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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11208


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (12:51): I rise also to speak on this bill and the amendment that we have proposed. I will take a moment to reflect on the member for Throsby's contribution because I know that this is an issue which is very important to him. He has been reasonably brave, it has to be said, in defiance of his party's position on this through their processes, in the caucus and in public explaining that he does not agree—and I think he did it very well in his contribution to the parliament just now—with the direction that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship are taking on this matter.

What the member for Throsby did not say in his contribution is that he supports the bill. I think it reflects very poorly on the Labor Party that they have got to this point with this bill. When I first became involved in politics my first involvement at a federal level in an election campaign of a serious nature was Trish Worth's Adelaide campaign in 2001. Trish Worth served in this parliament for some time and it is fair to say she had a humanitarian bent when it came to this issue. In the 2001 election campaign the Australian Labor Party, its candidate Tim Stanley, its campaign manager and people involved in the campaign, including the current member for Adelaide, sought to make the most vicious politics of this issue against Trish Worth. They sought to make the most outrageous suggestions about members of this side and about people involved with the Liberal Party—to the extent that a current very senior serving union official in South Australia, who may have been the union official who went to a gunfight with the Premier but forgot his gun a couple of months ago, made claims—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order! I remind the honourable member that we are dealing with an amendment. It is a wide-ranging debate but there are limits to what can be brought into the debate.

Mr BRIGGS: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am talking about the history of migration policy—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! I reminded the honourable member about the debate. I do not expect him to then come back at the chair. I have said it is a wide-ranging debate but the honourable member is talking about issues which are not the history of migration in Australia but are about other matters involving campaigns.

Mr BRIGGS: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. In the 2001 election campaign this was a major issue, and it was the first time I had been exposed to the issues around migration and boats arriving in the northern parts of our country. We on this side all remember on the day of the 2001 election the vicious nature of the Labor Party officials and supporters who were claiming that we were race baiting, that we were rednecks—the member for Wakefield nods his head—that we were without hearts, that we were dog whistling and that we were xenophobes or were playing xenophobic politics and John Howard was pushing buttons in the community. There was all this kind of language. People were accusing others of being racists for being involved in public forums. They were yelling across tennis courts at people. We all remember that, and some remember more than others.

So, it is with great surprise that we stand here debating this proposal from this Prime Minister—this proposal from this Labor Party who have moralised on this issue like nobody else, maybe except for the Greens. I absolutely agree with the member for Throsby when he says on this issue that there are no moral absolutes. I have heard him say that in other places before, and I am sure he has said it in caucus as well. That is exactly right. This is a very difficult issue, and people look at this issue and develop policies on this issue in different ways.

I respect the fact that the Greens have had a policy on onshore detention—in fact I think they would even go so far as to say that they do not even support detention, at their core. They are entitled to pursue that policy, and they have for a long time. For 10 years now we have supported offshore processing as a deterrent to people getting on these boats in Indonesia, largely. The Labor Party has been all over the shop but members of the left wing of the Labor Party moving motions in their own caucus against this policy shows how far this Prime Minister is willing to go to avoid the politics of an issue. It is a very sad day when the left-wing members of the Labor Party are forced to stand in this parliament and support sending people to countries which have not signed the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Just last year the Prime Minister said she would never agree to such a proposal.

I think it is with a heavy heart that the member for Throsby and his colleagues on the left of the Labor Party stand here today. They should support our amendment so we can continue with offshore processing in a place which is signed onto the UN convention, and that would continue to act as a deterrent. Some 10 million people around the world are genuine refugees, as deemed by the UNHCR. Each year Australia accepts 12,000 or 13,000, on average. I understand that that is still the highest proportion of genuine refugees accepted per capita, and we should continue to accept those refugees. In fact, I believe we should take more—and we can take some more, in the right circumstances. People right around the world are in horrific situations. The situation in the Horn of Africa right now is terrible. There are millions starving and there are millions dying. We should do our bit to help those people who have been in these situations for many, many years.

