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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 5426


Senator CASH (Western Australia) (18:39): I too rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2012. I would like to put the debate today into context. This is a government that has performed what is now going to be recognised as one of the greatest political backflips of all time. This is a government that for the last four years has claimed to the people of Australia and to the coalition that offshore processing on Nauru will not work. This is a government that, just six short weeks ago, condemned the opposition for wanting to include Nauru as an offshore processing centre. This is a government that was prepared to do absolutely nothing at all on border protection rather than concede that Nauru should be reopened to house asylum seekers. This is a government whose then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, said on 17 November 2008 in an address to the Refugee Council of Australia:

Labor committed to abolishing the Pacific Solution and this was one the first things the Rudd Labor Government did on taking office. It was also one of my greatest pleasures in politics. Neither humane nor fair, the Pacific Solution was also ineffective and wasteful.

The minister arrogantly reconfirmed those words yesterday in question time, in answer to a question from Senator Abetz. Jump forward to today, 15 August 2012, and what are we faced with as a parliament? What is the Australian public faced with by way of policy? After four years of Labor telling the coalition and the people of Australia that Nauru would not work, and that the Pacific solution was neither humane nor fair and that it was ineffective and wasteful, on Monday, former Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston—the man hand-picked by the current Gillard Labor government to advise them on border protection, because Labor had abrogated their policy-making responsibility in this area—said that Nauru will work.

Policy failure, denial, inconsistency and inaction had frozen the government's decision-making ability and rendered this Labor government so incapable that it had to turn to an independent panel to solve its border protection debacle. The coalition has been telling the government for years, based on the evidence, that Labor's border protection policies have failed. We have repeatedly told the government that Labor's policy has developed a business model for the criminal smugglers; that it has created opportunities for those smugglers to make huge profits by putting desperate people on boats and sending them out to sea. And indeed, Air Chief Marshal Houston's expert panel has confirmed that pull factors created by Labor's policies were significantly responsible for the resumption of the people smugglers' criminal activities after the abolition of the Howard government's policies.

Air Chief Marshal Houston's expert panel report is without a doubt the most devastating critique that has ever been made of government policy in this country. And I remind Australians that this is not a coalition report; this was not a coalition panel. This is a government report. The government asked for it, the government received it and the government now owns it. This was an expert panel that was hand-picked by Ms Gillard herself. The government—and Ms Gillard—wrote the terms of reference for the committee. The government—and Ms Gillard—then charged the committee with its inquiry. And now the government has the findings of the expert panel. The fact is, as much as those on the other side want to discount this, the findings of the expert panel substantially endorse the coalition's approach to stopping the boats.

For years now, the Labor government has been telling the people of Australia that you cannot turn back the boats. Angus Houston and the expert panel say that you can. Indeed, on page 53 of the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, at paragraph 3.77, it states:

Turning back irregular maritime vessels carrying asylum seekers to Australia can be operationally achieved and can constitute an effective disincentive to such ventures …

The expert panel made a total of 22 recommendations. Those recommendations included that offshore processing in Nauru and on Manus Island at Papua New Guinea be established as soon as practicable. Offshore processing has always been the coalition's policy. The expert panel also recommended the prohibiting of family reunion through Australia's humanitarian program for people arriving by boat, instead making boat arrivals apply for family reunion through the family stream of the migration program. Again, this is in the spirit of temporary protection visas, which are coalition policy.

The expert panel also recommended turning back irregular maritime vessels in operational conditions where it can be achieved and that this can constitute an effective deterrent to these ventures. Again, this continues to be coalition policy. The expert panel also recommended that the protections for asylum seekers set out in the Malaysian people swap are inadequate. Again, this has been the coalition's consistent position on the government's Malaysian people swap deal. These findings—the findings of the government's own hand-picked expert panel—reflect what has been the coalition's consistent position on border protection in Australia.

I remind senators that it was back on 13 July 2010 that the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, first said to Labor members that they should advise the Prime Minister to pick up the phone to the President of Nauru. Twenty-three times before the last election the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, said that, if the government were serious about stopping the boats, the Prime Minister should pick up the phone to the President of Nauru. History now records, however, that the Prime Minister refused to do that. She refused to do that before the election. She refused to do that after the election. She refused to do it when the High Court ruled the Malaysia solution invalid. She refused to do it in January of this year after discussions between the coalition and the government. And the Prime Minister refused to do it just six weeks ago. On 106 occasions Mr Abbott has respectfully urged the Prime Minister to pick up the phone to the President of Nauru. If only she had not refused, we may have been able to save desperate people from making a potentially deadly voyage across open seas in a leaky boat.

The last four years have seen one of the greatest policy failures of this government. The reason we say that is that the Labor government, when they assumed office, were handed a solution in the form of the Howard government's border protection policies and, when elected, they deliberately and wilfully set out to dismantle those policies. The result of this deliberate and wilful dismantling of what were proven border protection policies and what had achieved the results that the government is telling the people of Australia it wants to achieve today with its border protection policies is this: the arrival of 389 boats, carrying 22,718 asylum seekers. If you want further confirmation of the extent of the policy failure that this government has wreaked upon this portfolio area, it is that the number of boats under Prime Minister Gillard alone has exceeded the number of boats and the number of people who arrived in the 11 years of the Howard government.

The Labor government and the current Prime Minister should apologise to the people of Australia for their abject failure when it comes to protecting Australia's borders. They should apologise to the people of Australia for dismantling the Howard government's proven border protection policies. They should apologise to the mums and dads of Australia for the billions of dollars they have now wasted over the last four years—to the tune of $4.7 billion of taxpayers' money in budget blow-outs because of their mismanagement of border protection policy. Australians are now paying an additional $1.1 million per day because of Labor's failure in this important area. This is not good news for the mums and dads of Australia who cannot afford to pay their electricity bills because of the impact of the carbon tax on them. The blame for this can be put squarely at the feet of an incompetent Labor government. They have failed Australians when it comes to border protection, and it is the Australian taxpayer who has to clean up Labor's mess.

