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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7489


Senator TCHEN (7:56 PM) — I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002. It is important to recognise that this bill does not introduce any new concept in border protection. It does not propose any new measures in migration law. And it most certainly does not affect the rights of any Australian citizen or resident. It is entirely noncontroversial, except that it exposes the uncertainty and ambiguity that the Labor Party tries so desperately to hide as to how or even whether it would protect Australia's national interests. Rather, this bill makes minor extensions to the definition of excised offshore place which was inserted into the Migration Act by the Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration Zone) Act 2001—an amendment that was supported by the Labor Party and, it should be noted, continues to be supported by the Labor Party. This bill is an important part of the government's overall strategy to combat people-smuggling. We should all recognise the simple fact that this strategy has already worked. The message has gone out and it has been heeded. There has been no unauthorised boat arrival in Australia for nearly a year. Indeed, the Senate should note that the effectiveness of the government's policy has been recognised by the Labor Party. The retention of the excision of these offshore places is a key part of Labor's asylum seeker policy announced last week after much agonising by the ALP—and further agonising since then.

The Labor Party says it opposes this bill because of concerns about Australian sovereignty. The provisions in this bill have no effect whatsoever on the rights and wellbeing of any Australian citizen or resident in Australia on a valid visa, whether it be for permanent or temporary residency. This is an extremely important observation to make because of the type of red herring that the Labor Party constantly raises. The simple fact is that if Mr Crean, Ms Gillard and the rest of the Labor leadership were truly concerned about sovereignty then they would have—indeed, they should have—raised these concerns during the debate about the excision of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands last year. They did not raise them then and, as I noted before, they do not today.

So why do the Labor Party make such a hoo-ha about the nation's sovereignty being violated by excision? They do not want to be seen to oppose a policy that obviously works and they know that the extension of this policy would further strengthen the border protection capabilities instituted by the government, yet Mr Crean persists with the fiction that this bill means that we would be surrendering our borders. The truth is that Mr Crean is trying to walk both sides of the street, but he runs the risk of pandering to the lunatic sections in the Labor Party only to assist the people smugglers—those international criminals who are Australia's real enemies.

This bill was referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee when it was introduced into this chamber. That inquiry turned into a classic political stunt by the Labor opposition. While every non-existing concern about human rights received an airing, notwithstanding lack of evidence, the only submission the inquiry received that expressed substantive and verifiable concerns, from the Indigenous communities in those places to which this bill is applicable, received no consideration in the recommendations of the inquiry.

What the inquiry process did make clear—though this was not reflected in the inquiry's report—was that the provisions of this bill will have no effect whatsoever on Australia's continued observation of international treaty obligations regarding asylum seekers. We heard earlier Senator Kirk quote chapter and verse supposedly from the inquiry's report. What Senator Kirk did not tell the Senate is that none of the witnesses she quoted would declare, when pressed, that they were certain that any breach of such obligations would result from this bill passing into law. In fact, the representative of the UNHCR, when asked this question, specifically said that he did not believe this bill would cause Australia to violate human rights under our international treaty obligations.

An important outcome of this bill is that it would reinforce Australia's prospect of continuing to protect the people, the communities and the environment of Northern Australia from introduced pests and diseases by successfully discouraging unauthorised arrivals of people assisted by people smugglers. This was a concern repeatedly raised by the Indigenous communities of Northern Australia, who gave the bill their unqualified support. Senator Scullion—undoubtedly the one genuine representative in this chamber of Territorians and especially of the Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory—has already covered this aspect in his excellent discourse on this matter. I need only note that the ALP has once again ignored the interests—the expressed interests—of Indigenous Australians when these do not coincide with the ALP's own agenda.

This bill is about the government's commitment to work comprehensively in Australia's national interest by ensuring strong border protection and that no weak messages are being sent to people smugglers overseas. The previous decisions to excise Christmas Island, Ashmore Reef, Carter Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands have, with a range of other initiatives, been successful in deterring boats from seeking access to Australia. The government believes that the additional excisions proposed would provide an additional deterrent and are an important part of the broader strategy of prevention, interdiction and deterrence. I urge ALP senators to put Australia's interests first and support the passage of this bill.