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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8668


Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (10:48): If some members on the government side had their way I would not be standing here speaking, because on this very critical issue that goes to the protection of our borders and the ability of a national government to exercise its sovereign responsibilities, we have been told, 'You can't speak on these issues,' even though it has been a burning sore for this government since the very day they dismantled the policies that worked. But this is the Australian parliament.

This is not about delaying a vote; this is about putting on the record some comments about a fundamental failure of the Labor Party as a party and of the Labor Party as the government. We have heard so much about the playing of politics, and the very beginning of the Labor Party's criticism of the Howard government's approach was playing politics. It was playing the politics of the elite.

We were criticised in government not only because we successfully implemented policies that stopped the boats—there were only four irregular boat entrants in detention when we lost office—but because, in this great democracy that is Australia, we listened to what the Australian people wanted. That is the fundamental problem with the Labor Party: they have been taken over by the fringe left, which would be more comfortable in the Greens, and they sneer at the concerns and the values of mainstream Australia.

It is very interesting, this playing politics of the elite. Who did they listen to back then? I came across some typical comments. These were made by Julian Burnside on 11 June 2002. He said:

The Pacific Solution was an immediate and astonishingly popular response to the Tampa case.

He went on to say:

The Howard government won the approval of an unthinking electorate with its response to Tampa, but it forever sacrificed any claim to moral decency.

That is who the Labor Party have been playing to. They have contempt for the basic belief that the majority of Australians have. The majority of Australians want to believe that their national government, as a sovereign government, has the ability, the power, the resources and, importantly, the desire to fulfil one of its basic constitutional responsibilities, which is to protect its borders. Whether it is illegal goods or irregular entrants coming into this country, what is so offensive about that to the Labor Party? It is their stubbornness to accept that perhaps old-fashioned—just like our Constitution!—notion that a sovereign government should be in a position to reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people it seeks to represent, and that means protecting our borders.

That is why, when John Howard made the statement, 'We will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances under which they come,' there was a resonating head nod across the nation.

Somehow, that slogan was used against us, as if it was somehow mean, terrible, nasty and immoral. What is immoral is when a government believes it knows better than the people of its nation, when a government has such arrogance and panders to the views of the snooty elites instead of representing the silent majority. Look at newspaper clippings of the time. An editorial in the Canberra Times, 'Pacific Solution: an indelible stain', read:

Labor's quick action to end this offensive policy is to be applauded, though it will take time to rehabilitate Australia's damaged international reputation. Those responsible for the Pacific Solution face an almost impossible task in erasing this blot on their record, and deservedly so.

What absolute rubbish. We were the envy of so many countries in Europe. They looked to us for policy solutions in dealing with their irregular entrants. We have a more recent editorial from the Sydney Morning Herald , 'A balanced view of asylum seeker policy'. When will we hear the apologies from those who demonised a very responsible policy that was in our national interest? We will not hear them because they will choke on those words, but history will record that the Howard government had humane policies, had appropriate policies, had responsible policies and reacted democratically to the concerns of the Australian people.

So why have we had a backflip from the government? Is it because they are concerned about the number of irregular boat entrants? No. The only reason this Prime Minister has backflipped is that it is a political problem. Finally, democracy has caught up with the government and they realise that it is doing them damage in the electorate. So they think: 'How can we get out of this? Let's outsource our policy making. Let's give it to someone else so we don’t have to take responsibility for all those people who applauded us and cried and said we were the moral crusaders for demonising Howard. Let's absolve ourselves of the responsibility of making a decision and outsource our policy.' I reckon if you outsource your basic responsibility of making fundamental policy in this country you should also outsource your salary. So that was the reason. It was not any desire to stem the flow of illegal entrants or to destroy the product that criminal gangs have in smuggling people. It was absolute, pure, politics.

On this side of the House we do believe that those of us elected, particularly when we sit on the other side of the House, have a solemn and moral duty to the people of this nation. We have a solemn and moral responsibility to make decisions in the national interest, to increase Australians' lot in life, to improve their standard of living, to improve their opportunities, to protect them, to give them the sort of nation they want. And that fundamental responsibility necessarily demands that a national government protect its borders.

We have seen the exaggerated claims about how much Nauru would cost. We have seen all the comments. We have the media releases from Ms Gillard when she was shadow minister for population and immigration, saying 'Pacific solution an illusion, not an answer'; 'Pacific solution: the farce continues' and 'the Pacific solution unravels'. The Prime Minister and her government need to take responsibility for the cost blow-out of $4.7 billion that the reversal of John Howard's policies has caused.

The Prime Minister said 'I'm over it.' She may well be over it. Of course she wants to sweep it under the carpet, get to the end of the year, and pretend and say: 'Look at all the problems I've fixed. I've got a solution. We've got the carbon tax. I'm going to save the world some emissions with the carbon tax. I've fixed the boat problem.' She will not solve anything, because this is only a partial solution, and her heart is not really in it, and Australians know that her heart is not really in it. Do you know what they are saying? You cross the country and from one end to the other people are echoing some of the Prime Minister's words—they are over her, and they are over her government.