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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8694


Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (12:52): I am very pleased to sum up this debate on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. I thank honourable members for their contributions. It is high time that this bill passed this chamber; it would have been better if it had been passed much earlier.

It is appropriate that we reflect on the circumstances that have brought us here. Last year, the High Court of Australia brought down the judgment. It very clearly ruled invalid under the Migration Act the agreement with Malaysia and the transportation of people to Malaysia. But much more importantly than that even, the High Court changed the common under­standing of the Migration Act as it had been understood by the government and by the opposition. The previous government, the Howard government, amended the Migration Act to allow for offshore processing. It did so with the support of the Labor Party. The Labor Party did not agree with everything the Howard government did in this space, as is a matter of public record, but the then opposition, the Labor Party, agreed with the right of the executive to implement offshore processing and agreed that offshore processing should be part of the government's tools.

The then government and opposition, the Liberal Party and the Labor Party, had a common understanding, which had continued up until last year, about how that act would work, based on various courts' interpretations at various times. That understanding was that offshore processing, if the minister of the day was satisfied of certain things, was lawful. The High Court took a different view. It looked past that, as is its right. It was also the right of the parliament to restore the original view of the parliament. The government proposed that, just as the previous government had proposed the original understanding, that understanding be restored. That is not something that the opposition supported. The opposition did not support the right of the government to implement offshore processing in a way that we saw as necessary. When John Howard as Prime Minister went to Kim Beazley and asked for that support it was provided, to Kim Beazley's great political cost, because he saw the best interests of the nation.

These are things which have been debated many times in this place. What is important now is that we move forward. That is why, in order to get to this point, the House and hopefully the other place in good time—in expeditious time—can pass this legislation to find a way forward.

I would like to thank again retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston; Paris Aristotle, who in my view has done more for refugees than any other living Australian through his commitment to the issue; and Michael L'Estrange, who has worked for various leaders of the Liberal Party and who is a respected former secretary of the department of foreign affairs—he is respected I am sure on both sides of this aisle—to help the parliament through by making recommendations.

The underlying principle of their recommendations is that people who arrive by boat should receive no advantage in their processing. To argue otherwise is to argue that people should receive an advantage if they arrive by boat. To argue otherwise is to suggest that somebody who can afford to come here by boat or who is inclined to come here by boat should receive advantageous treatment over those who are waiting elsewhere for resettlement in Australia. Many members of this House have travelled the world and have seen people in difficult and protracted situations. I have done it, the member for Cook has done it, the Minister for Multicultural Affairs has done it and many backbenchers have done it and seen those situations. We have seen the extended and difficult situations that those people are in and want to give them an even chance.

Let me today explicitly reject the assertion of some— indeed, the assertion of some in this chamber and elsewhere—that to believe in a rigorous process of offshore processing is somehow to take an anti-immigration stance or a racist stance or that it is somehow to appeal to the darkened nature of some in Australia. I reject that absolutely. You can, and many do, believe as I believe in an extended refugee program, in giving more people the chance of a life in Australia and in a higher immigration program but believe that there needs to be a fairer and more orderly system. This is something that, it is no surprise, has dominated the public debate and it is something that I have argued for in my 18 months as Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

It is now time for the parliament to pass this legislation. There will continue to be a debate. We will, as I have publicly indicated, progress processing on PNG and Nauru. I will lay the instrument upon the table. I will also continue to pursue actively, as the report calls for, the introduction of the Malaysia agreement. The Houston package makes clear that this is a holistic approach. We cannot cherry pick and we will not cherry pick. I am sure the opposition and we will continue to argue about this, but I call on the opposition to look in good faith at the Malaysia agreement and at the protections that are built into it. I recognise that they will pass this legislation today and also the work of the member for Cook with me on amendments to ensure the bill's smooth passage through the House. Only as a package will we break this trade. Only as a package will we save people's lives and give people better advantage.

I turn very briefly to the opposition's second reading amendment, which we will oppose. We will oppose it because it is wrong. The opposition of course seeks to say that Nauru and PNG are only part of the package and that we need to do other things. We agree on that much, but we disagree strongly on what those other things are. If you look at the opposition's policy you will see that they believe in turning back the boats on the high seas, turning them around and pointing them towards Indonesia. This is something that the expert panel looked at. I have always said, 'Yes, that would be a deterrent.' I have always argued that taking people back to where they began the boat journey, whether it be Malaysia or Indonesia, is a useful deterrent but it can be done only with the agreement of the country to which you wish to take people. It can only be done in this case with the agreement of Indonesia. The opposition has been at sixes and sevens about this. I heard with amusement the Deputy Leader of the Opposition say yesterday, 'We don't use a megaphone. We're not going to lecture Indonesia publicly about this; we're going to work quietly behind the scenes.' Then the Leader of the Opposition got his megaphone out and said, 'These are Indonesian vessels disgorging in Australia. It is Indonesia's responsibility; they should be doing this. We'll do it regardless of whether Indonesia agrees or not.'

If the opposition continue on this policy they will need to raise it with Indonesia at some point, as they failed to do so when the Leader of the Opposition met with the President of Indonesia. He did not have the gumption to raise this issue with the President of Indonesia. Then they talk about temporary protection visas. These were given so much attention by the panel that they are not even mentioned. That is because the panel did not believe there was any efficacy in going down that road.

This is a very significant day. It is important that this legislation pass, because the executive should be able to implement offshore processing. We are more than happy with the recommendation that each instrument be laid before the House and the Senate and for the House and the Senate to be able to pass judgment on those. We will continue to prosecute the case for each arrangement that we have put in place.

This is not the end of the efforts to deal with what is the very pernicious trade of people smuggling, which trades in people's lives and gives people the expectation that, in return for very significant sums of money, they can be given passage to Australia. I commend this bill to the House. It is important that the bill pass the House today and pass the Senate expeditiously. The Australian people expect no less, and the people smugglers fear nothing more.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The immediate question is that the amendment moved by the member for Cook to the amendment moved by the member for Melbourne be agreed to.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The question is that the amendment moved by the member for Melbourne be agreed to.

A division having been called and the bells having been rung—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: As there are fewer than five members on the side for the ayes, I declare the question resolved in the negative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

Question negatived, Mr Bandt and Mr Wilkie voting aye.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.