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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12875

Mr PYNE (8:51 PM) —In recent weeks, the issue of illegal immigration into Australia has become a media favourite, but the problem of illegal immigration, including the so-called boat people, has been on the coalition government's agenda for a considerable period of time. In April, the coalition government established a coastal surveillance task force to consider the principal issues involved with illegal immigration and people-smuggling. The report was completed in June and it noted that current maritime enforcement legislation does not implement fully the powers available under international law. The report recommended that comprehensive legislative arrangements be introduced to further strengthen maritime investigatory and enforcement powers against both Australia and the foreign flag vessels.

Some other findings contained in this report were the impetus for a number of the provisions in the Crimes at Sea Bill 1999 presently before the House. These measures will address some of the problems in enforcing laws over foreign ships outside Australia's coastal waters, including ships involved in the practice of people-smuggling. People-smuggling is a scourge of the most tragic kind on the international community. People in countries with fewer opportunities than Australia, who understandably want to make a better life for themselves and their families, are courted by professional organised people smugglers. People smugglers do not apply their craft out of any altruistic motive. They are preying on the vulnerable with the sole intention of maximising their own personal gain.

Those behind the people-smuggling rackets are using sinister means to induce people into illegally migrating to Australia. They play on the hopes and aspirations of their victims with false promises. The promise that they will find instant employment upon arrival is common fare. Some organised people smugglers go so far as to tell their prey that they can immediately earn between $20 and $30 an hour working in Australia. They allay their victims' fears of being caught by falsely assuring them that Australian authorities are powerless to extradite them and that it is easy to qualify for permanent residency. In some circumstances, they are told that they will be welcomed into Australia.

With limited options and no other information readily available, those desperate for a better life submit to the terms and conditions imposed on them by organised people smugglers. In effect, they are unwittingly committing themselves to a life of slavery. For the organised people smugglers it is all about debt bondage: the practice of smuggling people into a country such as Australia and making them pay off the debt when they arrive in the country. Realistically, this is not a debt that can ever be settled. In real terms, the debt can be equivalent to $A50,000.

In practice, repayments can only be made by working off the debt through illegal activities such as prostitution and drug smuggling on behalf of the organised people smugglers. But their rate of pay is negligible and their payments to their employer for living costs are so exorbitant that it is virtually impossible for them ever to pay off their bondage debt. They face a life of servitude at the hands of organised crime gangs. Their servitude can also take such forms as loan sharking, protection rackets, money laundering operations, importation and distribution of narcotics, kidnapping, fraud, vice, extortion, contract killing, slave trading and the tragic practice of child prostitution.

As the world's largest island nation, it is imperative that Australia has the capacity to adequately protect its borders from people-smuggling. The bill presently before the House is just one plank in the government's strategy to minimise the penetration of people-smuggling into Australia. The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs has worked assiduously with international authorities to fight this problem at its source.

Mr Slipper —And he has done a great job.

Mr PYNE —And he has done a most commendable job. The minister recently informed the House that he visited the People's Republic of China, meeting with senior representatives of their government. The product of this meeting was a strengthening of the commitment to cooperate in the detection and prosecution of people smugglers. The outcome of the minister's visit to Bangkok was similarly positive. The Minister for Foreign Affairs also pursued these matters with the Thai government when he was there.

An important facet of this international campaign has been the dissemination of information to increase overseas awareness that illegal immigration will not be tolerated by the Australian government. Cooperative efforts have also been established with authorities from other countries to control the problem at its source. Jakarta police recently broke a passport forgery ring and seized 180 passports, 55 visa stamps and other material used in the people-smuggling process. Thai authorities also recently seized over 1,000 counterfeit passports as well as document producing equipment.

