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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8580


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (20:59): Migration has been good for Australia. Australia has been good to migrants. It works both ways. I rise to speak tonight on this Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 as a member for an electorate which has many migrants. These people have come to the Riverina in different waves, in different circumstances and from vastly different places and backgrounds, but all share a common bond: all came to these shores, our shores, seeking a new start and willing to make the most of the opportunity afforded by this country to build a better life for their families and themselves. Migrants helped enormously in the development of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, which is this year proudly commemorating its centenary—100 years since the official turning on of the water took place at Yanco on 13 July 1912.

Certainly, Griffith could be considered the cradle of multiculturalism as a city made up of so many different nationalities. It is no wonder the people of that regional city and indeed the entire MIA get so riled up when this government threatens to undermine future water availability and thereby the future of this great food bowl. These people have sacrificed much to come to this country, to be sent somewhere no-one else wanted to go and turn an arid plain that was thought worthless into a land, a patch, of plentiful produce. Griffith is as culturally diverse a regional city as you will find anywhere in Australia. Wagga Wagga took many Vietnamese refugees during the 1970s crisis. Many of them were settled in a suburb to the west of the city called San Isidore, and the local Roman Catholic Church in particular helped these people find their feet in their new home. Some still live and work in Wagga Wagga and contribute greatly in many ways to the local community, their community. They came by boat, admittedly, but they were able to obtain Australian citizenship. There are right means and methods to obtain Australian citizenship and there are wrong ones.

Over the past four years, we have unfortunately experienced an upsurge in the number of illegal boat arrivals, which was brought about by the relaxing—indeed, axing—of the policies which worked under the previous coalition government, led by John Howard. Since November 2007, when the Howard government border protection policies were dismantled, 22,518 illegal arrivals have made their way here on 386 boats. That is as of now. The people and the boats keep coming. Since Julia Gillard, a modern day Helen of Troy of sorts—the face that launched a thousand ships—took over as Prime Minister from Kevin Rudd on 24 June 2010—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Rishworth ): I would ask the member to use members' appropriate titles in the House.

Mr McCORMACK: Since the now Prime Minister took over from the now member for Griffith, the former Prime Minister, on 24 June 2010, 246 boats carrying 15,879 people have arrived illegally. These are damning statistics—damning of the Gillard government's pig-headed refusal to concede that the Howard policies actually worked and worked well. And why? As I said, it is because they were pig-headed, bloody-minded, obstinate. They refused to admit that something the previous government had in place was right. 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'—it is an old saying and it is a good one.

It is a shame, when it comes to border protection in particular, that in 2007 the incoming Rudd government did not adopt Howard's way. Compare the two: when the coalition left office in 2007, there were four illegal boat people, all men, in detention; now, under Labor, that number is in the thousands. In fact, I downloaded today, from the government's Department of Immigration and Citizenship website, a document entitled Immigration detention statistics summary30 June 2012. It shows that there were 3,920 adults, including 44 women, in detention as at 30 June. Add to this the 170 being kept in Immigration residential housing and Immigration transit accommodation, those on Christmas Island at the time and those in alternative places of detention on the mainland, and the total figure reaches 5,815—5,815 as opposed to just four. Goodness knows how many there are now, after all the boat arrivals in July. Shame on the government. John Howard, officially launching the government's 2001 election campaign, said:

It is … about having an uncompromising view about the fundamental right of this country to protect its borders, it’s about this nation saying to the world we are a generous open hearted people taking more refugees on a per capita basis than any nation except Canada, we have a proud record of welcoming people from 140 different nations. But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come. And can I say on this point what a fantastic job Philip Ruddock has done for Australia.

Indeed, the member for Berowra did do a fantastic job.

If anyone was not moved by the words of the member for Stirling in the debate on this same issue on 27 June, then they have something other than blood coursing through their veins. The member for Stirling is a forthright man, an upright individual, not easily stirred but generally calm and composed. His voice quavered and tears welled up in his eyes as he spoke about his personal experience after the Christmas Island tragedy in December 2010, in which 48 asylum seekers perished. He recounted:

One of the Australians told me that he looked face-to-face at a child who he could not rescue even though he could almost touch her …

We are politicians. We are parliamentarians. We are people. Many of us are parents. No-one—no-one—wants to see people, some of them mere children, drowning at sea.

Mr Howard—and he was a great Prime Minister—used to say that every day is a test of character for a member of parliament. With that in mind, I went to the meeting on asylum seeker policy called by the member for New England and chaired by him. The email regarding this meeting invited 'all members and senators to look at this issue in a spirit of goodwill'. There were 41 present, some of whom had a say and many, like me, who merely sat and listened. I do not think there is anything wrong with that. You can learn a lot by listening, even to opinions other than your own closely held personal and party views. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young handed out a paper in which she stated and from which I, admittedly selectively, now quote:

Australia is a safe, prosperous and generous country. Our community has already been enriched by generations of immigrants and refugees who have made Australia their home.

As one of the key nations in the region who has signed the Refugee Convention it makes sense for Australia to lead the way and set the standard when it comes to resolving the humanitarian crisis on our doorstep.

I agree with the senator on those points.

My electorate has many people who came to Australian shores seeking a better life. Nothing I heard that day at the meeting I attended, and nothing I heard said in this chamber that afternoon or since, has swayed me from my conviction that the right way to deal with human trafficking is the policies the coalition had in place under Mr Howard. In fact, it has only determined my resolve. I agree that we as a parliament must act now.

The tragic loss of life at sea and the mass of boats coming here on a daily basis demands that we—as politicians, as parliamentarians, as people—find a solution to this unfolding and ongoing tragedy. The answer is before us. The coalition has consistently advocated proven polices which work. Under the current Prime Minister's watch, more and more boats have arrived carrying more and more people; and with every arrival until now, the government has defiantly refused to accept the policies which worked before and which will work again.

When it comes to border protection, we cannot simply compromise for the sake of compromise. In recent weeks I surveyed my electorate. Of the thousands who have responded to date, the number who disagree with the government's handling of unlawful immigration is substantially more than the number who agree. Those who think Australia's border controls are too soft outnumber those who think they are too harsh by at least 25 to one. The coalition supports temporary protection visas, re-opening Nauru and turning the boats around when it is safe to do so. These policies stopped the boats before and, if enacted soon—not just one of the three policies, but all three—they will stop the boats again. The facts speak for themselves. If we do not do something, the number of illegal arrivals will increase exponentially and, sadly, so too will the drownings. No-one in Australia wants to see that.

We support the view that no asylum seeker should be sent to a country which is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention. There are 148 countries which have signed up. Malaysia is not one of them. The five to one Malaysian swap deal—4,000 of theirs for 800 of ours—will be filled within weeks at the current illegal arrival rate. On 4 July last year, the member for Cook emailed all parliamentarians about a visit he had made to Malaysia. I will conclude by quoting from that email:

It was clear to me from my visit that no organisation, despite what I am sure are their best intentions, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is in a position to practically guarantee the welfare of those transferred to Malaysia under this proposed arrangement. This is the practical and unavoidable reality of this proposal.

I heard numerous stories of arrest and detention—despite having documentation—abuse in the workplace, violence and extortion. It would take anywhere between two weeks and two months to routinely get documented refugees out of the lock-up or a detention centre.

Mental health counsellors told me that the greatest cause of anxiety and depression for refugees living in Malaysia is fear driven by their vulnerability. A stay of around 4 to 5 years was the most common response from refugees I met, but for others their stay has been decades. For those who give up, their stay is permanent.

In short, given Malaysia's non-signatory status to the Refugee Convention, refugees' legal rights are arbitrary and the support they receive is completely voluntary.

I commend the member for Cook for his stand on this matter. Our national anthem includes the words:

For those who've come across the seas

We've boundless plains to share;

With courage let us all combine

To Advance Australia Fair.

We are a caring, sharing nation, but we must also have rules in place. I commend the government for its amendment, brokered in negotiation with the shadow minister for immigration, the member for Cook. It is good. It does not go far enough but it is a first, positive step. Border protection is paramount for good government. This country needs just that—strong border protection and a good government.