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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12524


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (16:14): I rise to speak on the matter of public importance which has been moved by the member for Cook, the shadow minister, and I follow the member for Stirling's earlier contribution. This is an MPI about the government's failure to implement proven policies to protect our borders, and there are many to talk about in respect of the Labor Party's failed policies that they have tried to implement since they came to government in 2007.

I want to start by expressing my sympathy for what happened last night in Indonesia. It is, of course, a tragedy when people lose their lives in these circumstances, and I think we all acknowledged that at the very beginning. But we are debating this issue again in this place because a proven solution was removed in 2008 by the former Prime Minister, the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and the Labor Party. As the member for Stirling so rightly pointed out, they came to government with a moral superiority that we saw for so many years when it came to this issue. We endured it for so many years, particularly in 2001 with the Labor Party crowing about their moral superiority and how they were much more humanitarian when it came to these issues than the Liberal Party and coalition were during our time in government. We saw this in election campaign after election campaign. In fact, the member for Adelaide ran a very vicious campaign against the then member for Adelaide, Trish Worth, to win that seat in 2004. She highlighted examples and made great play on the fact that Trish Worth supported the policies of the then Howard government. She ran a very nasty campaign to get elected, and I wonder whether she will say in her next brochure to her electorate that she wants to send children to Malaysia. It will be very interesting to see whether the member for Adelaide still maintains that humanitarian approach and that predisposition where she seemed to claim such superiority over the then member for Adelaide in 2004. I would be very surprised if she does that.

On many occasions during the Howard government we heard the abuse that was directed at the member for Berowra when he was the minister for immigration. What he put up with on a personal level was nothing but a disgrace in public life. Today we debate about signs being put up at rallies. Of course, these are unfortunate and needless, but what the member for Berowra and other ministers in the former Howard government put up with—and what the member for Adelaide put up with—during those debates makes those pale into insignificance.

The behaviour that the Labor Party engaged in during those years and the accusations they made about those of us on this side of the chamber—particularly those who were serving—was disgraceful. They now live and enjoy their own pool which they swim in, with proposals that they put forward and which we know that most of their caucus do not support and have never supported. We know that some of these people are privately ecstatic that the proposal the minister for immigration put to the parliament has not even been put to a vote, because they did not want their names on the Hansard. The Prime Minister's great call was that she wanted to see members of the coalition's names on the Hansard. Let me put this on the record: I will be very proud to have my name on the Hansard as voting against this Malaysian proposal. It is a disgrace—an utter disgrace. It is from a group of people who for so long claimed superiority on this subject, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

To put this policy issue which confronts our country into some context, there are some 10 million people worldwide who the UNHCR says are legitimate refugees. They seek a better life and they are living in camps in large part in squalor—particularly in Africa. They live in terrible circumstances that none of us would support. In Australia we offer a humanitarian program to take some of those people—a small number of those people, granted. Some would argue—and in fact I have said—that we should consider taking more in our humanitarian programs and offer some more places to people who are in these horrific circumstances. I refer to the member for Berowra, who has said in this place before and said to me privately that he has visited nearly all of these refugee camps around the globe and that the situations that many of these people find themselves in are nothing short of terrible, disgraceful and beyond belief. So, obviously, we are faced with a choice when it comes to how we allocate those 15,000 or so spots each year for the very special privilege of Australian citizenship and a chance at another life.

We must have a way to manage people's entry into our country. That is something that we all largely agree on. Some think that we should have a much more open approach; we say that we should decide who gets that opportunity at a new life. To do that, the Howard government put a set of policies in place which prevented the people smugglers deciding who got those humanitarian visas. We put in policies which ensured that our sovereign nation got to choose who it was who got an opportunity at a new life, because we cannot take them all. As much as we care very much about people across the globe, we have to have a system of management. We have to ensure we know who is entering our country, we have to know the circumstances in which they enter and we have to be able to decide which of those should get the opportunity to stay.

The policies that we implemented in government took some time to work, but they worked nonetheless. They took some time to work, but by the time of the 2007 election the boats had stopped. The member for Chifley said before that we should look at the evidence when it comes to the Pacific solution. He tried to paint a picture that the Pacific solution was just a stop on the way. The point he did not make was that the numbers that were being processed through the centre on Nauru in the Pacific solution had reduced by such an amount that I think there were four people in detention when the Rudd government was elected in November 2007—four!

Since 2008, since those laws changed, some 12,000 people have attempted to enter our country by boat. As the member for Stirling so rightly pointed out, the Labor Party at first claimed that was from push factors and then tried to implement a completely and utterly racist policy of freezing the processing of certain individuals. Then, when there was a change of leadership in the Labor Party, they tried to implement an East Timor solution without contacting the East Timorese first. When that got lost in the Timor Sea, they came up with another proposal—the Malaysian people swap proposal, which has now come to an abrupt halt because they will not agree to a simple proposition from our side that the country to do offshore processing should be a party to the UN convention.

The consequences we are seeing across Australia are vast and we have talked about them often. We have seen a massive waste of money to deal with number of arrivals we have had. In my own electorate the Inverbrackie centre, which was foisted on the people of the Adelaide Hills 12 months ago and began operating in late December 2010, has cost in its first six months alone $27 million. It is an extraordinary amount of money for around 300 people on average at any one time. The upgrade of each property cost $32,000, even though there were defence personnel and their families living in them almost until the point they were turned into a detention facility. It has cost over $6 million to refurbish the houses. Nearly $2 million has been spent on interpreters and translators. The total cost of phone usage in the first six months was $13,000. The cost of internet usage was $23,000. All these costs were incurred because the laws were changed in September 2008 and the boats have not stopped coming since. The member for Cook, the shadow minister, has said that if we are elected and we get the opportunity to implement our three-prong strategy to stop the boats we will shut down the Inverbrackie detention facility, because it costs too much money. It is the wrong policy, it is the wrong place and the community never had an opportunity to have their say about whether it should be there.

We were told before the last election there would be no more onshore detention centres and, quite clearly, that is a broken promise. We were told when the Inverbrackie facility was first established that there would be a great economic boost to the region, which has also proved to be false. The government's policies have failed. They had an opportunity to adopt policies that worked—policies put in by the Howard government—and they should be put in again. (Time expired)