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Thursday, 16 June 2011
Page: 3142


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:43): I want to take a few moments of the Senate's time to highlight the difficulties of the refugee problem around the world and, in passing, repeat how the Gillard government has exacerbated a difficult situation with its mismanagement of the illegal boat arrival situation in recent years. I will not repeat what was said in the previous debate. I think it was clearly demonstrated by the coalition speakers in that debate that the Gillard government is floundering in inconsistency. There is a solution, but unfortunately our Prime Minister is too proud to acknowledge her mistake and to accept the solution that is sitting there staring her in the face. Instead, she struggles around with all of these other crazy schemes, most of which have been determined to be non-goers, as many of us believe the Malaysian situation will be as well, and yet there is a solution there. I do not want to dwell too much on that. This bill does help in some way address the illegal people-smuggling business. For that reason, as my colleague Senator Humphries has said, the coalition will be supporting it.

I do want to point out that, since our nation was first created, Australia has accepted some 750,000 people on refugee and humanitarian bases. The 13,770 refugees and humanitarian visas issued during 2009-10 were divided between 9,236 offshore refugee and humanitarian visas and 4,534 onshore visas, of which the majority were asylum seekers who had entered Australia by boat. Australia received 9.85 per cent of refugees resettled in 2009, but resettlement continues to be a difficult problem. More than half the world's refugees—that is, 5.47 million people—are what the UNHCR classifies as 'protected refugee situations'. Only 24 per cent of the world's refugees are living in camps, with the rest dispersed in often very difficult conditions in urban and rural areas. The 2009 UNHCR statistics record that another 7.95 million people of concern are not in countries of citizenship; they are asylum seekers, stateless people and others in need of protection. Around two-thirds of these people are in Asia; the largest group being stateless people in Thailand, Nepal and Burma.

I only mention these statistics again to say what the underlying principle is. I have to relate that I was at a gathering, a discussion—as were you, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore—put on by the Left Right Think-Tank. They are a group of young, active, forward-thinking, energetic and enthusiastic people—strange name, good people. They had a session in Toowoomba about youth problems. There I met a lady who appeared to me to be of Middle Eastern descent, who said to me, 'Why do you Liberals hate refugees?' I was rather taken aback by that. I explained to her, as I want to explain to the Senate, that we do not hate refugees. We as Liberals have one of the most sensitive, most welcoming refugee and humanitarian policies going. What we do not like is people who are jumping the queue, people who, more often than not, are wealthy. They have to be wealthy or they have to have wealthy contacts to be able to pay the people smugglers the $15,000, or whatever it is, to get them into Australia. When they come in, they take the place of others in the Australian quota that has been set by governments in Australia since time immemorial. So we have these relatively recent, relatively wealthy people—and some may say 'economic refugees'—taking the place of some of the 7.95 million people who are living in absolutely squalid conditions in camps and in other places around the world.

As I said to the Refugee Council: if the argument is whether Australia should take more refugees, let's have that argument. Quite frankly, I for one—I do not talk about anyone else's policy here—would not mind taking more refugees. But they should come through the UNHCR process, not through people who get on a boat, come here and effectively end up staying—and thanks to the Labor Party you can be assured of it. I know a lot of people—relatives of third-generation Italians, people in my home town—who say to me: 'We have a cousin who is skilled and wants to get into Australia but they cannot get in through the migration system. What can you do?' I say to them: 'Give them your tinny, take them offshore, let them come in and they will be accepted under the current government.' I say that partly in jest, but it is partly truthful. It just shows the absolute dysfunctional nature of the current government's situation.

We have a set number of refugees. I do not disagree with the element of the recent arrangements that have increased that by 1,000. That is the Gillard government's assessment; 14,770 is apparently the right number. Perhaps there is a debate to be held about what is the right number. But, whatever it is, it should be filled by people who come through the UNHCR process, people who are genuine refugees and have been so determined by the UNHCR before they set foot in Australia. That is why I am so distressed with the mismanagement and dysfunctional nature of Australia's dealing with the so-called or illegal boat people, people who come to our country illegally at the present time. We have really got to address these issues. We on the coalition side understand that. We are as sympathetic, we are sensitive, we are as humanitarian as any other group of people in Australia, but we want to be fair about it. We do not want those who can jump the queue to push out those who have been waiting in squalor for many years. As I mentioned, I support—as our spokesman Senator Humphries has said—this attempt to further make it more difficult for people smugglers to ply their ugly trade.