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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12842


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (16:24): I rise to speak on this matter of public importance: the adverse impact on the budget of the government's failure to control our borders. Probably no other issue better summarises just how bad this government is. If history has shown us anything about Labor governments, it has shown us that Labor governments are incapable of managing a budget and incapable of managing our borders. These are fundamental functions of government and fundamental failings of this government.

But where these two failings meet it is like a massive collision of disasters; like a hurricane colliding with a snowstorm. Caught in the middle is the human toll: the toll of those who do not survive the dangerous journey that this government has encouraged, the toll of those genuine refugees in camps who cannot afford to travel through five countries and pay $10,000 to a people smuggler and the toll on Australian household budgets and services. The price Australia pays for a failed border policy—the price we pay for a government too proud to admit that it got it wrong—is not paid by the Labor party. The price for that pride and ignorance is paid by Australian families, because it is their money that is being wasted.

According to the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook last week, those Australian families will see an additional $1.2 billion coming out of their pockets and being wasted on this issue—$1.2 billion! That is such a large sum of money that it is difficult to get your head around. I think most people in my electorate would have trouble coming to grips with the enormity of the budget blow-out. Just as an aside: these people in my electorate are the same people that the member for Melbourne Ports cast aspersions on when he talked of dog-whistling, insinuating that somehow they are racist. I say to the member: if you are going to make such assertions—if you are going to talk about dog-whistling—then just come out and say what you really mean. The voters in Queensland and New South Wales whom he just disparaged will say something at the election to him.

North Queenslanders understand boats. Fishing is great and so is the weather, so they love their boats up in North Queensland. So does the Labor Party. They love boats too; they cannot seem to get enough of them! They have been collecting them from the people smugglers at a rate of more than one a day since June. How many this month?—41. Again, more than one a day. We have seen more than 200 illegal boats arrive this year alone—and that is just so far. I can tell you that Mackay has a fine very fine marina up in North Queensland and that a couple of hours ago it only had 240 boats in it. So by the end of the year we will probably see a Mackay marina-full of boats that have come into this country illegally.

North Queenslanders probably have a better understanding of the scale of the number of people involved. So far this year, we have had more than 13,000 people on those 240 boats. It costs a lot of money to take care of that many people, which is why this government, earlier this year, was asking Australians to take an illegal immigrant into their own homes. According to the 2011 census there are only 10,299 homes in North Mackay, South Mackay, West Mackay and East Mackay combined. So it is easy to comprehend the number of boats and the number of people involved here.

But every boat and every illegal entry comes at a cost. Last financial year, each illegal boat arriving in Australia cost an average of $12.8 million to the Australian taxpayer. In the first 10 months of this year, we have had more than 200 boats and more than 13,000 people. Compare that with arrivals under John Howard's successful border protection policy. In 2002 one boat arrived and one person; in 2003 one boat arrived with 53 people for the entire year; in 2004 one boat arrived with 15 people; in 2005 four boats arrived with 11 people; and in 2006 six boats arrived with 60 people. What was the impact of those border control policies on the budget? They had very little impact. What was the impact of those border control policies on genuine refugees who could then come to Australia?. It was very great.

Mr Windsor interjecting

Mr CHRISTENSEN: I am going to pull up the member for New England, who is interjecting with little barking noises. He is another person who is insinuating that voters out there are racist, that we are somehow dog-whistling and that this is not a genuine concern. He should apologise to those people. The people in his electorate will certainly be barking at him come election day.

The fact that a Labor government could tear down those policies and call them inhumane—policies that enabled genuine refugees who genuinely feared for their lives to find safe haven in Australia—is an absolute disgrace. Only a Labor government could destroy a perfectly good solution and create a problem for them to waste money on. Only a Labor government could find a whole new method of wasting money. Only a Labor government could be so pig headed as to then refuse to admit that it got it wrong.

This Labor government preferred to continue throwing money into the ocean rather than admit that the Liberal-National coalition is right. The immigration minister should not only hang his head in shame but also hand in his resignation. How can the Prime Minister allow this minister to tear billion-dollar holes in a budget already in tatters and not call for his resignation? I can tell you how she can allow it: she condones it. She condones the waste, she condones people smuggling, she condones people paying $10,000 for the privilege of risking their lives. The fact that hundreds of people died in the process did not outweigh that pride.

