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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7476

Senator SHERRY (5:47 PM) —The Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002 deals with the central issue of the excision, or exclusion, or removal, of thousands of islands from the Australian political jurisdiction with respect to the landing of refugees on those islands. The Senate has already considered this issue in the context of regulations that were rightly and very firmly rejected by the Senate some months ago. The Liberal government has repackaged the excision, removal, exclusion, of these thousands of islands around Australia's shore into the bill that we are now dealing with.

This bill is a political opportunity for the government to rerun the 2001 election campaign, which, as we all know, was conducted on the themes of exploiting the intersection between race and fear. The Liberal government knows this is fertile ground politically—but exploiting it, and exploiting it continuously, inevitably leads to self-destruction, a loss of national confidence and a nation that turns inwards and is paralysed by the issues that confront us. There is no lofty motivation for this bill. There is no assertion of principle in relation to it. It is just another piece of opportunistic politics by the Liberal government that has proven time and time again that it is willing to do anything and say anything for political advantage. The words `children overboard' summarise that approach.

It is a blatant and incorrect attempt to characterise the Labor Party as soft on border security. Nothing could be further from the truth. When Australia faced a border security threat in World War II, when it truly faced the threat of invasion, it turned to the Labor Party to lead, and it was the Labor Party that delivered. It repudiated Mr Menzies, who was the creator of the party that currently holds the government benches and was the mentor of the current Prime Minister, Mr Howard.

I will now go to the ineffectiveness of this piece of legislation. The Liberal government is somehow pretending that excision, exclusion, removal, of these islands would stop people-smuggling. It is trying to create this image that excision is somehow a stop sign. How on earth does it follow that you can exclude thousands of islands from the Australian political jurisdiction? Determined people will still come. If a part of the nation is removed and if they think they would be advantaged by landing at some other point in the country, particularly on the mainland coast of Australia, that is simply where those people attempting to land will head for.

If we excise all of these islands, Australia will be sending a signal that people should go to the mainland. How does it help with border security if we send the signal `Go to the mainland'? We will have unauthorised arrivals on the mainland of Australia, with all of the associated disease, security risks and humanitarian issues that follow, as people will pull up on very remote stretches of the Australian coastline. It cannot be logically contended that excising islands that you can see from the coastline, that you can swim to—and you can actually walk back and forth to some of these islands at low tide—is going to effectively prevent people-smuggling. It is a nonsense claim.

If we look at the other side of the coin and assume that the Liberal government gets this bill through the Senate and these islands are excised, is that a stop sign? No, it is not. People come to excised places now. What happens when they go to these excised places is that they are taken to Papua New Guinea and Nauru for processing. Excision is not a stop sign: it is a different processing regime in a different place. As these people who enter Australia, refugees, are processed they are sorted into refugees and non-refugees. What happens in the longer term? We take the genuine refugees. But what else happens over the longer term? We have all of the return problems with the non-refugees that we have with those who are processed on mainland Australia. It is a fantasy world of getting this wider excision in place.

Labor support fast processing arrangements. If the Liberal government had a credible plan to make Australia's arrangements faster, we would support it. The Labor Party came up with a faster processing regime in their policy announcement last week. The Liberal government knows that it is not going to be able to operate the so-called Pacific solution forever, no matter how many excisions it can obtain. We have to confront the real problem. The Labor Party will support genuine attempts to deal with the real problem. A comprehensive and long-term solution is necessary. Activities that have been undertaken overseas by the Federal Police and by Immigration Compliance have made a difference. They have made a difference to people-smuggling and the opportunity for people smugglers to go about their evil trade.

