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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7504


Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (9:20 PM) —The Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002 is very important for all Australians. The Australian public has a clear expectation that the Australian government should be strong on border protection, tough on people smugglers and act in accordance with the national interest. Those are the issues that underpin this bill. The bill expands the definition of an excised offshore place and sends a strong deterrent message to people smugglers. The bill ensures that persons who travel unlawfully to Australia and who enter Australia at an excised offshore place will not obtain a favourable migration outcome.

The bill does not disadvantage Australians in any way, nor does it cause detriment to those people with lawful authority to be in Australia under the Migration Act. These people will be able to move about freely in any of the excised offshore places just as they would in any other part of Australia. These places remain integral parts of Australia. In fact, there has been much debate about this bill entailing the giving up of sovereignty, that we are giving up pieces of Australia. Nothing could be further from the truth. When similar provisions were before the parliament last year, the Labor opposition found no problem at all in excising Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. We are applying the same principle today, yet the opposition baulks at what we are suggesting.

It is worth while looking at those people who live in the areas which would be most affected. I went to the Torres Strait Islands in July this year, and the feedback I got was that the people there are in favour of this excision. We had a comment by Senator Scullion, who represents people who could be affected by this. He stood here in the Senate today as a representative of those people in the Northern Territory and said they were supportive of these excisions. We have just heard from Senator Harris, who represents the state of Queensland, that there is no opposition from people in Cape York. When you look at those Australians who live either in the areas we are talking about or in close proximity to those areas, you find no opposition to the government's proposal. They want the government to be strong on border protection.

This bill is an important part of the government's comprehensive strategy to combat people-smuggling. I remind senators opposite that people-smuggling is criminal. Earlier this year, the Australian and Indonesian governments cohosted a conference on people-smuggling in Bali. People from many countries attended that conference. I heard first-hand accounts of what people smugglers do. The head of Interpol indicated that people smugglers are often tied up with illicit dealing in guns, drugs and other contraband. It is also not uncommon to find them tied up in the sexual trade of women and children. People smugglers are not generous, altruistic people who are trying to help others find a better life. They are organised criminals who trade in human beings as they would in drugs or guns. We are providing a deterrent to these organised criminal syndicates.

We have even seen tragedy at the hands of such people smugglers. People who criticise this deterrent underestimate the evil trade of people smugglers. People smugglers do not care about their human cargo. As long as they have the money in their hands they do not care whether their customers reach their destination or not. That is the blunt truth. These provisions are part of a suite of provisions implemented by this government to deter people smugglers from their unlawful operations. There is a clear indication that this strategy is working. It has been about 12 months—I think it is in excess of 12 months—since any substantive attempt has been made to enter Australian waters. The results of our strategy speak for themselves: people smugglers have been deterred from their illegal activities.

We cannot afford to be complacent. We cannot afford to sit back and say, `We've done enough.' Credible intelligence reports indicate that people smugglers are looking for ways and means to get their clients to other parts of Australia and to other destinations in the Pacific. This bill will not force asylum seekers onto the mainland, as the opposition and minor parties suggest. Rather, failing to pass this bill will give people smugglers the green light to continue their trade to either Australia or other destinations in the Pacific. This is totally unacceptable to the Australian government and, more importantly, to the people of Australia.

The government has carefully considered the report and recommendations of the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee. We note that only two of the recommendations relate to the bill itself, and the other recommendations concern elements of the Pacific strategy. The government does not accept recommendations 1 to 7. All of these involve issues which were before the Senate last year when the opposition supported the original excision bill. It is incomprehensible that the opposition is seeking to raise these objections now, when it had ample opportunity to do so when the legislation was passed last year—with its support.

In relation to recommendations 8 and 9, the government recognises the significant role that Indigenous communities already play. We will continue to ensure that Indigenous communities are involved in border protection as appropriate. I speak with first-hand knowledge of Indigenous communities that I have visited which have assisted Customs in looking out for Australia's borders. As the Minister for Justice and Customs, I have acknowledged the great assistance we have had from Indigenous communities in the north in that regard.

This bill is an integral and vital part of the government's legislative and administrative measures to combat people-smuggling and to protect Australia's borders. It is irresponsible not to support this bill. It shows a complete lack of regard for Australia's border security, deterring the illegal activities of criminals such as people smugglers and acting in the national interest. I commend this bill to the Senate.

Question put:

That this bill be now read a second time.