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Tuesday, 11 September 2012
Page: 10211


Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (16:24): I want to acknowledge the comments of the member for Hindmarsh. I have worked with him on a committee and I have always found him to be a fair man, but sometimes we can make mistakes in the way that we present an argument. To attack individuals and not the issue takes us away from the debate that has to be had in respect of asylum speakers. Fearmongering as a terminology is not helpful, because—

Mr Georganas: We've had the debate since 2000!

Mr WYATT: Let me say that we have not really had the debate, because there are philosophical positions that people bring into this chamber based on personal biases and viewpoints. In the electorate, when I doorknock, I find that people express very strong views about the way in which they see the government as being inactive in protecting the borders of Australia. I recently sent out Hasluck's biggest survey, to every home in my electorate—there are over 94,000 registered voters and approximately 130,000 people living within the electorate. What came back from thousands of respondents as the single significant issue was the lack of border protection that the government has created. In the discussions I have when I am door knocking, people tell me that they do not set aside the humanitarian considerations for individuals who try to escape countries that are torn by war or are ripped about by the rife of what occurs within a society. What they do not like is those who queue-jump, those who pay significant money to people smugglers. They find that galling in the sense that they themselves come from overseas and are seeking family reunions. Many of them have said: 'I don't have an issue with New Australians or with people coming to this country, but I want my families chances to be considered equally in that context.'

They are angry about the lack of border controls. They have expressed the viewpoint that our navy has become a taxi service. They say that each time they pick up a newspaper or turn on the television they hear that another distress signal has been sent from another ship within the borders of Indonesia seeking aid from the Australian Navy. They find that equally frustrating, because there are many reasons for this. But it is of particular concern to a lot of people who are struggling to pay the bills or who find it hard to rent a house or have their children's needs catered for that Australia can take so many of these people at a large cost to the Australian taxpayer and not do more to look after our own first. Many of the families I have talked to were post-war migrants, who talk about the fact that when they came here they were given assistance but they had to make the effort to acquire a working knowledge of English and to fit into the workplace.

Four years ago, the Rudd-Gillard government overturned policies that were proven to work. That is evident from the figures at the end of the Howard government's term. Since then we have had a reversal of that. Senator Evans made the comment, and recently reaffirmed the fact, that he was immensely proud of one of his first decisions, which was to remove the three-tiered approach the Howard government had in place. Since then, as I said, we have had 22,000 illegal immigrants, in excess of 1,000 deaths at sea, a battering of Australia's international reputation and a $4.7 billion budget blowout. This was all avoidable. Sometimes when governments get it wrong they have the opportunity to remedy the impacts of decisions they have made about the way in which they have delivered programs and services. It is not hard to swallow your pride sometimes and say, 'We've got it wrong. We made the wrong decision. What we want is a bilateral approach. We will consider the options that are put before us.'

I acknowledge that the Houston report has a lot of merit. There are elements in that report that augur well for the possibility of seeking a joint parliamentary approach. However, there also have to be those factors that discourage the people smugglers, who trade on the fact that if you get somebody here they will not necessarily be returned.

The coalition supports policies that are proven to work. That means offshore processing, temporary protection visas and turning the boats around. These policies work together to stop the boats and end the needless deaths at sea. I would hate to think how many bodies, which we know nothing about, are floating in that ocean and how many boats have left their destination but have not arrived. In the last four weeks 40 boats and 2,457 people have arrived, including four boats and 246 people in the last 48 hours, but not one person is yet on their way to Nauru or Manus Island.

Under Labor, everything always costs more, delivers less and takes longer to implement. Offshore processing is proving no different.

The three regions which are host to the largest number of refugees around the world are: Africa, excluding North Africa, at 2.2 million; Asia and the Pacific region at four million; and the Middle East and North Africa at 1.9 million. Australia does not have the capacity to take all of these refugees. There must be some order to the system—and there was. It was achieved. Australia must also be allowed to determine who comes to our shores, who settles here and when. That is an important factor in the way in which we protect our borders. Again, I want to reiterate that no Australian has a non-humanitarian consideration. Afghan and Iraqi refugees account for almost half of the all refugees that the UNHCR has responsibility for worldwide. Three out of 10 refugees in the world are from Afghanistan and the second largest group is Iraqi refugees at 1.7 million.

In respect of the Malaysian solution, I note that the legislation that passed in the House has not yet authorised any country to be used for offshore processing This requires a special legislative instrument to be approved by both houses of parliament. This has not yet occurred as such an instrument has not yet been introduced by the government. As a result, there are no countries currently authorised by the parliament for offshore processing.

In relation to Nauru and Papua New Guinea, the coalition is confident about the presence of appropriate binding legal protections for people formally transferred by Australia and processed at these locations given their signatory status to the refugee convention. Accordingly, the coalition will support offshore processing at these locations when the government seeks these authorisations.

In relation to the questions you have raised, these matters have not yet been addressed in detail by the government and I encourage you to raise the matters directly with them. It is important that if Australians have strong views on this that they talk to their local members.

The government has not indicated what arrangements will be made for unaccompanied minors and children. In relation to the question of how long people will remain in offshore processing centres, this will depend upon a number of variables, including processing times and willingness to be resettled or returned to their country of origin if found not to be genuine refugees. If the government means what it says under their no-advantage test then it is possible people would remain on Nauru for some years, as this is the typical time for refugees awaiting resettlement elsewhere in our region.

The coalition does not want to see people in processing centres for longer than is absolutely necessary; however, nor do we want to see other vulnerable people unable to advance their claims by getting on boats made to wait even longer. The fact is you cannot forget the Howard government's policy outcomes on border protection—a 99 per cent reduction in boat arrivals.

Programs and initiatives that work have shown that there is a capability and capacity where there is a will. When you try to implement new initiatives they do work for a period of time but there is not the longer term deterrence. I hope that in the thinking of all of us involved that we reach a solution that will give people the opportunity to come the legal way and be given humanitarian consideration but those who are not genuine will certainly be returned. It is not about attacking individuals and their positions in respect of this matter. It is about looking at the issue and what it is that needs to be addressed, agreeing to processes but also looking at the deterrence that will mean that those whose trade is to smuggle people for their gain will be diminished in their effectiveness.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Symon ): Order! The discussion is now concluded.