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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8656


Dr STONE (Murray) (09:55): I, too, wish to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. The people of Murray, who I represent, have more than an academic or passing interest in fixing the failures of Labor's refugee strategies. We have been a major destination for what the media commonly refers to as the 'boat people'. Many ask to be directed to Shepparton as they are processed at Christmas Island. We have always welcomed waves of refugees and economically driven migration over generations, including Jewish families escaping from Nazi Germany, Italians, Greeks, Macedonians, Albanians, Dutch and Turks. They have all been seeking a better life after the collapse of peace and prosperity in Europe. Some came as assisted migrants and some were unassisted. Most came with very little and proceeded to build productive and peaceful lives in the Goulburn and Murray valleys.

That occurred until the change in the pattern of carefully managed migration and refugee settlement in the country. That change occurred, of course, in November 2007 when Labor came into office. Before that time there was no sense that our system of refugee settlement was corrupted or unfair, with your chances of settlement in Australia dependent on your contacts with criminal networks and your capacity to pay hard cash to jump the queue. When Labor dismantled John Howard's anti-people-smuggling strategy, they changed the fairness and equity of access to Australia for the world's most vulnerable and desperate—for the African families in camps in Kenya, who were struggling to stay alive due to malnutrition as much as the physical dangers if they moved out of those camps.

Labor's incompetence allowed the selection of people to fill the humanitarian refugee intakes to pass into the hands of the criminals running the people-smuggling rackets. The people smugglers' criteria for who got on their boats and who consequently could arrive on Christmas Island or Cocos Island was based on one thing only, and continues to be based on one thing only: the individual's capacity to pay. What other country would stand by and allow this to happen while, literally, millions of other refugees waste away in camps in different parts of Africa and the Middle East? Those families will never have the hard cash to buy their way into the country, but their needs may be substantially greater, and often are, than those of people who can buy their way onto a boat. And certainly they have the same capacity—some have more capacity—to take advantage of the peace offered with resettlement in Australia.

This action must go down as one of the most shameful episodes in our settlement history: the episode of Labor dismantling a policy that was working and replacing it with a strategy that gave people smugglers a whole new set of cash flow and profit. It is shameful because the Howard government had a solution when the people smugglers first tried to corrupt our intake of refugees many years before. We introduced a multipronged strategy of offshore processing specifically on Nauru and Manus Island, where the arrivals were cared for by Australian officials under humane and careful strategies that all Australians were comfortable with. We only issued temporary protection visas, reflecting the United Nations refugee policies, which do not require that permanent settlement be granted immediately to a legitimate refugee.

We said that if your home country's political climate calmed after, say, two years or so and it was safe for you to return then we would assist you to go back home. We did not allow family reunion during this period of temporary protection. We also said that we would turn boats back, where it was safe to do so, and there were many cases where boats were turned and people went back to Indonesia, where they had often been for many years. We made it very clear to the people traffickers and smugglers that their customers could not expect a fast-track entry into our country simply because they paid the price demanded as they stepped into the leaking boats.

I have not mentioned, yet, the fact that Labor's changed strategy not only gave a whole new line of profit to smugglers but also led to hundreds of drownings at sea. We do not know quite how many, because quite obviously there are boats that disappear without a trace. As we speak, there is a suspicion that another boat went down just a few days ago. There is a suggestion that a boat left Indonesia but there is no sight of that boat now.

There have been more than 600—perhaps more than 1,000—drowned at sea under Labor's watch. There have also been thousands of arrivals at Christmas Island. And those arrivals—every one of them—have taken up the humanitarian places, where they have been found to be genuine refugees, denying a capacity for the government to check, in those camps in Kenya, on who has the greatest claim on resettlement and support as a refugee in Australia.

I think this is a most abhorrent time in Australia, where we have allowed this particular set of circumstances to continue since 2007. We have before us legislation that will at least address one of the issues of offshore processing, whereby now the Labor government understands, as a result of its expert advice from the independent panel, that Nauru at least should be reopened for offshore processing. Of course the coalition supports that. We are concerned, however, that that is only one in the basket of strategies that is required to put people smugglers out of business. We hope that this first step might be a warning to the smugglers that they are not to take for granted the wonderful cash flow from smuggled people. Time will tell.

As I said, the coalition will support this first move back to sanity and to the country being able, once again, to be in charge of its refugee intake. I personally support that move of course, as the member for Murray and as the member who spends a great deal of time comforting, in particular, my Congolese and Sudanese refugee constituents, who wait in vain for family reunion, to having loved ones in desperate camps rescued and brought to Australia but who find that the queues have been filled, time and time again, by those who have the cash to pay their passage on a leaky boat to Australia.