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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 5392


Senator BACK (Western AustraliaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (16:11): This particular acceptance represents for the government, and for the now Prime Minister Ms Gillard, a most disappointing reversal and embarrassment. But it is all the fault of one person—that is, the Prime Minister herself.

It was as shadow minister that Ms Gillard came up with the now infamous statement, 'Another boat, another policy failure.' Very rarely did she or her staff ever have to trouble the press gallery with that particular statement. More importantly, it was during the period in which the Hon. Philip Ruddock was the minister that he invited and subsequently took then shadow minister Ms Gillard to Nauru, where she had every opportunity to observe for herself the success of the program instituted by the coalition in response to a need. The coalition then, as the coalition now, had and has a plan to stop the boats.

Worse than that, then Deputy Prime Minister Gillard was part of a group that dismantled a policy that was working. There is nothing worse in the Australian democratic system than to have ideology replace good policy; it inevitably comes back to bite you, and it has on this occasion. Since I began working in this chamber, early in 2009, this side of the chamber has suffered the scorn, disdain and ridicule of what was a successful coalition policy by the now government. They have to eat humble pie, because they were the makers of that pie and they were the bakers of that pie.

When she became the Prime Minister of this country, it was Ms Gillard who said that one of her key priorities was to fix up border protection. We know that she has not. She has lost control of our borders; a fundamental priority for the Prime Minister of any country. Six weeks ago, she outsourced—fortunately to an eminent group of three consultants—the job of advising her, because her own ministers could not and she did not accept the advice of the coalition. This is advice that we have been so often willing to provide to the government. I believe our leader, Mr Abbott, has suggested on more than 100 occasions the very solution that now is being proposed for this place. As our then coalition Prime Minister Mr Howard said, 'We will decide who comes to this country.'

We have not yet got the full restoration of the policy that worked for Australia and worked for genuine refugees. That is a three-plank policy. The first plank is the use of Nauru and Manus Island, which of course now the government, embarrassedly, has had to come back to ask us to accept, and I believe it is the intention that the coalition will. The second and third are temporary protection visas and a policy to turn the boats back when it is safe to so do. These form the three planks of the policy. In the absence of the second two we cannot be confident that we are actually going to see a successful outcome.

Air Vice Marshal Houston and his team have indicated that they agree with the concept of turning the boats back when it is prudent to do so. The Sri Lankan government has even pleaded with this government to do the same thing. We would say the same. We know that naval personnel support that particular element.

What has happened as a result of five years of the failure of this government to continue a policy of the coalition which worked? The first, of course, has been the regrettable death of at least 600 people drowned at sea that we know about. Of course, there are probably more than that and there may be more than those into the future, particularly as on a daily basis those boats are putting to sea in the middle of winter.

The second has been a massive cost blow-out at a time when the budget can ill afford the blowing out of costs as a result of other profligate spending by this Labor government and its mismanagement. The third is a loss of confidence by the Australian community, and gross embarrassment in the Australian community, in what has become a laughing stock internationally—our border protection policy. And in so doing, of course, making fools of the Australian Navy—it now being said throughout the Asian region that the Australian Navy has become the people-smugglers' taxi service. Who can be proud of that sort of criticism in the region? Yet it is this government that has led to that level of embarrassment.

Lastly but not least is the fact that genuine refugees as a result of this mismanagement of the Labor government have been left to rot in refugee camps around the world at a time when, as we know, they should have been coming into this country under our very, very generous refugee program. Recent surveys point to the concern by Australians that we want to see people come through the right and correct channels. It has been this failure to do so that has caused so much concern. (Time expired)