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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 838

Dr LEIGH (8:25 PM) —To help those in need, to extend compassion, and to be concerned for the unfortunate is what being a ‘mate’ is all about. But, in recent weeks, I fear that those opposite have stepped away from this. They have stepped away from a recognition that our nation is strongest when we help those in need. From Simpson and his donkey to the willingness of Queenslanders to help one another in the recent floods, there is nothing more Australian than helping someone in need.

We can have strong border security while showing compassion for those who seek to claim refuge in our great nation. Those opposite, for the sake of political gain, would have us believe that is not true. They seek to gain advantage from the misfortune of others. As Mike Carlton, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald and summing up a grubby week for the opposition, put it, ‘This is One Nation stuff with a Liberal Party blue ribbon wrapped around it.’

Let us make clear that the motion as moved by the member for Fadden is not about concern for the great men and women of the Australian Defence Force. As my colleague the member for Canberra has already made clear, Defence families are not worse off because of a decision to use some Defence properties to house asylum seekers, to allow children to gain an education while their families’ claim for refugee status is being assessed. Instead, this motion is about tapping the same vein that the shadow minister for immigration wanted his cabinet to tap: ‘Let’s make political capital from Muslim migrants,’ he told his colleagues.

Those opposite would well remember from their days on the Treasury benches that Defence Housing Australia hands back houses to the Department of Defence all the time. An assessment is regularly made to ensure that all homes available for Defence families meet the high standards set. If a DHA house does not meet that standard or is no longer needed, it is given back to Defence.

That is exactly what happened with the 50 or so houses used to house asylum seekers at Inverbrackie: 50 houses deemed unsuitable for Defence were put to use housing people seeking refuge in Australia. Those opposite would have us believe that no house owned either by Defence or by DHA should be put to a use other than to house Defence families. They take a very purist line on that in this motion. But they forget that, when they were in government, they rented DHA homes to non-Defence families. In 2003, the then minister responsible, in answer to a question on notice from the former Labor member for Cowan, Mr Graham Edwards, a man greatly missed in this place, informed the House that up to 862 DHA houses were being leased to private individuals—that is, 862 houses that one presumes met the high standard required by DHA for Defence family homes—yet those in the Liberal Party and the National Party voiced no objection at the time. I do not recall the mover of this motion stepping forward or his political forebears stepping forward to say that it was inappropriate then. But it is inappropriate now. Perhaps the rule is that it is okay to use DHA homes for non-defence personnel as long as they are Christian.

Those opposite well know that Defence families are not being disadvantaged by this decision. Indeed, they could learn a thing or two from the children at Inverbrackie, and perhaps those local children at Inverbrackie might help those in the Liberal and National parties find their compassion gene again. Jasmin Gallagher-Bohn, an 11 year-old living in Inverbrackie, was quoted in the local Hills and Valley Messenger on 16 November 2010 as wanting to help the refugees who would be settling in Inverbrackie. She told the Messenger:

 ‘It made me think about what happens to them—

the refugees—

and how lucky we are.’

A story from Adelaide Now on 20 December 2010 recorded that schoolchildren in Inverbrackie were getting on well with their new classmates. Immigration officials were quoted as saying there were no major problems with resettlement in Inverbrackie. The director of Catholic welfare group Centacare Adelaide, Dale West, said:

“Once these people actually move in, they become human faces.”

He went on to say:

“Not many people can look at an 11-year-old girl whose got one arm because she’s had the other one ripped off in Sri Lanka and say: ‘Go away, we don’t want you’.”

A story from Adelaide Now on 28 January this year headlined ‘Hills school welcomes asylum seeker children’ said the following:

Woodside Primary principal John Balnaves said the school was excited to welcome its newest additions.

“The students here are really great, fantastic and caring kids,” Mr Balnaves said. “The Inverbrackie children will find they’re coming in to a good environment with people watching out for them.”

He said the existing students were looking forward to meeting their new classmates, with some already interacting with the Inverbrackie children when they delivered shoebox care packages to their peers for Christmas.

But what we saw from the opposition in relation to Inverbrackie and the announcement by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship that those facilities would be used and families released into community detention was hysteria and the glorification of policies that the Australian people know have long failed.

The shadow immigration minister wants to return to the Howard government’s policy of detaining asylum seekers in high-security detention centres, as occurred at Port Hedland or Curtin immigration detention facilities in the earlier part of this decade. Under the Howard government, one child was held in a Port Hedland immigration detention centre for five years, five months and 20 days. As the father of a boy who turned four on the weekend, I struggle to imagine the notion of a child incarcerated in a Hedland detention centre for more than five years. This is the legacy that even Prime Minister John Howard walked away from in 2005, but it is a legacy that those opposite would have us return to. Indeed, only late last year the shadow immigration minister was trumpeting the Howard government’s record of moving children from behind razor wire—even if it did come after nine years in government—and yet now he is suggesting that families and children should be placed back into high-security facilities.

I cannot let this issue pass without noting the comments of the Leader of the Opposition on Inverbrackie. His clear insinuation last year after speaking to a community forum in the Adelaide Hills was that asylum seekers who do manage to make it to our shores should be placed in very uncomfortable conditions—the better to send a message to people smugglers. Australia is a bigger and more gracious nation than that. The shadow immigration minister, for his part, said on refugees to Sky News on 4 November last year:

… whether they’re at Curtin or Christmas Island or Scherger or any of the other places that I’ve seen, the Northern Detention Centre in Darwin or so on; the type of accommodation there I think is entirely appropriate, we would have similar type of accommodation at Nauru.

That is his solution, apparently—leave those unused DHA houses to the vandals so that the government can kick asylum seekers a little harder when they get here.

Finally, I want to note that none of this should be taken as a reflection on the terrific work of DHA. I had the pleasure of visiting some new DHA homes in my own electorate of Fraser with the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel last year. I would like to use this chance to congratulate DHA on the excellent job they are doing and tell of the admiration I have for those new houses in Crace and elsewhere in Australia. As of the middle of last year, DHA managed over 18,000 properties in all states and territories, a portfolio valued at $8.6 billion. That involves a large development construction acquisition program. For example, in the 2009-10 fiscal year over 1,000 properties were built or acquired by DHA. DHA has also put in place an internet based HomeFind tool, making sure that properties are available to families before they move. DHA does great work for defence personnel, and they do not deserve to be treated as a political football in the immigration debate.

Mr Adams —Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.