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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2706


Senator CASH (Western Australia) (09:50): I indicate to the chamber that the coalition will not be opposing the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012. The reason we will not be opposing the bill is that the substance of it is consistent with the coalition's long-held position in relation to the offshore processing regime and, in any event, it is fundamentally the same bill as the one that was introduced by the Howard government in 2006 and, which I note, was passed by the House of Representatives.

The stated objective of the bill is to expand the existing offshore processing regime to apply to all persons arriving on mainland Australia unlawfully by sea. It will replace the concept of 'offshore entry person' with the concept of 'unauthorised maritime arrival'. The effect of the bill is that persons who arrive on Australian soil by boat without a valid visa will be subject to removal to an offshore processing country and will be processed according to that regime—that is, the bill will effectively excise the Australian mainland from the Migration Act. It is intended to be a disincentive aimed at discouraging potential unlawful immigrants from making the hazardous sea voyage to Australia.

While the coalition will not be opposing, and in fact is strongly supporting, the passage of this legislation today—and I note for the record that the coalition voted with the government to rearrange the business of the Senate today to ensure that this bill was given precedence and that the coalition gave up our private senators' time this morning to ensure that this bill is facilitated in a timely fashion—I do believe we need to consider why the government has introduced this bill, given that when the same bill was introduced in 2006 by the Howard government those on the opposite side of the chamber howled in opposition to it. These are the facts that Australia is faced with today.

Five years ago in November 2007, when this Labor government was first elected to office, there were just four people in immigration detention who had arrived in Australia illegally by boat. When the Labor government was elected to office in November 2007, maintenance of Australia's immigration detention network was costing Australian taxpayers less than $100 million per annum. In fact, it was costing approximately $85 million. Today there are well in excess of 15,000 illegal maritime arrivals in Australia's detention system, whether they are on bridging visas in community detention, in alternative places of detention or in the detention network itself. This government's spectacular record of failure in relation to this portfolio worsens when you consider that the number of people who have arrived since November 2007 is 40,772 on 673 boats. It is a fact, and that is one of the reasons whereby the government and Minister O'Connor today came to the coalition quite literally on bended knee and begged us to facilitate the passage of this legislation, which we agreed we would do. It is a fact that Australia is now witnessing what is an unprecedented rate of boat arrivals and that is, without a doubt, the sole reason the government has done an about-face in relation to policy in this area.

April 2013 is now on record as the month with the largest number of asylum seeker arrivals, with 3,300 people arriving by boat in that one month alone. March 2013 saw over 2,500 asylum seekers arrive and even though we are only two weeks into May, we have already seen 1,500 asylum seekers arrive. What that means—and perhaps the reason the government again came to the coalition on bended knee today, with Minister O'Connor begging shadow minister Scott Morrison for his assistance in relation to the facilitation of this legislation through the Senate—is that Australia has witnessed approximately 66 people arriving by boat per day this year. That is solely attributable to this government's grotesque failure in relation to border protection policy.

This bill was introduced into the parliament by the former Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Bowen, on 31 October 2012. The proposal set out in the bill reflects some but not all of the advice of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, which recommended that an arrival anywhere in Australia by regular maritime means should result in such individuals having the same status as those arriving at an offshore place which has already been excised from the immigration zone. The effect of this bill will mean that irregular maritime arrivals anywhere in Australia will make that person liable to regional processing arrangements.

Given the hysteria of the government in 2006 when we introduced what is effectively the same piece of legislation—which I believe the government now acknowledges, given they have today come cap in hand to the coalition, is part of a suite of policy measures which indeed does stop the boats—I believe it is appropriate to put on the record comments of those at the time and what the Labor members said in relation to the Howard government's legislation and to note that today they are the ones who are begging us, the coalition who stopped the boats, to now support them in their efforts to restore part of the former Howard government's strong suite of border protection policies, which clearly, by the passage of this legislation, they now admit they were wrong in rolling back. Take, for example, the comments of the former minister for immigration, the minister who in the other place introduced what is effectively the former Howard government's bill. This is what he said back in 2006:

This is a bad bill with no redeeming features. It is a hypocritical and illogical bill. If it is passed today, it will be a stain on our national character ... If it is passed, it will be repealed by an incoming Labor government.

