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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13427


Mr MORRISON (Cook) (12:32): I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012. In consideration of this measure, it is worth noting that five years ago the Labor government was elected; there were four people in immigration detention who had arrived illegally by boat, and that figure today is well over 12,000, whether they are on bridging visas, in community detention, in alternative places of detention or in the detention network itself. From just four people to over 12,000 in the last five years is a record of failure that has no peer. It is a record of failure that this government will never be able to erase, either by correcting it, because of their own incompetence and lack of resolve on this issue and the inadequacy of their policy responses, or by removing it from the memory of the Australian people, who will always mark this government as the worst performing government on our borders in our nation's history.

The objective of this bill is to expand the existing offshore processing regime to apply to all persons arriving on mainland Australia unlawfully by sea. It will replace the concept of 'offshore entry persons' with the concept of 'unauthorised maritime arrivals'—some semantics from the government; changing words does not change their failures. It will mean that even persons who arrive on Australian soil, on the mainland, by boat will be subject to removal to an offshore processing country and will be processed according to that regime. This bill will effectively excise the Australian mainland from the Migration Act, and the government say it is intended to act as a disincentive to people to make the journey to Australia. The government have been more in the business of providing incentives, not disincentives, for people to come by boat, and the record demonstrates that with arrivals now averaging over 2,000 per month, and that continues. Even this month, there have been well over 2,000 before the month has even concluded.

Following the government's decision to allow all offshore entry persons access to merits and judicial review through the Refugee Review Tribunal, which occurred in the courts in March this year, the purported impact of this measure has been substantively, if not completely, negated. The decision to treat those who come by boat in the same way as those who come by a legal method to Australia has effectively removed one of the key issues and key parts of the border protection regime that was put in place by the Howard government to ensure a distinction between the way these matters were handled and, in particular, their access to the courts. This government has hard wired the claims of people who have come illegally by boat to our court system. So it does not matter if you get a 'No'; you can just keep appealing this endlessly, you can keep appealing this through the courts, and you can be here for many years when you have no viable claim. You can just keep going through the courts on and on, and the government's decision to do that in March effectively removed the import of the measure which is before us today.

Consistency is very important in politics. It is important in policy. It is important in terms of the resolve you demonstrate when handling matters. On this side of the House there has been nothing but consistency on this issue. It is the stock-in-trade of the coalition when it comes to border protection that people know what we stand for, that they know what we believe in, that they know what we will do, that they have a measure of certainty about the actions that we will take. That measure of certainty is not held just by the Australian people but, even more significantly, it is held in the minds of the people smugglers themselves. They know where we stand on this issue and they know that if there is a change of government at the next election the game is up. There will be new management when it comes to these issues: a management that does not fold every time smugglers lean on them, a management that does not hand out protection visas to people who burn down detention centres or set boats alight. That is not the sort of management that they will see from a coalition if we are elected. They will see a coalition that will act consistent with our principles and consistent with the policies that we have advocated, implemented and defended for over a decade.

In this place we will support the government's bill in not opposing this measure. It is, by the minister's own admission, very much the bill that was introduced to this House by the Howard government in 2006, and which passed this place—in the House of Representatives. So we will once again not oppose a measure such as this. Indeed, we will support it. I suspect that, within this place, the members on our side of the House will vote as they did last time. They will vote consistent with how they voted last time, and I suspect even those members on our side who have had long reservations about this matter will act consistently with the way they have acted previously. That is something we respect in the Liberal Party. Where people particularly have longstanding positions on these matters then they are not bound by the factional ball and chain that you see on the other side of the House, where dissent is put down and where people's ability to express their deeply held convictions and views in this place is not suppressed as it is on the other side of a House. I suspect there are some on our side who will act consistent with the way they have always acted, and the interesting thing about that is that they did it when they were in government, in the face of a government that they were part of, and they will do it in the face of a government today that they are not a part of. I respect that decision on their part. It is not the view on this bill of coalition more broadly, or the position that the coalition more broadly will take, but it is consistent. Everyone on this side of the House will vote, I believe, consistently with the way they voted last time when these matters were considered by this House. The same bill as the one before us today, when it was introduced in 2006 by the Howard government, was met in this place by raging debate. It was said by Labor members then in opposition—and indeed by the now minister for immigration himself—that the bill was a 'stain on our national character' and that it that it offended 'decency'. A former Leader of the Opposition, Mr Crean, said that it was 'shameful' and 'xenophobic'. Another current minister, Minister Ellis, said that it was 'lunacy', 'indecent', 'inhumane' and 'gutless'. Those same individuals—with the exception of the minister, who has already spoken when introducing this bill—are not on the speakers list for this bill; you will not find them there. But they will vote today to support the bill that they have brought to this place of their own volition. It is their policy. The government cannot hide behind panels or committees or anything of that nature. Once a minister of the government brings a bill into this place, puts it on this table and introduces it, they own it. It is their policy. It is meant to represent what they believe: their convictions. You on that side of the House cannot hide behind Angus Houston when you have to vote on this bill today. If you vote for this bill today, you are admitting that you were hypocrites and frauds in 2006, and the Australian people will see it just that way. On this side of the House we will act consistently with our beliefs, our long-held views, our convictions and our policy on unlawful arrivals. We will not oppose the bill before the House.