The border protection legislation, which we recently debated in this House and upon which I spoke, will give customs officials extra power in policing our coastal border, but this legislation also complements new antismuggling vessels that have the latest technology to protect our borders. These vessels can sail in extreme conditions and can be at sea for up to 23 days. The new vessels will also make our border protection efforts more cost effective and allow officials to redirect resources to other areas in the fight against people smuggling.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Slavery and Sexual Servitude) Bill 1999 is another measure introduced by the government which fights one of the symptoms of people-smuggling—debt bondage. The bill prescribes penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for those convicted of intentionally owning a slave or exercising power over somebody that is equivalent to slavery. That includes debt bondage and associated practices. Other legislative measures now impose penalties involving 20 years jail and fines up to a maximum of $220,000 for those convicted of smuggling five or more people into Australia. At present, approximately 60 crew from people-smuggling boats are awaiting trial under these tough new provisions. It is the professional people smugglers and the organ ised crime gangs behind them that our strategy is attacking.

Organised crime has an incredible ability not only to adapt to change but also to then expand. We are all aware that globalisation has rationalised, centralised and modernised national economies, but it is also true that globalisation has rationalised, centralised and modernised organised crime groups. Organised criminal activity has become a growth industry and is manifested in myriad ways. That is why illegal immigration and the debt bondage it brings is so important to organised crime gangs. They are able to use the people they smuggle into a country as dispensable foot soldiers. It is an effective way of putting an extra barrier or firewall between the organised crime bosses and the law enforcement agencies.

It also reinforces the fact that organised transnational crime can only be effectively tackled through a coordinated international approach. To that end, Australia joined more than 140 countries at the World Ministerial Conference on Organised Transnational Crime which was held in Naples almost five years ago.

Mr Martin —An appropriate location.

Mr PYNE —Yes, Naples would have been an attractive location but, of course, we are talking about the serious matter of organised crime. Nevertheless, now that I have got your attention perhaps you would like to listen to the rest of my address on the Crimes at Sea Bill 1999 .

Opposition members interjecting

Mr PYNE —I will have to ignore the honourable members. The outcome of the conference was an action plan to develop a holistic approach to combat transnational organised crime by the harmonisation of national legislation. Central to the action plan is the tenet that all countries must work together in responding to this threat. Further conferences will deal with illegal immigration and associated issues. Two more convention conferences planned for October and December this year will canvass additional instruments to deal with trafficking in women and children, the illegal transportation of migrants, and the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their components and ammunition. The combination of these measures will not only assist in controlling the illegal immigration problem at its source but will also have the supplementary effect of suffocating the labour source of the organised crime gangs that are currently operating in Australia. This would be a small but significant step in the fight against organised crime at a domestic level, particularly organised crime with overseas links.

There are also concerns that any further increases in illegal immigration may threaten the integrity and sustainability of Australia's refugee program of which both sides of the House can be proud. As the number of illegal immigrants being caught and detained increases, a strain is being placed on our financial and logistical capacity to service our refugee program. This great humanitarian program assists about 12,000 genuine cases every year. At present it costs Australian taxpayers about $20,500 for each illegal immigrant to be located and removed from Australia.

Mr Slipper —How much?

Mr PYNE —$20,500 was certainly a figure that leapt out at me. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs estimates that by next year it will cost about $20 million a year for the government to fight refugee claims from illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigration also presents other problems for Australia. Unlike legal immigrants who undergo extensive medical tests, illegal immigrants do not necessarily come into Australia with a clean bill of health. Some illegal immigrants have arrived with life threatening diseases like cancer and motor neurone disease. This situation has enormous potential to create a serious challenge to our health system. This is not to say that illegal immigrants who enter the country legally and overstay their visa are more welcome than boat people. Both classes of illegal immigrants are exactly that—illegal.

