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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3379


Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (11:14): We need to realise why we are debating, yet again, measures in relation to offshore processing and in relation to stopping people smuggling. When the Labor Party came to office in 2007, they inherited a situation in which the previous Howard government had stopped people smuggling. We need to be very clear about that. We faced this situation at the turn of the millennium—2000-01—when the Howard government took tough but necessary measures that stopped people smuggling dead in its tracks. Once those measures were taken, the message went out loud and clear to people smugglers that Australia was closed for business. Once that message went out, and when the people smugglers tested the government and found that it did not buckle—the government stuck to its guns and insisted that Australia would remain in charge of who comes to Australia—the people smugglers got the message that they were not going to be welcome to practise their evil trade of bringing people into Australia illegally anymore. Once that message was sent, people smuggling stopped dead in its tracks, and the empirical evidence is impossible to argue.

From 2002 to 2007 we had in this country, on average, three illegal boat arrivals per year. Under this government we could have three in 48 hours. What happened once this evil trade was driven from business, was that the Labor Party thought they could come into office and make changes to that robust system of border protection without there being any consequences. So, when the Labor Party came to office, the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, said that the dismantling of those tough measures—that is, offshore processing on the island nation of Nauru, and on Manus Island, PNG; temporary protection visas; and turning the boats back when it was appropriate and safe to do so—was his proudest day in office. That occurred in August 2008. From September 2008, people smugglers literally went back into business. From September 2008, one month after those changes were made, people smugglers again started to bring people to Australia illegally. And the situation accelerated, because the more success people smugglers have, the more the message goes back to the international community that Australia remains a soft touch and that people smugglers are going to be welcome to continue to ply their evil trade. Since that time, since August 2008, when the Labor Party made those quite frankly stupid decisions, we have had almost 16,000 people on almost 300 boats arrive in Australia illegally, courtesy of criminal gangs of people smugglers. That continues today and the problem continues to get worse and worse.

The Labor Party's response has been to adopt every possible policy prescription except one that actually works, and sadly the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012, which we are discussing today, brought in by the member for Lyne, is just a continuation of these failed policies. The idea that people want to see us 'compromise'—so-called—on offshore processing negates, I think, what the Australian people are actually looking for when it comes to people smuggling and people coming to Australia illegally. What the Australian people are looking for—what they tell me loud and clear when they raise this issue with me—is a solution. They do not want any more failed plans and they do not want any more of the gymnastics that we have seen from the Labor Party—adopting different positions but never actually adopting one that is going to work. They want the Australian government to adopt a position that is actually going to send the message loud and clear to people smugglers that Australia is no longer a soft touch and our borders are now closed. We will not do that until we adopt the full suite of measures that the coalition has used in the past to stop people smuggling. We need offshore processing but we need it on the island nation of Nauru or in another country which has adopted appropriate human rights protections—that is, a country that is a signatory to the UN convention on refugees—something that the minister, who just came in with his usual bluff and bluster, said not long ago was the right thing to do. In fact, he said it was morally imperative that we process people only in countries that have been signatories to that convention.

We also need to return to temporary protection visas. The product that people smugglers sell is permanent residence in Australia and when you undermine that you undermine that product. We also need to turn the boats back to Indonesia, from whence they came, when it is safe and appropriate to do so. (Time expired)