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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8677


Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (11:27): On behalf of the people of Macarthur, I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. The coalition has had a clear message for the past five years. Our plan is simple: bring back the tried and tested policies that worked. Bring back offshore processing on Nauru, bring back temporary protection visas, remove the incentive to jump the queue and encourage people to wait their turn. Our policy has always been fair and equitable. Since Labor abolished these proven measures almost 22,000 people have turned up on more than 375 boats. So far in 2012 we have seen an average of 1,000 people arrive each month, setting a new record for arrivals by month and year. This is twice the number of arrivals estimated in the government's budget, which has cumu­latively blown out over the forward estimates by $4.7 billion during the past three years. I can understand why Australia is such an attractive choice for people living in difficult circumstances overseas. But with its bad policy this Labor government has encouraged people to jump the queue and put their lives and their children's lives at risk.

Since this Labor government came to office 386 boats carrying 22,518 people have arrived illegally. The cost to taxpayers of Labor's border protection failures since it abolished the Howard government's proven border protection measures has blown out by $4.7billion. We have seen illegal boats continue to arrive in record numbers and a record number of asylum seekers placed in detention or in the community. This is a very serious issue that people in my community raise with me on a regular basis. The people of Macarthur can see the urgent need for something to be done before more lives are lost as a result of this evil trade in people's lives.

It is a sad fact that for too long those opposite have put their own interests ahead of the safety and wellbeing of people who live in the most vulnerable and difficult of circumstances. It was easy for this government to criticise the proven and successful policies of the coalition by sidelining them as harsh, cruel and unkind. The Prime Minister herself said, in 2003:

Labor will end the so-called Pacific solution—the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific islands—because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle.

This Labor government claims to be strong on border security, but we have seen their policy fail time and time again. It was John Howard's policy that stopped the boats, stopped the people smugglers and stopped the deaths at sea.

We need to send a strong message that if people are going to spend thousands of dollars to risk their lives to come to Australia then they are going to be processed offshore. This message should not be clouded under any circumstances. Today, the government is backflipping on what, in 2008, the then immigration minister declared was the proudest day of his life. Why has it taken them four years to work out that they have created this problem and that their policy has failed?

Since the coalition's compromise was rejected six weeks ago, 47 boats carrying 2,815 people have arrived on our shores. Since Labor's Malaysia people-swap failed in the High Court, 146 boats carrying more than 10,000 people turned up. Since the abolition of temporary protection visas, 386 boats and 22,518 people have turned up. The saddest part in all of this is not the $4.7 billion worth of budget blow-outs; it is that more than 1,000 people have perished at sea.

This is not a time for stubbornness or grandstanding; this is a time for action. The people of Macarthur have been rightly concerned about the border protection crisis created by this government. This Friday I will host a community forum on immigration and border security with the shadow minister for immigration, the member for Cook, who has continuously held out the olive branch to the government. So far, more than 160 residents in Macarthur have signed up to attend so that they can raise their concerns with me and the shadow minister about this government's border protection crisis. This sends a strong and clear message to the government: fix the problem, implement a real solution and stop endangering the lives of men, women and children in some of the most vulnerable and difficult situations in the world.

Another strong and clear endorsement of the tried and tested policies of the coalition is the Houston panel report. This report made 22 recommendations, including establishing offshore processing in Nauru and Manus Island; introducing legislation to allow offshore processing of illegal boat arrivals at designated countries; prohibiting family reunion through Australia's humanitarian program for people arriving by boat, instead making illegal boat arrivals apply for family reunion through the family stream of the migration program; and a no-advantage test for asylum seekers waiting to enter the country illegally. The report also highlights that turning back irregular maritime vessels can be done and can be an effective deterrent to the product being peddled by people smugglers.

The last and most effective deterrent to the people-smuggling trade is temporary protection visas, which the Prime Minister has stubbornly ruled out. This is just another reason why the people of Macarthur are frustrated with this government's continual preference for politics over people. I doorknocked my electorate recently and one of the most common issues residents brought up with me was illegal boat arrivals. They can see that the government's current policy is not working and they understand the need for something to be done urgently to stop this illegal trade.

For four years this government has said that offshore processing at Nauru would not work, that it would cost billions of dollars to set up and that boats could not be turned around. During this time, hundreds of lives have been lost at sea, our nation has damaged its reputation with our neighbours, costs have blown out by incredible amounts and the people-smuggling trade has boomed. I support this legislation but, as my colleagues have said before me, reopening Nauru is not the entire solution to stopping the boats. All the measures of the Howard government need to be implemented to solve this problem, including temporary protection visas and actively turning back the boats where it is safe to do so.