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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12833


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (15:46): There is a famous proverb dating back over 2,000 years to the poetry of Virgil that teaches us 'the path to hell is paved with good intentions'. This saying has stood the test of time because it is born of a deep knowledge of human nature: that well-meaning people may do things to appease a situation only to then discover that they have actually created a worse outcome.

When we look back to more recent times, just six years ago, in the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Australia, a young man presented as being all things to all people: supercapable, superintelligent, all the answers to all of our problems—he could even change the weather and he had a heart bigger than Texas to boot. The picture was painted that he, in good conscience, could not stand by and watch desperate people seeking asylum subjected to the conditions they were under the Howard government's border protection policies. It is of no importance whether this position was formed through a generous and kind nature or whether it was a cunning, aspiring politician wanting to appeal to the sympathetic nature of the electorate.

Well intentioned as the changes may have been to the successful policies that had stopped desperate people risking their lives on the high seas and jumping ahead of genuine refugees, the fact is that there has been a dreadful cost—a cost in terms of lives needlessly lost, needless suffering and needless waste of our taxpayers' money. It is a matter of historical fact that, in the six-year period leading up to this policy shift, under the much demonised suite of Howard era policies, a total of 272 asylum seekers risked their lives on 16 boats. That equates to fewer than four people each month over six years.

In contrast, in just the past week since the government released MYEFO, we have seen 17 boats arrive with 620 people—far greater than their budgeted projection of 450 people per month and contributing to ongoing budget blow-outs like the $1.2 billion listed in the MYEFO papers. There is no substitute for experience—experience hard-earned. The suite of policies that had been developed by the Howard government, and the experience, the know-how, to implement those policies, meant they worked; they achieved the goal that had been set to stop the senseless loss of life and squandering of our nation's wealth.

Effective government results achieved efficiency, and this policy area was just one of many instances that allowed the $96 billion of debt we inherited from the previous Labor government to be paid back. Now we see history repeating itself. The Labor government has already exceeded $96 billion in debt, despite starting off with sizable savings. This particular policy failure is so important because it should be part of our human nature— whether in government, opposition or for the people of Australia—to learn from our mistakes.

The definition of insanity is to do something repeatedly and expect a different result. Well-intentioned policies that have failed have been the hallmark of this government, and this may well be because of a lack of management experience in any number of their initiatives. As the topic of this MPI highlights, these failures have an ongoing adverse impact on our nation's budget. Just like a business, balancing a government budget is largely built on stability, on certainty in management practices and policies. On this issue of border protection, the government's flip-flopping has had a direct adverse impact on our nation's budget.

This total lack of consistency is easily seen in the speeches six years ago on the excision of Australian territories from our migration zone—the Howard government policy that the Labor Party is now so keen to embrace. The current Leader of the House said in this place:

The Labor Party supports border protection but does not accept that excising the whole of Australia is an effective means of border protection. You do not deal with boat arrivals by pretending that you do not have sea borders or by pretending that, if you arrive by one particular mode of arrival—boat—you do not arrive in Australia at all.

The current Minister for Employment Participation said:

I would like to talk about the sheer lunacy of this legislation. As of 13 April 2005, all Australians arriving by boat will be treated as though they arrived in an excised place. This will effectively excise the whole of Australia from our immigration zone. The government's approach is ridiculous. It is absolutely absurd. We cannot approach border protection by pretending that we have absolutely no borders at all. So let us be perfectly honest about this: this legislation is stupid.

Even the current Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Bowen, labelled the border protecti on policy that he now supports as ' hypocritical ' , ' illogical ' and ' a stain on our national character ' .

And t he list goes on. The adverse impact on the budget of the g ov ernment's failure to control our borders is also clearly evident in their oth er recent policies in this area. First we had the Malaysia d eal, where our Prime Minister's supreme negotiation skills led to a deal that saw us send 600 asylum seekers and $300 million to Malaysia in return for 3,000 refugees. What a bargain!

Then, when the humanitarian intake was increased, the m inister said it w ould cost ' a round $150 million with a potential cost impact of $1.3 billion over the forward estimates. ' Yesterday , the m inister demanded an extra $268 million to build facilities at Nauru and Manus Islan d. That is just over $125,000 a bed—a most expensive bed that is. Now Nauru is reportedly applyi ng a special visa at $1 , 000 per person we send there and charging for it each and every month . Under the g overnment's plan , up to 1 , 500 asylum seekers can be housed on Nauru for up to five years. The t otal estimated impact on the budget of this small part of the g overnment's border protection policy is, therefore, $90 million.

And t he list goes on. These experiences show that , even when back flipping to a policy that worked a policy they should never have revoked and one that comes with a roadmap setting out how to execute it effectively and prudently —this g overnment still find a way to get it wrong. It is clear to us on this side of the c hamber that failed Labor policies combined wit h inexperience and ineptitude are a lethal mix for our nation's budget. We have an e ndless list of government waste: flammable pink batts, overpriced school halls and a mining resource rent tax which has not only raised zero dollars but , in addition to having scared off investment, requires the g overnment to pay the miners for t h e privilege .

A nd the list goes on. F inally, bereft of new ideas or , at least , any idea of how to implement them the g overnment's only answer now is to attack the o pposition, to blame us for their own failures. The duty of this o pposition is to highlight th e g overnment's policy failures, to expose their abject incompetence in the management of our budget and to ensure the people of our nation who suffer at the hands of this ineptitude can see through the g overnment 's spin and understand the extraordinary amount of taxpayer s' money that has been wasted to support these failed policies.

On this side of politics sit the very people who paid back the Labor debt and delivered our nation a surplus , something the Labor Party has not been able to achieve during the lifetime of one of my c oalition colleagues. These are people with experience running businesses, experience that ca n n ot be bought. They have the mindset and they are mature enough to accept the responsibility that every Australian must demand of their caretakers.