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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11030

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (16:40): I rise in support of the comments of the members for Cook, Stirling and Herbert in today's matter of public importance, 'The failure of the government to implement a full suite of successful border protection policies'. And what an absolute failure it has been. The failures of this government—their reckless spending, their record debt, their waste, their mismanagement—will be remembered by this nation for many decades to come.

History will record Labor's policies on asylum seekers and their undoing of the previous coalition policies as one of the most monumental policy failures in our nation's history. We all know the history, but it is worth recalling it for those on the other side with short and selective memories. In 1999 people smugglers sent 3,721 people on 86 boats seeking asylum in Australia. The following year people smugglers sent off another 2,939 asylum seekers and in 2001 the number grew again, with 5,516 people making that dangerous voyage on 43 boats. During that time we had lives lost. Over 353 people were drowned at sea during that time making that crossing.

We should never forget that one of the most vocal critics of the situation at that time and the policies of the Howard government was the current Prime Minister, who infamously said, 'Another boat arrival, another policy failure.' So what happened? The Howard government took the necessary steps with a three-pronged policy: (1) offshore processing on Nauru, (2) temporary protection visas for those found to be genuine refugees and (3) turning the boats around where possible. There were times when that was possible. There were several occasions, which we often hear denied, where those boats were turned around.

The suite of those three policies combined worked. The numbers speak for themselves. If we look back to before the policies were introduced, between 1999 and 2001 over 12,000 asylum seekers arrived by boat. But in the entire seven-year period when that suite of three policies was in place just 278 asylum seekers arrived—an average of fewer than 50 a year. The facts are that the Howard government policies worked. Lives were saved. In the seven years after their introduction not one single death at sea was recorded.

But we know what happened then. With the election of the Labor government in 2007, all three prongs of that suite of policies were unravelled by the Labor government, to cheering of the people smugglers. And look what happened. Since then, we have seen 25,000 asylum seekers arrive on our shores, with 1,000 people dead, having drowned at sea. The cost to the Australian taxpayers is now approaching $7 billion. We have seen asylum seekers riot at Villawood detention centre, setting fire to nine buildings, including a medical centre and dining hall. In July last year, we witnessed the spectacle of our Australian Federal Police having to fire tear gas and beanbag rounds at asylum seekers on Christmas Island after riots broke out. We have seen the embarrassing adventures of Captain Emad, where a people smuggler was able to disguise himself as an asylum seeker and was operating within a few kilometres of Parliament House.

Look at the cost—a $4.7 billion blow-out over the last three years, $4.7 billion that could have been spent on so many other needy causes in our society. If we average this out, it is a cost of $188,000 per asylum seeker. We know that Labor plans to sack several thousand public servants to try and deliver a surplus. That $4.7 billion blow-out could pay the wages of over 70,000 public servants for a year. But that money is now gone, wasted by the failed policies of this government on asylum seekers.

And the costs go on. Since the last figures were published in the mid-year budget update in November last year, the contract to staff Australian detention centres has blown out by $638 million. The cost went from $1 billion to $1.6 billion due to Labor's failure to reintroduce the three policy pillars that were successful in the past. And the number of unauthorised arrivals continues to grow. On top of that cost, we also have to add the $1.3 billion cost for the increase in humanitarian aid arrivals—and that is before the cost of reopening Nauru, which should never have been closed in the first place. The cost of opening Nauru and Manus Island is $2.3 billion—$2.3 billion that could have been spent on so many other worthy causes has now been taken out of the economy. And the costs go on and on.

The report entitled Settlement outcomes for new arrivals released last year by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship found that five years after settlement in Australia 94 per cent of Afghan refugee households were still receiving Centrelink benefits. Likewise, 93 per cent of households from Iraq were still receiving Centrelink payments five years after resettlement. A report commissioned by the immigration department last year found that some refugees are sending welfare payments received from the Australian taxpayer back overseas as part of a multibillion-dollar industry to help relatives in their home countries. The report estimated that up to $6 billion flows out of Australia every year in payments to people overseas.

The costs go on. This year alone free legal advice for asylum seekers is going to cost Australian taxpayers at least $60 million. This is happening at a time when Australian citizens are being denied legal aid and, worse, the federal government has recently increased all court fees, trying to raise another $100 million. The Law Council has said these increases in court fees 'have a significant impact on access to justice', 'substantially increase the cost of the justice system as a whole' and are 'likely to create a further financial barrier to all court users'. So Australian citizens miss out simply because we need to pay $60 million in legal fees for asylum seekers.

Then there is the cost to the taxpayer of running 'asylum air'—the cost of transporting asylum seekers who have thrown away their passports before boarding boats to Australia. Recently released figures show that 99 per cent of asylum seekers, who need passports to fly into Indonesia before they make their voyage to Australia, had 'lost' their passports when they arrived by boat at Christmas Island. The cost to taxpayers of transporting asylum seekers around our nation was over $70 million in the last year alone. To put that $70 million cost into perspective, the government could pay for a return air ticket from Sydney to the Gold Coast for no less than 350,000 Australians.

We have seen continual denial by this Labor government. They were dragged kicking and screaming to reintroduce the three pillars of the tried and tested policies of the Howard government, but they have refused. Only one of the three has been implemented, and we simply cannot expect Howard government results if we do not put in place the full suite of Howard government measures. Labor continue to remain in denial. How many more boat arrivals, how many policy failures, how many tragedies and how much more cost to the Australian taxpayer until Labor concedes that the Howard government had it right and to fix this problem they need to go back and reintroduce the full suite of policies? (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Symon ): Order! The discussion is concluded.