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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12839


Mrs CROSIO (4:28 PM) —The number of illegal immigrants entering Australia has been unprecedented. Almost daily, we see images on our television screens and in our newspapers of overcrowded boats filled to capacity with people intending to claim permanent refugee status in Australia. It seems that not only is the frequency of these arrivals increasing but so too is the number of people aboard each vessel. There are also many hundreds of illegal arrivals that enter this country by air.

To many of us, these images are reminders of the thriving trade in people-smuggling, a trade which feeds on human suffering and the misfortune of fellow human beings. The first priority of the operators of people-smuggling rackets is not to provide a safe haven for refugees but to profit from human misery. Australia is a friendly and welcoming nation for migrants from all races. This year the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs set aside 12,000 places in the humanitarian program for entry into this country and thousands of people around the world are waiting for one of those places—and many of those people have close family ties with Australia.

Their wait has now been made much longer due to the priorities of people smugglers, who continue to move people by the boatload into Australia promising a new life and, to refugees, safe haven for a significantly large fee. I call this queue-jumping. I would like to express that I grieve for the migrants of this country who are now enduring long periods of separation from their families because they took law-abiding steps to migrate to Australia. These people are the ones who are most affected by the dumping of illegal immigrants into this country by the people-smuggling rackets.

In my electorate of Prospect, 52 per cent of the population were born overseas. Many of these people came to Australia under the government's humanitarian program to start a new and successful life. These migrants endured years of waiting to start their new life here in Australia. They abided by the immigration laws of this country, and their wonderful contribution to society has been essential to the cultural make-up of our nation. Many of those people have had to separate from their families. Many family members are still waiting overseas for one of the places that Australia sets aside each year under the migrant and refugee intake. In the meantime, their wait is being extended due to the influx of illegal immigrants who arrive via people-smuggling rackets and who expect to jump the queue to receive permanent residence in Australia.

The government received bipartisan support for its legislation to crack down on illegal arrivals by ceasing to grant illegal immigrants permanent resident status, instead granting them a three-year temporary visa. While this is an effort—I must admit, a very belated one—to curb the influx of illegal immigrants into this country, the government still has a long way to go before it has fully addressed the problem. Refugees will continue to arrive in Australia via people-smuggling rackets for as long as those involved in these areas believe that the penalties, if they are caught by the authorities, are negligible and for as long as the potential illegal immigrants believe their chances of success are high.

People-smuggling is a lucrative trade which thrives in areas where the risk of being caught is low. Rackets are often the work of highly skilled criminal organisations that make a very large profit out of human misery. The International Organisation for Migration estimated the proceeds worldwide for people-trafficking to be in excess of $10 billion a year. They also estimate that there are about four million people becoming illegal immigrants in the world at any one time.

The government has clearly failed in its efforts to enforce protection of Australia's coastline. As a result, Australia is being seen as an easy target by these people smugglers. Australia's immigration laws are being blatantly disregarded by criminal syndicates. These rackets are not only allowing people to jump immigration queues; the cost of detaining and removing illegal arrivals has also certainly increased—taxpayers' dollars which could be redirected to other areas.

A Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs fact sheet on people-smuggling states:

. . . it costs the government on average $50,000 for every unauthorised arrival from the time of arrival to the time of departure.

If we are to believe the figures, the boat people who have arrived in this calendar year alone are estimated to be close on 3,000. One only has to multiply to realise what that is costing the Australian taxpayer.

In June this year, the government announced a further $124 million to increase surveillance for coastal protection. It remains to be seen whether this money will be well spent. Currently, the responsibility for protecting our 37,000-kilometre coastline is shared among a mix of defence and government organisations. This money does little to deter the large number of illegal immigrants also entering our country through our airports. The opposition has been calling for a dedicated coastguard service to patrol Australia's coastline. The message needs to be loud and clear, that is, that we have to tell those smugglers that Australia's coastline is being effectively monitored and that they will be caught. Australia must not be seen as an easy target for illegal immigration and people-smuggling rackets.

Reaction from some members of the public and the media to our support of the changes in legislation was to claim that the new measures were too harsh on illegal immigrants. Some people even accused the legislation of being racially biased. I will give those people some background to those involved in the people-smuggling rackets. The Age reported on 18 November this year that one particular syndicate was offering, for the rate of $12,500, hotel accommodation in Indonesia, transfer to a fishing or cargo vessel and a drop-off point along the Australian northern coast. At $12,500 per person to jump the queue, and boats arriving with more than 300 people on board, there is evidence of a roaring trade in people-smuggling.

There are also departmental reports of illegal immigrants entering the country who have already received refugee status in other countries. The Herald Sun reported on 13 October 1999 that the immigration department had confirmed the case of a woman who had gained refugee status in the United States and then attempted to enter Australia illegally with the aid of the people-smuggling racketeers. I have to say in this House that for once I agree with the minister for immigration. He said in his media release:

. . . for the Government to remind people of the tough new penalties for people smugglers, such as the recent introduction of 20-year jail terms for traffickers and fines of up to $220,000 . . .

In addition, unauthorised arrivals who are found to be refugees will now be granted a three-year temporary protection visa. People who are not refugees will be sent home as soon as possible.

Other recent measures include legislation introducing tests such as fingerprinting and palm recognition, to ascertain the true identity of asylum seekers and to ensure that they do not already have protection elsewhere . . .

We will need to implement those words and turn them into very forceful action. I believe that people-smuggling is a most deceitful and unscrupulous trade. The racketeers are feeding off the misery and desperation of people. While people-smuggling rackets continue to thrive, potential migrants and refugees are being pushed further down the government's waiting list. Their wait to be reunited with family members or to start a new life in Australia is being prolonged by others queue- jumping. The rackets are operated by people who generally have little or no respect for Australia's laws or for human dignity, and they are to be condemned. No-one should be sympathising with people smugglers.

Critics of Australia's approach to the issue must realise that Australia does have laws—laws which regulate the flow of migrants into this country. These laws must be upheld and they must not be compromised by the dollar driven profiteers of people-smuggling rackets. Time and time again, I have had meetings with constituents in my electorate who have come to me in tears when their family has been refused entry to Australia or they realise they will have to wait another two or three years for consideration of their particular application.

As you realise, it is very difficult under the points system to have family members reunited in this country, and a lot of them try to see if they qualify for humanitarian and refugee status. In doing so they obey the laws of this country. They are the ones who are being affected the most when these smugglers bring these people to these shores and then we, for one reason or another, grant residence to those people who come to our shores illegally.

It is very difficult to explain it to constituents who abide by the law and virtually feel that they are now being criticised or, more importantly, have not been justified in what they are trying to do correctly. I say to them, and I say to all the other people around this country who have family members overseas with whom they are trying to be reunited, that we—both the government and the opposition—must crack down on these illegal people-smuggling rackets.

I believe also that the message must get across loud and clear to other nations that we in this country will have people come to our country but under our laws and under our invitation, not because someone feels they can make a quick buck and can profiteer from misery and despair. I condemn them for their actions and say to the government that they must keep up the work to make sure that the message is getting around to the other countries very loudly and clearly that we will not tolerate this action any further. (Time expired)