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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13445

Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra) (13:47): It may help the member, who is just about to leave, to hear some of this. I have been the subject of a great deal of comment for having some very strong views about the integrity of our border arrangements and on the need for government to be assiduous in dealing with those issues. But often people do not understand the reasons I have that strength of view on those matters. They arise because for most of my time in public life—and, as many know, I have been in this chamber as a member of the House of Representatives for 39 years—I have taken a great deal of personal interest in the plight of refugees. I have visited camps right around the world where I suspect few of my colleagues have ever been. I went to Traiskirchen, where I saw Eastern Europeans. I went to Hong Kong when the Vietnamese were fleeing. I went to Thailand to see the Cambodians who fled over the border. I went to Pakistan to see the Afghans who had fled. I went to the Balkans, where I saw Croats, Serbs, Bosnians and so many others displaced. I went to Kosovo.

But perhaps the greatest impact on me was going to Africa and seeing some 90,000 people—and I think the numbers have risen beyond that since then—in a camp called Kakuma, in northern Kenya. There were Congolese, Sudanese, Somalis and Ethiopians. These were not people who would ever meet a people smuggler. These were not people who had money in their pockets to be able to pay to be trafficked to wherever they may have preferred to be! These were people who often were in immediate risk even though they had fled, thinking they might be safe.

It has always fascinated me to know there are 42 million people in the world who are displaced or refugees, with at least 10 million of them assessed to be refugees. In reality, most of those people are never going to be able to find a place for resettlement in the way in which those who make it to Australia and engage our protection obligations have been able to.

We ask ourselves, why is it those who have the money to pay to be trafficked should be given priority? What makes it so important that their needs, which are just the same as the other 10 million people's needs, assessed in exactly the same way, are greater? In my more cynical moments I suggest to the government that it could deal with its budget issues. It could go to Kakuma and say: 'Who's got $10,000? We'll give you a place.' When I suggest that to people they laugh. They say, 'The government couldn't go and ask for money to determine who should get a place.' Then why should the places be determined because we are party to a refugee convention, because people can engage a people smuggler who gets them to the front of the queue? I have said that for years, and it justified, in my view—morally and appropriately—every decision I ever took as minister.

We did not need to be in a position where we had some 30,000 people knocking at our door. There were some people on the other side of the chamber, and not many of them are here to hear it, who had a view that I was some dreadful ogre, that the Howard government was unconscionable in the way it dealt with these issues, that the measures we implemented were not needed. It was not a question of whether they would work or not work; they were not needed! They were morally reprehensible! We had a change of government and one by one all of the measures that were in place and working, saving people's lives, preventing people getting on vessels and enabling us to resettle those people who needed help most were stripped away. When the government finds that having stripped away all those measures it has a problem then it does not want to adopt the measures that worked; it thinks it has to find its own way forward. But, progressively, the government is picking up each of the measures.

I have a mischievous sense of humour in relation to these things. I do not think there is any one magic bullet in the measures that we used. I do not think it is a menu you can pick and choose from: 'If we adopt this entree that will stop the boats.' In my view you need the full menu. If I were cynical I would say, 'You have to make a meal of it.' But this government is not prepared to do that. It is not prepared to adopt temporary protection visas. They may get a chance to think about that. It is perfectly proper under the refugee convention—that convention makes it very clear that our obligation is not to return people to situations of persecution. That is the obligation. It is not to give them permanent residency—it does not say anything about that. So if you find that circumstances change and people can go home then why should that not happen? It has happened. We did it in relation to the Kosovans we brought to Australia and settled here temporarily. We supported them, and when circumstances were such that they could go home that was the case. There have been times when Afghans have been able to go home. I suspect there will be times when many others who seek to engage our protection obligations could, in fact, go home. I do not think that, in principle, there is anything wrong with it, but the Labor Party has not been prepared to pick it up.

Turning boats around: it is fascinating looking at the way in which the government is dealing at the moment with some of the Singhalese and Sri Lankans that are arriving in Australia. Upon initial inquiry it has them on the first plane back that it can find. Yet they are super-critical of those who say, 'Well, if somebody is coming in in a boat and you can safely turn it around, why shouldn't you?'

The bill we are debating is about a measure of which the Labor Party said, when we were in office, should not have been pursued. This is about using the colloquial jargon. This is about excision of the whole of Australia from the migration zone. Some people laugh when you say you are going to exclude Australia from the migration zone. But that is what this bill is about. This is the Labor Party, in office, introducing legislation to achieve this end, when they vigorously opposed it before.

I suspect it is not going to make very much difference. One of the reasons is that they have made some other decisions about the consequences of what happens if you have not arrived in the migration zone. They go to the way in which your claims are assessed and processed. Effectively, this government took decisions at an earlier point in time in which the consequences of having not arrived in the migration zone have been essentially diminished. Those who are going to be affected by this legislation can be transferred in and out of Australia, but it is not going to affect the way in which their claims are going to be processed and it is not going to affect the multi-tiered approach in relation to judicial review on top of initial decision making.

All of the matters that this government has been responsible for putting in place—those measures that have compounded the problem and made it more difficult for us to get those people who are not refugees out of the system and returned home as quickly as possible and that have ensured we have something like 99 per cent of those people who arrive by boat being found to be refugees, or at least contesting them—will in fact remain.

This legislation, which the government believes is going to assist, will not deal with those fundamental questions, and they still remain unaddressed. We are dealing with a situation where only several hundred of those 30,000 people who have arrived have been able to be removed—the 500 or so Sri Lankans who have been able to be removed. But the message is still out there for the people-smugglers: if we can get you to Australia you will have a place in which you will be able to stay. I do not believe it, even when the government says it, that they are only going to give people bridging visas, that they are not going to process them in any expeditious way but leave them in limbo for five years, and that that will stop people from working. I do not know what they will do if they find that somebody on a bridging visa has been out there engaging in employment unlawfully. Are they going to say, 'Oh, look, you've breached your visa condition. We are going to terminate it and return you home.' No. They might say, 'We will take you into detention.' But I suspect they will be saying, 'Gee, I hope we don't find anybody, because we have no detention accommodation left.'

This is a situation in which the Labor Party, who held out that they had consciences above everybody else, are now disclosing, absolutely, their hypocrisy in relation to these matters. That needs to be clearly understood by the Australian people. They are adopting measures they hope may enable this issue to be dealt with, but I suspect the half-hearted way in which they are proceeding with these matters will leave them with a continuing problem. I do not like it. I want to see Australia able to hold its head up high helping those refugees who need help most, those people who languish in places like Kakuma and are in immediate risk and danger. They are never going to be helped because the places are being lost to those people who have the money to pay, to those people whom we are seeing day after day continuing to turn up here because smugglers have led them to believe that they can get them to the front of the queue. And it is a queue. Part of the problem is that it is a very long queue. But it is a queue, and the government ought to be able to go out there and hold their heads up high and say, 'We are serious about dealing with these matters.'

Debate interrupted.