The Prime Minister and the immigration minister outsourced their jobs and had to get an expert panel to tell them the same thing the Australian people have been telling them for years. If you are going to outsource your job then do it properly—resign and let someone who has the guts to do the job roll up their sleeves and do it. Australians are sick of seeing a weak and divided government that is focused only on staying in power. They are sick of seeing their hard earned tax money going down the drain while they struggle to make ends meet and put up with a lack of services and infrastructure and even a lack of food on the table.

Here is an easy way for people in my electorate to understand just how much impact this government's border control failure is having on the budget. The budget blow-out on border protection is another $1.2 billion this year. Coincidentally, $1.2 billion is exactly how much the federal government's commitment would need to be to address all of the issues on the Bruce Highway in Mackay, the Whitsundays and Bowen. They are big issues. The federal government's share, $1.2 billion, would see the Mackay ring-road started and finished. It would pay for the duplication of the Peak Downs Highway, from Sarina to Mackay, one of the most dangerous stretches of the national highway in this country.

It would pay for the Hay Point intersection, a crucial piece of infrastructure to support the mining boom. It would pay for upgrades to the dangerous Bruce Highway intersection with Shute Harbour Road in the Whitsundays. It would pay for a solution to the flood-prone Goorganga Plains near Proserpine, which cuts off the Whitsunday coast airport from the Whitsunday coast every time there is heavy rain. Every time another boat comes through the revolving gate to our north, it is another project on the Bruce Highway that goes unfunded.

To be fair, not all Australians want to see the entire $1.2 billion spent on the Bruce Highway, so what would it mean if we put that kind of money into something useful across the entire country? The member for Bass raised the idea, so let us talk about it. I talk with a lot of age pensioners in my electorate. They highlight to me in no uncertain terms just how hard it is to get by on the pension—and they are right. It is hard. Every dollar counts and every dollar is spent very carefully by them. What if we implemented an increase to the age pension, not a fake increase that the Labor Party gives with one hand and takes back with the carbon tax? What about a real increase? Increasing the age pension and veterans' service pensions by $20 a fortnight would cost approximately $970 million compared to the $1.2 billion that Labor is wasting because they have lost control of our borders. Even allowing for the fact that a Labor government would find a way to waste $100 million in the process, it still comes in at less than the blow-out in the border control budget.

If those opposite want to argue about their economic credentials or the need to waste $1.2 billion on the lost control of our borders, perhaps they could explain to pensioners why the Labor Party's pride is more important than a pensioner's dinner. I will quote from a letter I received from a pensioner in my electorate. Arthur Withers lives in Townsville—in Annandale—and is acutely aware of how costly it is to live in a regional centre. He also has connected the dots between waste on border control and what pensioners are missing out on. He writes:

You are giving money overseas and to the boat people as if it was laid on. They get things like phones, cigarettes, food, medical aid and use of computers and other things. They also have three good meals a day. Yet pensioners have to live on second grade meat and vegies and anything else we can get cheap. We who have paid taxes all our life get very little help.

Mr Windsor interjecting

Mr CHRISTENSEN: And here is the member for New England, making barking noises at the pensioner Arthur Withers who lives in Annandale. When those opposite ask for more money to be appropriated for their failures they should consider Arthur's final comment in his letter. He says:

If only we could buy a boat and sail back into Australia as an illegal immigrant we would be treated like Kings and Queens instead of starving to death.

Each illegal immigrant costs Australian taxpayers an average of $170,000 each year. This government has blown it this year—up to $1.2 billion in a cost to our budget. We could be using that money for better things if the government would only swallow its pride and adopt the full suite of measures. Not just Nauru; bring back TPVs, turning around the boats where appropriate and negotiating with Indonesia and doing it with some gusto. Instead the government is weak and insipid. The problem continues and the money continues to be wasted. Bring on an election to fix this problem.

Debate adjourned.