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Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Page: 2818

Mr MORRISON (6:55 PM) —The matter dealt with by the Combating the Financing of People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2011 is very serious, and one that is the constant focus of debate—sadly, for all the wrong reasons. Those reasons are the unparalleled failures of this government in the area of border protection—a failure to protect and to control our borders has now extended to a failure to hold control even of our immigration detention network, which is in a rolling crisis. If anybody needed to be convinced of that, and to understand just how serious this issue has become and how urgent is the action that is necessary, they only needed to see the buildings burning on Christmas Island the other evening—a situation which the Prime Minister said on the previous Sunday was under control.

I commend my colleagues on the comments they have made—the member for Brisbane and, in particular, the Father of the House, the member for Berowra, whose experience in these matters is unparalleled in this parliament, and I would suggest elsewhere as well.

Where the government does something that is positive and that assists to address this matter, I am happy to support it. Sadly, I do not have too many opportunities to do that in this parliament. Almost without exception—and I would say that this bill is an exception—every time the government have touched this area it has literally turned to mush. This has been the case whether it was their decision to dismantle the border protection regime put in place by the Howard government, literally brick by brick, that has led to more than 10,000 people turning up and over 200 boats, or whether it was their decision to implement a discriminatory asylum freeze that saw the average time in detention increase threefold and the number of people in detention double, contributing to the chronic situation we see in our detention network today, a policy that the Prime Minister said was in the national interest when she was the Deputy Prime Minister. Whether it is these issues or, more broadly, the government’s failures in the area of border protection, when they do something positive I am happy to say so, and this bill is a positive step. It is not a big step, but at least it is a positive step and it is something that we can refer to in positive terms.

In this area some 10,000 transactions have occurred in relation to these matters. There are 6½ thousand individual providers of remittance services in Australia and reporting entities are required under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act to report international fund transfer instructions and threshold transactions over $10,000 to AUSTRAC. The measures that are outlined in this bill seek to provide further powers to ensure greater cooperation, intelligence sharing and the mandatory provision of information going to these transmittance agencies that are used in the informal sector of the economy, largely, and which are abused by those involved in criminal activity, especially in the area of people smuggling. This bill seeks to try to effect some positive regulation in bringing these areas under the eye of our authorities.

The coalition’s approach to dealing with these issues is based on a simple understanding that people smuggling is a business that exploits the refugee convention, of which we are one of the original signatories, and proudly so, to promote and facilitate secondary movement of people. It was recently revealed in the Senate estimates that 40 per cent of those who had come to Australia illegally by boat had spent at least 12 months in a place other than the country from which they say they were seeking asylum. So they had not come to Australia directly seeking a country of asylum. In fact many of them had spent more than a year in another country, predominantly Pakistan and Iran. And what takes place in these areas where those seeking asylum congregate is a business and that business provides a passage all the way from Pakistan and Iran through Malaysia or Indonesia and onto a boat, and on they come to Australia. That is the product they seek to sell and, as someone who was actually once involved in the tourism industry, it is not that dissimilar from the way tourism packages are sold around the world. This is an end-to-end package put forward by the smugglers that also includes finance in many cases, though it is not the sort of finance that anyone in this place or anyone in this country would like to contract with. If people think that they have got complaints with the banks, well, the banks will not turn up at your family’s doorstep if you refuse to pay the interest and deal with you violently. Those are the sorts of people we are dealing with, who are engaged in this activity. So we understand that this is a business and we understand that to destroy this business you need to remove the incentives and the infrastructure and opportunities that exist to make this business function.

To give you an idea of how much money is at stake, it was revealed in Senate estimates that the average price paid per passage was $10,000 per person. That was to get on a boat to get to Australia. That means that the boat that recently arrived carrying 147 asylum seekers was worth just under $1.5 million to people smugglers. That was a pretty bountiful passage for the people smugglers. That boat turned up just a few days ago. So there is a lot of money involved. What the coalition’s plans and policies are designed to do is to deny the people smugglers a product to sell. The way that we have done that—and I stress that we have done it; it is not a theory; it is not just a policy; it is something that has been proven—is by denying a product by removing the certainty of the immigration outcome that is potentially on offer to people who seek to get on these boats through paying the people smuggler.

We did that through only offering temporary protection visas to those who would seek to come to Australia illegally by boat. No permanent residency was offered, unlike under this government, which provided permanent residency to the three individuals who were involved, according to the Northern Territory coroner, in what was ‘part of a plan to scuttle the boat’ that led to the deaths of five fellow passengers, injured 40 more and put Defence Force personnel at risk. Those three individuals received permanent protection visas in this country. They subsequently qualified after the suggestion by the government that this would be reviewed under the general character test—which I note is the same general character test that this government is going to apply to those who were responsible for the riots on Christmas Island. That is where the government sets the bar on these things: if you scuttle a boat and that leads to the death of five people, we will still give you a visa and we will not take it off you on the general character grounds under section 501 of the Migration Act. If that is the test that they are going to apply to those who set Christmas Island alight last week, I do not think that those people are shuddering in their boots.

