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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8562

Mr IRONS (Swan) (19:41): I rise to speak to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. In the first instance, I congratulate the government and the Prime Minister for finally, after four long years, accepting one of the key planks of the coalition's policy to protect our borders. Earlier today the Leader of the Opposition stated, 'What the House is now debating is essentially the coalition's policy.' We must remember that this legislation is about stopping people smuggling and saving lives.

It is a    fact that the people on boats who are lured by people smugglers are illegal arrivals who are trying to gain an advantage. We heard the member for Denison talking about the being labelled as 'queue jumpers'. Most Australians would call them queue jumpers. We have heard some of the members talk about their experiences with illegal arrivals.

I had an experience when a gentlemen came up to me after a citizenship ceremony wanting to get his photo taken with his MP. When I asked which country he had come from he said he was from Afghanistan. I said, 'How did you arrive here?' He said, 'By boat.' I said, 'How did you happen to get onto the boat? How did you find the people smugglers?' He said that he did not find the people smugglers, that they came to his village offering anyone who was interested entry to Australia. I said, 'What did that cost you?' He said, 'US$10,000.' I said, 'That's a fair price. How did you actually get here?' He said, 'We flew to Malaysia and then we got on a boat in Malaysia. We bypassed Indonesia. Before we went to Christmas Island we were told to destroy all our identification, so we did. Then I got processed and came to Australia.' I said, 'So you beat the system?' With a smile on his face he said, 'Yes, I beat the system.'

We need to remember that this all started in 2008 with the change by the government to the Migration Act. Because of that, thousands of people have risked their lives as the people smugglers were given a product to sell. It has been four long years of policy failure, four long years of increased boat arrivals, with over 22,000 people arriving in almost 400 boats. It has been four long years of continued urging from the coalition to change the policy, four long years of weak border protection, four long years of cost blow-outs, four long years of lost lives at sea and four long years of anger and disappointment from the Australian public who have been ignored by a government in denial about the failure of their policy and with no direction.

This government has been directionless and paralysed. Australia's reputation with its neighbours has been tarnished by the continual announcements by the Prime Minister of policies that embarrass Australia—like East Timor and the ridiculous one-for-five deal done with Malaysia.

Who can forget the Prime Minister attacking John Howard with the catchcry 'another boat, another policy failure' on repeated occasions in this very chamber. What we have seen today is one of the biggest backflips from a Prime Minister in the history of this parliament. We have witnessed the Prime Minister conceding what the coalition has known for four years: John Howard had it right, and the government—for four long years—has had it wrong. Only six weeks ago the Prime Minister was staunchly opposed to sending illegal boat arrivals to Nauru. Just a month ago the Prime Minister received a standing ovation from delegates at a New South Wales Labor conference after she bragged of her toughness by declaring that, when it came to her leadership, she would not 'lie down and die'. Yet we have witnessed today in this parliament the Prime Minister, after four years of failed policy, having to outsource to a committee, do a huge backflip and support coalition policy. The PM could not even make her own decision. What sort of leader is that? How tough is that?

What the government have done in adopting part of the coalition's policy is a good move, and I am sure that many Australians will feel some small relief that the government has done so. But this policy change could have come at any time in the last four years—and it should have. As he said today, the Leader of the Opposition recommended to the government 106 times that they pick up the phone to the President of Nauru; but his recommendation fell on deaf, arrogant ears. Australians will ask themselves why the Prime Minister has held out for so long only to finally and embarrassingly capitulate and accept the Houston report, which says that Nauru should be used as an offshore processing centre, when the coalition was advocating this all along. In just the last six weeks since the Prime Minister refused today's course of action, we have had another 2,700 people turn up on 46 boats. From the information I have received from people in Western Australia who do know what is going on, the people currently in detention centres are emailing their friends overseas to say, 'Come now before the policies are changed; come now before the coalition is re-elected.' The arrival of all these 2,700 people could have been avoided if it were not for the Prime Minister's stubborn pride. Just imagine what could have been avoided if the government had simply not changed a successful policy in the first place. Moreover, the immeasurable trauma to the families of the almost 1,000 people lost cannot be undone four years on.

Senator Evans said back in February that the Pacific solution was 'a cynical, costly and ultimately unsuccessful exercise introduced on the eve of a federal election by the Howard government'.' The reality, as my colleague the shadow minister for immigration, the member for Cook, has pointed out, is that the Pacific solution, when put together with temporary protection visas and turning boats back when safe, reduced the number of boat arrivals to Australia by 99 per cent and cost taxpayers only $289 million over six years. That is what Senator Evans thinks is 'cynical, costly and unsuccessful'. Six weeks ago, when we were in this place, we effectively agreed to compromise on everything that Mr Houston has now recommended. Now he has vindicated the position we took back then. Six weeks ago the government rejected the compromise, yet this compromise is exactly what they have agreed to today. This is a stunning turnaround by the Prime Minister.

One thing I have learnt since entering this place is the many expectations that the Australian public have of their elected leaders. First and foremost they want their leaders, regardless of political stripe, to lead—and that means having conviction and making decisions. This Prime Minister has developed a long resume of backflips and broken promises, and this decision today continues the narrative. As several of my colleagues have pointed out, if this policy is to work this time around it has to be combined with other measures. The coalition cannot force the government to put in place these other measures. The government's revised policy adopts the Houston recommendation of resuming the coalition's offshore processing policy and reopening Nauru; the other recommendations in the report can be implemented by the government without legislation. The coalition still believes that, in addition to reintroducing rigorous offshore processing at Nauru, the government should introduce temporary protection visas and that the government has to be willing to turn boats around where it is safe to do so. It is interesting that the government has called Nauru a 'regional processing centre'. How the government must hate the word 'offshore'!

Given this government's constant failures and that they could not successfully put pink batts in people's roofs or build school halls, there will be questions in the public mind as to whether the government can successfully implement Nauru. No other Prime Minister has done a worse job than the current Prime Minister on the issue of illegal boat arrivals. No other Prime Minister has been so stubborn in the face of such clear policy failure and public outcry. How can we expect the government to successfully implement a policy when for four long years they have sworn that they do not believe in it? The coalition had a plan to stop the boats, and we have consistently argued for our policies, which worked to strengthen Australia's borders. By processing arrivals in Nauru we are weakening the people smugglers' business model while we ensure that the rights of asylum seekers are protected—unlike Malaysia, where they are not protected. A system of temporary protection visas, which was originally introduced under a coalition government, will provide that people are safe but not granted permanent residency with all the benefits which go with it. The Houston panel endorsed the coalition's policy of turning back the boats where it is safe to do so, and so confirmed it as a deterrent and a further weakening of the people smugglers' business model. It did this despite years of denial from this government that the coalition's policy did in fact achieve this end. The Howard government's policies were not produced in the last six weeks; they were the result of more than 10 years of both successful implementation and continual refinement. Unlike the Prime Minister, we have been very consistent with our policy.

We are supporting the amendments before the House tonight as we will always support good policy while opposing bad. Nauru is not the entire solution to the problem of illegal boat arrivals, but it has always been part of our plan. I urge the Prime Minister to adopt the remainder of the coalition's policy, and so ensure that we have a total suite of changes which will actually work. We must stop the boats and the people smugglers who have been given their business by this government.