History now records that it was, in fact, repealed by the incoming Labor government. History also now records the facts I have outlined for the record today—that Australia has now been subjected to an unprecedented number of illegal boat arrivals. Under this government, we are heading towards 41,000 arrivals in 2013, which equates to approximately 66 arrivals per day.

Despite the fact that Minister Bowen in 2006 took a completely different stance on legislation which had been proven to work and to stop the boats, we see that same minister, now in government, acknowledging that Labor have made one of the greatest—if not the greatest—policy mistakes of all time. They are now backing the coalition to side with them and support what is effectively Howard government legislation.

What did Mr Simon Crean say at the time the Howard government's bill was passed?

The bill is shameful and xenophobic.

   …   …   …

It is a bill that should be opposed.

I note that by 2012 Mr Crean had clearly had a change of heart.

What did Mr Anthony Albanese have to say at the time?

This bill is wrong in principle and it is wrong in motivation.

   …   …   …

This bill is a disgraceful shirking of responsibility by Australia and it must be rejected.

   …   …   …

I reject the bill as being fundamentally abhorrent to everything I believe in …

   …   …   …

It has been a test of the Australian Labor Party and we have risen to the occasion, and that is why we are rejecting this legislation.

Clearly Mr Albanese has also come to the realisation, as have the majority of Australians, that Labor were wrong in 2006 and that they were wrong in 2008 when they repealed the Howard government legislation. But they are right today to come into this place and to ask the coalition to assist them in facilitating the passage of what is effectively the former Howard government's legislation.

Why has the Labor Party done an about-face? Why did the Labor Party—the current minister, Mr O'Connor— come to the shadow minister, Mr Morrison, and effectively beg him to assist Labor in passing this legislation today? These are the reasons. Over the life of the Howard government, 1999 was the year of the greatest number of boat arrivals—86 boats arrived in 1999. In comparison, this year 86 boats arrived just between 1 January and 14 April. The greatest number of asylum seekers arriving in any one year under the Howard government was in 2001—5,550 people arrived in 2001. In comparison, the Gillard government managed to exceed that figure in just the eight weeks covering March and April of this year.

What did we, the former Howard government, do? We realised we had a problem and we took strong and decisive action, which included the action set out in the bill before the Senate today. What was the result of the former Howard government's strong border protection policies? In 2002, the year after the Pacific solution was introduced, the number of boats arriving in Australia was reduced to zero. In 2003, one boat arrived; in 2004, zero boats arrived; in 2005, four boats arrived; in 2006, six boats arrived; and, in 2007, five boats arrived. The fact of the matter is this: the Labor Party cannot deny that, when they assumed office in November 2007, they inherited a solution from the former Howard government. In August of 2008, they proceeded quite deliberately and arrogantly to wind back the proven border protection policies of the former Howard government. We have now come almost full circle and we stand here today in the Senate implementing—or re-implementing—a further plank of the former Howard government's border protection policies.

Will this go far enough? Absolutely not. I have put forward a private senator's bill to reintroduce temporary protection visas. That is something which this bill does not do. I would say to those on the other side: if you really are fair dinkum about stopping the boats and if you really do want to return, as you are telling us, to the former Howard government's policies, you must also give urgent consideration to restoring temporary protection visas as part of the suite of policy measures.

There is a difference between the Howard government bill and this bill. One of those differences is—lo and behold—their effectiveness. The government's March 2012 decision to allow all offshore entry persons access to merits and judicial review through the RRT and the courts severely weakens the effectiveness of this bill and will prove to be very costly to taxpayers—bearing in mind that the cost to taxpayers of the government's failed border protection policies is now in excess of $10 billion. When the coalition introduced its bill in 2006, the bill's impact would have been much more significant than that of the current bill and would have denied all asylum seekers access to merits and judicial review.

Whilst the Labor government have significantly watered down a number of previous coalition initiatives, consequently diminishing the potential impact of this bill, the broad principle of this bill is, as I said at the outset, consistent with coalition policy and we will therefore support it—notwithstanding the gross hypocrisy of Labor. In 2006, Labor were screaming from the rooftops that the very provisions which they have begged us to support today—the very provisions which, under the Howard government, were proven to work—were anathema to them. I commend this bill to the Senate.