This government has literally no form or backbone when it comes to dealing with the realities of what happens in this space. Whether it is the detention network or the people-smuggling business, this government just does not get it. They do not understand that it is not just the measures but the back-up and the resolve that sits behind them. That is what is important. We can have measures like the ones in this bill but, if they are not backed up with the resolve to follow through on many other measures, they will not work. They need to be backed up with the reintroduction of temporary protection visas, the resolve to turn boats back where the circumstances permit and the resolve to reintroduce third party processing—as we have proposed for Nauru. Why Nauru? Because they would agree to do it, as opposed to the farcical plan for East Timor.

I note Nauru, because the government likes to say that it was not effective. Apart from the fact that the Labor senator Peter Cook concluded that it was effective, I note the statement by Senator Evans in February 2008. When commenting on the Nauru and Manus Island experience—the Pacific solution—he said that, of the 1,637 people who were detained at Nauru and Manus Island, 1,153 or 70 per cent were ultimately resettled from those centres to Australia or other countries and, of that 1,153, around 61 per cent, 705 people, were resettled in Australia. Those are the facts. The Pacific solution created uncertainty in the minds of those people who may have been going to pay a people smuggler about whether they were going to get what they paid for.

When the boat may not end up in Australia and when the only opportunity that you are going to get on the other side if it all goes right is a temporary visa under which you cannot have access to the family reunion program then you may well choose not to come. The family reunion program is why we see predominantly single males sent out here. They are coming as anchors. They seek permanent residency so that they can make the applications for family to join them. We see the even more abhorrent situation in which minors under the age of 18 are sent out on the boats to act as anchors to draw other family members out. That requires a response that is more than just changing legislation. There needs to be some resolve here. Scuttling the business is necessary. This bill tries to frustrate the channels of finance that go to those who pay people smugglers.

The Father of the House made an excellent point in his contribution to this debate. This bill assumes that there are people providing finance for the passages of people to come out to Australia and that they live in Australia. This bill is designed to try to ensure that we have the information available to enforcement authorities to find those people. What I am not convinced about is that this government, even if they found them, would prosecute them. It is important, as the Father of the House said, that all people who live in Australia regardless of their background, regardless of where they have come from, conform to the requirements of Australian law.

I think it is very important that communities across this country work with Australian authorities, whether it is with Customs and Border Protection, the Australian Federal Police or others. If you know that a boat is leaving Indonesia then tell the Federal Police. That is your responsibility as an Australian. That is your responsibility as someone who has residence in this country. You should inform the Federal Police if you are aware that an illegal activity is about to take place. That phone call may save lives. Those phone calls certainly would have contributed to the saving of lives last December when that boat crashed against the rocks at Christmas Island. People knew that boat was going to leave Indonesia. They had tried to talk people out of getting on that boat but did any of them call the Federal Police to let them know it was leaving? Was there any intelligence shared by those who knew that boat was leaving?

That goes to the heart of what this bill is about—the networks of support that exist within this country through financing. That financing may be coming directly from the family network or friends of those who are seeking to come; there may be other forms of finance which have been provided by other lenders or others who can resource this vile business. This bill is designed to provide intelligence to ensure that they can be tracked down and prosecuted and they should be. I would urge those who are in those networks of support to understand that it is the law of this country to try to stop people smuggling. It is the law of this country to have a refugee and humanitarian program that has integrity. We have processes that we believe in strongly because we want to make sure that those places under our program go to those who we as a country have decided are in greatest need. We do that every year. Sadly, in recent times that decision has been taken away from us and given to people smugglers who are deciding who the thousands of people are who are now getting permanent visas, including those who scuttled SIEV 36 and have been allowed to stay and potentially to bring other members of their families here who have been involved in this vile business.

In the few moments I have remaining, I want to say that we also need to deny the means. That involves ensuring that we can prosecute people smugglers themselves and deny them the infrastructure in those villages throughout Indonesia, the vessels and those who might participate. To do that we need the help of our friends in Indonesia and Malaysia. As the Father of the House said, there is no great incentive for them to help us when we will not take care of business on our side of the fence. We are not taking care of business on our side of the fence and it is not surprising that they are not falling over themselves to try to help us. I seek leave to table the full suite of measures that we have announced as a coalition that are designed to nip this issue in the bud and deal with it dramatically. I seek leave to table the document as the coalition’s full policy on domestic, regional and international measures that can deal with this scourge of people smuggling.

Leave granted.