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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8536


Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:30): Over the last two days we have witnessed the public humiliation of a government that is too arrogant, too stubborn and too stupid to acknowledge its abject policy failures and to admit that it was wrong—dreadfully, manifestly and tragically wrong—and too craven to say sorry to the Australian people for its policy failures. Over the last four years the Australian public has witnessed one of the greatest policy failures in a generation. This government changed the laws which had provided a solution to the problem of people smuggling and then put in place policies which encouraged criminal syndicates of people smugglers—indeed, gave them licence—to restart their trade, which had been dismantled. The government then saw the recommencement of the people-smuggling trade with boats arriving day after day, month after month and wave after wave. On this government's watch there have been over 22,000 boat arrivals, 1,000 deaths at sea—that we know of—and a cost blowout of $4.7 billion. A government like this should be condemned rather than stand up here seeking congratulations for grudgingly accepting what the coalition has advised, asked and pleaded that the government do over the last four years—that is, pick up the telephone, speak to the President of Nauru and reopen the processing centre on Nauru. That is what they are going to do today—put through legislation to reopen the very same processing centre on Nauru which was opened under the previous government.

The Prime Minister admitted today in question time that she was the substantive author of Labor's failed former policy. In fact, back in 2010, the Prime Minister boasted to Laurie Oakes on the Nine Network that she was the substantive author of the policy paper which became Labor's policy. With what appears in retrospect to be gallows humour, her policy was called 'Protecting Australia and Protecting the Australian Way'. In October 2002, the now Prime Minister, proud to be the author of a policy that was going to close down Nauru, called the processing centre on Nauru an 'unsustainable fiasco'. Labor, on coming to office, implemented this Prime Minister's policy. It dismantled the Howard government's policies, which had worked to stop the boats. It closed down Nauru and trumpeted this as some sort of great policy win. It abolished temporary protection visas. It dismissed the policy of turning back the boats. Together, all those Howard government policies had very effectively worked to stop the boats.

We warned time and time again that this was sending the wrong message; that the people smugglers would take heart from Labor's position; that the people-smuggling trade would restart; that people would take the terrible journey and come by boat; and that there would be consequences, including deaths at sea. In response we were lectured, we were hectored, we were verbally abused, we were told that we were wrong and we were accused of being inhumane. But we understood that it was not humane to allow people smugglers to lure people to take the dangerous journey across the sea and, in the case of nearly 1,000 people that we know of, be lured to their deaths.

Remember when the Prime Minister, when she was the shadow immigration minister, put out a press release entitled 'Another boat, another policy failure' upon the arrival in Australian waters of just the third boat in three years? Since then 360 boats have arrived—and, by the Prime Minister's own benchmark, that is 360 policy failures. Under the Westminster system of ministerial responsibility, heads in this government should have rolled. Ministers for immigration should have resigned—first Senator Evans and now, I am sorry to say, the minister at the table. The member for McMahon should have resigned under the Westminster system of ministerial responsibility. He offered his resignation when he was rolled in cabinet for putting up the very proposal that the government has now accepted. He put up his proposal last October, and over 300 deaths have occurred since that time. If this Prime Minister had accepted the advice of her immigration minister last October, the tragic events that we have since seen would not have occurred. This minister, having been rebuffed in that way, should have resigned. The cost blowout alone should have triggered ministerial resignations. There has been a $4.7 billion cost blowout as well as 1,000 deaths at sea and the complete decimation of our border protection system. Also, the government has had to open detention centres across Australia after the Prime Minister solemnly promised the Australian people at the last election that she would not be doing so.

But, above all, this was the Prime Minister's policy, and her stubbornness—indeed, her arrogance—since 24 June 2010, when she knifed a first-term Prime Minister to take his job, when she said that a government had lost its way and named border protection as one of those areas. It was at that time that she should have rejected utterly her policy, or the document of which she was a substantive author. She should have then accepted responsibility for her policy mistakes, she should have apologised and she should have accepted the advice of the coalition that the Nauru processing centre should be reopened, temporary protection visas should be reintroduced and the Navy should be directed, in circumstances where it was safe to do so, to turn back the boats.

Indeed, the Prime Minister should have resigned over this shameful affair. But she will not resign. The Prime Minister has no shame, no sense of decency and no sense of responsibility. The Prime Minister, as the national leader of this country, should steer Australia's moral compass. She should provide guidance and direction and leadership. Yet from every perspective, at every step of the way on this shameful journey during this Prime Minister's watch, she has failed each and every standard that the Australian people should be entitled to expect of their national leader.

