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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8554

Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra) (18:55): I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 and I will support the bill as amended, hopefully—the amendments being proposed by the government but having been agreed with the opposition. I also support the second reading amendment proposed by the member for Cook, as I think it is appropriate to note that the government has accepted the government's offshore processing of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island in this measure and calls upon the government to implement the full suite of measures that the opposition has pushed for implementation.

I have known Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston as the head of our Defence Force and before that; Paris Aristotle; and Michael L'Estrange. I know them all favourably. I did not speak to them about the matters that were before them and I understand neither did the opposition other than briefly to emphasise the measures that we thought were appropriate. The terms of reference were determined by the government. The membership of the panel was determined by the government—it is their panel, notwithstanding the fact that the participants are people for whom I have very high regard. That makes this report a more compelling document, because it is the most devastating critique that I have ever seen about failure of government policy—the most devastating critique I have ever seen.

I come to these issues having served some 7½ years, I believe, as minister for immigration—Australia's longest serving minister. I come as one who had taken a personal interest in the plight of refugees long before I became a minister. I certainly spent a lot of time looking at situations in which refugees were fleeing and my response has always been very empathetic to those who flee oppression. In that time I have also been very conscious that it is important for Australia to have an immigration program and a refugee resettlement program which is conducted with integrity. I have seen the way in which, when integrity lapses, Australians' support for the resettlement of refugees and for migration generally ebbs. We saw that with the Hanson factor running up to the election in 1996 and I think we have seen it again as government policy has failed Australia.

That is why when I read this report I think it is very important to reflect upon how we got into this situation and what the government's panel is saying about it. The first point I would make—and this is from the report's introduction—is that the panel says Australia's policy settings as to the flows of irregular migration to Australia are influenced by some matters. It says that 'those settings need to address the factors "pushing" as well as "pulling"’ and it makes it clear that 'the trend towards greater numbers of dangerous irregular maritime ventures to Australia' is the result of not only push factors but also pull factors. This is something that the government has long denied. I can remember the former member for immigration arguing, as the numbers of people arriving by boat increased, this was solely a result of factors abroad that were influencing more people to flee. He ignored the fact that there may be incentives in the system that encouraged people to travel. In fact, the panel goes on to say:

… The single most important priority in preventing people from risking their lives on dangerous maritime voyages is to recalibrate Australian policy settings to achieve an outcome that asylum seekers will not be advantaged if they pay people smugglers to attempt dangerous irregular entry into Australia instead of pursuing regular migration pathways and international protection arrangements …

That is a very clear statement by the panel and it is something that was always obvious to members on this side of the House. One of the factors that I think influenced Indonesia to be perhaps a little hesitant in working with the Australian government in recent years was that they felt that we had put, as they put it, sugar on the table by the way in which the measures that had been implemented to contain irregular migration had been unwound by this government. It was no accident that Indonesian commentators on these matters made it very clear that this was a situation that we had brought about ourselves. The report of the panel—the government's panel—makes this clear:

… Incentives to use regular migration and protection pathways need to be complemented by policy measures that send a coherent and unambiguously clear message that disincentives to irregular maritime migration to Australia will be immediate and real.

Those incentives were taken out of the system by this government. The panel went on to make a further point:

… Other measures to discourage dangerous and irregular maritime voyages to Australia should include changes to family reunion arrangements as they relate to IMAs—

irregular maritime arrivals—

in Australia, a more effective focus on the return of failed asylum seekers to their home country and more sustained strategies for the disruption of people smuggling operations both in Australia and abroad. A thorough review of the efficacy of Australian processes for determining refugee status would also be timely.

When you go through the report you see they put the evidence as to why government processing in Australia failed and why more people came to the view that it was preferable to undertake a dangerous sea voyage. Essentially, the processing of people onshore was sped up to get them out of detention by allowing people whose claims were marginal to be accepted. It is no accident that you find data about the removals of irregular maritime arrivals in Australia between 2008 and 2012 that indicate clearly what has happened. I think removals in 2008 were 13; in 2009-10 they were 139—and most of them were voluntary; in 2011 they were 78—again all of them were voluntary; in 2011-12 they were 52—mostly voluntary; and in 2012-13 they are five. What that tells you is that there are very few rejected asylum seekers for which this government has been able to make arrangements for them to leave Australia.

The report is very interesting because it gives figures, on pages 42 and 43, in relation to the number of asylum seekers registered with the United Nations in Indonesia and also in Malaysia. What they show is that after 2008 there were very significant increases in the number of people who had been travelling to Malaysia and Indonesia and ostensibly seeking to access Australia. The numbers went up from less than 500 in 2008 to nearly 5,000 in 2010. In Malaysia they went up from 20,000 in 2003, for instance, to 40,000 in 2008 and to something of the order of 100,000. You can see the pull factors operating and that this problem was only going to get worse. What is so interesting about this report is that, although the language has been careful—perhaps not to give offence—the messages from this panel are very clear: if you are going to address the problem that the government's change in policy has actually brought about, you have to implement a number of very specific matters. I would encourage the government to implement all of the measures quickly and expeditiously. The first one—which we were told by the government for so long should not be implemented—is the re-establishment and re-opening of the sites on Nauru and Manus Island for offshore processing. I think it is important for people to understand that what the panel has proposed is a measure that this opposition believes should have been pursued. But it is also important that the government be prepared to come clean with the Australian public and tell the public what it means.

The panel has made it very clear that if you are going to send a message to people abroad, you have to make it obvious that what they are letting themselves into will be adverse to their interests. The panel dresses it up nicely. They say that people who are processed in Nauru and Manus Island should not get a better outcome if they are found to be refugees than a refugee being processed in Malaysia or Indonesia or elsewhere. What they are saying is that those people should get no advantage over the 10 million other refugees around the world or the 100,000 in Malaysia or the 4,000 or 5,000 in Indonesia. What they are saying is that this government's proposal is for mandatory detention in Nauru and Manus Island indefinitely until a place can be found after others in the queue have been accommodated. If this measure is going to work this government has to make it very, very clear that, for all of their statements that they would walk away from mandatory detention, they are now implementing indefinite mandatory detention offshore. If people understand that, it may have the impact that the government seeks. But you cannot be unambiguous about the language you use. The message has to be clear not only to the people smugglers but also to their client base.

It is very interesting when you go through the report that the panel recognises that turn-backs, provided there is consent, ought to be pursued, along with a number of other refinements. The point I would make is that they make it clear that that may be provided through acquiescence. What they are saying is that, if Indonesia is prepared to acquiesce to people being returned, that should be possible. It seems to me that if we are going to rescue people in Indonesia's maritime zones, where Indonesia should be rescuing them, and we are doing it for them, they ought to readily acquiesce to their acceptance. They do not because of the way in which Indonesia was treated. The measures also propose that there should be a form of visa which, while not described as a temporary protection visa, has exactly the same effect—no opportunity for sponsorship and the like if you are settled in Australia having sought to come unlawfully.

This report is a repudiation of government policy. I am glad the government has seen the error of its ways, because it is a very compelling report. It endorses the position taken by the opposition. The government, if it has good sense, should willingly acquiesce to Mr Morrison's amendment.