The government should also apologise for offering a business model to the people smugglers, who have by their criminal actions caused untold suffering to the families of the over 1,000 people who lost their lives at sea attempting to make the dangerous journey to Australia by boat. The sad reality is that none of this waste, none of this mismanagement and none of this loss of life need ever have occurred. Why? Because we gave the Labor government the solution when they were elected in November 2007. We gave them the greatest gift that can ever be given to a political party in this country. We solved Australia's border protection problems.

The coalition is on the record as always supporting offshore processing at Nauru and at Manus Island. That was our policy and it continues to be our policy. To those on the other side who want to say that this is Nauru mark II, you are incorrect. You are adopting the coalition's policy in this regard. For those on the other side who want to say that there was razor wire on Nauru under the coalition government, that is just blatantly wrong. For those who want to say that the IOM is now involved under Labor, well, guess what? The IOM was also involved when the coalition was in power and was operating Nauru.

There is one fundamental difference though between what the coalition did and what the Labor Party, by this bill, are proposing, and that is the issue of indefinite detention. Whilst this Labor policy is supported by the coalition, we do acknowledge that asylum seekers may end up being in indefinite detention on Nauru. They were never indefinitely detained under coalition policy. Under the Houston report and under this legislation, they may well be indefinitely detained by this government.

Australians can only imagine what might have not occurred had the government not unwound the coalition government's proven border protection policies. The Labor Party could not help themselves. Even as late as 27 June this year, Minister Bowen was on the record as stating:

The Opposition says … that a detention centre on Nauru would work as a disincentive. We disagree …

Then on 28 June 2012, the minister said:

It has been a matter of record in this House that Nauru, a Christmas Island style detention centre further away, will not break the people smugglers' business model.

We have now done a full circle. An expert panel had to be commissioned by a government that lacked the political will and the political judgment to take the necessary steps and make the hard decisions in this portfolio area—decisions that the Howard government took when they were faced with a very similar situation in the early 2000s. The government now have the expert panel's report that effectively endorses the coalition's policy on border protection.

The Houston report has given the green light to Nauru and it has given the red light to Malaysia. In relation to Malaysia, the expert report panel made it clear that Malaysia, as proposed by the government, does not have sufficient protections. The Houston panel said that very, very clearly: the Malaysian people-swap protections under Labor do not measure up. It is something that the expert panel has said. It is something that the High Court has said. And it is something that the coalition have consistently said and that is why at all times we have opposed the government's Malaysian people-swap deal.

Australians have to wonder why we are debating this legislation today when we could have been debating it years ago. Australians have to wonder why the government over the last four years have consistently pretended that Nauru would not work. Why did the government invent and propagate the wild and indeed false claims that Nauru would cost billions? Why the stubbornness that has now done so much damage to Australia? Too much has been lost over the past four years and Australians are right to continue to question the disastrous judgement of a Prime Minister who continually gets it so wrong.

Today, the shadow minister for immigration has written to Minister Bowen on the costings for Nauru. We undertook to examine the costings for Nauru and our costings come in considerably lower than those of the government's. Today, we have written to the government and shown them how we believe that Nauru should be developed. We will be watching the government very, very closely as to how they spend taxpayers' money in this regard. They did not heed us in relation to what we have been saying about Nauru over the last four years and they have been proven wrong. Please do not now disregard the evidence of our costings again because of sheer stubbornness. If they can properly implement Nauru based on the Nauru costings that the coalition have, I would advocate to them to take on this advice.

The coalition's policies on border protection have been proven to work. Ms Gillard has been proven to be wrong about Nauru. She continues to be proven to be wrong when it comes to temporary protection visas and turning back the boats. In supporting this legislation, the coalition have made it very, very clear to the government that we support this legislation, but it is only one step forward under a three-pronged approach. They will not get the Howard government results if they do not fully implement the Howard government's policies.

On the implementation, the coalition know that if the Labor Party, to appease its own left wing, turn Nauru into a perceived soft option, the people smugglers will continue to recognise Labor's lack of genuine commitment. The people smugglers' business model will not be broken and they will continue their criminal activities, and the boats will continue to arrive. In government, the coalition will ensure that the management of offshore processing on Nauru is appropriate to protect the rights of asylum seekers, but we will not allow Nauru to be seen by the people smugglers as a soft option.

As a member of the coalition, I welcome the government's monumental backflip in relation to border protection policy and the fact that they have finally decided to agree with Nauru as an offshore processing destination and Manus Island as an offshore processing destination, and adopt what has proven to be good coalition policy. Whilst the coalition support the legislation today, I remind those on the other side that we in no way step back from our policies and our commitment to the Australian public that, if and when we are elected, we will reintroduce temporary protection visas and we will turn back the boats where it is safe to do so. These are the policies that worked under Mr Howard and these are the policies that will work again.

These proven policies were not introduced in the last six weeks; they are the result of more than 10 years of successful implementation and continual refinement under a government that took its role and responsibility in relation to border protection very seriously, and those policies will be reinstated by a future coalition government. The coalition have been consistent on border protection and the Australian public acknowledge that and they know that. They trust us when it comes to protecting Australia's borders.

The contrast they have is this: a Labor government that has held every position under the sun when it comes to protecting Australian borders. The Australian people simply cannot trust Labor. Australia is only in the mess it is in today because Labor, when it was given a solution, took deliberate and wilful steps to create a problem. History now records what has been the result of that problem, and Labor has adopted failed policy after failed policy in a pathetic attempt to clean up their tragic mess. (Time expired)