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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8685


Mr TUDGE (Aston) (12:10): I would like to associate myself with many of the comments which coalition MPs have made on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. I do not wish to go over the ground already covered by previous speakers, but I will make three brief points. The first is that I reject the suggestion from the government that we are somehow delaying the opening of Nauru by continuing this debate today. As the government knows, and particularly as the Leader of the House, Minister Albanese, knows, we are supporting this bill. This bill will pass this parliament. Therefore, the government is able to get on with the job of opening Nauru as quickly as possible. Indeed, the Prime Minister knows this. With great fanfare yesterday and with the media in tow, she had members of the Defence Force in her office to give them instructions about how to go about opening Nauru. I ask Minister Albanese to stop the politicking in this regard and allow members of parliament to have their say on this very important issue, an issue which many of us feel very deeply and strongly about. The fact that it is uncomfortable for Liberals to remind the government about their past positions and about their policy failings over the last four years is not reason enough to shut down debate in this chamber.

The second point is that I am pleased the government has finally swallowed its pride and decided to reopen Nauru—four years after it disastrously decided to close it. I hope the government's measures will work. Anyone who suggests that we want boats to continue to arrive, as one journalist put to me yesterday, is cynical beyond belief. If boats continue to arrive, more people will drown. If boats continue to arrive, fewer people from the refugee camps of Africa and Asia will be able to be given refuge in this country. If boats continue to arrive, we will still expend billions of dollars trying to process them. We want the boats to stop. That has been our policy for a decade. So we are hoping the measures the government has put forward through this package will have that impact and will stop the people-smuggling business. I am afraid to say, however, that I am concerned that they will not. I say that for a few reasons.

If you want to stop the people-smuggling business, three things are required. Firstly, you need the full suite of policy measures to be implemented. Reopening Nauru is one of them. It is terrific that the government is finally going to do that. But you also need temporary protection visas and you also need to be able to turn the boats around when it is safe to do so. Secondly, you need competence in implementation—something this government has demonstrated time and time again it does not have. Finally, you need to demonstrate absolute resolve to stop the people-smuggling business. The Howard government had that resolve. No-one is in any doubt that Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison and the coalition have that resolve—and we will show that resolve should we win government at the next election. But it is a resolve which we doubt this government has.

So let me repeat: we hope that the government's measures will be successful in stopping the people-smuggling trade but we fear that they will not.

The final point I would like to raise is that, even though we are supporting the passage of this bill through the parliament, we as a parliament and as a nation must dwell on what happened over the last five years and learn from it. It is not pointscoring, as some have put it, to go over the past five years; it is immensely important to learn from what has occurred, to hold the government accountable for its actions and to learn from history. There is a great saying: 'Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.' It is incumbent upon us to examine the course of this policy area over the last five years and learn from it. It is particularly important for the Labor Party to look deeply inside themselves and learn from their mistakes over the last five years. I think it is incumbent upon some of the analysts, commentators and activists to do likewise because they often joined the chorus calling for the abolition of the Pacific solution.

We have seen over the last four years what I consider to be possibly the greatest policy failure in a generation, possibly the greatest policy failure since Gough Whitlam lost control of the economy. If the Labor Party does not stop and reflect and learn from that, they will be doing themselves a disservice and they will be doing the nation a disservice. It is such a great policy failure because they deliberately, methodically, with great intent and with great celebration dismantled the Pacific solution, a solution which, far from being ineffective, was effective beyond belief. It stopped the people-smuggling business in its tracks. And by doing that it allowed more people from African refugee camps to come into Australia. It meant that we were not spending billions of dollars on this process. Most importantly, it meant that hundreds of people did not drown.

This Labor government unravelled all of that, and I think they need to take a long, close, hard look at why they did that. My suspicion, from what they have said in the past, is that they unravelled that policy not because it was ineffective but primarily for reasons of moral vanity and because they thought they were going to get one-upmanship on the coalition and demonstrate that they had more empathy than we did. Rather, the empathy was with the policy position on our side because we were equally concerned about refugees travelling on boats and drowning in the seas. That is a significant reason why those policies were introduced in the first place and why we have continued to press those policies since. That is why it is so important for us to dwell on the past.

I am disappointed that so few members on the other side have come in here to talk on this bill. I think it would be very big of them to come into this House and dwell on the past and possibly own up to the fact that mistakes were made. I think there would be much greater magnanimity in this parliament if more people on the other side of the House were willing to admit the mistakes that were made by them. I acknowledge that some have done that. I think that if more people on the other side of the House, including the Prime Minister, did that, this would be a better place.