When the member for Throsby says there are no moral absolutes on this issue, he is right because of this: who gets to decide who gets an opportunity to come to our great country, the best country on earth? Who makes the decision that they get that opportunity, as the member for Throsby told us his great-grandfather did in jumping ship and getting his opportunity here? Do these opportunities go to people purchasing a ticket for a boat trip or to people who have been living for years and years in circumstances which are beyond belief?

The person the Labor Party has derided more on this issue than even John Howard is the member for Berowra, who was the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in 2001 when this most vicious campaign was run by the Australian Labor Party and its friends. The member for Berowra has visited nearly all these refugee camps across the world. He has seen these situations and he understands how bad this is. He makes the right point that Australia should control who we allow to take each one of our privileged places each year. That is the absolute right policy for us to pursue. We cannot take 10 million people even though this would give us a good feeling. We cannot possibly accept all the genuine refugees who sits in camps across the world. It is just not possible.

We need to maintain reasonable control over our program because (1) we should decide who gets that opportunity and (2) we need to continue to have Australian public's support for what we do. A point John Howard often made was that if you lose the confidence of the Australian public on this issue that is a terrible step backwards. The problem with what this government is doing in mishandling this issue, which has led to this appalling piece of legislation, is it is losing the confidence of the Australian public on this issue. The Australian public listened to the Prime Minister before the last election and heard her say we cannot have a processing centre on Nauru because it is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention. She said she would never send people to a country that had not signed that convention. She said she would not open any more onshore detention facilities. She said all this prior to the last election, just 12 months ago. We now see this appalling piece of legislation, which is morally contemptible. We have seen the additional onshore detention facilities, including in Inverbrackie in my electorate. We have seen the lack of regard for communities on this issue. We have seen people lose faith in the government knowing how to run an immigration program properly.

I think that there is an opportunity for Labor members of parliament to refuse to support this legislation and to refuse go down this track. We know that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is not part of this debate, does not agree with the shift to the right on this issue. We know that because he said in a press conference the night he was being rolled that he did not support the Labor Party lurching to the right on this issue. This is not just a lurch to the right; this is falling off a cliff on the right side of the mountain. This is an absolutely appalling piece of legislation. The member for Throsby talked about Labor values and said we should be moral and consistent with our values. I would like to hear just one Labor MP tell the parliament how this is morally consistent with their values on this issue.

Sending people to a country which has not signed the UN refugee convention and which has a record of mistreating refugees is a terrible step for this parliament to take. For people who have campaigned on this issue and have accused those on this side of parliament of being rednecks, xenophobic and racists this is hypocrisy writ large.

Mr Sidebottom interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: There has been a consistent policy approach on this issue from the member for Braddon over the years. He used to stand on this side of the chamber and throw the most horrific abuse at the former prime minister and at the member for Berowra when he was a immigration minister. Now the member for Braddon supports this legislation. Good luck back in Tasmania telling people how removing all the protections in this legislation is a good idea. I am sure this will be really popular in the cafes in Launceston. I think it would be decent if you had a public meeting to tell people why this is such a wonderful idea.

It is an appalling idea. This bill should not be supported. At the very least our amendments to this bill should be supported. There is a better way to handle this issue. It is important that we handle this issue properly. It is an emotive issue in the community. It is an emotive issue in this place. It deals with people's lives. It deals with people in very difficult circumstances. Politics is being played by all players in this debate, not just one side. This issue should not be resolved by creating a bill which removes all human rights protections in this legislation. It is a disgrace. It is shameful. The Labor members of parliament should not support this bill. They should not support this direction being taken by the Prime Minister.

We should not be debating this bill today. We are debating it today to avoid a leadership spill on the other side. The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and the future leader of the Labor Party laughs, but we know he will get a promotion if there is a spill. We know he is conflicted on this. We know that his boss will look favourably upon him, but I know in his heart of hearts he does not think this is the right way to go. I know the member for Wakefield does not think this is the right way to go.

Mr Champion: I do.

Mr BRIGGS: And I certainly think the member for Throsby knows this is a terrible way to go because he did not once say that he supports this bill, and nor should he. The parliament should not support this bill. It is a disgrace and the other side should be ashamed of themselves.