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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12515


Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (15:38): Let me say at the outset something which needs to be said very clearly in this House: last night—

Mr Dutton: You resign!

Mr BOWEN: I was about to say that last night this nation saw a tragedy of the first order. The Australian people woke this morning to see that tragedy and wonder why the Australian parliament—which apparently believes in offshore processing; which apparently believes that offshore processing is a deterrent to getting on a boat and coming to Australia—cannot vote for it. Why wouldn't the parliament vote for something that both sides of the parliament say they believe in? Why wouldn't the parliament join as one and say, 'We disagree over many things. We disagree over methods, we disagree over different resolutions, but we do agree on offshore processing because we believe it can save lives'? Both sides of the aisle in this House—in fairness, not every member; there are members of the crossbench who do not agree—say that we should have an offshore processing regime in Australia. We have a different approach to the methods that can be used, but there is only one side of the House which is prepared to vote for offshore processing. There is only one side of the House which is prepared to come into the chamber and vote to give the government of the day the power to implement offshore processing in a way it sees fit.

The honourable member for Cook has gone through the opposition's model. It is true that we do have a different approach. The opposition say that their approach—and it is—is to open a detention centre at Nauru. We disagree because all the expert advice to the government is that that would not form an effective deterrent. That is advice that has been given to the opposition. Further, that is the advice which has been given to the parliament before the Senate estimates. The Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said:

Our view is not simply that the Nauru option would not work but that the combination of circumstances that existed at the end of 2001 could not be repeated with success. That is a view that we held for some time—and it is of course not just a view of my department; it is the collective view of agencies involved in providing advice in this area.

That is the collective view of national security experts—the advisers to government—which has been given to this government and made available to the Leader of the Opposition, to the member for Cook, to the member for Stirling, to Senator Brandis and to other opposition members. They have been given the advice that it would not form an effective deterrent and could not work again, and I think they know that.

I know that the member for Berowra knows that. The member for Berowra, a former holder of the office of minister for immigration, in relation to the policies that he had implemented and in relation to their relevance, today said, 'You're going to have to use all the measures that were used, but then you'd be looking around to see what more you could do. It's going to require a lot more effort than any of the measures that are being spoken about at the moment.' I wonder what they are. We have not heard those. The member for Berowra has conceded that his policies, if implemented again, would not work and they would need to do more, but the member for Cook has not said what that would be, in terms of additional policies, and perhaps he would make announcements. But the member for Cook says that Nauru remains their policy, and I accept that. They say that it would be more effective.

The member for Cook just criticised the Malaysia arrangement, which I will come to in a moment. He said, 'Look, 1,000 people have arrived since it was signed. Sixteen hundred people have arrived since it was announced. Therefore it is a failure.' Let's put aside the fact that it has not been implemented—the parliament has not allowed it to be implemented—but, if the measure of success is the number of arrivals, what does the member for Cook say to the 1,900 people who arrived after the announcement of the detention centre at Nauru? Apparently that failed.

Mr Morrison interjecting

Mr BOWEN: The member for Cook says it was open-ended. There were only 1,400 places at the Nauru detention centre. The member for Cook has yet to reveal what he would do if he were the minister for immigration when it was full and what he would do in terms of resettlement. Would he have an agreement with other countries to resettle refugees? I would be interested to know. Which countries is he going to ring up on the phone? He is fond of telling us to pick up the phone. Who is he going to ring and ask, 'Could you take the refugees who are on Nauru, because I don't want to take them?' Maybe Iran. He is a big fan of a people-swap deal with Iran. Maybe he would ring Iran. The fact that most of them would be Iranian might be a slight technical difficulty that I am sure he would overcome. Who else is he going to call? Perhaps he could let us know. Where are the refugees on Nauru going to be resettled? If he cannot answer that question, the Australian people are entitled to conclude that the answer is the same as last time, and that answer is Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Ian Macfarlane interjecting

Mr BOWEN: The member for Groom says that is rubbish. Ninety-five per cent of refugees who were processed on Nauru were resettled in Australia and New Zealand, and the member for Groom says that is rubbish. I would be interested to know what the member for Groom says the figure is of refugees who were resettled. So, there we have the Nauru policy.

The member for Cook again correctly outlined the second limb of his policy, which is temporary protection visas. Temporary protection visas are not something that this side of the parliament supports. We will continue to argue against them and we will not implement them for several reasons. Firstly, we do not believe they were in any way a humanitarian response. Secondly, one of the elements of temporary protection visas is that they deny family reunion. I can understand the reasons that motivated the previous government to do that—I really do understand the policy rationale of saying: 'Let's take away family reunion; that might discourage people from coming to Australia'—but it has been tried, and it failed. When you remove family reunion it does not discourage people from coming to Australia by boat; it encourages them. When family reunion is not available it means more people get on a boat. It means more people risking their lives on the boat journey to Australia because it is the only way of coming to Australia. More women and children on boats is a direct result of temporary protection visas. Eight thousand people arrived after temporary protection visas were introduced, and the number of people arriving went up—

Mr Ruddock interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): The honourable member for Berowra will control himself. The minister has the call.

Mr Ruddock: I hope my point has been heard, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The Father of the House is aware that it is disorderly to interject—and maybe he has interjected a little too much. The minister has the call.

