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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12526


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (16:25): At the outset of my contribution to this matter of public importance I make the comment that if the problem was solved as the previous member suggested then the Australian taxpayers have got a right to ask why millions and millions of their dollars were spent on an edifice on Christmas Island. Why was it needed if the problem had disappeared? It was all over and there was never going to be boats again. It is a very real question when you are lauding the possibilities of increased taxpayer funding for immigration. Why was it constructed if the problem had been solved?

We are here today because of a tragic event off west Java. The people on that boat represent the dynamics of our problem—people who indisputably had genuine claims. Some are driven here by poverty to try to manipulate the refugee convention while others are encouraged by the possibilities of a country that a very kind legal system would give them in fighting the process for decades. Others are encouraged by the fact that essentially people cannot be deported because countries such as Iran will not take people back or because it is hard to prove people's identity when they do not have documents. Those people on the boats encompass all those dynamics, all those possibilities. I note that the use of the term 'protecting our borders' is designed to give another subliminal message to the electorate, basically to say that maybe there is some security or defence danger in these boats. That is what it is all about. That is why at the outset I wanted to reiterate the diverse reasons that drive people to undertake this journey.

Another speaker has commented on the views of the former member for Cook that, without Malaysia, boats see no impediment. Despite many disagreements with him, I deeply respect his genuine views on this matter. We have heard a lot of rhetoric throughout this debate that we should adopt Nauru, and we know over the past few months being a signatory to the UN convention is seemingly the be-all and end-all for those opposite. I make the point again that, as of April this year, there were 144 signatories to this convention. They include Afghanistan, Iran, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Sudan, the Congo Democratic Republic. They are countries that are basically exporting one thing to the world—refugee claimants—and yet they are signatories. Supposedly, because Malaysia is not a signatory, an effective policy has been damned. Previously, the opposition were able in government to say it was all right to send people to Nauru, despite the fact that it was not a signatory.

We do not have to rely on ancient history; we can also talk about more modern history. On 27 July last year, the member for Curtin said in a press conference that she, on behalf of the opposition, did not consider that being a signatory was a precondition for these kinds of processing areas. As late as July last year, she denied this fundamental requirement. We know they are grasping at any possibility to try to thwart the government—Nauru or nothing. We all know that on Nauru the possibilities for constructive employment are minimal—something that Malaysia has moved towards. We know that buildings that were used as detention centres before are now being used for schoolchildren. We also know there are water shortages. Yet the opposition runs around condemning Malaysia. I and the member for Melbourne Ports have been amongst those who have condemned Malaysia with regard to human rights. But at least Anwar Ibrahim could have his day in court; he could fight through a legal process. I was speaking to two MPs from Malaysian opposition party DAP the other week at a Tamil event who have doubts as to why the government in Malaysia is liberalising; they say it is all about the next elections and that Najib Razak is just manipulating for electoral purposes. But the fact of life is that internal security measures that have been there for decades are basically going to end next year. I want to quote Richard Towle about Malaysia. In an article on 2 November he noted:

In the context of the Malaysian arrangements, the assurances of legal stay and community-based reception for all transferees can be seen as a more positive protection environment than protracted—and in some cases indefinite—detention that many face here in Australia ...

Mr Danby: Who is he, Laurie?

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON: The UNHCR regional representative. He also noted:

All refugees in Malaysia would ... be registered within the government's immigration database and thus protected from arbitrary arrest and detention.

They are pretty positive comments about a Commonwealth country, which the opposition has started to basically say is on the same level as North Korea. That is the kind of argument that is being put here, just to make sure that the government cannot have an effective policy in this area. They want to jump off the buildings, joyous at every boat that arrives, saying that the government has failed, saying it is out of control, putting out negative comments about the people involved.

I would also note about TPVs, towing boats away and Nauru as the supposed sublime solution that, as was noted earlier, 8,000 people came after the TPV provisions came in. I would question TPVs, quite frankly, on moral grounds as well. I believe that people who come here by boat and plane have advantages in getting into this country as opposed to people in the camps and the slums in Quetta and around Kenya. But once it has been decided that they are refugees, is it morally right that they are on TPVs and waiting for years to be reunited with their families? These are people we have determined are refugees. We might dispute that others are; we might have doubts about others. But the opposition are saying that this is a defensible policy as a discouragement, and yet 8,000 people came here afterwards anyway because they were so desperate.

We have heard from the Navy and various people about the dangers of towing these boats away. We know now that the opposition have put in the condition 'wherever possible'. It is not just a phone call to the Leader of the Opposition now; it is a bit more complex—it is only wherever it is judged possible. Also, the so-called central requirement that a country is a UNHCR signatory is abandoned: the boats will be towed back to Indonesia. These are the kinds of inconsistencies we are seeing from those opposite.

They are trying to mislead the public that these boats mean that Malaysia cannot be a solution. We all know that in the months leading up to the High Court's late August decision there was debate about the legality of it and there was uncertainty. I think the people smugglers would have had a reasonable proposition in putting to people that this might not hold. The opposition talk about the increase in boats coming here, but we know that even after they announced the glorious suggestion of Nauru, 2,000 people still came here.

They talk about 'one sensible amendment'. The one sensible amendment is that we totally capitulate to a policy that their deputy leader a year ago said was not necessary. They come in here and deride the changes that this government has introduced. They say that what is happening has got nothing to do with the conclusion of the war in Sri Lanka; nothing to do with the possibility of US forces getting out of Iraq; nothing to do with concrete conditions inside countries. But anyone that follows this issue knows that that is an ingredient. It is totally preposterous to say we should capitulate to their situation.

Finally, I what to turn to the Greens. Every time there is a debate in this area we see their solution: an increased intake per se. I am not opposed to increases, but to say that increasing this country's intake—an admittedly high intake per capita, but very minor in terms of the overall international problem—can somehow solve this problem is preposterous. We are talking about 10½ million people internationally, as of earlier this year. We are talking about 1.9 million people in Pakistan; 1.1 million people in Iran; and 5½ million in Asia, more than half of them in our region. To say, every time there is a debate about the need to bring in disincentives for people to undertake perilous journeys, that somehow the boats are not going to come if we increase the intake is absolutely preposterous.