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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 5072


Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (15:09): I just cannot believe that we are continuing to bicker over this issue before the Senate. Australians have had enough of this. They have had a gutful of this issue, and they simply want us to get on with it. Over the last five weeks, the Houston committee have been working on this issue. Yesterday they delivered their report to the Prime Minister, the Australian parliament and the people of Australia. There are a set of recommendations in that which, the committee makes clear, are a package. They do not want this parliament cherry-picking some elements of the package and rejecting others. They want it adopted as a package, because they see it as the only way that we can get a credible solution to this important issue and stop people drowning on the open seas.

The Labor Party—the government—has indicated it is willing to compromise. Yes, we are willing to compromise. We are willing to accept Nauru. We are willing to accept Manus Island. We are willing to accept a compromise to get a resolution to this issue. That is what we are willing to do, unlike those opposite and the Greens, who were not willing to compromise in the Senate six weeks ago when a solution was reached by the House of Representatives.

What are the Houston committee's recommendations? They recommend increasing the humanitarian intake from 13½ thousand to 20,000 and eventually, over time, to 27,000. The government has agreed to look at this and will implement this. They have highlighted bilateral cooperation as an important element of this package, something that the government has been working on with our regional neighbours, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia. They point out that the Malaysia negotiations are an important part of this package. Former Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and the committee say:

The Panel recommends that Australia continue to develop its vitally importantcooperation with Malaysia on asylum issues, including the management of a substantial number of refugees to be taken annually from Malaysia …

They recommend that the government continue to work on the Malaysia plan. They also recommend the reopening of Manus Island and Nauru. The government is giving that a tick: we are going to move to reopen Manus and Nauru. But, importantly, what they say also is that temporary protection visas will not work. An important element of the opposition's program will not work. They also say that tow-backs, under the current circumstances, will not work, and they clearly make the point that turn-backs cannot be done without the agreement of Indonesia. We have discussed this on numerous occasions in this place, and it has been in evidence before Senate estimates from Admiral Chris Barrie and others, who have said that it endangers the lives of Australian Defence Force personnel. It endangers the lives and the welfare of those in the Royal Australian Navy who have to undertake this dangerous tow-back policy. Is that the policy that you are advocating? Is that what you are advocating, despite the advice of the leader of the Australian Navy, who said that it would endanger personnel? The other issue is that people just disable the boats. They deliberately disable the boats to make sure that you cannot realistically turn them around.

Let us get on to the facts about this. The Australian public want the parliament to move on. Labor has accepted the recommendations of the Houston committee. We are going to implement them. We hope that we get the support of the opposition in doing that, but what this is really about is the fact that we actually have a solution to this important issue, and those opposite cannot bring themselves to agree that we have a solution on this.

So let us look at the major issues affecting Australians. The economy in Australia is AAA rated; you cannot get any better. That is a tick for the government. The minerals resource rent tax has been up and running and is being implemented, ensuring that we are spreading the benefits of the mining boom—tick. The carbon pricing legislation has gone through and is up and running. The sky has not fallen in and what people have said is that it has not been disastrous—tick. Now we have a solution on the verge of being reached in respect of asylum seekers—tick. Now the focus shifts to you. You have to explain to the Australian public your $70 billion black hole in your election costings. The focus will now shift to you, and that is what this is about. (Time expired)