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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8661


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (10:14): Before I begin my remarks, can I sympathise with the member for Fremantle. While I disagree completely with a lot of what she has said here, I do defend her right to say it. She is obviously one of the few members of the other side who are consistent in their approach in opposition to Nauru as a place for asylum seekers to go. I believe she should have the right to say it and the right to vote that way, but, as we all know, doing so would have consequences for her on that side of the House.

I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. This is another bill brought before this place, but not because it is government policy—it is not. It is not because the Labor Party believes it is the right thing to do, because it does not. This bill is not even before us today because the government believes it is in the nation's interest. It does not believe that. The expert panel, appointed by the Labor Party, does believe it is the right thing to do. The coalition thinks it is at least part of the right thing to do. And the Australian people know that it is the right thing to do. Even lifelong supporters of the ALP know that this amendment is the right thing to do.

The only reason this amendment is before this place now is it is another means of clinging to power. This government has been dragged kicking, screaming and whining about how it is everyone else's fault. It is not anyone else's fault. This debacle, this embarrassing retreat, is a walk of shame entirely of this government's own making. But even now, even when they are forced to adopt the very coalition policy that they gleefully tore down four years ago, they refuse to apologise. They refuse to quite simply say: 'We got it wrong.'

The coalition supports the recom¬≠mendation of the expert panel not because it is a panel of experts but because it is coalition policy. It was coalition policy when John Howard stopped the boats and it is coalition policy now. It has never stopped being coalition policy, even when the Prime Minister—then shadow minister for immigration—back in May 2003, in this chamber, said Nauru was 'costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle'. How can a government be so convinced with its policies, so enamoured with pandering to the business needs of criminals that it tears down a policy that was working?

They were convinced that offshore processing was somehow inhumane. Now it is a must. Not only did they want to process offshore but also they entered into a people-trafficking deal with Malaysia. What was so wrong five years ago is now so right. It is a complete reversal of offshore processing, a complete reversal of turning back the boats, a complete reversal of temporary protection visas and a complete reversal of signatories to the UN refugee convention.

This government has adopted just about every stance possible on border protection. There have been more positions in the Labor Party than there are in the Kama Sutra when it comes to border protection. More than a year ago we were watching the amazing race to the bottom of the barrel as this government ran around like a headless chook, looking for any kind of solution to this problem except the one that worked. First it was East Timor—not that the East Timorese knew anything about it—and then it was Manus Island, but that was quickly forgotten about, and then it was over to Malaysia.

It was an amazing race to the bottom of the barrel. I was waiting for a Las Vegas solution to be next but, given the cost of the Malaysia deal, we probably did not need one. Surely we had reached the bottom of this policy barrel when this government put out the call for everyday Australian families to adopt an asylum seeker. 'Adopt a refugee.' It sounded like a joke at the time. The government ran out of room to put all of the asylum seekers in detention, because of its open door policy—so it wanted volunteers to rent a room to an illegal immigrant. It was like an April Fools' Day joke a month too late, particularly when I read from the Daily Telegraph on 3 May:

The Federal Government will pay families up to $300 a week to temporarily house asylum seekers in their homes to help deal with the increasing flood of arrivals.

It went on to say:

Under a plan slated to start next month, the Government will seek to access the 5000 homes registered under the privately run Australian Homestay Network (AHN) to host asylum seekers released from detention on bridging visas.

There is an interesting sidenote in the regional city of Mackay, which is home to more than half the constituents of my electorate. Even if you combined North Mackay, South Mackay, West Mackay and East Mackay, the main suburbs of Mackay, according to the 2011 census data, there would be just 10,299 homes. Even that is not enough to house the 11,048 people who have arrived by boat since the Malaysia solution announcement.

