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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8548


Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (18:27): I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 and these changes and, in overall terms, this government's policies. It is certainly not the first time I have spoken on matters relating to asylum seekers, illegal boats and illegal arrivals. I remember that during those earlier days the minister at the table, the member for Maribyrnong, had a go at me about dog-whistle politics. He made some comments in defence of the government's policy in those days.

This government has not just come upon this problem in the last six weeks or six months. This is a policy decision that this government made many years ago. In 2008 the then Prime Minister and his team stood up and told us how inhumane our policy was and how inhumane the former government was with the Pacific solution. They then ended offshore processing and temporary protection visas. They never backed the turning around of boats where possible.

In the legislation before the House there are changes, but they are not enough. There is a promise and an intention to re-open Nauru and Manus Island, meaning offshore processing.

That has come and we welcome that. That is why we support this bill. What the government should do is go to the complete solution of temporary protection visas and also turning boats around where possible. Even the expert panel's report said that turning boats around was possible but it had to be backed up with a better relationship with Indonesia. When we talk about a better relationship with Indonesia, we have to go back quite a few years to the Howard government. Unfortunately, we have had the unedifying situation of the mishandling of the live export trade. It damaged our reputation with Indonesia.

As it currently stands this government is not able to implement turning boats back, but should the coalition be given the responsibility of government at the next election, that will certainly happen and we will restore a decent and proper and respectful relationship with Indonesia. That will obviously facilitate the necessary aspect of any decent border protection policy—the turning back of the boats.

A lot has been said about temporary protection visas. There are references to them in the report from the expert panel in regard to family reunion. Currently people who arrive by boat can fairly quickly afterwards apply for family reunion. That increases the numbers who eventually come as a result of boat arrivals. You can see the real differences when you compare the circumstances of boat arrivals with people applying for humanitarian resettlement in Australia from a refugee camp who have waited and applied properly and did not have the money to put together to beat the system to jump the queue.

I have constituents within my electorate who have come out of refugee camps in Africa and Burma or the Burma-Thailand border. They are people who legitimately worry about family members that are still behind the barbed wire or in refugee camps. There is a big comparison there when you think about those who are stuck in a refugee camp without two bucks to rub together, waiting for the next visit to try to push their case to the UNHCR for resettlement. But they are stuck there. They do not have the money to put together to fly from, say Pakistan, to Jakarta, then get from Jakarta down to various ports and pay the people smugglers. They do not have the money to do all those sorts of things. They do not have 10 or 15 grand to bypass the queue.

So it is very important that we look at this whole situation with specific regard to what is the right thing from a humanitarian perspective. I think that this country has always acknowledged our responsibility to resettle refugees. I very rarely meet anyone on the streets of Cowan who talks against refugees but what they do say—and particularly those who have come from countries as refugees or have migrated to Australia—is that we should take those in most need. Those who are most in need are people stuck behind the wire, not people who can afford to bypass the queue.

Under family resettlement and the current arrangements that this government presides over, people can take places because they have come by boat and family members they have left behind can come quicker than people from refugee camps. I think there is something fundamentally unjust about that. That is really why we need, as a compassionate country, to embrace the full suite of policies of the coalition, the policies that worked. Those policies were turning boats back where possible, offshore processing on Nauru or Manus Island and also the temporary protection visas. These are good policies. They worked in the past. They are not just a policy but a record of achievement.

When you look at the way the policies changed between the departure of the Howard government at the end of 2007 and the changes the Labor Party brought in during 2008, you start to see changes in what happens with our borders. The boats that had been as few as one a year towards the end of the Howard government years suddenly increased in numbers. I notice on figure 7 of chapter 3 of the expert panel report that even the numbers of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia and applying through the UNHCR in Indonesia in 2009, 2010 and 2011 suddenly went up to around 4,000 whereas before they had been as low as around 600. So there was the whole paradigm between change of government and change of policy and the numbers suddenly lifting in this area. That is a real indictment and an obvious sign of the changes the government made.

But, of course, as we have heard today and heard yesterday with the Prime Minister, it is as if what happened over the last four years since the policy change in 2008 never existed.

It is as if the circumstances that have been taking place for years, the hundreds of boats a year for many, many years, have happened and then, suddenly, the government has come up with a solution. We know that is not the case. This is a problem of the government's own making. They stood by those changes in policies, and now they fail to stand by the consequences of their behaviour or their policy changes.

What has really changed? How did it come to this? It came to this, sadly and tragically, on the shores of Christmas Island when a boat foundered, in front of the cameras, and so many people died and some had to be rescued. That changed the emphasis. Before the number of boats that might have gone missing seemed to be a distant, detached view for a lot of people in this country. But it was only when those unfortunate people suffered and died on that day at Christmas Island, and the consequence of boats capsizing since then, that has added to the pressure. Sadly, the government have not had the courage to stand by those policy decisions they made back in 2008. They have attempted to blame a lot of people. In fact, I think I even heard the member for Denison saying that there was a mandate from the 2007 election against the Pacific solution, so I guess he stands by what the government did back in 2008 following the 2007 election.

The reality is that what we have here is, at last, a thawing of the freezing—a realisation by the government that things have to change. And under a lot of pressure things have changed. As we know, since 2007 they have presided, under their policy, over an increase of illegal arrivals onshore: 386 boats and 22,518 people have arrived. So far in 2012 an average of 1,000 people have arrived each month. That is this government's record.

Some people ask what has this really got to do with border security. There is a lot of doubt about some of the people who arrive by boat. Already the ABC has found, in the case of Captain Emad, that who people say they are someone when they get off a boat may not exactly be that person. National security is an aspect of this. If the government cannot control the borders and cannot be certain of who is arriving that is most certainly a national security issue. It is in every Australian's best interests that the policy with regard to this is correct. As I said, there is a policy that works. The record that shows it works is clear, and I have spoken about it significantly in my contribution tonight.

Apart from national security, the other point of consideration, as I have also said, is compassion. We need to support those in most need. There are people who are behind barbed wire in refugee camps in Africa and up on the Burma-Thailand border who are people in need. They are people without money. They cannot go from Kabul, in Afghanistan, and just hop on a bus or walk across the border into Pakistan and go to Islamabad airport or Karachi airport. If you have money you can go across to Pakistan and hop on a plane to Indonesia and go and see and pay people smugglers. You can do that if you have the money, unlike those in refugee camps.

The point is: while I am sure life in Afghanistan is not pleasant and economically it might not be that great, the reality is that if they have the money to bypass the system, and therefore take priority, why is that the case? Why should they get priority over those stuck behind barbed wire? I say that what is required is this step tonight. The passing of this bill will be a good step forward, but the other aspects of our policy I certainly endorse—that is, turning back the boats and temporary protection visas.