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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13485


Mr IRONS (Swan) (16:27): It is always good to follow the member for Chifley. I just let him know that there are already people being sent back to Sri Lanka. When I was on Christmas Island last week they were already going back—and they are the ones who want to work. They come to Australia and say they want to work, so they get sent back.

I rise to support the Member for Cook on his MPI. The Member for Cook started his MPI with comments about searching for Captain Emad, along with the shadow Treasurer. It was an example of the failures of this government and its policy failures.

The minister in charge of customs, the member for Blaxland, opened his speech with the reminder of the 200 people who died off the shore of Indonesia nearly one year ago. And the member for Fraser also reminded us of the deaths at sea in 2001. I understand the minister's sentiments and I remind him that this is exactly the reason we raised this MPI. It is about saving people's lives by stopping the people smugglers and the illegal entry trade. If we, as an opposition, need to continue to remind the government of that, we will do that in every way possible.

We are also often reminded of the Prime Minister's statement when in opposition, 'Another boat; another policy failure.' Well, I say to the government that that is what you created in your scrapping of John Howard's Pacific solution in 2008—more policy failure. With the scrapping of the Pacific solution this government created a magnet for the people smugglers, and of that there can be no doubt.

This week marks five years since I was elected to parliament in 2007, and in those five years I have seen many examples of disastrous Labor policy failures which have hit hard in my electorate and out in the broader Australian electorate. However, none has been quite so catastrophic, as I said before, as Labor's decision to effectively repeal the Pacific solution—the border protection policy that had reduced the number of illegal boats to, effectively, zero.

When the Howard government left office in November 2007, there were just four people in the detention network who had arrived illegally by boat. As I said earlier, the boats were so rare that when one eventually showed up, Julia Gillard would get excited, stand up in parliament and declare 'a policy failure'. Well, Prime Minister, by your standards we have had well over 500 policy failures in border protection since you took power. The results from the reignition of the people-smuggling trade have been tragic. Over a thousand people have died at sea, a thousand souls lost because Australia cannot secure its borders from the people smugglers. This is a tragic loss and a horrible one—1,000 people have drowned on our doorstep. And the arrivals are quite simply out of control. Currently there are 2,000 people arriving every month. As the shadow minister said, that is the equivalent of the QE2 turning up at Christmas Island with a full passenger manifest every month.

This is the fifth month in a row that more than 2,000 people have arrived illegally. And they are showing no signs of slowing down. In total, 30,000-plus have arrived under Labor and the government seems powerless to stop it. The people smugglers know that this government has lost control and, what is more, it has run out of places in detention facilities. In the West Australian last week it was revealed that, as there are no detention places left, illegal arrivals were to be fast-tracked to live in our suburbs, although without work rights. This caused plenty of concern in Western Australia, particularly in my electorate of Swan. This chaotic situation cannot be allowed to continue.

I will repeat a story I told in parliament earlier in the year. A gentleman came up to me after a citizenship ceremony wanting to get his photo taken with his MP. When I asked which country he had come from, he said he was from Afghanistan. I asked him, 'How did you arrive here?' He said, 'By boat.' I asked: 'How did you happen to get onto the boat? How did you find the people smugglers?' He said that he did not find the people smugglers, that they came to his village offering anyone who was interested entry to Australia. I asked him, 'What did that cost you?' He said, 'US$10,000.' 'That's a fair price,' I said. 'How did you actually get here?' He said: 'We flew to Malaysia and then we got on a boat in Malaysia. We bypassed Indonesia. Before we went to Christmas Island we were told to destroy all our identification, so we did. Then I got processed and came to Australia.' 'So you beat the system?' I said. With a smile on his face, he said, 'Yes, I beat the system.' The reason I tell this story is that it shows that this is a business and nothing more—a business this government has enabled.

At least 8,100 people are waiting offshore in desperate circumstances and have been denied Australia's protection via humanitarian visas over the last three years due to this boat influx. These people—the people in refugee camps, the people who don't have US$10,000-plus to pay a people smuggler—need our help most. That is the tragedy of this situation. The people of Australia welcomed a controlled immigration policy. John Howard built a consensus in favour of immigration over his time in government. It is a tragedy that humanitarian visa places are being sold on the Australian government's behalf by the people smugglers.

That brings us to this matter of public importance today:

The Government’s inability to deliver strong, consistent and effective border protection and asylum policy over the past five years.

That the border protection laws have been weakened and can be deemed ineffective is indisputable. The lack of a consistent policy response means the boats keep on coming. First we had the removal of temporary protection visas and offshore processing. Then, before the last election, we had the East Timor fiasco—an incredibly embarrassing incident for Australia where the Prime Minister spoke to the wrong member of the East Timorese government. I am sure the other members on this side of the House will remember how many times we heard, before the previous election, 'We must stop the boats.' The Labor candidate for Swan repeated it over and over again. But, as yet, we have not seen it happen.

The Prime Minister ditched the East Timor solution and tried a people swap arrangement with Malaysia. It did not work, and the High Court struck it down anyway. Still the boats came. Then the government defaulted to a policy of onshore processing, their previous preference, which continued to fail. During this time, the Leader of the Opposition recommended to the government 106 times that they pick up the phone to the President of Nauru and revive offshore processing as part of a three-part plan to revive the Pacific solution.

When this advice was confirmed by the Houston panel, the Prime Minister finally acted and reversed a four-year opposition to offshore processing on Nauru. But, as the coalition has said time and time again, one policy on its own will not do it. The government needs to reinstate the proven suite of Howard policies in full—namely, TPVs, offshore processing and turning around the boats when it is safe to do so.

As I have said previously—from the information I have received from people in Western Australia who know what is going on—the people currently in detention centres are emailing their friends overseas to say, 'Come now before the policies are changed; come now before the coalition is re-elected.' This has been confirmed by one of the guards at the Northam detention centre. He told me that message is continually being emailed by people currently in detention centres.

Financially, there have been significant consequences for the taxpayer. The annual budget in 2007-08 for offshore asylum seeker management was just $85 million. The total bill for this year alone is $2.8 billion. The government's wafer-thin surplus prediction is wiped out by this alone. I can see the shadow Treasurer salivating and wishing he could get his hands on that $2.8 billion for his budgets. You can see the government trying to grab cash wherever it can, as we found out this morning with the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Unclaimed Money and Other Measures) Bill 2012.

But, just as the people smugglers do not believe the government is serious about getting tough on people smugglers, the people of Australia are under no illusions that the government will deliver on its budget surplus promise, despite it being repeated dozens and dozens of time by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. The reality, as my colleague the shadow minister for immigration, the member for Cook, has pointed out, is that the Pacific solution, when put together with temporary protection visas and turning boats back when safe, reduced the number of boat arrivals to Australia by 99 per cent and cost taxpayers only $289 million over six years. The current government has said this three-pillar solution will not work. But, in the meantime, we still see the boats coming, with many lives put at risk.

The shadow minister for customs refuted the comments by the Minister for Home Affairs that the coalition were happy to see the boats restart and continue because there was some political gain from it. I too refute those comments and have, along with other members of the coalition, continually called for this government to stop the people smuggling. This government should step up and stop this evil trade. They should keep their promise and stop the people smuggling.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): Order! The discussion is now concluded.