Mr BOWEN: In this matter, as in so many others, the opposition simply ignores the facts. And then we have turning back the boats. This, to my mind, is the worst policy of all—the most ill-thought-out, the most ridiculous and, frankly, the most dangerous policy that the opposition has. There are a number of elements about this policy. Firstly, it underlines the abject hypocrisy of those who sit opposite. The opposition say: 'It's a terrible thing to negotiate protections with Malaysia and it's a terrible thing to ensure that those standards are protected and to then return people by aeroplane to Malaysia, because Malaysia is not a signatory to the refugee convention, but it is okay to turn a boat around and send it to Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the refugee convention, with no protections negotiated. And, by the way, we're not going to check who is on the boat. We're not going to check whether there are women and children and where they're from. We're not even going to check where they're fleeing from and who they're claiming asylum from. We're not going to check and see if that means we are fulfilling our obligations under the refugee convention.' Nothing! That, more than anything else, underlines the abject hypocrisy of the opposition and how ill thought out their policy is.

Secondly, their policy is completely unworkable because, once again, there is a little technical detail—these technical details do crop up, to the annoyance of the shadow minister and the Leader of the Opposition—and that is that Indonesia will not take them. The Indonesian government has made that crystal clear. This is not in relation to our policy, because we are not proposing that. The opposition say: 'That's okay. I'd go up and see them; I'd negotiate it.' The opposition really rate their ability to negotiate with countries in our region. But the Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs has made it clear—not in relation to this side of the House but in relation to your policy—that he would not accept it and that it would not be acceptable to the government or the people of Indonesia.

Thirdly, and most importantly, this policy is dangerous. This is a policy which would risk the lives of Australian naval personnel, as well as asylum seekers. The member for Cook says, 'We'd do it when it was safe.' I have news for the member for Cook: it is never safe; it will never be safe. The member for Cook says: 'Admiral Griggs gave evidence to Senate estimates that it had been done. That was the entirety of his advice: "It was done once." That was the complete advice that Admiral Griggs gave to Senate estimates.' Well, the member for Cook is wrong; he is misinformed. Perhaps the member for Cook missed Admiral Griggs's evidence, because Admiral Griggs made it very clear that he had been involved in turning around the boats and that it was a dangerous activity that put at risk the lives of Australian naval personnel and the asylum seekers themselves.

I say this is serious because there are people's lives at stake; these are the lives of our naval personnel. The response of the member for Cook to the advice of Australia's most senior sailor, the Chief of the Australian Navy, is to come up with a fatuous one-liner about people on the roofs of detention centres. He would ignore the advice of the Australian Navy, and he justifies that with a fatuous and cheap one-liner. That is what this opposition has been reduced to. We have people's lives at stake, and we had consistent advice to this government that turning around boats on the high seas is a dangerous policy which would risk the lives of Australia naval personnel, and all the member for Cook can do is come up with a one-liner.

We do not know who would actually make the decision. The opposition say, 'When it's safe to do so.' The opposition's election policy was that Mr Abbott, if he were elected to the office of Prime Minister, would make that decision himself on the 'boat phone' from Kirribilli House. And then recently the Leader of the Opposition said it would actually be the naval personnel who would make the decision. And then the member for Cook said, 'We'll take responsibility,' which I assume means that he would make the decision. So we are not really sure who would make the decision as to when it was safe.

This is a sham. But the opposition's policy is well known and clear, and I accept that. We do believe that they should have the right to implement it. We do believe that, if they were to form office, they should have the right to implement their policy. That is why we introduced legislation into the House to give the government of the day the power to implement its policies.

Mr Morrison interjecting

Mr BOWEN: The member for Cook says, 'We only moved one amendment, one teensy little amendment, one tiny amendment'—one amendment which would derail the government's policy!

Opposition members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Honourable members on my left, including the member for Cook and the member for Stirling, will remain silent for the rest of the duration of the minister's speech. The minister has the call.

Mr BOWEN: The opposition's point is to say: 'You can have any kind of processing you want, providing it is our policy. You can have any type of offshore processing you want, providing that it is on Nauru.' That is not acceptable to the government. The reason it is not acceptable is that, after taking all the expert advice, we have reached the conclusion that there is a much more effective deterrent—the deterrent of the arrangement with Malaysia. I note the current member for Cook says it would not be a deterrent. The previous member for Cook does not quite agree. The previous member for Cook said today, 'There's no denying the fact that the Malaysian solution'—even though I do not think that is the optimum one, in fairness to the previous member for Cook—'was the one the people smugglers were concerned about. And now there is certainly the ability to send boats down to Australia without the concern that the individual asylum seekers are going to be returned to Malaysia.'

The Malaysia arrangement has never been given the chance to be implemented, but it is a policy which would provide the deterrent for people making the dangerous journey by boat to Australia because they feel it provides them with the greatest chance of resettlement in Australia, a point made very eloquently by Prime Minister Najib during his recent visit to Australia. Prime Minister Najib also rejected the outrageous attacks on Malaysia's reputation and policy by those who sit opposite.

We have a chance to ensure that we never see the type of incident we saw last night, that I as minister—or the member for Cook if he were minister—never has to get the type of phone call that I received last night. This parliament should take that opportunity. (Time expired)