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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8583

Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (21:11): I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 because I find the direction of thinking has changed considerably since 28 June. On that particular day we heard incredible positions being presented to this House by members. It was a culmination of those who met to discuss ways in which we could broker a solution to a problem which was costing lives, when ships were coming unabated to our shores, when our border protection processes had broken down and when we had a Prime Minister who was absolutely stubborn in her resolve not to take the opportunity of the goodwill that prevailed for feasible solutions. What I found distasteful a couple of days after that was the media headline 'Drowning in a sea of indecision,' the comment 'Lives, not politics,' the issues that my constituents raised about the anger of indecision and also anger in the fact that this parliament had not reached a position that was addressing a very critical issue that impacted on the security of this country and its borders.

Equally, there was concern about the rising costs—who was going to provide the levels of support that would be needed by those who came from countries where there was strife, turmoil and war. And then, how do you take forward those people into Australian society when they are genuine refugees. There was also some anger about the fact that many who have come from overseas and now live in my electorate are seeking family reunions and being told that it is not possible. We dealt with a number of visa applications. When people got their responses, they would retort by saying, 'Maybe I should go and jump on a vessel to come in as my way of getting into this country.' The thing that disappointed me was the fact that we lost the opportunity, a moment in time in which there were some very strong unified voices from both sides of the chamber seeking a solution.

I myself made an appeal to the Prime Minister to show some leadership, as the leader of this nation, on the asylum seeker issue; but she chose not to do so. Instead, on 28 June, she announced the appointment of an expert panel and said that they would come back to her with recommendations as to how government should progress. It is interesting that the recommendations in the panel's report do not differ significantly from the Howard solutions. The report provides some opportunities for some real concrete decisions to be made. These include the opening up of Nauru—an idea which previously had been denigrated. I dislike the fact that when you disagree with the Prime Minister you are denigrated for having a position that is inconsistent with hers. Yet in this chamber we all have the opportunity to raise things that are absolutely critical and that need to be addressed.

I was fascinated when I read back through some of the history of the asylum seeker debate. When she was in opposition, Prime Minister Gillard was against offshore processing and the Pacific solution. In fact, she said:

Labor will end the Pacific solution, the so-called Pacific Solution—the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on the Pacific islands—because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle.

That statement was recorded in Hansard on 13 May 2003. Yet the money that we have expended on the asylum seeker challenge has been substantial. The asylum seeker budget has blown out to $4.7 billion. This includes the $866 million blow-out revealed in the 2011-12 budget and a further $840 million which was revealed at a later stage. Senator Chris Evans, in an address to the Refugee Council of Australia at Parramatta Town Hall, 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.

I wonder how he feels in light of what occurred after that decision and the challenges that governments have had in managing the borders. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Labor have consistently said that asylum seekers would never go to a country that had not signed the UN convention. On Radio 6PR on 8 July 2010 the Prime Minister said, 'I would rule out anywhere that is not a signatory to the refugee convention.' That is strange when you consider the Malaysian deal—though I am not casting aspersions on Malaysia. If, however, you put forward a principle as a guide to what you would and would not do, why would you do a backflip? Why would you look for a solution out of expediency? On 28 June we provided an opportunity for us all to come together to deal with the motion that Mr Oakeshott had put and the debate that followed. But again there was a decision by the leadership of the Gillard government not to canvass anything that resembled a Pacific solution. Strangely enough, though, when an expert panel make recommendations in their report, there seems to be a gravitation towards the Pacific solution in looking at the options as to how we deal with the asylum seeker issue.

It is frustrating that the Prime Minister has been so stubborn that all opportunities to look at solutions to the issue have been forgone. What I like about the expert panel report are the 22 recommendations that allow flexibility. The coalition has always supported a solution to the asylum seeker issue which would be based on humanitarian considerations and welcome refugees who sought a place in our country and went through the proper processes. On the other hand, the behaviour of those who had not gone through the proper processes and who had destroyed documents made it much more challenging to allow them to enter our country freely—or at least in stages until they could be given the opportunity to reside here.

The chair of the panel, in handing down the panel's report on Monday 13 August, endorsed in a sense the coalition's approach to stopping the boats and confirmed that pull factors created by Labor's policies following the abolition of the Howard government's proven border protection policies were significantly responsible for the resumption of the people smugglers' trade. None of us in this chamber support the notion of human trafficking; none of us in this chamber support the notion that people should be able to make money off the misery of others; and none of us support the concept that a life has no value, because we know the number of people who have been lost is significant and there are even more who did not make it and whom we are not aware of.

The panel made 22 recommendations, and I was pleased to see among them the recommendations that processing on Manus Island, in PNG, be established as quickly as practicable, that legislation be introduced to the parliament to allow the processing of illegal boat arrivals in designated countries and that the decision to allow or disallow the legislative instrument designating such countries be reserved for the parliament. Scott Morrison, as the shadow minister with responsibility, continually put forward these points as solutions which would have helped the Prime Minister move forward on the asylum seeker issue. Another of his suggestions—that irregular maritime vessels should be turned back—can be operationally achieved. This would constitute an effective deterrent to people-smuggling ventures. The panel also said that that the protections for asylum seekers set out in the Malaysian people-swap are inadequate.

The coalition had an effective policy under the Howard government. Philip Ruddock led those reforms and was one of the key designers, along with other coalition members—certainly Minister Downer and Prime Minister John Howard. The coalition has always had a plan to stop the boats. It has never resiled from the proven outcomes that the Howard policies achieved. For four years the Prime Minister said offshore processing on Nauru would not work. For four years Australia's borders have been weak, lives have been lost at sea, Australia's reputation with its neighbours has been tarnished, costs have blown out and people smuggling has flourished—all because the Prime Minister was too stubborn to admit Labor got it wrong.

The Howard government's solutions worked then and they will work again. The solutions that are proposed out of the Houston report are practical and will offer an opportunity for government to implement those things that will work and will reduce the number of people coming here through people traffickers.

Let me also remind the House that when in opposition the now Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, supported turning back boats. She said: 'The Navy has turned back four boats to Indonesia. They were in seaworthy shape and arrived in Indonesia. It has made a very big difference to people smuggling that that happened. And we think that turning boats around that are seaworthy, that can make the return journey, that are in international waters, fits in with that.' That was said at a press conference on 3 December 2002.

Let me conclude by saying that the coalition has been consistent with its policy. It has always given government the opportunity to sit and negotiate an agreed outcome, with solutions that reduce the numbers coming, reduce the loss of life and enable Australia to protect its borders.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Rishworth ): Before I go to the next speaker, I would just remind members to use other members' titles. We seem to be straying a little bit tonight, so I would just ask people to use the appropriate titles when referring to other members.