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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9086


Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (13:22): It is a privilege to follow the member for Cook and the member for Stirling on the Maritime Powers Bill 2012 and Maritime Powers (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012. It has been interesting listening to the debate from members opposite on these bills, on maritime powers in the context of the MV Parsifal and on what has been happening in recent weeks on the government's border protection measures.

It almost feels as though the member for Parramatta and the member for Scullin really do have an issue to take up—an issue with their own government. The people they really hold concern for are the people running the country, and the proposals they disagree with are their own government's proposals. If ever you wanted an example of the contortions of this government in relation to border protection and maritime powers, this issue really has revealed it here today, in this chamber.

The debate has seen the member for Parramatta lament what has happened with MV Parsifal, not the fact that some illegal activity may have occurred but that we as an opposition are pointing out that the government has met this serious situation with absolute weakness. Yes, as the member for Scullin said, I am a hardliner on border protection. I make no apologies for it. I make no apologies for it, because it saves lives, it saves money and it produces a better result for Australians—for Australian taxpayers and for people seeking asylum in Australia today. It is better to be tough on border protection, and I am a strong advocate for it.

I have stood in this place before and said, 'It's okay to be soft and humanitarian on border protection,' as well—as the Greens have. I do not agree with the member for Melbourne, but he is principled. What I do accuse the government of is straddling both sides of the fence and achieving absolutely nothing. In fact, the member for Scullin said that you have to look at things the way they are, not the way you want them to be. You have to accept that time has moved on.

We have accepted that time has moved on. We have noted that it is not the same as 2007, when you had a highly successful, strong government with the strength of conviction and will to run a border protection system and which had clear definitions of maritime powers. What we have had since 2007 is the unravelling of border protection measure after border protection measure. It is a change in the circumstance brought about by this government, bit by bit, until we got to the point this year where we had to—and were forced to as a parliament—return to the system that produced the best results. It was not with an acknowledgement from the government of, 'Gee, we got that wrong all along; oh, my gosh, that was a terrible thing.' It was to somehow stand here, as the member for Parramatta did, and say, 'Look, I don't like the word "illegal".'

Contrast here that very emotive speech, and that the word 'illegal' is somehow unpalatable for this parliament, with the factual presentation of the member for Cook. He quoted sections of the refugee conventions referring to illegal entries, specifying what an illegal entry represents. Let us name it for what it is. If people come here illegally they should be named as coming here illegally. The government worries about the semantics and the language: 'Oh, gee, don't say that; that's a bit nasty. Oh, my gosh, you're too tough.' These are the contortions that we see inside this government that produces bad policy. Bad policy costs people's lives. Bad policy costs money. Bad policy has serious consequences.

The member for Scullin said, 'Why are we raising issues with these bills before us today?' Well, I am suspicious of the government's motives in presenting the Maritime Powers Bill 2012. I am concerned about the detail. The detail matters. The government has failed in getting the details right in so many pieces of legislation before this chamber in recent times. Each member is right to get up here and raise concerns. What concerns have we raised? The member for Cook and the member for Stirling have eloquently expressed our concerns with refoulement. We have referred the bill to the relevant Senate committee to consider it. We are suspicious about why we have a bill consolidating maritime powers appearing at the same time that we have a demonstration of weakness in relation to the MV Parsifal.

We know that the merchant ship MV Parsifal rescued a boatload of asylum seekers and was then subjected to threats of violence and intimidation from the asylum seekers it had rescued. We know that the captain had become concerned for the safety of his crew. Even though he had determined under the relevant provisions of rescues at sea that Singapore was the relevant port to take the ship to, because of the concerns—because of the dramas created by those he had rescued—he had to return to Australia.

I found the member for Stirling's points in relation to this very important. Where does this end? Why is the government consolidating maritime powers and consequential amendments on this when we have no comprehensive way of addressing what occurred? When are boats considered to be doing the right thing or the wrong thing? When are the people on board those boats, the asylum seekers—threatening the safety of crew—considered to be doing the right thing or the wrong thing?

The member for Parramatta seemed to think, 'Don't you dare raise what people do on these boats; they have a right to do it.' I do not believe that principle can be extended to what is going on in our seas and in our border protection system. People do have a responsibility to behave humanely, especially when the ship's captain is rescuing them from distress, as he is obliged to, and I do not believe it is then right for anybody to turn around and engage in illegal behaviour. For the member for Parramatta to suggest, 'Well, they're desperate; if I were in that situation I could see myself acting in a way that would be different from the way we act here,' I do not think is a powerful or persuasive argument. In fact, I find it to be an argument for a stronger system and stronger legislation.

The opposition has a concern that this bill is being raised to make it look like the government are doing something. They see bills that they pass through this parliament as action. The Leader of the House is fond of saying that they have passed this many bills or that many bills—as if more laws are better, or the more numerous the laws the better our society is governed. But the quality of the bill, the quality of what is in it, is absolutely paramount. It is not simply the case that the more bills you pass the better it is.

Consolidating the framework for the exercise of the Commonwealth's maritime enforcement powers could be seen as a good objective. The consolidation of bills and frameworks is something that generally I support.

However, there has to be an examination of what the government is proposing here and whether anybody's obligations under the bills will change. The Customs Act 1901, the Migration Act 1958, the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984 all need to be examined in the context of what is going on. We do not want the government to make a mistake or have unintended consequences from a consolidation bill at a time when this is such a grave concern.

I have risen in this place before to express my very serious concerns with the government's management of our borders. The Maritime Powers Bill gives us another opportunity to highlight what is going on in the government's failure to protect our borders. The member for Cook made another valid point: the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has not yet made a submission to the relevant House committee or Senate committee to which the bill was referred. The Australian Crime Commission's submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into this bill made a point of noting how difficult it is to manage Australia's long and vulnerable coastlines. I would simply add that, as a member for a Sydney electorate which has recently been subjected to an increased range of shooting crimes and gun crimes, I accept the member for Stirling's points that cuts to border protection and cuts to Customs screening of vessels have led to bad outcomes, especially for the people of Sydney who are the victims of more illegal gun crime.

It is counterintuitive for the government to be talking about maritime powers when they have been making cuts to Customs and border protection screening on our nation's borders to the tune of $58.1 million, when greater volumes of cargo are hitting our borders every single day. When the Howard government left office, 60 per cent of air cargo consignments were being inspected, which Labor has cut by about three-quarters, meaning that there is a greater chance of illicit goods being shipped into Australia. I think this has had a real impact in the Sydney basin. Sea cargo inspections have been reduced by 25 per cent at a time when the Australian Crime Commission, in its submission, openly acknowledged that organised criminal gangs are taking advantage of the lax conditions at wharfs and exploiting weaknesses in the system.

I do not intend to go much further into this bill, other than to say that the member for Parramatta and the member for Scullin really have issues with their own government and their own government's policy. It is to that government they should turn with their concerns. If they have concerns about the word 'illegal' they should really look at the sections of the refugee conventions that the member for Cook raised to understand that people are entering Australia illegally, that the people smugglers are running an illegal operation, that removing documents or paying money to people smugglers is acting illegally and that people threatening the captain of a ship in order to turn around and move to another port are acting illegally. I make no apology for being tough on such people who are acting illegally. Of course people have the right to seek asylum in Australia and of course there are circumstances where that might happen, but we must devise a system which is strong on border protection so that people do not make a risky journey and so that we do not have the incidents at sea like the MV Parsifal. For government members to stand here in this House today and lament the situation on behalf of people who may well be acting inappropriately or illegally on these boats I think is unacceptable.