What we have is a Liberal government that is adopting a political strategy rather than a credible strategy for dealing with the refugee issue. It is very important that refugees are processed in their source countries. Fixing the issues which cause them to flee, engaging in processing and care and protection in countries of first asylum, and engaging in agreements with those transit countries are all important aspects of finding a long-term solution to this issue. What has stopped boats coming, so far, is the effective work of the Australian Federal Police and Compliance personnel. The Labor Party supports that. If there is anything additional that can reasonably be done—and the Labor Party has outlined a number of additional initiatives in its policy launch of last week—the Labor Party is prepared to support it, consistent with the policy it announced last week. But the Labor Party does not support this irrational political agenda which calls for the removal of thousands of islands from the Australian political jurisdiction.

We have had a number of so-called border protection strategies from the Liberal government. This bill represents its fifth strategy. The first was the pre-Tampa strategy, when 213 boats came into Australian waters carrying thousands of refugees and, of course, nothing happened. Then the government adopted its second strategy, which was the post-Tampa strategy—the so-called Pacific solution. It is no coincidence that that was adopted shortly before the election was called. In April we had the third strategy— the long-term detention strategy for Australia. Then in May this year we had a fourth strategy put forward in the context of the May budget. The fourth strategy was different from the April strategy announced only some 34 days before. Now we have the fifth strategy from this Liberal government, which is to remove from Australian jurisdiction thousands of islands around the coastline of Australia.

What sort of defence of Australia as a nation does removing thousands of islands from our political jurisdiction represent? It represents a capitulation, a surrender. Removing bits and pieces of Australia represents an admission that we cannot defend the longstanding borders of Australia. What will be next? Presumably, if this fifth strategy does not work, the government will go on and remove places like Fraser Island—or King Island or Flinders Island located in Bass Strait—or perhaps go even further and remove the island on which I live, Tasmania. Where does all this stop? To cut out bits of Australia is not an effective strategy for dealing with refugees.

Since one of my colleagues spoke on this matter in the other place, the legislation has been before the Senate committee for a comprehensive examination. I understand that Senator Bolkus and other colleagues of mine in this place carried out a thorough examination of this legislation. Looking at the transcript of the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee to which this bill was referred, there are a couple of very interesting pieces of evidence. The first that I refer to is that of the Acting Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Mr Ed Killesteyn. He told the Senate committee that the effect of the bill would be to encourage people smugglers to head for the Australian coast. He said:

It is a simple matter of geography. If you remove the outlying islands from the capacity of smugglers to simply drop off their cargo, they are forced to look for other routes ...

Then we had another piece of very interesting evidence from the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mr Mick Keelty. He went even further and confirmed that with regard to refugees seeking to enter Australia they would prefer to have people arrive on shore. He said:

This is a far preferable way for us to go ...

... ... ...

... if they are going to commit a crime in the way they are sending people to Australia, we can at least try to get them sent to where there is ... some infrastructure support for them.

These are two statements from senior bureaucrats. They show that aiming for the mainland is not just an effect of this bill; it is the intent. The Liberal government is effectively saying that the job of defending our borders is so difficult that we will cop out of it and surrender off bits and pieces of Australia. It is an indication that this government does not care about genuinely solving this issue. It is simply playing politics and maximising votes in respect of the matter.

Over the last three or four years unauthorised boat arrivals have landed on Australia's east coast in places such as Cairns, Townsville, Macksville—near Kempsey in New South Wales—and even as far south as Port Kembla. This government bill is fundamentally flawed. It is fundamentally stupid and counterproductive legislation. It simply lays out the welcome mat for similar landings to occur in future. It is in the national interest that the Labor Party will not be supporting this particular bill, as on the previous occasion we voted against the regulations that sought to accomplish the removal of thousands of offshore islands from political jurisdiction, islands that have been within the jurisdiction of the Australian nation since Australia was founded as a nation. Effective defence is defending all of Australia's borders—the Australian nation—not cutting bits and pieces out of it and establishing different political jurisdictions. This bill is a surrender sign from this government. It is a sign, given that this is its fifth strategy since September of last year, that the government intends to surrender up parts of the Australian jurisdiction. It should not be tolerated. Consistent with its previous vote on the regulations that were attempted to be shoved through this place, the Labor Party will not be supporting this particular bill.