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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13518


Mr CRAIG THOMSON (Dobell) (18:10): This is not an easy issue for governments to deal with. It is not an easy issue for the community to deal with. It is a difficult question where time changes the way in which solutions should be looked at. There was a time when people would come to a parliament like this and argue that the White Australia policy was right. People changed their minds about that. Old policies were changed and new policies were adopted. So I understand that views that people may have had in the past have changed as circumstances have changed, but I do not agree with these changes. Obviously, while my politics are left of centre, they are not 'in the Left', and the characterisation by the previous speaker of people's views as fitting a particular grouping is simply not true.

My approach to policy has always been that we allow the markets to dictate what happens unless there is market failure. Can there have been a greater market failure than what has occurred with close to 40 million people seeking asylum around the world and not having a permanent place to live? There simply cannot be a greater issue that requires governments to act against the way in which society has broken down in some countries and left such large numbers, almost twice the population of Australia, looking for a permanent home because either their existing home is no longer safe or they have been kicked out and are no longer able to stay there. So I do not approach this necessarily with just a bleeding heart; I approach this matter in the same way that I approach every matter, and that is from the point of view of an absolute market failure and the question of how we deal with it. In that context, it is completely understandable that governments may change their minds on issues, but in this case they have done so wrongly.

There were two main reasons that I chose to enter parliament. One was to make sure we got rid of Work Choices and the terrible effects that was having on families, particularly families that commute a lot, as they do on the Central Coast. The second reason was the way in which we treat those people who are less fortunate than us but may not have been born in this country. I was concerned with how we deal with them in a humane way that does not affect the integrity of Australia's borders or make Australia a less secure place. So I am particularly disappointed. I understand the government is searching in a very difficult situation for a solution, but I am very disappointed that they have taken the step of supporting something that they quite rightly rejected in 2006.

Let's be very honest about this. It is just a tricky technical nonsense to actually say that Australia is not part of Australia for the purpose of people seeking asylum. But it is even more tricky than that because it is only not Australia if you have come by boat. And it is even more tricky than that, because if you get on a P&O cruise liner in Fiji and then come to Sydney Harbour and seek asylum, again, you are not affected by this legislation. So the government has picked a particularly inhumane and tricky way of trying to deal with what is a major global problem that requires not short-term political point scoring but long-term solutions that are going to make sure that the people who are in most need are looked after.

I can understand the pressure on the government when you have an opposition that has its head in the sand about these issues and will continually look at pointscoring rather than at positive solutions to this. I listened to the member for Melbourne's contribution and I think the Greens have also failed in this area. They had the opportunity to support the government in talking about regional processing and looking at solutions that go beyond one country. They failed in relation to that and they cannot come in here and say that what they are doing is right. They played the politics of this as well. So we have all parties playing politics with people's lives and ignoring the facts that are there.

Australia is not one of the most generous refugee intake countries in the world—we hear the opposite all the time, but it is simply not true. We are the 14th largest economy yet we accept 0.03 per cent of the world's refugees. I have heard other contributors, including the member for Melbourne, talk about what Australia did in the aftermath of Vietnam. We were accepting about six per cent of world refugees at that time. We are now taking in 0.03 per cent.

One of the other points that has been made—and both parties have made a lot of it—is that stopping the boats will save lives. Well, cutting off someone's last line of escape is no great favour. If you are killed by the Taliban you are just as dead as if you drown. People who are making this very difficult decision about getting on a boat are not doing it for any other reason than that this is their last hope. The argument is often put—and the member for Canning was trying to make this point—that the boat arrivals are not genuine refugees, they are here for economic reasons. That is simply just not true, and it does not hold out in terms of the acceptance of asylum seekers, ultimately, when their claims are processed. If you are looking at where the non-genuine overstayers are then it is clearly plane arrivals. Only between 20 to 40 per cent of plane arrivals who seek asylum in this country are successful. Compare that with the 85 to 90 per cent of people who arrive by boats; clearly, the argument that people are getting on boats to seek some economic advantage just cannot be made out. They are coming because they are desperate, and 85 to 90 per cent of them are successful in having their claims met. They are indeed genuine asylum seekers.