Credible estimates indicate that in Australia there are just over 50,000 people who have overstayed their visas after arriving legally. A considerable proportion of these illegal immigrants are people from Britain, the United States, and New Zealand. This is an enormous figure compared to the relatively smaller number of boat people who have been detected entering Australia. In 1997-98, 157 boat people arrivals were detected. In 1998-99, this figure jumped to 921. In only five months of this financial year, the statistic has dramatically increased to 1,789 detected boat people. Whilst we would rather not see any illegal immigration occurring in this country, we have to be pragmatic without being defeatist. The reality is that there will always be illegal immigration in countries as lucky as Australia and the United States—or Japan, which is also experiencing similar problems.

A paper produced by the Institute for the Study of International Migration, which is based in Georgetown University in Washington, noted that `stabilising economic growth and democracy may be the most effective long-term means of reducing migration pressures'. This confirms the sensible approach of the Australian government's commitment to assisting our neighbours in various capacities. As the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have often indicated, a stable Asian region is in the national interests of Australia.

It is also worth considering the illegal immigration problems experienced in the United States, specifically those related to patrolling the United States-Mexico border. Despite the enormous financial and technological resources at the disposal of the United States government and the comparatively small border with Mexico, the number of illegal immigrants who penetrate this border is an issue that has been a running sore in American politics for decades. About 60 per cent of all illegal immigrants in the United States are from Mexico. Cuba is another border management problem for the United States. The United States grants asylum to 20,000 Cubans every year, and yet the number of illegal immigrants from Cuba is presently on the rise. In the nine months from January to October 1998, just 615 Cubans reached Florida to seek asylum. In the nine months following, this figure more than tripled to 1,690.

The US Immigration and Naturalisation Service estimated that there were approximately five million undocumented immigrants living in the United States in October 1996. This figure of five million would be closer to eight million if it were not for the 1986 legislation that legalised two classes of undocumented migrants in the United States. The immigration service estimates that approximately 275,000 illegal immigrants enter the United States every year. One of several reasons why the United States is struggling to stem the tide of illegal immigration is the lack of integration and consistency between state and federal policies and strategies to combat the problem. For instance, in the early 1980s the state of California introduced proposition 187 which provided for the barring of illegal alien children from public schools. In 1982, the United States Supreme Court examined the provision and held it to be unconstitutional. Another inconsistency with the United States management of illegal immigration is work site enforcement. Various United States governments have failed to adequately police this area, partly because many industries rely on this form of cheap labour.

There are other lessons for Australia from the United States experience. As border management improves through better technology, people smugglers are employing even more recent and superior technology. Professional people smugglers based in Florida are now using powerful speedboats which are capable of reaching high speeds to either reach American shores without detection or, if detected during their journey, outrun coastguard boats.

The provisions of this bill, in conjunction with other initiatives that I have mentioned that the government has introduced already, will help in the fight against illegal immigration and all the problems that it brings to Australia. But we also need to consider longer-term strategies to keep future influxes of boat people at manageable levels. Since entering the South Australian parliament, Liberal parliamentarian Martin Hamilton-Smith has spoken at length about the escalating problem of boat people. As a former member of the armed services, Mr Hamilton-Smith is familiar with the logistics of protecting Australia's vast northern coastline.

He has called for a proactive approach to protecting our border. Specifically, he advocates a firm policy against illegal immigrants in conjunction with a population policy to help populate northern Australia with legal migrants. Mr Hamilton-Smith argues that a more densely populated northern Australia would lend itself to improved border security, in addition to being a boost to regional development. He also identifies it as a measure that would relieve some of the urban planning problems that are currently being experienced in some capital cities.

Innovative ideas similar to the one put forward by Mr Hamilton-Smith need to be developed and considered in further detail. This must include a consultative process that includes rural and regional Australia. It is important that we give the broader community ownership of the outcomes of a population policy debate. I would hope that, in the future, the opposition might be able to accept the need for a bipartisan approach to population policy. Clearly the question of Australia's population levels is one about nation building. Surely the Labor Party can see the need to work with the government to create a sensible and measured approach to achieve an optimum population level in Australia achieved by way of both fertility and immigration. I commend the bill to the House.