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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3377

Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (11:09): I rise to indicate the government's support for the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 moved by the honourable member for Lyne. I also indicate the government's intention to move some amendments based on legal and operational advice to improve the workability of the bill in practice. I welcome this move by the member for Lyne to find a way through the political impasse caused by the negativity of the opposition and their relentless opportunism. I am disappointed that the member for Cook is leaving the chamber because he does not want to be held to account for the inconsistencies in his contribution just a moment ago.

As the honourable member for Lyne indicated in his speech, 148 out of the 150 members of the House of Representatives recognise the need for offshore processing as an effective deterrent for dangerous boat travel to Australia. In fairness to the member for Denison and the member for Melbourne, while we fundamentally disagree with them, they have always held the position that there should not be offshore processing. But 148 other members indicate that they support offshore processing. But only those on the government side and some of the crossbenchers are prepared to put their vote where their mouth is by supporting either the government's legislation or the legislation moved by the honourable member for Lyne.

The opposition has stood in the way of legislation to allow offshore processing. It has ducked and weaved and introduced a spurious amendment designed solely and cynically to ensure that the government's arrangements with Malaysia cannot proceed. The member for Cook, in his remarks a few moments ago, said that we fail to understand the purpose of his amendment. We understand it very well: the purpose of his amendment is to stop the Malaysian agreement proceeding. Why? Because they are scared it will work. They are scared it will provide a deterrent for the dangerous boat travel to Australia. They are scared that a political issue for them will disappear.

We have heard from the honourable member for Cook and others about the importance of the refugee convention. I would be prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the opposition—that they had reflected on their position and reached a different position after reflection—if it were not for the hypocrisy shown by the fact that it remains their policy to turn boats around to a country that is not a signatory to the refugee convention, Indonesia. Just on the weekend we saw a very significant development in this field. It was the position of the opposition, up until the weekend, that they would turn boats around to Indonesia but that they would negotiate protections with Indonesia, presumably of a similar nature to those in the Malaysia agreement. They would negotiate. The Leader of the Opposition said that it would be fairly easy to negotiate these protections with Indonesia to ensure non-refoulement and other necessary treatment.

We saw the foreign minister of Indonesia in this building on Thursday describe the concept of turning boats around to Indonesia as impossible and ill-advised. He went on to say that that gave a hint of the approach that Indonesia would take to a proposal from the opposition should they ever form a government. What was the response of the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Cook? Their response was to say, 'We don't care what Indonesia says. We'll do it anyway.' So much for negotiating protections; so much for negotiating some sort of mechanism to ensure that people are not refouled or that there is necessary and appropriate treatment for people returned. That has all gone out the window. They are going to turn boats around regardless of what Indonesia says.

This government believes in offshore processing because as part of a proper regional framework, through the Bali process—which ensures that the product that people smugglers choose to sell, which is permanent resettlement to Australia, is withdrawn—offshore processing can play a very important role in providing the disincentive for boat travel to Australia. This is very important. This saves lives. If this bill passes, it will save lives. That is how important it is. It will save the lives of people who are trying to get to Australia. It will enable us not only to implement the Malaysia agreement but also to say to people, 'We do not ask you to risk your life to get to Australia in order to provide you with a permanent visa.' We will be able to increase our refugee resettlement to Australia and we will be able to say to people, 'There is nothing moral or humanitarian about encouraging people to risk their lives to come to Australia.'

I am flagging that I will move amendments. The opposition says that this is a carbon copy and then points out the differences between the bill that I introduced in the House and the bill that the honourable member for Lyne has introduced. But I will be moving a handful of amendments which deal with the matter of assessing who is a participant in the Bali process—I will be moving that that be based on written advice from the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—a safety valve to allow discretion for the minister, and some additional checks and balances to ensure that the bill is implemented appropriately. I commend the bill to the House. I commend the member for Lyne for his constructive approach, which is clearly different to the destructive approach taken by members of the— (Time expired)