPER (6:13 PM) —Every week, I get a list of concerns that constituents have when they phone my Fisher electorate office, situated on the Sunshine Coast. And every week the issue of unauthorised arrivals, illegal arrivals, and illegal immigration—people smuggling—is one of the top-order issues of concern for residents of my part of the Sunshine Coast. And I suspect, Mr Deputy Speaker, that in your own electorate office you would also get phone calls from many people who are concerned over the failure of the government’s policies in relation to border protection.

The member for Fadden, in his contribution, pointed out that it would be advantageous if the government were to lift the telephone and call the President of Nauru. The facilities, I gather, are already on that island, in that country. They have been paid for by the Australian taxpayer and it is simply a question of unlocking the gate and putting illegal arrivals into immigration detention in Nauru.

I do not know why the Prime Minister and the government have invested—and, in my view, forfeited—so much public regard in pursuit of what is an unrealistic option: that is, to establish immigration detention facilities in Timor-Leste. No-one in East Timor has given the slightest indication that he or she is in favour of that country being an immigration detention centre for Australia, although, given the dollars that would flow to the host country, one finds it very difficult to understand why East Timor has resisted the blandishments offered by this government. After all, East Timor does owe Australia a lot. If it were not for the Howard government, East Timor possibly would not be free today. The former Prime Minister took a very strong public stand, and Australia took a very proud and, in my view, morally correct decision when we sought to encourage the people of East Timor to have self-determination, which ultimately of course resulted in the independence of that country from the Republic of Indonesia.

So I do not really know why East Timor is showing such a lack of gratitude to Australia and in particular to the current Prime Minister. But it should be obvious to anyone that the East Timor solution is not a solution at all. It is obviously going nowhere. I do not know why the government continues to invest prestige in seeking a solution which is simply not realistic. On the other hand, Nauru is a country in the Pacific not far from Australia which is prepared to host an immigration detention centre. That centre has already been constructed. It probably could be open next week if the government approached the government of Nauru, and yet I suspect that there has been an element of bloody-mindedness. The government refused initially to consider Nauru, and now it would be perceived as being too much of a backdown were the Nauru option to be once again looked at as realistic by the government.

I believe that the Australian people are running out of patience with the situation where the government has created an open-door policy. The government has turned the seas around Australia into a superhighway. What the government has done, whether the government intended to do this or not, is to put out a welcome mat for people smugglers and unauthorised arrivals. Frankly, if the views of the people of the Sunshine Coast are in any way, shape or form typical of the views of the people elsewhere in the country, overwhelmingly the people of Australia feel that the government has let the country down, has taken its eye off the need to have border protection and has encouraged people smuggling. While the Combating the Financing of People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2011 has laudable aims, it simply does not address the major problem, and that is that, when Australia is perceived as being a soft touch, obviously the immigration scams will continue and the people smugglers will have something to sell.

When the former immigration minister, the member for Berowra—who has just entered the chamber—was a senior minister in the former government, the boats were stopped. We sent a very strong message to the world that people smugglers were out of business. People knew that there was no point in bringing unauthorised arrivals to Australia, because we simply were not prepared as a nation to tolerate it. The former government said, ‘We will determine who crosses our borders,’ and the former government did that. My view is that the former government at the time was completely in sync with the views of the Australian people. It is my submission to you, Mr Deputy Speaker Sidebottom, as a discerning person, that the views of the people of Australia have not changed. The people of Australia have had a gutful of the fact that we are now seen as being an easy touch, a soft target, and consequently the people smugglers are able to carry out their evil business. As we all know, far too many people have lost their lives through the activities of people smugglers. People smuggling is inhumane and unscrupulous, and we as a nation should do all that we can to stop it.

The Liberal-National opposition is certainly supportive of the intent of this bill. We are against people smuggling and we oppose the abhorrent practice of immoral and greedy people smugglers preying on the desperation of others and demanding from them massive amounts of money to provide risky passage to what they are promised will be a better life. A few years ago I decided, given all the publicity in relation to immigration detention, that I would visit the Woomera detention centre and the Baxter detention centre, both of which were situated in South Australia. The day before I was to visit the centre I drove out to the Woomera detention centre. I must confess that they were a little bit suspicious of this person driving a vehicle around the boundaries of the immigration centre. When they asked me what I was there for, they were quite happy when I told them that I was there by appointment to visit the centre the following day. I must say that, despite what people said about the allegedly inhumane treatment of people at Woomera, I personally was impressed with the approach of the people who were in charge of that facility. I spoke to a woman who held a senior role there and I noticed that the glass on the door of her office was broken. She told me that a detainee had sought to attack her with a piece of four-by-two, and consequently people in the centre were clearly very wary and being very careful.

At the Baxter detention centre I spoke to a person who was of a faith I had not heard of before. That faith was the Sabaean Mandaeans—

Mr Ruddock —Followers of John the Baptist.

Mr SLIPPER —Followers of John the Baptist. Apparently it is necessary for their religion for them to be positioned close to water. The Iranian regime is quite brutal towards these people. I sat down and spoke to a lady, and what she had done was to travel from Iran to Jordan. In Jordan she bought passage from someone and paid some $20,000 for the air tickets from Jordan to Jakarta. When she got to Jakarta she and her family made their way overland to a people-smuggling port where they bought passage to Australia. She felt indignant that she was locked up in the Baxter detention centre because she felt that she had entered into a commercial transaction to provide a new life for her and her family in Australia. I found her quite a delightful person and I must say that my heart went out to their family circumstances. But clearly she and her family had paid what they saw was commercial passage to people smugglers. I do not ultimately know what happened to that family, but the reality is that if the government is prepared to put out a welcome mat to people smugglers then more and more people will be prepared to enter into what they consider to be commercial transactions. As we all know and from what we have seen, the conditions on these boats are life-threatening. They endanger life, and the result is that people have lost their lives and more people will lose their lives because of the inappropriate approach we currently have towards people smuggling.

The government today in question time failed to answer the question on whether people who were found responsible for endeavouring to sink a boat were successful in obtaining visas and entry to Australia. I can only suggest that in fact some of those people must have gained visas to remain in Australia because otherwise the question would not have been asked. I am waiting with interest to hear what the Prime Minister has to say to the parliament when she comes back, having researched that particular situation.

The other concern that constituents in the electorate of Fisher have is the possibility that people who have been rioting on Christmas Island have been endangering the lives of people who are either employed by or contracted to the Commonwealth and destroying property of the Australian taxpayer and yet there is a very real possibility that some of those people might be given permanent residence in Australia or a visa which could lead to permanent residence. A former minister for immigration—not the gentleman in the chamber today; it was Chris Hurford—told me that more than a million people knock on the door of Australia every year to come to join—

Mr Ruddock —I think it is probably higher than that now.

Mr SLIPPER —Well, it is probably higher now but in those days it was a million people. So Australia can afford to pick and choose. I do not really think that our system should allow people who would seek to sink a ship and cause people’s deaths, or people who are prepared to riot and endanger life and property, should be eligible for consideration as possible migrants to Australia.

The government has been soft on border protection, but it is not too late for the government to ring the President of Nauru and say, ‘We would like to access the facilities paid for by the Australian taxpayer and open an immigration detention centre on Nauru.’ Nauru is a country which does have certain economic challenges and I am sure that Nauru would benefit from the inflow of funds which would occur were the Nauru solution to return to operation. It was very successful when the former government used Nauru. Nauru is a friendly nation not far from Australia.

But it is very important that we send a powerful message to people smugglers and to unauthorised arrivals that they are not welcome in Australia. As a country we should do whatever we can do to stamp out this evil trade, to prevent people from having their lives placed at risk and, of course, to stop people jumping the queue.

Apart from Canada, Australia has the most generous humanitarian refugee program anywhere in the world—and when I say ‘apart from Canada’, I think that is on a per capita basis. The problem is that the government, when it allows people to come in via the back door, is reducing the opportunities for people who legitimately apply to be received on a humanitarian basis in this country. The reports have shown that some 135 boats arrived in 2010 with a total of 6,889 passengers and crew. So far, 2011 has seen five boats with 326 passengers. This compares with just 32 boats in the entire period from 2002-03 to 2007-08 under the previous Liberal-National government.

The Combating the Financing of People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2011 certainly has laudable aims, and the opposition does not oppose it. But, at this late hour, the opposition does plead that the Prime Minister should pick up the telephone, ring the President of Nauru, and solve this problem once and for all. Until we send a powerful message to people smugglers that Australia is closed to their evil trade, the boats will continue to come, the misery will flow and people’s lives will continue to be lost.