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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12531

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (16:45): I welcome the opportunity to make a few brief contributions to this important debate. As I rise to my feet to speak on this matter of public importance that has been brought to the attention of the parliament by those opposite, I make the observation that this matter is so important to them that there is not a single member of the other side, apart from the member for Indi, who has bothered to remain in the chamber to listen to this important debate. Recently we gave the opportunity to one of the members opposite to make a further contribution to this debate, but it was not important enough for him to rise to his feet to inform the chamber of his views.

The debate comes at a tragic time in our nation's history. I do not think any right-minded Australian would have had anything but sorrow in their hearts when they turned on the radio this morning and heard that yet another boat had sunk off the coast of Indonesia leading to the death of, we understand, somewhere in the vicinity of 20 men, women and children. It is indeed a tragedy, which both sides of the House say they are committed to avoiding by putting in place policies that will work. But only those on this side have bills before the House that may have some hope of attempting to stop another such tragedy.

When we listen to the contributions of those opposite and listen to the policies they put forward, it really is 'back to the future'. There are three elements to the policies of those opposite. The first is that they are somehow going to turn the boats around. As the minister has quite rightly said in this debate, there is nowhere for the boats to be turned around to. We know that the coalition's policy will not work. We know this because all the experts and our experience has shown that, when those who are smuggling people in desperation from Indonesia and other places to Australia and are interdicted by a vehicle from the Australian Customs Service, one of the first things they do is take the axe to the bottom of the boat to ensure that it cannot be turned around. Any suggestion that a reasonable solution to this policy is to turn the boat around is purely designed for political points and not for humanitarian and certainly not for any basis which is going to have an effect on stopping people smuggling and getting a more orderly process over the refugee intake in this country.

The second solution that is proffered is Nauru. We know that those opposite have very little regard for the advice of experts. When economists criticise their climate change policy, they attack the economists, and when experts from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship say that the coalition's policy of Nauru simply will not work, they attack the advice. We know that Nauru will not work because it is within the wit and capacity of those who are engaged in the people-smuggling business to work out that over 95 per cent of the people who were transferred to Nauru, when it was in operation as an immigration detention centre, ended up in either Australia or New Zealand. So it remains a pretty good bet. If the purpose of Nauru is merely to torture those wretched souls before they find themselves with permanent protection here in Australia or New Zealand, then you really have to ask yourself what lies in the hearts of those who proffer that as a solution. Is that really the best that they can come up with—to torture those wretched souls by making them spend a year or two, or three or four on Nauru before we finally resettle them in Australia? If that is the best that they can offer, then you really have to ask yourself what lies in the hearts of those who proffer that as a solution.

Finally, we are led to believe that the reintroduction of temporary protection visas is going to be a solution. I think the member for Werriwa, the member for Melbourne Ports and the member for Chifley have taken that proposition to task as well. We know that it will not work and it is not right. If somebody has been found to be a refugee, then it is our obligation under our international treaties to ensure that we provide them with permanent protection. It is not right to leave these people with the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. It is not right, and we know that it is worse than not right—it is not effective. We know that the use of temporary protection visas in the period when they were in operation under the former Howard government actually led to an increase in unaccompanied minors being placed on boats by families and people smugglers out of Indonesia and Malaysia. The reason that led to the increase in unaccompanied minors being placed on boats for those perilous journeys is they were unable, through the normal humanitarian family reunification programs which are available to those who have permanent protection, to gain access to family reunification. So, they had no choice but to put people on the boats and to put their lives and their fate in the hands of the people smugglers to come to Australia.

When placed under the spotlight and under scrutiny we see the three prongs to the policies of those opposite. They are not right, they are morally bankrupt and they are ineffective. At their best the policies are merely designed to torture those wretched souls who have placed their lives and their fate in the hands of the people smugglers to make that perilous journey to Australia. They will have absolutely no effect in deterring people from taking that journey. If that is the simple objective of their policies then we know it will not work.

We say to those opposite—to those who think that this is a matter of such public importance that it warranted bringing the debate on today but who did not have the courage or the stamina to turn up in the chamber to join in the debate—that, if they were serious about dealing with this issue, if they were serious about ensuring that we do not see a repeat of the tragedy that Australians woke up to when they turned on their radios or picked up the newspaper from their doorstep this morning, then they would do the right thing. The right thing is to come down off the ledge, put the megaphone away and join with the government in reaching a truly bipartisan solution—one that is based on the best expert advice, one that will work, one that is not morally bankrupt and one that enables us to gain the trust of the Australian people to ensure we have an orderly border protection policy—and to do what I know the member for Werriwa, the member for Melbourne Ports and the member for Chifley, who have joined us in this debate, would like to see us do, and that is ensure that Australia, as a great democracy and a wealthy nation in this part of the world, is able to play a greater role in ensuring we meet our humanitarian—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The time allotted for the discussion has concluded.