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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8655


Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (09:49): I rise today to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011, and I do that in full knowledge—in fact, full certainty—that the people of Calare are committed to and want an orderly, safe refugee and migration program for Australia and are horrified by the events of the last four to five years.

It is an incredible blight on this government that we stand here today, on 15 August 2012, debating a piece of legislation that is just a part of what the coalition has been telling the government to reintroduce for years. In fact, in April 2010—almost 2½ years ago—I issued a press release that stated:

Australia's immigration has drastically risen under the Rudd Labor Government and the number of illegal boat arrivals has reached record highs.

If Kevin Rudd cannot control the population of Christmas Island what hope does he have controlling the population of Australia

At that time he made the member for Watson the population minister. I am not quite sure what happened to that.

The problem of people coming to Australia illegally on boats, risking their own lives and the lives of their children, and pouring money into the pockets of people smugglers, was a serious issue back then. But as we all know now, not long after that press release was issued the member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, did lose control and was replaced as Prime Minister by the Member for Lalor.

But still the boats kept coming—in fact, 246 boats carrying 15,879 people since the change of leadership, to be exact. And the government kept fumbling. And people drowned at sea. And now we stand here discussing legislation that should have been introduced years ago or never redone in the first place.

If the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, had not been so stubborn, the human tragedy and costs of Labor's current border protection policies could have all been avoided. For four years, Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister, has said offshore processing at Nauru would not work. Despite the evidence of 22,000 illegal arrivals, almost 1,000 deaths, damage to our international reputation and a $4.7 billion blow-out in costs, Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister, refused to change course. Now she has reluctantly accepted one part of the coalition's plan for stronger borders.

I note that the Houston panel's report has recommendations including: offshore processing in Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea to be established as soon as practical; legislation to be introduced to the parliament to allow offshore processing of illegal boat arrivals at designated countries and to reserve to the parliament the provision to allow or disallow the legislative instrument that designates those countries; prohibition of family reunion through Australia's humanitarian program for people arriving by boat and instead making boat arrivals apply for family reunion through the family stream of the migration program; noting that turning back irregular maritime vessels can be operationally achieved and can constitute an effective deterrent to these ventures; and noting that protections for asylum seekers set out in the Malaysian people swap are inadequate. These recommendations substantially endorse the coalition's approach to stopping the boats.

The tragedies that could have been averted and the disasters that could have been prevented had the Labor government opposite simply listened does not bear thinking about—not necessarily listened to us, the opposition, but simply listened to the facts. The facts showed that the Howard government's border protection policies worked and should never have been removed. The current legislation before us does not do everything that needs to be done. As well as reopening Nauru, we need to bring back temporary protection visas, and we need to commit to turning back boats when it is safe and practical to do so.

I mentioned earlier the electorate of Calare, the electorate I have the honour to serve, which is the oldest part of Australia in agricultural and mining terms. I can tell the House that the people of Calare have, overwhelmingly, said to me, whether they be of Aboriginal descent or the most recent arrivals through Australia's legal, safe, orderly migration and refugee program—whichever side of that they might be—or whether in the middle, that Australia cannot be a party to having encouraged the sorts of disasters we have seen over the last few years. On top of that we must only have people coming to Australia under an orderly, stand-in-line, migration or refugee program, as the people I speak to have done themselves. That is what they expect others to have to do as well, because every illegal that comes here puts someone who is doing it legally at the back of the line.