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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12529

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (16:35): Given the opposition's past rhetoric, I would have thought they would have been ashamed to raise this issue. We remember their election ads about real action and stopping the boats, the ads with the red arrows coming down to Australia, and the Leader of the Opposition's talk of a so-called invasion.

For those of us who believe in an ordered, fair and humane immigration program, there is a place for offshore processing in Australia's migration policy. We recall that in the time of the Fraser government there were regional processing centres in Vietnam and Malaysia and they had bipartisan support. This was a mature and rational way of dealing with this problem. By contrast now, those opposite are one moment inciting fear of unauthorised boat arrivals and the next, showing faux concern about human rights and caning in Malaysia. What hypocrisy! We see fake concern from the other side about the human rights of unauthorised arrivals; then they use the opposite arguments on the plight of asylum seekers to try to benefit their own political interests.

The conservative columnist Paul Sheehan argued in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Leader of the Opposition was making the greatest 'misstep' of his leadership in opposing our proposed Malaysia transfer agreement. Sheehan said:

… as a matter of principle it has an aura of cant and hypocrisy. The great majority of the people who would vote for an Abbott-led Coalition want strong border protection. It is a core issue.

I hope the member for Indi is listening to this. It is a matter of principle. Of course, she will probably denigrate Mr Sheehan from the Sydney Morning Herald.

The member for Warringah, in my view, has abandoned his long-held policy. He knows that legislation to deal with the doubts about any government's ability to act is clearly needed. He knows this. It was clearly identified by Mr Kitney in the Australian Financial Review on 14 September this year:

For a third time, Abbott took his play-it-hard tactics too far. … he indicated a double-dissolution election might be needed. In other words, the limbo created by the High Court's rejection of the Malaysia solution could continue indefinitely as amendments to the Migration Act are shuffled between the two houses.

Won't that be a wonderful thing for the people smugglers—to bring down as many boats as they like, while we have elections and discuss this even further.

The opposition should instead be taking the responsible action of supporting the government, as we did when we were in opposition. I know this very well because I worked very closely with the then government to make sure that the national security interests of Australia were put ahead of partisan political interests on the issue of terrorism post September 11. Quite naturally, some on this side did not want the Attorney-General alone to decide who would be classified as a terrorist group. At the same time, this side did not want people who were involved in events like 9-11 to be allowed to come to Australia. We resolved it, like mature rational people. The opposition worked with the government and passed resolutions in the Senate that allowed parliament to review the recommendations of the intelligence services, and the intelligence committee goes through them very responsibly every year. We have not rejected them once. That is an example of us acting together with the other side of politics in the national interest.

But here we have a situation where the opposition cannot do this. They only see the short-term politics of it. They have all of these people on the other side who have never before—I have been through all of their records—spoken about human rights in Malaysia. They have never once mentioned the human rights conventions or the refugee conventions. And now they cite Iran and Pakistan signing the United Nations Convention on Refugees as the reason we can send refugees off to those places. That is what the member for Cook wants to do. What an insane policy, a crazy policy. Do you think we would really support doing something like that? I do not believe even the member for Indi would support that. Of course she would not. It is just rhetoric. It is rhetoric to try to make use of the politics of this occasion. It is a disgrace.

Many people have compared the opposition's behaviour to the character in the film The Exorcist—their heads twist around and around. One minute they are purporting the invasion of Australia and the next minute they are talking about the human rights of people in Malaysia. Haven't we got any common sense? Of course we do, and common sense says that we should write an agreement with a country like Malaysia. As the member for Werriwa said, 'I bow to no-one in being a critic of Malaysia.' We have been critics of human rights in Malaysia, when all of those opposite, apart from the member for Wentworth, were silent on it. They were absolutely silent over there about Malaysian human rights prior to a Labor government suggesting an arrangement with Malaysia.

Does the member for Indi think an agreement written by Australia with Malaysia—and supervised, as the member for Werriwa said, by the UNHCR and by the Australian media—is not worth more than a black-letter law written with a country like Iran? A UN convention on refugees with Iran? Member for Indi, what a joke! Do you really think that the member for Cook's proposal to send people to Iran and to sign black-letter treaties with Iran on refugees is worth more than Australia signing a treaty, which would be supervised by the UNHCR, with a responsible country like Malaysia—a country that I strongly disagree with on human rights?

The UNHCR says this is a perfectly respectable way of dealing with things. The Australian media would be crawling all over this agreement. In my view, there would be no breach of human rights in Malaysia over the 800 people who would prospectively return there, because both the UNHCR and the Australian media would see that the human rights of those people were strongly looked after.

As the member for Werriwa said, it is incredible when you examine the statements of the shadow minister for immigration and indeed the member for Curtin on these issues. The member for Curtin said that there was no need to sign these treaties last year—but that was before we advanced the Malaysian suggestion. The member for Murray, the predecessor of the member for Cook as shadow minister for immigration, had these words to say on Radio 2SM:

The closure of Nauru and Manus Island … of course they had basically—what shall we say—outlived their need …

I know the member for Indi does not get on very well with the member for Murray, but she said:

I do not think we need to again have Nauru and Manus Island operating, because we've got of course Christmas Island.

That was the opposition's policy then, but now they have a different one. Like in TheExorcist, their heads are turning around and around and around with hypocrisy and cant.

I also want to make sure that people understand what the member for Werriwa was saying about the member for Curtin, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition who had a few cracks at me about my past comments on Christmas Island. On 27 July 2011, she said, 'The coalition does not consider that being a signatory to the refugee convention is a precondition for hosting processing centres.' It is there in black and white; her own words. Of course, now, because the Labor government suggests that the opposition should act responsibility with us in national security interests to deter people from these terrible voyages—and we have seen the results of them in the last few days—they will not act with us. They demand that Labor act responsibly, which we do whenever these issues come up. I was involved in the national security decision with Senator Faulkner and the people on our side. We worked with Mr Ruddock and we achieved a result. The opposition stand for hypocrisy and cant on this issue.