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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8678


Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (11:34): I rise to add my comments to the debate on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill. The Northern Territory is currently home to a significant number of asylum seekers housed within detention centres. Our community, like many others, feels the strain not only with the provision of services for the housing, administration and processing of these people but, just as importantly, with the social and health implications of detention.

Let us be honest: the implications of boat arrivals, the impost on resources across the board and the divide on this issue across the nation are necessary considerations when formulating corrective actions to address this issue. Stopping the boats is but one segment of the overall issue. Beyond the boats, the need for effective, timely and stringent processes must be addressed to facilitate the processing of those persons already in detention and, additionally, to set a road map for future arrivals.

Public sentiment on this issue is broad. In my own electorate of Solomon, there is much concern not just about the sheer numbers of boats and people arriving but also about the expense associated with detention and also the detention centres themselves. There is significant discontent across a broad sector of the community about the disparity between the expense in detaining persons, including the facilities provided and the level of access to taxpayer funded services, and those services accessed by local Australian citizens.

The issue of asylum seekers, boat arrivals and people-smuggling is about Australian sovereignty. It is about balancing the needs of those who flee their homes and embark upon the often dangerous journey to travel here, and the needs of the broader Australian community, who remain compassionate to the honest seekers of asylum but whose patience is waning and who wish to see an end to the boats' arrival.

The coalition welcomes the step-down by this government in accepting that previous models, such as Nauru, remain pivotal in the implementation of a solution to address the issue of boat arrivals. The Rudd-Gillard Labor government dismantled practices set in place by the Howard government for the management of boats which were proven to work.

The arrogance of this government to simply dismantle practices that worked, without consideration for the long-term implications both socially and fiscally, reflects absolute incompetence. Blame for the current situation sits squarely at the feet of the government of the day and with Prime Minister Gillard.

Constituents of mine remain deeply angered at how, in a few short years, the instances of boat arrivals have gone through the roof and billions of dollars are now being spent to fund the necessary measures to save, detain and process those arriving illegally on boats. Additionally, once the boats started arriving again and the business of people smuggling ramped up, the Rudd-Gillard Labor governments, without a strategic plan, dug their collective toes in about Nauru, not for the benefit of Australians but for political one-upmanship.

We had the Timor option and then the Malaysia solution, yet in four years, with all the rhetoric from this Gillard Labor government, has one boat been stopped? Has the number of boat arrivals fallen? Has the trade of people smuggling diminished? The answer to all three questions is no. The boats keep coming, almost with the regularity of a Manly ferry. The budget associated with this issue continues to climb uncontrollably, ensuring that funds for other existing and prospective measures to build our nation remain on the backburner or poorly implemented.

The Gillard Labor government has delivered more detention beds than hospital beds in my electorate—and hospital beds are desperately needed. The Gillard Labor government promised affordable housing for my electorate, yet the only housing it has provided has been housing for detainees in the various detention centres purposely built in my electorate. To use a well-worn quote from Prime Minister Gillard, 'moving forward', the opportunity now exists for the Gillard Labor government to address the wrongs of the past four years and implement measures to stop the boats. This includes offshore processing at Nauru. It is disappointing that, to get to the point we are at today, here in this place debating this issue, it took a report by an expert panel on asylum seekers which made 22 recommendations for this government to act responsibly and formulate a way forward.

It is with mixed emotions, including sadness and anger, that I add to this debate. I am saddened by the significant loss of life over the past four years with the transit of illegal boats. I am angered that lives were lost while this government failed to act by implementing strategies to stem the flow of boats and diminish the potential for loss of life. But I am pleased and confident that now, at least, a plan is at hand and the future of asylum seeker arrivals by boat and the business of people smuggling may finally be on the right path and there will be a stop to the illicit business of putting boatloads of people to sea.

The Prime Minister should swallow her pride and apologise. If she were not so stubborn, the human cost for Labor's failed border protection policies could have most likely been avoided. For four years, she has said that offshore processing at Nauru would not work. Despite the evidence of 22,000 illegal arrivals, almost 1,000 deaths at sea, damage to Australia's international reputation and a $4.7 billion blow-out in costs, Prime Minister Gillard refused to change course. Despite the evidence, Prime Minister Gillard did what she could to trash the coalition's assertions that offshore processing at Nauru was good policy, claiming that it would not work and that the centre would cost billions to reopen.

The Prime Minister has now reluctantly accepted one part of the coalition's plan for stronger borders. The coalition will support the legislation to allow offshore processing but knows the government consistently mismanages the implementation of projects. With over 1,600 spin doctors on its books, the Gillard Labor government knows how to spin and make announcements, but it has consistently failed at managing the implementation of major policies. Pink batts, school halls and the NBN are all reminders of a government that can spend but not manage projects. Even now, the government is reluctantly reopening Nauru but refusing to implement the other two proven border protection policies: temporary protection visas and turning around the boats where it is safe to do so.

The coalition has consistently argued for proven policies that work and strengthen Australia's borders. The coalition's policies on border protection have been proven to work and in the past they destroyed the people smuggler model. The fact is, without the full implementation of the suite of Howard government policy outcomes, the same level of protection, including a 99 per cent reduction in boat arrivals, is unlikely. The coalition understand that the Howard government solutions worked then and will work again. We will reintroduce offshore processing on Nauru, because the rights of asylum seekers will be protected. We will return to a system of temporary protection visas, because people will be safe but not granted permanent residency with all the benefits that go with it. And we know there can be circumstances where boats can be turned back safely—as Sri Lankan and Indonesian authorities have shown—because the people smugglers' business model needs to be broken.