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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12835


Mr DANBY ( Melbourne Ports ) ( 15:55 ): Since 31 August 2011, when the High Court rejected this government's Malaysia proposals, we have faced the prospect of a surge in boats full of irregular arrivals to this country. Although we have now adopted the only policy we could get the coalition to sign on to, the member for Cook comes in here lamenting the effects of adopting those very policies he demanded we adopt. He does that after having delayed the Malaysia proposals, which would have given us some capacity to handle this surge of irregular arrivals, for more than a year. This is the man who demanded the re-opening of Manus and Nauru, yet he is now in here complaining about the cost of it. What a farce! The member for Cook is crying crocodile tears about the effect on the surplus of irregular boat arrivals after having blocked, together with his mates in the Greens, the very legislation aimed at providing a policy solution.

The parliament cannot forget, or let slip down the memory hole, the point made by the Minister for Home Affairs, the member for Blaxland. The member for Murray, Dr Sharman Stone, on behalf of the coalition— and I was present here in the parliament and at the meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration when she did it—supported the closure of Manus and Nauru. That is why they were closed down then. She told radio station 2SM:

The closure of Nauru and Manus Island … they had basically—what shall we say—outlived their need … I don't think we need to have Nauru and Manus Island operating, because we've got of course Christmas Island.

I do not blame the member for Murray , because events have changed in the meantime.

Events changed and many of us in the government have had to face the issue of these increasing boat arrivals. The issue is not just the dollar cost, the sort of narrow accounting attitude demonstrated by the previous speaker, but the cost of human lives, the cost of humanity, the cost of people drowning at sea. Those costs weighed much more heavily with me. I stood up in this parliament and I said that, as far as Malaysia was concerned, I had been wrong. I had been wrong about not processing asylum seekers offshore—this was a way of deterring them. But , now that we have adopted the very things the opposition have suggested, they are in here whingeing that we are doing it and that it costs money—after having delayed us on our Malaysia approach for more than a year and costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars through that delay.

After the tragedy at Christmas Island, in reaction to people like me who were concerned principally not with the accounting of this issue but with the people who died at sea, and in explanation of the Greens' alliance with the coalition in opposing legislation to solve the problems caused by the High Court decision of August last year, Senator Hanson-Young of the Greens said:

Tragedies happen, accidents happen.

This is a terrible attitude. Coalition support for the compromise put up by the government would have been great. Now we have increased our annual intake to 20,000 people, and this is a big plus for those who take a humanitarian view of these things. I hope the number of people will increase even further than that.

If you ask me, this is the Liberal Party's last political card, with a change in the opinion polls. We have seen the carbon tax bedded down, and xenophobia is their answer. The member for Cook talked about madness, carnage and the chaos on our borders. We have adopted the very policy that they wanted, and he describes it like that. Where was the Leader of the Opposition when twice in Indonesia he had the opportunity to explain to the Indonesians the policy of adopting the full suite of measures that the member for Bennelong now wants us to implement—including dragging people back to sea? I would like to see the effect of that on the Indonesians. The minister very capably outlined what the Indonesian foreign minister and the Indonesian ambassador have said about this.

Sometimes I think members of the coalition think they live in a bubble created by the talkback shonks and cranks in Sydney. That is not the only world we live in—the people of Indonesia will not accept boats being dragged back into Indonesian waters. We have very good relations with Indonesia and those relations have been worked on very hard, including by previous coalition governments. Do those opposite really want to make a conflict with the Indonesians by dragging these boats back? Of course we cannot do that. It would be policy madness. Do they want conflict with Indonesia; do they want war with Indonesia?

Those in the coalition are simply not thinking about this seriously. They laugh and they cackle because they know nothing about Indonesian attitudes on these things. They have not spoken to anyone in the Indonesian parliament. When I was in Jakarta recently I had the guts to take this issue up with the Indonesian foreign policy assembly and asked them what they would do if we started doing this kind of thing. They gave the precise answer that the Indonesian foreign minister and the Indonesian ambassador gave. Those opposite want to drag boats back into Indonesian waters without their support—but they do not have the guts to raise it with the Indonesian President when they have the opportunity.

The Houston report made 22 recommendations. One of them was to be consistent in border classification and legislation so that the people smugglers do not try to take people beyond Christmas Island or Ashmore Reef to the shores of Australia so that they can earn their evil fees. Some of them are making $1 million or $2 million per boat. We have to make sure that their goals are not achieved, and that is why we have passed legislation. As the minister said, the Malaysia arrangement is part of the compromise that the Houston report canvassed as a possible way of dealing with these matters. I know the member for Bennelong said that this was not a way of dealing with them. Apart from the educational rights and the health rights that were negotiated by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, these people would have the ability to work in Malaysia. It is much harder to have people use their productive energy in Manus in Papua New Guinea, where such work does not exist.

These people are all brushed aside; they are of no real interest to the coalition. When Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister we had regional processing offshore in places like Malaysia, where we could maturely deal with sometimes desperate people in conjunction with our friends and allies in Canada, the United States and Europe who might be willing to take these people. This was canvassed very extensively by the Houston report and I am hoping that the government will continue to pursue that.

The carbon price is bedded down and now the boat people are the principal card of those opposite. The coalition is hoping this dog whistle to the Howard battlers in Queensland and New South Wales will save their political hide. That is the real motivation behind all of this. I do not dispute that there are many genuine people in the coalition who do not go along with the strategy, but it is all revealed here in the Marr article and the WikiLeaks transcript of what someone told a senior level person in the coalition—

Mr Alexander interjecting

Mr DANBY: The unintended consequence of WikiLeaks—yes, sometimes things said even in WikiLeaks can be true. I am certainly no fan of Mr Assange, but some of the material revealed about Saudi Arabia and its attitudes to other countries in the Middle East were absolutely accurate and I think this is absolutely accurate too. It goes to the evil heart of politics that is behind all of this. Stop all the crocodile tears about spending money on the very policies that you want; stop all the crocodile tears about these measures affecting the budget surplus. We know what lies behind this. (Time expired)