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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11623

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (17:46): Naturally, the coalition will support the designation of the independent state of Papua New Guinea under the act to enable offshore processing to occur on Manus Island or another place within that territory. It is not surprising we would, because it has always been our policy to have offshore processing in places such as Manus Island, and particularly on Nauru. It is not surprising, because that is exactly the commitment we gave eight weeks ago when the overarching legislative changes that give effect to what we are dealing with today were put in place. On that day we were prepared to support the designation of both Nauru and Manus Island. We subsequently dealt with Nauru, several weeks ago. Now, eight weeks after we gave that commitment, the matter has been brought to this place by the minister and we are in a position to support the designation of the independent state of Papua New Guinea. We do it today, as we would have been prepared to do it eight weeks ago, or at any time.

I particularly note that in the documents provided by the minister today—not only in the instrument but in the explanatory memorandum and, in particular, in the memorandum of understanding—the guiding principle, on page 3, says:

Clearly, all activities undertaken in relation to this MOU will be conducted in accordance with international law and the international obligations of the respective participants.

The independent state of Papua New Guinea is a signatory to the refugee convention. As a result they have willingly brought upon themselves legally binding protections. This has always been the coalition's key requirement in relation to supporting these matters. The government does not believe that binding legal protections are necessary to ensure the designation of these countries. I note in these documents that in making this designation the government once again, as the minister did in the case of Nauru, is not considering or taking into account whether or not legally binding protections are in place. I do not think it reflects well on the government that they do not believe legally binding protections are important in making these decisions. It just so happens, thankfully, that in the case of Papua New Guinea, as was the case with Nauru, those binding legal protections are in place. It was the opinion of the High Court, which struck down the government's deal in relation to Malaysia, that legally binding protections are necessary. We agree with that view and that is why we are happy to stand today as a coalition and support the designation of the independent state of Papua New Guinea.

This day has been a long time coming. Like Nauru, the designation of Papua New Guinea has come too late and it restores too little of what the coalition successfully had in place with the strong border protection regime that was first instituted under the stewardship of the minister for immigration at the time, the now 'father of the House', the member for Berowra, who is in the chamber with us today. This day has been a long time coming. In 2010 the governor of Manus Island wrote to the Prime Minister—and Papua New Guinea—and said that he was very happy, and that that state was very happy, to have Papua New Guinea, and particularly Manus Island, host the reopening of an offshore processing facility. That was more than 20,000 arrivals ago. The governor of Manus Island made it very clear that they were happy to restore this facility.

If we go back 15,430 arrivals ago, it was in May 2011 that officials from the department of the minister's predecessor were in Papua New Guinea investigating and inspecting the site at Manus Island with a view to having that facility reopened. That was in May 2011. And they did not just do that but also provided $811 million in the 2011-12 budget to do it. But that money was never spent for that purpose and 15,430 people have turned up in Australia on boats, illegally, since the time the first investigation of that site was undertaken by the government. But there is still no centre, despite the fact that the governor had said, 'Yes, we are happy to do it,' and despite the fact that the government and the department had actively initiated an investigation, visited the site, were happy to do it, and had budgeted the money to do it. But there was still no centre or offshore processing. