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Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Page: 2814


Mr RUDDOCK (6:37 PM) —The Combating the Financing of People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2011 may assist in combating the financing of people smuggling, but it will not deal with people smuggling. It will not deal with unauthorised border arrivals. This is not a comprehensive approach to dealing with the enormous problem that we as a nation now face.

The measure is supported because it may assist law enforcement in identifying those people who are in Australia who are paying moneys for people smuggling. I must say that I wanted to find out from the second reading speech what the government might know about people smuggling and the way in which the information they receive, profiling targets, might give us a guide to what is happening.

I thought it appropriate in the context of this legislation to speculate a little about what this bill is seeking to deal with. I suspect that this bill is seeking to deal with identifying not only people smugglers but those people who pay people smugglers. I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker—and you are nodding very approvingly—who would pay a people smuggler in Australia? Is it somebody doing so out of the goodness of their heart, who thinks that they might be helping somebody abroad, or is it something more insidious?

I suspect that there is more not said in this speech that we ought to be aware of. I suspect that there are people in Australia, quite frankly, who are very much involved in paying people smugglers. And I suspect the number of people is quite significant; we would not be legislating in this way if we did not think it was a significant trade. I suspect that the only people who would be paying people smugglers from Australia would be people who have identified relatives that they would like to see come to Australia. That is what this legislation is designed to deal with. What it is telling us is something that the government does not tell us, and that is that, while there may be some people on boats seeking to come to Australia for protection, there are many people on boats coming because they are seeking some form of family reunion which they might not otherwise be able to obtain. By using the protection method, they can make claims—whether fabricated or not—and if they get through the system, they are in the door. When you know that something like 10,000 people have come to Australia on boats recently and only 160 have been removed, you can understand why they might think that this is a reasonable prospect.

I have been talking about Australian multiculturalism and I have been very defensive of it. But I do regard it as a genuine handshake that people should make when they come to Australia, and that is that if they expect to be treated tolerantly and with understanding and their culture to be accepted, they have to be accepting of the broader Australian mores. They have to be prepared to accept that in Australia we have rules. They have to be prepared to accept the rule of law—that we have a parliamentary democracy. And one of the offences under our law is people smuggling.

I would suggest—and I would be very interested to hear how the government is going to respond to this; advisers might take note—that there are other people besides people smugglers who are committing offences when moneys are paid to bring people to Australia unlawfully. They would normally be called accessories. I suspect we are dealing with a very large pool of people who are engaged in using people smugglers, paying people smugglers to bring people to Australia who would not otherwise be entitled to come. I have often had to say to people, ‘25 per cent of Australians are overseas born.’ Think of all the uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins, brothers and sisters that we have to say no to. But there are some people who think that if you can get round the system by paying people smugglers that is in some way all right.

I have obviously had an interest in these issues over a long time, but I think it ought to be repeated again: I do not come to these issues with some malicious view about the way in which we should deal with these issues—that we should be demonising those people who seek to come, or that we should be trying to punish those people who seek to come to Australia looking for protection. I have had a longstanding interest in refugees. I have spent more time in refugee camps than perhaps any other member of the Australian parliament, all around the world. And I am very conscious that we have to look at those people who have no prospect, wherever they are, of returning home, who are in immediate danger where they are. I recognise that there are 10 million people in those circumstances who have been assessed. I recognise that many of those people who get onto boats have never been assessed before they come here—do not seek to put their claims to be judged against the others who may have greater need.

This is a problem that we are having to deal with: a situation where something like 10,000 people on more than 200 boats have now arrived unlawfully; where people have died because a vessel was set fire to, as we know from reports made by some of the people on board; where a large number of other people died on the rocks of Christmas Island; where we hear from Australian relatives ringing up to ask: ‘We think one of our relatives is on a boat and it hasn’t yet turned up; can you find out where that boat is?’ I suspect that there are, tragically, many more people who have died.

I think there are very good reasons for us to be angry that, after we had largely destroyed the people-smuggling operations, the government, who wanted to show that they could deal with these issues ostensibly more humanely than their predecessors, took a number of decisions which have reopened this trade. Temporary protection visas: what was the argument there? They had to be abandoned because more women and children were getting on boats, yet we have over a thousand children who have still travelled on boats to Australia when we are now giving permanent protection. How disingenuous was the argument that temporary protection visas had the insidious impact of putting more children on boats, when we know that children are still getting on boats?

I read some material in one of the newspapers today which I thought was particularly germane to the issue we are discussing. This is an issue in which all of the government’s excuses have now been exposed. They have argued that Australia got more people not because of changes to government policy but because there were more push factors encouraging people to seek sanctuary and therefore we have more people getting on boats to Australia. Yet we have a story today by Lanai Vasek which really gives the lie to this excuse. It says:

Asylum applications lodged in Australia last year increased 76 per cent on 2009—

so last year they increased by 76 per cent—

despite an overall decline in claims among industrialised nations.

The latest UNHCR figures on asylum trends also reveal the number of visa claims from Afghan refugees rose 277 per cent in the first half of last year for the Australasian region while the average in 44 survey countries was a decline by 5 per cent.

So the number of Afghans coming here was up by 277 per cent, but in other industrialised countries that figure was down by five per cent. Canada, a similar country to Australia, saw a 41 per cent drop in asylum applications in the first half of last year. This is an issue in which the changes of government policy have led to more people seeking to come to Australia unauthorised by boat, exposing themselves to risk.

I look at the measures that need to be taken, and the argument is that we need to do things at a regional level. The government says, ‘Look, if we can work better with Indonesia and some of our partners in the region, maybe it will improve.’ I have to say that our alleged partners in the region do not feel like helping us, and the reason they do not feel like helping us was told to us directly by numbers of officials in that Asian way—almost inscrutable—when they said, ‘We’ll help you when you do something about the sugar.’ Not everybody understands that, but it is quite clear that they are saying: ‘You take the incentives off the table, take the sugar off the table, and maybe we will look at how we can help you. But while you’re encouraging them to come, why should we do anything about it?’ That is why the coalition policy is the only way in which you are able to deal with these issues, the only way in which you will get international cooperation and regional cooperation—when it is seen that we are prepared to play our part.

I know it is too much for the government, the way in which this speech was written to obscure what they were really saying, but all they have to do is to adopt the measures that the Howard government put in place. You will not have people on boats. You will not have deaths at sea. You may be accused of being inhumane when you reintroduce temporary protection visas, but I suspect not; when you introduce third-country processing of illegal boat arrivals on Nauru—the Pacific solution; when you turn back boats when it is safe to do so; when you presume against refugee status for those who are believed to have deliberately discarded their identity documents; when you return failed asylum seekers to their country of origin. Ten thousand, and only 160 weren’t refugees? Is that what we’re saying? You’ve got to be kidding! You can provide priority processing for offshore asylum applicants over illegal arrivals. Why wouldn’t you want to help those who are in immediate danger over those who happen to have money to pay a people smuggler? And you can increase the mandatory minimum sentences for people-smuggling and deal with those who are accessories, breaching our law. None of this appears to be happening at the moment.

At a regional level, yes, you can work with your partners to combat people smuggling; you can share intelligence and put in place surveillance operations. But they will only treat you seriously when they think you treat it seriously. That is the point that needs to be made. I do not think it is any accident that it seems to take an enormous amount of time to get people-smuggling laws through the Indonesian parliament. I would like to think it is only because they want to look at the laws very closely, but we have been talking to them about doing this for years. Why don’t they do it? I suspect the reason they do not do it is because they do not believe that we have played our part.

This legislation I think is particularly important. It can help. But I think it is more important because it has disclosed that this government is not really serious about dealing with people smuggling. If it was, all of the measures that we had proposed would have been pursued quickly and vigorously by the government.