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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8689

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (12:28): I would like to talk on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011, which we have before us today. But let me first say what a sad excuse for a government we have before us in the debate on this bill today, when so few of them have wanted to get up and defend the government's position. For more than four years, the Rudd and Gillard governments have been progressively dismantling the Pacific solution, and the number of boats has steadily increased. The number of arrivals in this country since November 2007 is in the range of 22,500 people, and the number of boats is now approaching about 390. Why should we not be surprised? Because this government has policies that are not evidence based and that are without a practical framework.

Then, as the failures become more obvious, with arrogance and hubris the government races around putting bandaids over its mistakes, and the situation gets progressively worse. Of course, its failures to implement evidence based policies are totally consistent with the operation of the government over a wide range of activities, be it the taxation of mining companies, the carbon tax, the pink batts scheme, the BER school halls or a host of other, smaller disasters.

Let us go back to the figures for boat arrivals during the Pacific solution period. In 2002-03 there were no boats; in 2003-04 there was one boat; in 2004-05 there were no boats; in 2005-06 there were eight boats; in 2006-07, four boats arrived; in 2007-08 there were three boats. But in 2008-09 the number of arrivals starts to climb again—there were 23 boats. In the number of arrivals in 2009-10 the change of government becomes really obvious—there were 117 boats. In 2010-11 there were 89 boats, and in 2011-12 there were another 112 boats. So, in the figures, which start at the rock bottom level of 2002-03, you can see the number of boats coming to this country increasing. As I said, something like 390 boats have arrived in the time of the Rudd and Gillard governments.

The operation of the Pacific solution in the latter half of the Howard government's term clearly illustrates that offshore processing was the greatest deterrent to people smugglers. In 2001, the coalition introduced processing on Nauru and Manus Island. It introduced a policy of temporary protection visas and made it clear that boats would be turned around when it was safe to do so. The next six years saw the arrival of only 272 people on 16 boats. Since 2007 and the election of the Labor government, complete with its arrogance and hubris, the figure has increased to nearly 390 boats and 22,500 people. One boat arrived yesterday, and no doubt there will be others in the coming week. It is timely to remember that in 2003 the Prime Minister, who was then in opposition, described the Pacific solution as 'costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle'. Also, in the second year of the Labor government, Chris Evans 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 really says it all.

But by 2010, the government was changing its rhetoric. Apparently without any discussions with the government of Timor-Leste, the Prime Minister was announcing a solution in East Timor. The position of the government since the abolition of the Pacific solution has been marked by a succession of inconsistencies. It would not condone Nauru because Nauru was not a signatory to the UN convention, but it was happy to embrace the Malaysian offshore processing arrangement even though Malaysia was not a signatory either. The government criticised the policy of turning back the boats despite the PM herself advocating it. It was said of the Nauru solution that it is now 'embraced', with assessors already on the way to check out the facilities. The government has now agreed to the Houston report's recommendation of processing offshore, but it was only a short time ago that there were boat people in every conceivable form of accommodation: migrant centres, detention centres, the Curtin Air Force base, an abandoned camp in Tasmania and even a motel in Brisbane. What a shambles! If some had behaved with a little less pride, none of what happened in the last four years or the national heartburn that went with it would have been necessary.

But getting back to a Pacific solution will be a lot of work. It will require the reintroduction of temporary protection visas, and I believe that the government must embrace the idea. Once potential illegal migrants know that there is no certainty of reaching the mainland, that their visa gives them no proprietary right to stay, that there is no automatic right to family reunion and that there is every likelihood that the time they spend in offshore facilities will be similar to the time they would otherwise spend in a UN refugee centre, the illegal people-smuggling trade will be less attractive and will dry up. This illegal boat trade will lose its passenger base, and people will no longer be subjected to exploitative and dangerous trips on leaking and unsafe boats. In one sense this policy is harsh—no-one wants to turn away or slow down any human being escaping violence, danger or persecution—but the upside, beyond the end to the people-smuggling trade, will be the advancement of the cases of those refugees who have been waiting patiently in UN refugee camps for up to 10 years.

I support the Houston recommendation of an increase of our refugee intake to 20,000. This will give the patient people, who have been put to one side by the phenomenon of the boat people a better chance in life; a better go. The Labor Party has a lot to answer for. As the previous speaker said, the boat people issue over the last four or five years has been the greatest policy failure in a generation. We now have the opportunity to put it right. Let us do it well, let us do it quickly, and let us put an end to this unfortunate era in Australian politics.