This bill, as I said, will expand offshore processing to apply to all people who arrive on the Australian mainland unlawfully by sea, effectively excising the Australian mainland from the Migration Act. I return to some of the things that were said in the debate in 2006, because what this bill is really all about—and the bill will pass this House—is this government's record of inconsistency and hypocrisy. The now Minister for Immigration and Citizenship said on 10 August 2006:

This is a bad bill with no redeeming features. It is a hypocritical and illogical bill. If it is passed today, it will be a stain on our national character.

He said:

Amending this bill is like putting lipstick on a pig. You can put all the lipstick you like on it but it will still be a pig. You can amend this bill all you like but it will still be a bad bill.

How shameless it is of this minister to now bring the same bill into this place. It seems that the minister is now using as an excision bill what he described as a pig of a bill in 2006 in order to try to save his own political bacon. That is what is happening in this place. The government have focused on the politics of illegal arrivals for five years—do not solve the problem; solve the politics—and that is exactly the same thing I witnessed in the New South Wales state Labor government for 16 years. Under the faceless men of the Labor Party in Sussex Street, the New South Wales state government ran the state into the ground, and the same method is at work and alive here in this place. It is at work in the pungent hypocrisy of the government's bringing this bill, which they say they now believe in, into this place. Mr Bowen said that the bill in 2006 had no redeeming features. But this government have no redeeming features.

The stench of hypocrisy will rise from those opposite—every single last one of them—as they walk into this House and vote for this bill. Mr Bowen said:

We will oppose this bill, and I call on members opposite to join us. If it is passed, it will be repealed by an incoming Labor government. Decency and self-respect as a nation would demand nothing less.

But they did not repeal it; they have introduced the same bill again. Is there anything higher in the flip-flop scale than that? Today, the minister stands to introduce the very same legislation he condemned in 2006 and promised to repeal. But he was not alone in his sanctimony. On 9 August 2006, the member for Watson, the current Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and a former shadow minister for immigration, said:

Australia is better than this bill. The legislation before us today undermines our sovereignty, is offensive to our decency and makes a mockery of this parliament.

Australia is better than this government. Australia is better than the hypocrisy of this government and its incompetent failures. Australians demand a better government. They demand a government which knows what it believes in and they want to know what their government believes in.

The member for Watson said that it was 'offensive to our decency and makes a mockery of the parliament.' No, it is this government which is an offence to decency. It is this government which makes a mockery of itself. He went on to say:

We do not know whether to laugh at just how ludicrous this legislation is or cry at the very real impact and real pain it seeks to cause some of the most desperate people in the world.

When you read these words from the then shadow minister, now the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, you learn that the expression 'crocodile tears' has a new meaning. He continued:

Labor is going to oppose this bill in every way, and we will oppose it at every stage … The bill before us is wrong—it is just plain wrong. Labor will not have anything to do with it.

But you own it.

Next we have the member for Hotham, a former Leader of the Opposition and now the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts. He spoke on 10 August 2006 during a debate which went for several days—a debate they were then all very keen to participate in, although they do not seem too keen today. The list of speakers from the government is pretty slim today. No-one on that side wants to stand up for this bill, although they will vote for it. During that debate, the member for Hotham said:

Labor opposes it outright. There is nothing you can do to this excision bill that will fix it. We do not seek to amend it; we will oppose it in its entirety. The bill is shameful and xenophobic.

This is an old tactic, an old accusation from Labor—when you cannot meet the argument, call the coalition racists. When your policies do not stack up and your failures are so profound that you cannot speak over the noise of your own failures, when you cannot make an argument and you cannot get anything right, just call coalition members racists—as Labor members have been doing for the past week.

But those members opposite, particularly those representing Western Sydney, know that every time a Labor member calls the coalition and coalition members who are standing up for stronger border protection and who believe in stronger border protection racists, they are calling those who share those views racists. They are calling their own constituents racists. As I move around Western Sydney, it is clear that this issue and the government's failures have brought the people of that area to a point of absolute frustration. They are not racists; they are just sick of government incompetence. They are sick of a government which cannot protect our borders and cannot do one of the most fundamental things a national government is elected to do. The government can call them racists if they like, but at the next election they will reap what they sow in making those claims.

