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Monday, 19 November 2012
Page: 9003


Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (16:33): I want to talk about one of the most incompetent governments and one of the most incompetent ministers on this subject that I think Australian history has ever had the misfortune to have to endure. When I heard my very learned and able colleague Senator Cash talk, I realised that my figures were up to last Thursday. They are completely redundant. They have been overwhelmed. I had in my notes that I had been researching for this speech that halfway through November there were 23 boats with 1,250 people. I now know it is closer to 30 with 1,500 people. I had 9,600 people for this financial year. I now know it is more than 10,000. This is in three days. The 7,000 since the announcement of Nauru is now 7½ thousand. The 86 boats in the last two weeks is closer to 90, and we have had in that fortnight 1,500 people, as opposed to the 1,200 that I had as at last Thursday. The 170 arrivals at Christmas Island in the previous 24 hours to last Thursday is now about 200. We have had 29,000 people arrive into Australia by boat illegally since 2007—29,000 people! This is just an outrage. This is incompetence on steroids. This is incompetence at an Olympic standard.

I want to talk about SEIV36. The coroner of the Northern Territory named the three people who blew that boat up. They poured petrol into the bilge and set it alight. As a result of them so deliberately causing that explosion, nine Navy personnel were put into the water. The whole event was captured on video and the coroner named the three people responsible. What, Mr Acting Deputy President, do you think happened to those three people, those three asylum seekers? They have been released into the community, notwithstanding the coroner named them as causing that explosion. You would think the minister would have said, 'Well, look, hang on. They don't pass the character test. I've got the capacity and a discretion to rule these people out'—but, no, they have been released into the community. I want to remember that there were nine hardworking ADF personnel, who suffered injuries and burns, who were put into the water. Notwithstanding their injuries, they rescued other people who were blown up in that boat; there were some 40 on board.

I want you to remember that, Mr Acting Deputy President, because I want to now talk about interpreters in Afghanistan who are fighting and helping alongside our soldiers. They may not be combatants but they are right there, providing assistance as we go through villages and towns, providing some security and a communication basis for our soldiers to do their work. They are risking their own lives. Indeed, if I remember rightly, Corporal Donaldson actually rescued one during the course of being awarded his Victoria Cross.

Not only do they put their own lives in jeopardy by helping Australian soldiers; they put their families lives at risk to advance our honourable and righteous mission in Afghanistan. You would think that the Australian government would want to protect those interpreters. You would think that as we draw down the Australian government would want to provide an easy route for them to get a visa to come to Australia. You would think that we would want to look after their families because they have served us so very loyally and very well in Afghanistan. But the answer is no—'We are going to leave them in Afghanistan; we are going to leave them out there.' But, if you come to Australia on a boat and blow it up, and you injure nine Australian service personnel, nine brave Navy people, you get straight in—you just waltz in.

In 2010-11, the number of visas for Afghanis going through the proper process of applying offshore has fallen from 1,027 to just 495. At the same time this government made provision for 16,000 places for family reunion for people arriving by boat. Here you have it: people who arrive by boat are welcomed with open arms by this government, notwithstanding they commit offences and crimes, and try to blow us up on the way through, but our interpreters in Afghanistan, who are standing toe to toe with our soldiers and fighting with them, and providing assistance and communications, are treated like dirt. They are given no avenue to come to Australia for their own protection or for the protection of their families.

This government is making it hard for good people, as they always do. Australia knows this. This government makes it hard for people in small business, miners and people trying to get ahead. We have here the classic example of what has been going on. This government cannot stop people who come by boat. The government has no policy initiatives. This government is completely at sea on this subject—it is a $5 billion to $6 billion running sore, putting thousands of people on Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island, and then those who blow the boat up are released into the community in Adelaide and Darwin. This is a scandal. People who are helping our soldiers in Afghanistan cannot get in, cannot get a visa, cannot get assistance and cannot get priority.

I want to talk about those Navy personnel. From memory, there were five or six who received direct commendations for bravery as a result of the vessel that was blown up. I want to tell the Navy personnel that on this side of the parliament we have great empathy for the work they do. We support them during their nine-day turnaround from Darwin out to Christmas Island. We empathise with what they are doing. We understand the difficulty of their task—the fact that they have to dive into the water and rescue people when they scuttle their boats. When the weather turns bad, these little rickety boats do not survive.

This is a massive policy failure that is nothing more or less than a national scandal, particularly in the face of people who are helping our soldiers and doing the right thing who are given every barrier, every hurdle, every resistance and every obstacle by this government to prevent them from protecting themselves and their families. My call is for the government wake up and let them come in quickly as we draw down. Let's look after some people who have helped us and looked after us, and let's not keep bringing in the ones who have blown up boats, who take action unilaterally to put lives at risk and who put our Navy personnel at risk. This government needs to do the right thing for the first time on this subject matter in this area. It has been doing the wrong thing day in, day out.