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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11020


Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (16:00): Last night we reached another shameful milestone in Labor's border protection catastrophe—the arrival of over 25,000 people illegally under Labor's watch. Twenty-five thousand and two people have arrived here illegally on 427 boats since the Labor Party came to office. We need to be very clear about why this has occurred. It has not occurred because of the international situation. It has not occurred because of extraneous issues. It has occurred as a direct result of the Labor Party's policies since they came to office. Government speakers in this debate should not continue to make excuses for why this has occurred. They should simply apologise to the Australian people for getting it so wrong over the past five years since they came to office and for refusing to acknowledge the failure which has compounded this issue at every available turn.

In any functional government a policy failure of this magnitude, which has cost so much to Australia and cost so much to the people who are seeking asylum, would have led to the resignation of the responsible ministers. Yet the ministers who are responsible for Labor's border protection catastrophe—and these include from the Prime Minister down—continue to sit in charge of areas of government policy which they have been shown to be completely incapable of administering competently. We hear talk from the government about breaking the people smugglers' business model but what they refuse to acknowledge is that they are the people smugglers' business model. The people smugglers did not have a business when the Labor Party came to office and, because of the policy missteps that the Labor Party took, they reinvigorated people smuggling and they have subsequently provided succour to people smugglers from the series of bungled decisions taken.

This is the problem with the Labor Party. They do not have any credibility when it comes to this issue and it is that lack of credibility that means, when they announce new policy measures, the people smugglers do not take them seriously, because they have announced things in the past which they have never followed through on. That is why they need to show this time that they have actually got some firm resolve to stop people smuggling and to implement every bit of the arsenal they can implement and every policy measure they can find that would convince people smugglers they are now serious about stopping this evil trade.

The truth and sad reality is that the Labor Party have had every policy position imaginable since they came to office except for one that we know would actually work. We know it would work because this is not a new policy problem for Australia; it is a policy problem that Australia has faced before. We have implemented policies that have actually done what we needed them to do by stamping out people smuggling. What we need to do, and what the Labor Party should do, is acknowledge that they have bungled this issue ever since they came to office, acknowledge that it is their credibility that is now the problem and implement the full suite of Howard government border protection policies that we know will do the job as they have done in the past. When we were faced with this issue over a decade ago we implemented this suite of policies and it worked. It worked to stop people-smuggling, and it is the only suite of policies deployed that has achieved the result that we needed to achieve.

The Labor Party's failed history on this issue is an exercise in how not to run government. They have bungled the implementation of so many policies and they have been so comprehensively wrong in their approach to this issue that the people smugglers could not possibly take seriously what they do now. The history on border protection is littered with failure—from abolishing offshore processing when they came to office in 2008 to the Oceanic Viking, which was when the people smugglers stared down this government yet again. They sent a very clear message that they do not have the resolve to address people smuggling. There was the asylum freeze, the most discriminatory policy ever implemented by an Australian government, that froze Afghan and Sri Lankan claims for asylum in Australia for a defined period of time—three months and six months respectively—which led to all the problems we saw in our detention network after that. It was a detention network filled to bursting, which led to violence, the burning down of part of the Christmas Island detention centre and riots at Villawood. The government's response was to let people out of detention and to refuse to take action, as was outlined by the shadow immigration minister, against the people who had perpetrated those criminal acts within our detention network.

We then had an act of desperation during the 2010 election campaign with the announcement by the Prime Minister that the Labor Party were going to pursue a detention centre on East Timor. This was done without consulting the East Timorese government and predictably led them to say that it was never going to happen. Sadly, even though it was obviously doomed to failure, the government then sent out Australian diplomats to engage in the embarrassing farce of pretending that they were still negotiating with the East Timorese about placing the detention centre on their territory.

We then had, when the East Timorese proposal was rightly abandoned, the so-called Malaysia solution when the government negotiated a swap of 800 people for 4,000 people with the Malaysian authorities without negotiating appropriate human rights protections in a country that is not a signatory to the United Nations convention on refugees, which was something the government had claimed was vital previously. This was struck down by the High Court. Subsequently we have seen the government back-pedalling on this ever since looking for another approach to their method that has provided such an incentive for people smuggling since they came to office.

Because of all these failed policies, the Labor Party has absolutely no credibility on border protection issues. That is why they have to implement the full suite of Howard government policies if they are going to be taken seriously by people smugglers and if they are going to be shown, finally, to have some resolve to address this issue that they have created for Australia since they came to office.

It is very important that we process people in Nauru and Manus but it is also vitally important that we re-introduce temporary protection visas and turn boats back around when it is a safe and appropriate to do so. Temporary protection visas are vitally important because they destroy the thing the people smugglers are selling: permanent residence in Australia. If they cannot sell permanent residence in Australia, they do not have a product to sell. When we have temporary protection visas we say that, yes, we are happy to protect people from persecution from their own government, as is appropriate and as we are required to do. But being a refugee is not necessarily a permanent condition. Conditions within countries change. When conditions within a country change for somebody who is seeking refuge here to the point where they would now be safe to return home, we think it is appropriate that they return home under those circumstances.

We heard the Minister for Home Affairs, the minister who would be responsible for implementing this policy, go through yet another series of excuses about why turning the boats around cannot be done. Primarily, he quoted a series of Indonesian officials, saying that they do not think it is a good idea. This is an example of the incredible weakness of this government. In the past, we did do this. We did it over half a dozen times and the Indonesian authorities accepted it. That is because we dealt with Indonesia from a position of strength, not from a position of weakness—where we had changed our policies to the point where we reinvigorated people smuggling—that has provided Indonesia with a problem.

I know how the Indonesians think about this issue because I went to Jakarta and I spoke with legislators there. They asked me, 'Why is it that you are coming to Jakarta to discuss this issue with us when we all understand this is a policy disaster that has been created in Canberra? Australians should be fixing their policies before they talk to us about what we can do to help.' Quite frankly, I think that is a perfectly reasonable position for the Indonesians to take. They know that we put the sugar on the table. It was the Labor Party that changed policies to reinvigorate people smuggling. They created this problem not only for Australia but also for our regional neighbours.

The Labor Party have been wrong on this issue for over a decade. They have been proven to be wrong by the record of over 25,000 people arriving here illegally. They should admit they are wrong and they should embrace the full suite of Howard government measures, the only suite of policies that actually worked to stop people smuggling.