The member for Hotham went on to say:

This is a foolish nonsense. It is worse than that though. It is a vindictive and vicious measure to take against unfortunate and desperate people. It does nothing to secure our borders and returns to the government’s old policy of deterrence and punishment based on fear. It is a bill that should be opposed.

I am always interested when the government talks about compassion in relation to this matter. There is not a decision you make in this area of asylum policy which does not have serious consequences for human beings. Every decision you make has that impact and everybody who participates in this debate should understand that. I certainly do. But you have to take ownership of your decisions and the consequences which flow from them.

Labor, when they were ranting and raving at this bill and subjecting the now Father of the House, the member for Berowra; the then Prime Minister, John Howard; and others to their abuse and vitriol, were saying, 'We have a better way of dealing with this.' At the 2007 election, five years ago, they got their way and all of those who supported them got their way. They got what they asked for. They got the Howard government measures abolished. All of those measures went. And what happened? Over 30,000 people turned up; over 1,000 people were dead in the water; over 8,000 people were denied protection visas in this country from some of the most desperate places in the world because they did not come on a boat; and there was a cost blow-out of $6.6 billion and counting this year alone—including capital it will cost $2.7 billion. These are the consequences. It does not sound to me like a particularly compassionate outcome. It sounds to me like an absolute disaster in humanitarian and financial terms.

It is one thing to sound compassionate; it is another thing to be compassionate and to have policies that deal with the problem. People ask on various programs, whether on the ABC or other places, 'Why are we even talking about this?' Because the government has failed, that is why. When you fix the problem you do not have to talk about the problem, but this government ignored the problem and just wanted to change the debate. As the previous Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Evans said, his greatest failing was that he was not able to control the conversation enough. No! The problem was that he was not able to control the borders. The fact that the government does not get that this is the issue it has to solve, and that the consequences of not fixing it are disastrous for human beings and the taxpayers of Australia alike, is something I will never understand.

The vitriol continues. The member for Adelaide, now the Minister for Early Childhood and Child Care and for Employment Participation, said on 9 August 2006:

Now every member of this House has a stark choice: do they stand up and vote against a proposal which has the wrong motivations, which is indecent and inhumane by its very nature and which is clearly absurd …

Did the minister stand up in the ministry? Did she stand up in the party room, or the caucus, as it is called on that side of the House? Did she stand up on that day? Did she have a stark choice? In the course of her speech she described the measures as lunacy, ludicrous, harsh, indecent, inhumane, unfair and gutless. That is what we will see with every Labor member who walks in and votes for this bill today: gutlessness. To switch their position on such a matter, where they displayed such passion and directed such vitriol, and now they work out that it was a problem—the very first thing they should do as they walk in here is apologise to John Howard and to the member for Berowra for the abuse, the vitriol and the slurs that they put on those two great men's characters. They were compassionate men who wanted to do the right thing to ensure we had integrity of our borders and that people smugglers were not trading on people's lives. Labor should apologise to them today if they are going to vote for this bill, and if they do not they are gutless—gutless to their core.

The minister concluded by saying:

I am clear that I will continue to absolutely oppose this legislation and I encourage all members to do likewise.

That is the thing with the Labor Party: it always believes what it believes until the day it does not, and the Australian people know that. The government announces something and it never happens: 'But we announced it.' Then why did it not happen? 'We did not get around to it, we changed our minds, we did not go ahead with it.' Those opposite are big on the announcements. They are big on the big symbols. They are big on the big Herculean stands and the wars on goodness knows what. I remember in the first term of this government we had a war on everything, but when it comes to fighting those battles they disappear. The Australian people know they cannot trust Labor on this. You cannot trust someone who clearly does not know what they believe in in this space. This requires a resolve based on conviction, and this government simply does not have it.

I am no fan of the Greens' policies, no fan at all. I think they are a disaster for what they mean for these issues, but at least they believe the same thing for more than a day. I suspect that is why some people who used to vote for the Labor Party now vote for the Greens—they know that the Labor Party has lost its soul. It is run by spivs and union hacks who will do whatever it takes. We all know who said that: whatever it takes. That is the culture of what was once a great party. Now it has been reduced to this. How ashamed the great Labor men and women would be of this government and the way it has dealt with this matter. The member for Grayndler, now Leader of the House, said on 10 August:

I wish to speak in the strongest possible terms in opposition to the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006. This government has a policy that is built on sand. It shifts with the wind, it shifts on the basis of what is in the political interest of the government in terms of its preparedness to promote fear, to promote hatred and to vilify some of the most vulnerable people in the global community. It is no way for this parliament to provide the leadership that we have been entrusted to provide by our respective communities.

