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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8576


Mr FRYDENBERG (Kooyong) (20:34): This is a very difficult debate. It pits our hearts against our heads. On the one hand, we all want a humane and a generous immigration system. In fact, migration has made this country great. I know, as the son of a migrant myself, that I would speak for many when I say, 'Could those people on that leaky vessel making their way to Australia have been me, or could that have been one of my family members?' That sense of humanity reaches out to those people, knowing that that could have been one of us. On the other hand, we all know that as a sovereign nation we have a right and an obligation to protect our borders. And there are 42½ million people in the world who are internally displaced, and millions in our own region. If we do not have an effective border protection policy then there is greater incentive for these people to come to Australia and for these vulnerable people to be manipulated by the evil trade of people smuggling and the people smugglers.

Personally, I feel much more comfortable talking about issues related to the nation's balance sheet or to the nation's foreign policy posture. I am sure many people in this place would rather be talking about health and education than border protection. But this is a necessary debate. It is a difficult debate but one we must have because of the government's failure to protect the borders. Let us remember that under John Howard we effectively stopped the boats. But, since Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister and was succeeded by Julia Gillard, we have had an onshore processing system.

We have seen more than 22,000 people come in an unauthorised manner by boat. We have had more than 360 boats.

It has cost more than $4.5 billion and, in 2011-12, the humanitarian program for the first time involved more onshore protection visas than offshore protection visas. Then, in July of this year, we saw 1,798 people come illegally by boat, the largest number on record, and a third consecutive month of the largest numbers on record. Most tragically of all up to 1,000 people—men, women and children—have lost their lives at sea.

So this policy is clearly not working. There were those who decided in their wisdom at the end of 2007 and in 2008 to unravel the successful Howard government policies, the policies that involved towing the boats back, offshore processing in Nauru and the temporary protection visas. The impact of those changes in policy has been the tragedies and the numbers I have outlined. So, of those on the other side, and their partners in the Greens, who decided to unravel the Howard policy because they thought they were taking the moral ground, it cannot be said that they have the moral ground, because this failure is their failure, and they were deadly wrong on this issue.

What I find absolutely striking is that this government is now embracing offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island; it is embracing John Howard's Pacific solution. Let it be said that when John Howard, Alexander Downer and Philip Ruddock prosecuted this policy they were deemed by those opposite to be devils incarnate. The vitriol those opposite directed against the leadership of our country for defending its borders is there for all to see. They mocked our policy, despite its success.

We all remember the now Prime Minister, then in charge of the immigration policy, saying, 'Another boat, another policy failure.' We all remember that in 2003 Julia Gillard said: 'No rational person, I would put it as highly as that, would suggest that in 10 or 20 years we will still be processing asylum seeker claims on Nauru. The so-called Pacific solution is nothing more than the world's most extensive detour sign.' And what about Senator Chris Evans? In his address to the Refugee Council of Australia on 17 November 2008, he said:

Labor committed to abolishing the Pacific Solution and this was one the first things the Rudd Labor Government did on taking office. It was also one of my greatest pleasures in politics.

They are and were wrong on this issue, and we have seen the price that has been paid.

What they failed to understand was that John Howard, in the years to 2001, faced a similar influx of boats. In the three years to 2001 there were more than 12,000 unauthorised boat arrivals on more than 180 boats. But he then introduced a trifecta of measures, offshore processing, TPVs and the towing back of boats, and the result was that in the six years after the introduction of those policies only 272 people came on 16 boats. Why did the Gillard government decide to go down this path? They decided to do so because they wanted to distinguish themselves from the Howard government. This was about appealing to their base. It was about getting ownership of this issue and not about delivering the best results for the Australian people.

What is more, in the process of unravelling John Howard's Pacific solution they have badly damaged our bilateral relationships with our key partners in the region. Take East Timor. Julia Gillard told us there was going to be an offshore processing centre in East Timor, but the country's Prime Minister and President did not even know about it. We were told there was going to be offshore processing in Malaysia in a people-swap deal, but the High Court insisted that it would not let this go through. Then it came to Indonesia. We had the stand-off on the Oceanic Viking and all of the damage it did to that relationship. Then on Papua New Guinea we have had a foreign minister berate our near neighbour on a number of issues. The key is that we have a Prime Minister who has badly treated East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.

Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to what John Howard and Alexander Downer successfully did in 2002. They instigated the Bali process on people smuggling. I went to the original meeting with Alexander Downer in Bali. The countries there—source countries, transit countries and destination countries—all came together under the chairmanship of Australia and Indonesia to work out how we could coordinate our approaches in a better way, how we could share intelligence and information, how we could have good Customs control, how to build good governance and how to improve documentation and identification. This is what the Bali process instigated. Unfortunately, since that time we have neglected those important regional partners and that important regional process. The results are there for all of us to see.

Three distinguished Australians—Angus Houston, Michael L'Estrange and Paris Aristotle—have come together and produced a very comprehensive report. One of the most telling points in the report is the focus on regional relationships. They said that this issue could not be dealt with by Australia alone, because so often these people are transiting Indonesia. In nearly every situation after 2010, other than with the Sri Lankans, Indonesia has been the source country. Three-quarters of the unauthorised boat arrivals that come to this country come from Sri Lanka, Iran or Afghanistan. Three-quarters come from three countries. Why can we not do better with our relationships with those countries and with our key partner, Indonesia, to stop the boats? That is what I ask today. Australia is the co-chair, with Indonesia, of that 46-nation Bali process. We have a key opportunity here to accelerate the cooperation that has been lacking since the Rudd government came to power.

Another interesting point in this report is that the AFP in 2011-12 spent only $16.9 million on border protection. The Attorney-General's Department spent $6.7 million and Customs $8.3 million. Why aren't we frontloading our spending on these issues to give the AFP, A-G's and Customs more firepower to stop those boats coming? Why are we spending billions of dollars on the back end—namely, when people come here, we process them, we send them to detention centres and we have legal processes and lawyers? Why aren't we spending more money at the front end, at the pointy end? That $16.9 million for border protection by our Federal Police, who are coordinating international efforts, seems to me to be extraordinarily low. It is an important question to ask.

In this report we see an acknowledgement of the spirit of the TPVs by taking away the family reunion opportunities for those who come illegally by boat. We have seen the review group tell us that the Malaysia deal is unconscionable in its current form and we have seen it say that it could be safe to tow back the boats, as was effectively done under the Howard government. This is a vindication of what Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison and our side of politics have been telling those in government for some time—for the nearly five years that they have been in power. We all know that we had a successful policy framework in place when John Howard was in office, when he effectively stopped the boats.

I finish where I started: we come to this issue with a heavy heart. We want a humane and generous program. We asked ourselves, could we be one of those people coming here by boat. But, at the same time, we acknowledged the sovereign right of Australia to effectively defend its borders while putting in place an effective policy which treats people humanely and generously. When we explain to the Australian people our record in government I believe they will have no doubt that, should we get the opportunity to govern this nation again, we will bring some order and some effectiveness to our border protection policy.