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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 836

Mr SIMPKINS (8:00 PM) —I welcome this opportunity to comment on the very fine motion before the chamber. Having served a short 15 years in the Australian Army I am most familiar with Defence housing. There have always been issues with regard to Defence housing, and there have always been shortages at various times, which saw the temporary rental allowance come into it. That is something that has not been broached by the other side in the very limited and inexperienced way that their argument has been put.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 8.01 pm to 8.16 pm

Mr SIMPKINS —As I was saying before the suspension, there are a great many issues surrounding this motion. Whilst the government has told us that the 81 houses in Inverbrackie are surplus to requirements, we know that there are 490-odd houses around the country that are not currently being occupied. I wonder about the temporary rental allowance situation in these places. Are the people who could be in these Defence houses merely being pushed over to continue on the Defence budget bottom line by being given TRA when this Defence controlled housing is just being pushed over to the department of immigration? I wonder whether that is the case, because that certainly has not been made clear by the government at all.

Obviously a big part of the need for this motion comes from the pressure on Defence housing as a consequence of the government’s failed border protection policies. It only stands to reason that, when you break a working system of border control which then has the effect of encouraging more people to make a perilous journey by boat to Australia, you are then going to be faced with the question of what you are going to do with these people. More people come by boat and more people move to Christmas Island. When Christmas Island is overflowing in the manner it has been, what is the next step? Clearly this is the next step.

We need to look beyond Inverbrackie and ask: what is the government going to do with those 492 Defence houses that are unoccupied? The question I posed before is: what is the situation regarding TRA? Have Defence Force members been forced to go and look for their own housing using temporary rental allowance because houses that were available are just being shifted over to immigration, saving a bit on the immigration department’s bottom line and lifting a bit on the Defence bottom line?

I know and we all know that housing affordability in this country remains a concern for many of our citizens. I think a lot of people would be saying that, if there are Defence houses around, what is the government’s plan and why is the government not thinking about making them available to current Australian citizens? I know my colleague the member for Solomon has made this point on a number of occasions. What about the 400 houses in Darwin that are in this Defence owned category? Wouldn’t the right thing be to hand them over for rental to Australian citizens who are already doing it tough? I wonder if this is a matter of priorities. I wonder how much of the additional cost of the government’s failed border protection and immigration policies is being disguised in costs under the Defence portfolio by using the houses in Inverbrackie. What is the future for Defence owned houses? Defence Housing Authority stock cannot be touched by government but Defence housing is fully controlled by the department and can be diverted to other causes.

We know that there are an ever-increasing number of illegal boat arrivals and that Christmas Island has become massively overcrowded. The facility was originally designed to accommodate 750 people at most, but it has expanded and is currently housing around 2,700. The government, to try to cover its embarrassment and deal with the consequences of this failure, is looking to book out maybe some more entire hotels in various locations around the country to house people arriving illegally. We have even heard of people being housed in shipping containers in Darwin.

In Western Australia we know the government has been forced to shell out an estimated $5 million per year to house illegal arrivals at the former mining camp in Leonora. Of course, it needed to be upgraded—since the time it was occupied by miners—to make sure it was up to the relevant standard. When we look at the 1,500-person detention facility at Northam—a plan about which the government remained silent before the election in August last year—there was no consultation whatsoever before the decision was made.

We understand that ABC radio reports in Western Australia last week suggested work at Northam is running behind schedule and it looks like—even in this epitome of the government’s failure to control our borders—the government will not even be able to bring this in under budget or at least on time. However, the boats keep coming and the costs keep mounting.

In 2010-11 the government will spend more than $760 million on people arriving illegally to Australia. We recall that in 2007, at the time of the last government, the cost was about $100 million. It is estimated that every person who arrives illegally to this country by boat costs taxpayers around $150,000. None of that will be helped by the ‘East Timor solution’. That dead duck is not going to fly any time soon—it has certainly been roundly dismissed by the elected representatives of East Timor. It would probably be as successful as the citizens’ assembly that the former Deputy Prime Minister raised.

We had the opportunity back in 2007 when the detention system—the immigration and the border patrol system—was working. The boats had slowed to just about nothing. We had a functioning facility on Nauru that could have been used. This need by the government to co-opt defence housing for immigration is a demonstration of the failure of the border control system. Then there was the refusal to use Nauru, and it has been compounded the whole way along. The East Timorese Council of Ministers has rejected the plan for a regional detention centre and, whilst the government has allegedly drawn up a document for ongoing discussions, it really does not look like going anywhere. What a shame that is, given that we had Nauru as an option. There are so many opportunities that this government has dismissed for political expediency’s sake. The sorts of problems we face now and the waste of money that has epitomised the failure of border control have been so pointless. If the government had just left things as they were, none of this would have been required.

I recall that the previous speaker spoke about compassion. What I would say about compassion is this: when you take people coming off the boats and the priority begins to be those people, what about all the other people who are stuck in refugee camps who just have to wait a little longer or delay for another year, or maybe not even come at all? What about the people who do not have the money to pay the people-smugglers or to fly on commercial airlines to Malaysia and then see the people-smugglers? What about the people stuck behind the wire in refugee camps somewhere who do not have the money to jump the queue and come here illegally? They wait. That is not compassion; that is a disgrace. That is the problem with what the government has done over the last three years. (Time expired)