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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13522


Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (18:31): Today is a rare day for the government. Today this government is doing something which makes sense, which has a chance of working, which might restore some integrity to Australia's borders and which might act as a deterrent to the repugnant trade of people smugglers who traffic in human misery.

The objective of the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012 is to expand the existing offshore processing regime to apply to all persons who arrive unlawfully by sea to mainland Australia. You could be forgiven for thinking that the objective of this bill sounds familiar. That would be because it is familiar. This bill is almost a carbon copy of the bill passed by the House of Representatives under the Howard government in 2006 when it expanded offshore processing to apply to people arriving on mainland Australia. How embarrassing it must be for the government to introduce this bill into the House. Maybe the answer to the question of why the government is doing so lies in the difference between what the now Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Bowen, is saying now and what he had to say back in 2006 when he, along with his Labor colleagues, opposed the Howard government's introduction of the almost-identical bill. The now minister described that bill then as a 'stain on our national character'. But what is he saying today? Ms Ellis, who is now also a minister, said that the bill was 'ludicrous', 'harsh', 'inhumane' and 'gutless'—and it went on and on. The hypocrisy of the government's U-turn is absolutely breathtaking.

Tragic and unacceptable loss of life and unprecedented budgetary disaster have flowed from Labor's staggeringly incompetent border protection policies. Labor's border protection policies should be likened to an employment program for people smugglers. The Howard government put the people smugglers out of business; Labor resurrected their business. Since November 2007, when Labor announced that it was dismantling the coalition's border protection polices, there have been 30,000 unauthorised maritime arrivals. This is more people than live in cities such as Alice Springs, Warrnambool, Nowra, Albany, Maryborough and Devonport. It is about 1½ times the number of people who live in cities such as Goulburn, Armidale, Whyalla and Mount Isa.

Since November 2007, Labor's failures on our borders have got worse. The government's policies have been half-hearted, and it has made policy switches from one month to the next. The government is not up to the job, and it is not up to the commitments that it has made. More than half the number—that is, 15,403—of the 30,057 unauthorised maritime arrivals under this government have turned up this year, and more than a third—that is, 10,146—have turned up since 1 July. More people have turned up on more boats in 2012 alone than in the entire 11½ years of the Howard government yet Labor still refuses to acknowledge that it got it horribly wrong when it abolished the Howard government's policies, and it continues to get it wrong by refusing to restore them. This is what happens when intractable political incompetence blinds sensible decision making. Sadly, this dynamic occurs all too often in this government.

At the average rate of arrivals over the full term of the Howard Government, it would have taken John Howard more than 25 years as Prime Minister to reach the number of unauthorised maritime arrivals that have occurred under Labor in less than five years. Under the Howard government's policies, it would have taken more than 500 years to reach 30,000 unauthorised maritime arrivals. Labor's record on border protection shows breathtaking incompetence. It reads as follows. Since the last election, Labor's failures on our borders have increased threefold: in Labor's first term there were 7,349 illegal boat arrivals; so far in Labor's second term there have been more than 22,000. The average monthly rate of arrivals over Labor's second term is almost four times higher—and at current levels it is 10 times higher—than it was in Labor's first term. Absolutely tragically, under Labor's policies more than 1,000 people have perished at sea. At least 8,100 people who have been waiting offshore in desperate circumstances have been denied Australia's protection because they did not come on a boat.

I heard the member for Dobell expressing an interesting slant on border protection policy. He said that there is no such thing as people waiting in queues and no such thing as a United Nations humanitarian refugee waiting list. But I have been to refugee camps. I have spoken to people who have been interviewed. I have been to the Thai-Burmese border and seen the 140,000 people there who are waiting offshore and who are applying under the correct processes to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Also, the budget has blown out. It has blown out to $6.6 billion and counting, including $1.7 billion this year.

This Labor government's policy has done incredible damage to Australia's humanitarian and immigration programs. It has been a public policy disaster in humanitarian terms and also in budgetary terms. There is no other way to describe it. This will put an incredible pressure on public housing. There are agencies like the Red Cross and others who are doing an incredible job, but these numbers keep rising. There will be incredible pressures put on state governments in terms of health and education.

This bill will replace the concept of 'offshore entry person' with the concept of 'unauthorised maritime arrival'. It will mean that more persons who arrive on Australian soil by boat will be subject to removal to an offshore processing country and they will be processed according to that country's regime. What this means is that the bill will effectively excise the Australian mainland from the Migration Act, which is intended to be a disincentive for people to make the journey to Australia.

Labor continues to fail to implement the full suite of measures the coalition had in place. Every day, when they say they will bring out a policy, they keep retreating. Today we saw a retreat, again, on work rights. They were not going to introduce work rights; now they are softening on work rights with the temporary protection visa update and changes that they announced a few days ago. This policy keeps evolving and changing; no wonder people smugglers continue to send people here; they have absolutely no surety about what the government is going to say from one policy decision to the next, or what they are going to stick to.

This government has continued to change its policy from day to day. We introduced these measures in 2006. The impact of these measures would have been much more significant if this government had introduced the full suite of measures. This bill is a step in the right direction and the coalition will support it. The challenge for the Labor Party now is to embrace the complete policy and political honesty, adopt the remainder of the coalition's border protection policies and put people smugglers out of business.

But do not hold your breath for that one, Deputy Speaker. That is too much policy logic from Labor, and after five years of policy failure it is probably expecting a bit too much.