The argument is also put that these people are queue jumpers. Can I say that with close to 40 million seeking asylum in the world it is a terribly long queue. If there were a queue to join, it would take you 135 years to work your way through that queue before you were processed here. So that whole argument is absolute nonsense. It is a cover for people who are racist. That is simply what it is and it has to be said that that is what it is. People who say that there is a queue are actually saying, 'We do not want these people coming here. We do not care about what their circumstances are. We simply do not want them in this country. That is it.' That is a much more honest position to put. We hear, particularly from the coalition, people talking about hypocrisy and so forth. Well, put your argument that you do not want foreigners per se coming to this country, because there is no queue, and if there were one it would take 135 years.

Look at how someone from, say, Afghanistan would seek asylum in Australia. The argument would probably be that they would go to the Australian embassy to seek asylum. But the address of the Australian embassy is, for security reasons, quite clearly and obviously kept secret. So there is nowhere to go in Afghanistan if you want to seek asylum in Australia. It is an absolute nonsense that there is some queue that people can go to and line up in.

These are some of the issues that have been raised as to why we should not be taking people. I actually think that the minister in 2006 made a very good speech, and I know it has been quoted a lot. What he said in 2006 holds just as much now as it did then. He started by saying that in 1951 the United Nations Convention for the Protection of Refugees came into force. The world realised the mistakes of the 1930s, when many western nations turned their backs on Jews fleeing persecution in Germany. Collectively, we said, 'Never again.' I am sure that all of us involved in public life would like to think that we would have done the right thing in those circumstances and stood up for those facing the worst of circumstances, regardless of whether it was popular or unpopular. He went on to talk about the then Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill, saying that if it passes parliament 'it will be the day that Australia turned its back on the refugee convention and on refugees escaping circumstances that most of us can only imagine'. He said:

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. The people who will be disadvantaged by this bill are in fear of their lives, and we should never turn our back on them. They are people who could make a real contribution to Australia.

That was true six years ago and it is equally true now. The government find themselves reacting to the politics and they need to be above that.

I represent the electorate of Dobell. The only time a Labor member lost the seat was in 2001, at the Tampa election. At that particular election there were big posters right around the electorate saying, 'We choose who comes to this country.' We were all saying what a terrible thing that was, yet here we are trying to reproduce almost exactly the same type of legislation—reacting to the same things that happened then. The government are doing it for political reasons. They think that if they are tough in relation to this area they will be rewarded at an election. They are simply ignoring history if they believe that. In 2001 we lost Dobell. We lost some seats even though the approach of the Labor Party at that time was to say: 'We will do everything that Prime Minister John Howard is saying. We support it all. We are not disagreeing with it.' We were trying to make sure there was no difference between us. The Labor Party have clearly not learnt their lesson. They have not learnt their political lesson and they need to get their moral compass back on track in relation to these issues. They did after a period of time in opposition. By 2006, they were fine, looking at these issues in a rational way. They are reacting to very difficult circumstances. They are reacting to a public policy issue that is not easy and does not have a magic bullet solution, but most of all they are reacting to the political bait that is being put by the opposition. It is wrong morally and it is wrong electorally for the Labor Party to go down this path.

I have thought a lot about what I am going to do in this. I will be opposing this legislation. I have thought a lot about it because of the way in which people in my electorate voted in 2001. Do you know what? Sometimes you have to do what is right. Chris Bowen, the minister, as the member for Prospect back in 2006, said, 'You've got to take a decision, even if it will be unpopular, as long as you're sure that it's right.' It is right that this bill is defeated. Australia is Australia. We cannot play tricky word games and try to pretend it is something it is not. We hold ourselves out to be part of the world community. We need to show that we are mature enough to take responsibility on a range of these issues and we should reject this bill wholeheartedly.