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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8687


Mr CIOBO (Moncrieff) (12:19): I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 today because in many respects it is the culmination of years of debate around the way in which this country should tackle the asylum seeker issue. I reflect back on a debate I had some years ago with Mungo MacCallum on the Gold Coast. It will not surprise many that Mungo MacCallum and I do not see eye to eye on anything, let alone this issue. Notwithstanding that, there was a point during that breakfast debate with about 300 people in the room where Mungo MacCallum, with tears in his eyes, stood and addressed the crowd about what he referred to as barbaric—the fact that there were women and children held in detention centres in Australia. Laden with that language, he put forward a value judgment which I have heard so many times on the government benches, from Labor members, from members of the Greens and from others implying that those who stood for tough border protection policies were in some way lacking in compassion.

I have got to say that that single aspect of this entire debate is what galls me and so many members of the coalition and importantly so many members of the community. The moral elitism of so many members of the Labor Party, of the Greens and of people like Mungo MacCallum goes to the bone of those of us who take the view that we are compassionate in our approach. We fundamentally disagree with those who look down their noses at what, even then, was both Labor and Liberal policy with respect to mandatory detention, let alone offshore processing and temporary protection visas.

And so a day like today is in many respects a cathartic experience. I see the minister at the table, the Parliamentary Secretary for Infrastructure and Transport and Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, snickering about that comment. It just reinforces to me the sad reality of the situation—the sad reality that so many on the Left and Centre Left still hold the view that they have some kind of moral superiority when it comes to this debate. Well, you know what? This proves that that is not the case. This legislation validates an approach that says we do not believe it is compassionate to drive a business model that sees men, women and children paying money to people smugglers to try to get an immigration outcome by coming to Australia, because in so many respects—not all, granted, but in so many respects—that is what it has been about for many years.

The reality is that those people found to be genuine refugees were not detained. Those people found to be genuine refugees were welcomed into Australia's bosom. Those people found to be genuine refugees were, in most instances if not all, taken to be new Australians. But the flip side of that coin is that there are many for whom Australia represented a shining beacon for a fresh start away from poverty that afflicted their country, away from circumstances that they did not particularly like. Whilst I have sorrow for those people, whilst ideally you would look across the horizon and wish that every country and every person around the world enjoyed the standard of living that we enjoy in Australia, the simple reality is that it is not possible. This is why, in order to manage a program of refugee outcomes that enabled refugees to come into Australia and to make a fresh start, it needed to be ordered and why we needed to have structure to the program. Make no mistake: it was completely abandoned for one reason and one reason alone, and that was for political purposes.

The flip-flopping that has taken place over the past five years or more—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): While we are on the subject, we can refer to the bill before us. This is not a history lesson; it is actually a bill before the parliament. I will continue to remind people that you actually need to be relevant to the bill before us.

Mr CIOBO: Madam Deputy Speaker, the positions of the government and the opposition are entirely germane to the bill before the parliament, I would suggest.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Then you can draw it, reference it, to the bill.

Mr CIOBO: In that respect, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is important to understand the policy journey that has gotten us to where we are today, including, for example, the current Prime Minister's view—and I quote from the House Hansard

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: This is not reference. I have asked you to reference the bill—to make reference to the bill before us.

Mr CIOBO: Well, I reference it to the bill, Madam Deputy Speaker, because this goes to the direct—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: No, you actually need to be relevant to the bill.

Mr CIOBO: I am referring to offshore processing, Madam Deputy Speaker. How is that not—I am sorry; I seek clarity, but offshore processing is entirely relevant, I would have thought.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: No, everybody has had a wide-ranging debate about political issues as opposed to referring to the bill. If you just come back to the bill and say how it relates to the bill, that is all I am asking people to do, which I think is actually relevant to the standing orders, which talk about relevancy.

Mr CIOBO: Madam Deputy Speaker, offshore processing, which I think is encompassed within the bill—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you. That is all I have asked.

Mr CIOBO: has been an interesting journey as to why the government has now adopted the policy of offshore processing, given the Prime Minister's position, according to the House Hansard of 13 May 2003, when she said:

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.

So that is the starting point. When she was Deputy Prime Minister, offshore processing—the so-called Pacific solution—was dismantled. Indeed, Senator Chris Evans, in an address to the Refugee Council of Australia at Parramatta Town Hall on 17 November 2008, said:

Labor committed to abolishing the Pacific Solution and this was one the first things the Rudd Labor Government did on taking office. It was also one of my greatest pleasures in politics.

That summarises the change in policy that took place.

Make no mistake: the 22,518 asylum seekers who have arrived since November 2007 in 386 boats—I think it is 387 including the arrival last night—the tragic loss of life and the pull factors that created a business model for people smugglers all flowed from bad policy. It was not a lack of compassion on our side. It was not moral inferiority on our side. It was a recognition that sometimes there must be strength to have order, and order is crucial to equity. So, for those reasons, I support this legislation today. It does not go far enough, but it is a start. In that respect, I am encouraged that the House is likely to pass this legislation.