There was a much quicker way to arrive at a solution that works. Assuming a government was ignorant and arrogant enough to insist on breaking the system in the first place, if you look at the recommendations of the expert panel to whom the Prime Minister outsourced her job and the immigration minister's job there is a common theme. In the Australian yesterday there was a summary of the recommendations and the coalition's stance, and certainly the government's stance, on each of these issues. I will go through them. It said:

Policy should be based on principles of fairness, regional co-operation, a no-advantage principle for boat arrivals and adherence to international obligations—

This is existing coalition policy—

Increase Australia’s humanitarian intake from 13,750 annually to 20,000—

This is already offered by the coalition—

The government expand its capacity-building initiatives in the region and significantly boost its allocation of resources—

This is existing coalition policy—

Advance bilateral co-operation with Indonesia, including around search-and-rescue efforts and the treatment of Indonesian minors who crew asylum-seeker vessels—

This is existing coalition policy—

Establish a processing centre in Nauru—

This is existing coalition policy—

Establish a processing centre in PNG—

This is existing coalition policy—

Boat arrivals are no longer to sponsor family to come to Australia under the Special Humanitarian Program—

Once again, this is coalition policy—

Negotiate better outcomes for the removals and returns of failed asylum-seekers—

This is existing coalition policy—

Australian agencies be appropriately funded to continue to disrupt people-smuggling activities—

This is existing coalition policy—

Law enforcement agencies continue to counter the involvement of Australian residents in people-smuggling—

This is existing coalition policy—

Work with regional partners to establish joint operational guidelines for search and rescues—

This is existing coalition policy. We could have shortcut this whole process years ago, with outsourcing the immigration minister's job to a panel. The Prime Minister could have just gone onto the coalition's websites and downloaded our policy. Here it is. You can have it for free!

Now that it is starting to adopt good policy, can this government actually stop the boats? That is the question now. This is the government that invented the pink batts scheme, this is the government that brought us overpriced school halls and countless other botched, budget-blowing schemes. It will certainly waste a lot of money trying to stop the boats. We know that. The cost of running Nauru, according to the government, will be vastly more than under the Howard government because, apparently, someone must have dragged the island further away during the past four or five years. In question time last year, on 21 September, the Prime Minister was asked to correct her claim that reopening Nauru would cost $1 billion, given that the total cost of processing asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Islands over the six years under the Howard government was just $239 million. The Prime Minister's response was this: 'What the member might want to recognise is how far away it is and the fact that all resources need to be flown to Nauru.' Has dangerous climate change been so bad that it has moved Nauru several thousand kilometres away from Australia in five years? How ridiculous. This is the person who is supposed to be in charge of this country.

Coalition speakers are not here today to gloat, as one of the rare speakers opposite suggested. What we are saying is that what should be taken away from this debate is a dire warning to all Australian people that this is a Labor government. Take it in. Breathe in the incompetence. See the waste. Get angry at the lies and deception that we have been fed. The time will soon come when the Australian people will have their say and they must remember the four years of incompetence, waste and tragedy on this issue of illegal immigration. And should they grant the Liberal-National coalition the great honour of restoring this nation, we will build on the policies in this amendment. The coalition will restore a full policy that has been proven to work. Temporary protection visas will fill the gaps because they would remove completely what the people smugglers are so desperate to sell, and that is permanent residency. Imagine a people smuggler trying to sell permanent residency if temporary protection visas were introduced today by this government or, hopefully, next year by the next government. How could they ask their clients pay, say, $10,000 to get on a leaky boat to come over to Australia if they had to tell them: 'If you arrive in Australia illegally and if you are found to be a genuine refugee, you will be processed offshore in Nauru, and if you are designated to go to Australia, you will only receive a temporary protection visa. A temporary protection visa is as it sounds. It is not permanent and if the threat goes away in your own country that you are running from you will be sent back home. The temporary protection visas will void forever and a day any attempt you make to become a permanent resident of Australia, because you attempted illegal entry.'

Government have a long way to go to actually get this policy right. They have it partly right here today because they are adopting part of coalition policy, which is Nauru and Manus Islands. When the full coalition policy is in place and competently run, by a competent Liberal-National coalition government, only then will proper border protection be fully restored to this country.