It takes a special kind of arrogance to stand there, as the Prime Minister did in question time today, and adopt the brazen sophistry that we witnessed, trying to claim that somehow the Houston panel had not repudiated the Prime Minister's policies, and trying to argue, quite deceptively, that the recommendation to reopen Nauru and Manus Island was not an endorsement of the Howard government's policies. It is Nauru! It is where it always was—same postcode, same phone number. And when I asked the Prime Minister to apologise, to say sorry, for what has occurred on her watch—the tragedy of the thousand deaths at sea and the breakdown in our border protection system, which is one of the fundamental responsibilities of a national government—she pointedly, deliberately, wilfully refused. And that is what is so dispiriting from the coalition's perspective: the Prime Minister's graceless and churlish response—again on the attack against the opposition and still seeking to score a point. Rather than address her need to say sorry, she patronisingly told me to go and read the Houston report—as if I had not read it! And she sought to blame others, including, might I point out, her nemesis, the former Prime Minister. She sought to blame the former Prime Minister for adopting a policy that she was the substantive author of when she was in opposition.

The litany of failures is a sad and sorry tale. The Prime Minister said, back in June 2010, that a first-term Prime Minister had to go because the government had lost its way on border protection and she was going to fix this issue with her East Timor solution. And remember that shameful episode where the Prime Minister said she was not talking about East Timor and then had to admit that she did mention East Timor and then had to admit that she had not spoken to the appropriate people in the government of East Timor and then tried to walk away from her policy? As Laurie Oakes so famously described it, she was silly and shifty and slimy and slippery, and, he said, it was a bad start to her prime ministership. Well, Laurie Oakes was prescient. In fact he has defined her prime ministership. And, all the while, as the Prime Minister was trying to say that East Timor really did agree to a processing centre when we all knew that East Timor did not, she was insulting Nauru—refusing to pick up the phone to speak to the President of Nauru, who had offered to host a processing centre. This Prime Minister did not even have the grace to contact him.

Speaking of damaging our relationships with our neighbours, Labor seems to have turned this into an art form. Remember the Oceanic Vikingdebacle? Remember the stand-off at Merak and the arrogance of the then Labor Prime Minister in dealing with Indonesia and then running a commentary of his conversations with the President of Indonesia through the media? Should the coalition be so honoured as to be elected as the next government of this country, we will work quietly and diligently, behind the scenes, not with a running commentary through the media, with the government of Indonesia, and we will repair the relations with Indonesia that have been so damaged by this government—not just through its appalling handling of the border protection and asylum seeker issues but also through that shameful episode of the banning of the live cattle export trade which affected the livelihoods of thousands and thousands of Indonesians, let alone Australians in Northern Australia.

Then of course there was the Malaysia solution—always flawed, fundamentally wrong—that stripped away the human rights elements of the Migration Act. One of the most ridiculous aspects of the Malaysian solution was that it was capped. Eight hundred boat arrivals were to be sent to Malaysia; we would receive 4,000 in return. And this was meant to be over a four-year period. At that current rate of arrivals, 800 boat arrivals, it would have been over in a couple of days—let alone the fact that the High Court found it to be illegal.

I will never forget when, over Christmas and New Year, the minister for immigration, who is at the table, the then minister for foreign affairs, the member for Cook and I met to discuss a way through. This is the coalition sitting down with the government last year trying to find a way through. We said: 'Please, contact Nauru. Open a detention centre on Nauru. They have offered; they are willing to do it. We can do it now. You don't need legislation. You can do it now.' And we were rebuffed. Even now, the Prime Minister refuses to accept the coalition's advice, our experience, on these matters.

To stop the boats you need offshore processing—on Nauru and Manus Island—and we thank God that they have accepted our advice on that. But you also need temporary protection visas, and you need a public willingness to direct Northern Command to turn back the boats where it is safe to do so. Inch by inch, we have managed to drag this Prime Minister to a point where she has accepted one-third of the coalition's policy. Two-thirds remain. How long will it take? How many tragedies will we have to witness before the Prime Minister embraces the coalition's policies?

Six weeks ago the Prime Minister tried to force the Oakeshott bill—I will call it that for shorthand—through the parliament and, during that episode, she demonstrated yet again that the job of Prime Minister is beyond her. If ever the Labor caucus needed to act in Australia's national interest, if ever it deemed it could do so, it would be to rid this country of a shameless and unworthy Prime Minister who has presided over a shameful policy disaster.