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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12758

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (11:18): I appreciate the opportunity to speak today on these appropriation bills. I think everyone in this country would remember what happened in November 2007—the federal election that saw a change in government. I was fortunate enough to be elected by the people of Cowan on 24 November, against the tide and with quite a reasonable swing. I appreciate the honour and the confidence that has been bestowed on me by the people of Cowan as a result of that election, and subsequently in the last general election as well.

At the time of the 2007 election this country had a strong border protection policy. We had a policy whereby the boats had dwindled to as few as one a year, where the emphasis of the humanitarian program was rightly on those who were stuck behind barbed wire in refugee camps around the world. Around 13,000 refugees were brought to this country under the humanitarian program at that time. This was the right and just thing to do. We offer humanitarian support and we offer a future to those who had no future and to those who had no money to bypass the system. Since then, we have seen a complete reversal of those Howard government policies—the great and humane policies that allow people to come out of refugee camps and to come to this country for a better life.

I will briefly touch on the three aspects of those policies that were reversed. The policies, whilst rejected by the other side at the end of 2007 and 2008, have continued to be embraced wholeheartedly on this side. First is offshore processing. You will have heard a bit about offshore processing in the last year or so. Offshore processing, as I recall, was ended by the current government. In fact, former minister Senator Chris Evans ended up bragging about how Manus and Nauru islands would fall into disrepair because they had no value because we would have no need of them in the future. That was several years ago. It is amazing how things have turned.

The second aspect of the policy that worked—and why the government continues to have its current problem, its five years of problems with poor border security—is temporary protection visas, which the Labor Party also ended. That has been mentioned on many occasions. The shadow minister has spoken about temporary protection visas on many occasions, I have and anyone on this side of the House who has spoken about these matters has talked about temporary protection visas.

The third pillar of the coalition's policy, a consistent 10-year policy on border protection, is turning the boats back where it is possible to do so.

When this country, under a future government, can return to having a good relationship with Indonesia, we can prosecute that pillar of the coalition's immigration policy as well.

It was interesting yesterday when the Prime Minister, in response to a question put by the shadow minister for immigration, the member for Cook, said very strangely, 'I would also say to the shadow minister it really does strike me as a little bit strange that month after month after month he came into this parliament saying that Nauru was the answer'. Of course, that is not true. The member for Cook has never said and we have never said, that Nauru was the be-all and end-all. Whilst it may be convenient for the Prime Minister to be very revisionist on this—to mislead this place and mislead everybody on this, along with other matters—that was never the case. What she said yesterday was not accurate to any degree. It was certainly said with the intention of not being accurate. The reality is that our policy has always been very clear. There have always been three aspects to it: offshore processing, temporary protection visas and turning the boats back where possible.

It is very clear that there is a real willingness among those opposite to backflip, change and walk away from what many on that side have said. They believe so strongly in calling it a moral issue. They have a depth of feeling about it, yet repeatedly we see them walking back from that. We see them backflipping from that. We see them being inconsistent in these matters. Those opposite stand up in this place, put their hand on their heart and say 'I have a conscience on this, and I cannot do this particular thing'. So many who spoke were so completely against the excising of the Australian mainland; but shortly they will vote for it. That is something they will have to live with in the future. It will keep them up at night if they really believe it. I guess, if it has always been about the politics, then maybe they will sleep well.

These bills are about appropriations. It is little wonder that this government has run out of money. What we have seen in the last month are 41 boats and more than 2,100 people arrive. There were 17 boats just last week with 621 people on board. Last financial year each illegal boat arrival cost an average of $12.8 million. The burden the Australian taxpayer continues to bear under this government is $175,000 per person. Customs and Border Protection, with the government's cutbacks and having to focus so strongly on this—with either the Navy or Customs providing the water taxi service to escort these people into the country—are at breaking point. We have record populations in detention centres, with tents going up even on Christmas Island.

Now we see that Nauru has decided they will up their visa charge from $100 to $1,000 per month for those that this government sends there. As part of that, I note that something like only 6.8 per cent of people that came by boat in recent weeks have been sent to Nauru. It is hard to work out who has been selected to go to Nauru. One of my constituents told me that she had heard that it was just those from Sri Lanka. So those that come from Afghanistan and the Middle East—those people that buy a commercial airline ticket, fly to Indonesia, go and see the people smugglers and then pay the people smugglers to get on a boat before losing their passport in the Timor Sea—are not being required to go to Nauru. It is very selective, and there is a fair bit of smoke and mirrors around the whole Nauru issue. The reality is that Christmas Island is full and continues to be topped up with those that come from the Middle East by boat whilst a small number of those that come from Sri Lanka end up going to Nauru.

I listened to the member for Cook talk about the minister's approach to those that participated in the detention centre riots about a year or so ago. Out in my electorate of Cowan those riots caused a lot of angst. So many people would say to me: 'What is it with these people? We provide them with accommodation, we provide them with three square-meals, we provide them with unfettered internet access apparently, a gym and—in the case of Northern—the best sporting facilities in the state. The federal government provides them with all that, yet still they riot, still they destroy our facilities and still they cost the taxpayers even more money.' It was interesting what the member for Cook said: three people that were actually convicted of the destruction of the taxpayers' property, Australian property, were, by this minister, given permanent protection visas.

One of the things people say consistently about law and order matters out in the suburbs of Australia is that they want accountability for bad behaviour, for criminal behaviour. If people do something wrong they want the person who has done something wrong to be held to account for it. If that is deportation or if that is incarceration then that is exactly what people want. I am sure my constituents will be very disappointed that those three were given permanent visas.

I know I am starting to run out of time now but that I will have another opportunity, maybe later today or tonight or tomorrow, to talk about the federal government's latest backflip. I am glad they have walked away from years of earnestly held views on the excision of the Australian mainland as a policy option. That debate is coming back to the House, and we look forward to that debate.

I would like briefly to go back through some of the additional blowouts. This measure we are debating today will amount to $1.7 billion of additional costs, as I understand it. The government have allocated the blame for that to the panel led by Angus Houston but, in actual fact, so much of that is just because, again, the government budget figures do not work out. They always underestimate everything and overestimate the amount of money that they can save or generate from tax, and now—surprise, surprise!—the boats are arriving at four times the rate the government estimated in the May budget. So they have stuffed it up again, and $1.3 billion of the $1.7 billion was about the failure to get the figures right.

Former minister, Chris Evans, was so happy about how Manus and Nauru facilities are being run down. But now $268 million will be needed to upgrade those facilities. He took such joy in them being run down. Of course, we still have the issue of the cost of the additional 25,000 places for refugee and humanitarian intake over the next four years. As the member for Cook mentioned before, that would amount to about $1.3 billion to cover the cost of those extra places. Here we go again—whether it is the rights in detention centres, the destruction of property or the weak borders that have led to increasing amounts of blowouts of billions and billions of dollars, those extra places amount to $1.3 billion of extra money. That is more than the amount of money that has been allocated to the fairly small trials of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

It really does say it all about priorities and how this situation has completely gone beyond the control of the government. The only way this is all going to end is when the policies that worked are returned to this place, and the only time that is going to happen—as clearly the Independents are in lockstep with the government on all these matters—will be with a change of government. I think a lot of people in Australia and a lot of people who believe in this country are hoping that that will be at the next election.