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Monday, 11 February 2013
Page: 588


Mr MORRISON (Cook) (11:00): On this day those on that side of the House will not be able to block the introduction of this bill into this House. Last year I stood in this place with my colleagues and sought to restore an important tool to the toolbox that is needed to ensure we have proper border protection in this country again, and those on that side of the House shouted it down, blocked it and used every tactic possible to prevent the reintroduction of temporary protection visas into the laws of this country. Today they will not be able to do that because today I introduce a bill to the House to put back into the toolbox what this government, which has failed on our borders, took out of that toolbox in November 2007. Along with the decision to abandon Nauru and offshore processing—to abandon the policy of the former Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, who stated just days before the election that he would turn boats back—they abolished temporary protection visas. And what happened? Cost, chaos and tragedy—things that will hang on the head of that government for as long as they sit on those benches and for as long as they cleave to those policies if they go back to opposition.

Under this government's watch, we have seen an unparalleled level of failure on our borders. We have made a simple plea to them: admit you got it wrong and put back the policies that worked. On every occasion we have sought to do that they have rejected it, and it is only after they have been dragged kicking and screaming that they have relented in modest terms. There remain to be implemented large tracts of the coalition policy that was so successfully implemented by the Howard government. We all know of the tragedies and we all know of the cost.

But what I was amazed to see last Friday is that this government made a declaration in their budget. They actually said they would stop the boats. When I look at the budget, they have budgeted next year to see the cost of asylum seeker management to fall by almost a billion dollars and then after that it will fall by another billion dollars. And it will go back to an annual figure, on their figures, reduced by some $500 million in the out years. What this government actually put in its budget, which is now under scrutiny in estimates, is that in the out years of their statements they are going to realise a $1 million saving. Well, they must be governing for the implementation of the coalition policies or the election of a coalition government, because that is only way we are going to see those sorts of savings implemented in this country—that is, if we restore the policies that worked.

The fiscal fantasy of this government on asylum seeker policy and management is breathtaking. Let us look at the record. In 2008-09 there was a blowout of $2.3 million; in 2009-10 there was a blowout of $233 million; in 2010-11 there was a blowout of $1.37 billion; in 2011-12 there was a blowout of $1.34 billion; in 2012-13, this year, which by the way is not yet finished, there is a blowout of $2.15 billion; and next year they say they are going to save money! But what have they changed? Nothing. This is a government that continues to put across this fantasy to the Australian people on border protection and now they are trying to bank it in the budget. And that I think proves the lie. Not only did this government fail on a borders, they have failed on the budget. They cannot manage the borders and they cannot manage the budget.

So we come to this House today and say: put back the policies that worked. We ask the government to support this bill. The bill which is before you achieves two things. It restores a temporary protection offshore visa. This is for people who illegally enter Australia and arrive at an excised offshore place when they first come to Australia; do not have protection from any other country; are found by the Australian government to engage Australia's protection obligation; and meet health and character requirements. The visa is temporary for a term of up to three years to be set by the minister or his or her delegate, and it gives the holder the right to work, special benefits payments and access to Medicare. Temporary visas can be applied for successively, but on the conclusion of the term of the visa—and this is important—unless the minister allows an application for a permanent protection visa to be made it does not give the right for family reunion at any time during their stay; it does not give the right for the holder to re-enter Australia if they depart; and it is a condition of the visa that the holder satisfy mutual obligation requirements for receiving special benefit payments.

Importantly, if the holder of that visa is to be given a further temporary visa, we will consider their refugee claim again. The good news is this: thankfully, people's refugee status is not always permanent—and let us hope it is not. What this policy provides the Australian people with is an opportunity to provide safe haven, which is our obligation under the refugee convention. But that obligation is never permanent. That is a complete fiction which is put out there by those who oppose temporary protection visas. Our duty is for safe haven. This bill provides for that safe haven but it says Australians will not be mugs. At the end of the term of the visa, we will reassess your claim; and if you are in a position to return home, then home you will go.

I was with the shadow minister at the table and the shadow minister for foreign affairs in Sri Lanka just a week-and-a-half ago. Things are changing in Sri Lanka. They are definitely changing in Sri Lanka—5,700 Sri Lankans have returned from India to Sri Lanka unviolated. So there is an opportunity under this policy to ensure that when it is safe to go home people will go home. This is not a passport for permanent residency that we are offering, which is what the government offers. That is the sugar on the table that this government put on many years ago and that has attracted the more than 500 boats that have arrived since. What this does is sensibly put in place a policy which honours our obligations but at the same times says, 'We won't be mugs.'

The other thing this bill does is to deny, ever, a permanent visa to someone who has sought to come to Australia and has moved to a country in which they could have sought asylum, including in countries such as Indonesia or, indeed, Malaysia, where the UNHCR provides the opportunity to assess people's claims. If you come that transit route to Australia, under a coalition government you will never, ever get a permanent visa to this country. That is the message this government should be sending to those who would seek to use people-smugglers but, importantly, to people-smugglers themselves who would try to sell this fantasy of permanent residence in Australia under a coalition government—because it would be a fantasy under a coalition government. It is not going to happen, and it is important that we put these measures in place.

The government have been saying they will never support temporary protection visas. They said the same thing about Nauru and they said the same thing about Manus Island. They said the same thing about excising the entire Australian mainland. So I will believe them until they change their minds, which this government tend to do fairly regularly. But they need to come to the table on this, because it is an important element of the toolbox which needs to be put back in place. But it is frustrating that we have been having this debate for five years and the government still reluctantly and stubbornly refuses to move on this issue of temporary protection visas and denying permanent residence to those who come to Australia illegally by boat.

They have to be forced into everything. They had to be forced into reopening Nauru. They had to be forced into reopening Manus Island. They had to be forced into sending back people who are coming from Sri Lanka. That was not a government policy. They were forced into it because there was a boatload of pirates on their way to Australia, and each day we reminded the government that if they let a boatload of pirates into Australia and did not send them back then even their keenest advocates and believers would laugh out loud. So they were forced into that decision, but that decision itself does not go far enough because it is the coalition policy to send back every boat that comes from Sri Lanka, and we will do that by equipping the Sri Lankan government to give effect to that policy in the first place closer and safer to their shores.

So make no mistake: the coalition will restore the policies that worked. The people of Australia understand that. The people-smugglers understand that. And we will restore order to our borders. But I give this government this opportunity: support this bill. Admit you got it wrong. And then—perhaps then—they could start to make some headway. But I do not think that will happen. This government are in denial on our borders and will remain forever thus. (Time expired)

Bill read a first time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms O'Neill ): In accordance with standing order 41(c) the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.