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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8675


Dr SOUTHCOTT (Boothby) (11:20): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I do not think I could match the eloquence of the member for Bennelong on the Olympic silver diving medallist. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. It is an important issue and an important piece of legislation. This is a debate about protecting our borders and protecting the rights of those seeking asylum. The sad thing about this debate is that it has taken almost five years of policy failures, and failures by the government to secure our borders, to come to this point. We have seen policy failure after policy failure when it comes to border protection. In the manner to which we have become accustomed with this government, their position on border security has flip-flopped. There is nothing more disconcerting to the Australian people than seeing an Australian government flip-flopping in the area of national security and border protection.

Over the past 10 years Labor have supported turning back the boats and they have opposed turning back the boats; they have supported offshore processing and opposed offshore processing; they have supported temporary protection visas and opposed temporary protection visas. I have spoken about this before, but one of the problems with what the Labor government did once they started to unpick the border protection regime which the Howard government left in place is that the whole thing began to unravel. They put the people smugglers back in business. There are not many businesses that have thrived under this government, but the people smuggler business has.

The government proved that they were a soft touch on border protection. The boats started arriving, but for a long time the government was in denial that there was even a problem. Since the government took office with their intention to abolish the Howard government's border protection measures 22,518 people have arrived on 386 boats. Tragically, over that time more than 1,000 have lost their lives on their journey. In fact, we heard news last night of another boat with another 71 passengers. I have been around long enough to remember the current Prime Minister saying, when she was the Labor immigration spokesperson, 'Another boat, another policy failure.' Under this government we have had 386 boats and 386 policy failures.

Under the Howard government this program cost less than $100 million, but it has now blown out to more than $1 billion under the current government. The government's failure to manage our borders has cost taxpayers an extra $4.7 billion since they abolished the coalition's proven border protection measures.

Most governments find problems and create solutions; this government found a solution and created a problem. It does not stop there: there was their incompetently managed Oceanic Viking standoff, their failed freeze on asylum seeker processing and their announcement of the East Timor solution before they had even asked East Timor if they would participate. But the government's latest, most significant failing regarding border security was their five-for-one Malaysia people-swap. It was another border protection failure from an incompetent government. The Malaysia people-swap solution was condemned by both houses of parliament and was struck down by the High Court, yet they persisted with it.

One of the fundamental responsibilities for any Australian government is to protect our borders. Core business for an Australian government is managing the economy, managing national security and managing our borders. It was only when the Prime Minister was forced to delegate her responsibility to an expert panel six weeks ago that things changed. The government were forced to delegate their responsibility to an expert panel because they did not have a border protection policy, they did not know what they believed in anymore and they did not know what to do. The expert panel has recommended substantially what the coalition had in place and what the coalition has been recommending for years. For four years, the Prime Minister has said that offshore processing on Nauru would not work. That solution was not good enough for the government six weeks ago when the coalition proposed it, but it is good enough for them now. The Houston panel made 22 recommendations, including offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Islands, and made the observations that turning boats around can be operationally achieved and that the protections under the government's Malaysia solution were inadequate.

Unlike the flip-flops from the government, when it comes to managing asylum seekers the coalition has had a clear and consistent, tried and tested policy on border protection for more than a decade. It is a policy that has three elements at its core: firstly, turning back the boats when the circumstances permit and, more importantly, when it is safe to do so; secondly, offshore processing in a third country, namely Nauru, subject to clear human rights protections consistent with our obligations; and, thirdly, temporary protection visas, for those who are found to be genuine refugees, that deny access to the family reunion program. This is a set of policies that has been proven to work. They worked then and they will work now. Between 2002 and 2007—over the last five years of the Howard government—on average, fewer than three boats arrived per year in our waters. The coalition's policies put the people smugglers out of business. Under this government the only business which has thrived is the people smuggler business.

Reopening Nauru and Manus Islands is not the entire solution to stopping the boats, but it is one part of the coalition's plan to stopping the boats. The government's decision to implement the Houston report and reopen Nauru and Manus Island is a humiliating backdown in a long list of policy failures, a long list of backflips, but it is the prudent thing to do. Therefore, we will be supporting this legislation.