In that statement he talked about a government that has a policy 'built on sand', that 'shifts with the wind', that 'shifts on the basis of what is in the political interest of the government'. He was being a prophet, but not about the Howard government; he was being a prophet about the government that he would be a part of. He was the Nostradamus speaking back in 2006 about the government he would be a part of, which is demonstrated in the hypocrisy of this bill which has been brought before this place today. He went on to say:

This bill is wrong in principle and it is wrong in motivation. It cannot be improved by any amendments, so we are not moving any.

He said:

I reject the bill as being fundamentally abhorrent to everything I believe in and all the reasons why I want to represent my electorate in this great parliament.

Well, he has some explaining to do to the electors of Grayndler. He goes on:

I will conclude my comments by saying that this is a test of this parliament and this government. It has been a test of the Australian Labor Party and we have risen to the occasion, and that is why we are rejecting this legislation.

This government, this Labor Party, has sunk in the way it has dealt with this matter.

Then there is the member for Kingsford-Smith, the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, who said:

The crux of this debate is moral integrity and national purpose as weighed against political expediency.

And—and this is rich—he called it 'exquisite hypocrisy'. He said:

But I have some confidence that Australians will not tolerate for much longer a government for whom principles and compassion have no meaning.

I share his view about that. He goes on:

It is a government that lacks the confidence in its institutions, in its own laws and in its own officials to allow events to take their course … It is a government that lacks confidence in what its proper place in the region is. It is a government that has no idea of what Australia’s primary values are …

And he goes on—another prophet from that side of that chamber, talking not about the Howard government but about the government that he himself would be a part of. He said:

A government that so betrays its own values is a government that is no longer worthy of representing the people of Australia.

That was from the member for Kingsford-Smith. Well, he is damned, like this government, by his own words and his own actions. Out of respect for Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, I will not refer to the comments by the member for Calwell, but I am sure the Deputy Speaker knows them well.

What we see on that side of the House is gross hypocrisy and a recalcitrant failure to acknowledge that, when you get something wrong, you admit you got it wrong. But we have not heard that from this government. We have not heard from this government that it was wrong to abolish the Howard government policies—not once, not a peep about that. The hypocrisy and lack of grace in that is breathtaking.

The minister said when he was in opposition that it was a stain on our national character to support this bill. Well, there is a stain on the government, because of their actions on border protection, that will never wash off, no matter how hard they try. The hypocrisy and political expediency of the government in trying to save their own neck and save a failed Prime Minister is on display for the entire country to see and before this parliament. That stain will not wash off. That stain will be visible and will mark every single member of the government who comes in and votes on this bill—every single one. I hope it rests heavily on them as they come in here, and I hope it rests heavily on them when they go back to their branch members and try to explain to those who have supported them over years and years the absolute gutter hypocrisy that they have displayed in this place. This measure, as I said at the outset, is, frankly, a fairly marginal measure. I think it will have very little impact at all. In fact, I think the real reason that the government has brought this before this place is that the government knows that it cannot cope with the rate of arrivals, and this simply provides an expediency to bypass Christmas Island and bring people straight to the mainland. That is what it does. It just enables the water taxi to go to other ports in Australia—not just to go to Christmas Island, but to come directly here to the mainland. This is a government that last week admitted that it cannot stop the boats, with arrivals of over 2,000 a month. The government's answer: more places, more beds, more cost and no effective deterrence—just more excuses.

That is what this bill is about. It is a minor expediency, both logistically and politically, for a government that have so lost their way on this issue that they will never find it again. And the Australian people know that is why they cannot trust the government on this issue. They cannot trust the government because the government themselves do not believe—so why should the Australian people believe in them? Conviction matters when it comes to issues that involve such difficult decisions. It is conviction that those on this side of the House will be demonstrating when we vote on this bill today—the conviction that has been shown by individuals and right across our party. We will vote as we did last time. We will support measures, even if they are as marginal as this one is. If it improves things slightly and we think it is a good measure, we will support it.

But those on that side of the House have a level of explaining to do that time will not permit in this debate. When I look at the speaker's list on this matter, there are only three speakers. How ashamed they must be about this business that they bring before the House today. It is a very black day for the Labor Party. It has been a very black month. It has been a black year. It has been a black five years for the people of Australia under this government. Next year they will have the opportunity to change that and to send the one message that people smugglers will understand, and that is the election of a coalition government.