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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8586

Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (21:24): In deference to your last instruction, Madam Deputy Speaker, might I say how pleased I am to rise in this debate on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. It was a sorry saga that the House witnessed in question time today when the question was put to the Prime Minister, 'Why was the Pacific solution abandoned?' I do not think there was any clear answer from the Prime Minister at all. She said, from memory, that it was Labor Party policy and 'that is why we abandoned it'. But she never actually gave an explanation as to why. I think the reason was that the government, the Prime Minister and others in the Labor Party thought that they could actually play around with the settings on this policy and it would not really matter because there were no boat people coming to Australia. They were tipping their lids to the left, to those in the Easter protest parade that used to miraculously appear each year at the Baxter detention centre. Those protesters have been conspicuously absent on this issue since the problem has re-emerged and has in fact become far worse than it was under the Howard government.

It is worth while remembering that it is the current Prime Minister who, in opposition, led the charge against John Howard's government: 'Another day, another boat, another failed policy.' Goodness, that is not bad to listen to now, is it. Those words must come back to haunt the Prime Minister.

So the government abolished the Pacific solution and temporary protection visas and promised processing in 90 days. Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not sure whether, as a child, you would have seen or read The Sorcerer's Apprentice, but this is what it was like: the boss was away for the day, the kids were out for a play, and everything got out of hand. Now of course they are having to go back to the sorcerer—in this case, it was the father of the House, Philip Ruddock, and the now retired Prime Minister John Howard. They were the sorcerers who came up with the original policy, and the apprentices now are forced back to their position. That is exactly what is happening here, because after the government played with those policies the genie was out of the bottle and the people smugglers were out advertising tickets.

We were told that this was all about push factors. I can remember government members coming up to me in the corridors and in some of the meetings I attended in this place and saying, 'You can't be serious. You know this is about push factors.' How that argument has changed now! In fact it is completely reversed. If it were not so serious it would be hilarious to compare what the government members say now and their pronouncements on asylum seekers, say, two years ago, or nine months ago or even six weeks ago. Here we are now, just weeks after the last time this bill came before the House, after the government members, to a person, had rejected the Nauru option, and miraculously they are all in favour of it. After they played with these policies, within weeks the boats were coming and people were drowning. Now the government admits that approximately four per cent of them, or more than 1,000 people, have perished at sea.

Before long Christmas Island was full, and it is perhaps worth while reflecting on some of the comments that came from the government side at that time. When the member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby, was the chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, just before the dismantling of the Pacific solution, he was quoted as follows:

Melbourne Ports Labor MP Michael Danby said the 800-bed facility—which is currently empty—resembled a stalag, a German prisoner of war camp. "I think all of us from the delegation are frankly flabbergasted about the enormous expenditure of public money by the previous government on this," Mr Danby said from the island. "It just looks like an enormous white elephant."

Well, it was not big enough, was it? That was the problem with it—the white elephant was not big enough!

Mr Danby reported that the money spent on the facility was grandiose—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Members should refer to individual members by their titles. I know people are interested in this debate, but there have been very few people using titles all night.

Mr RAMSEY: I was in fact quoting from an article.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: It does not matter; you still need to refer to the member's—

Mr RAMSEY: I would have to misquote to do that, but I am pleased to do so. The member for Melbourne Ports 'said the money spent on the facility was "grandiose" given "the most they have had on the island are groups of 40 or 50". Well, they sure fixed that, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Debate interrupted.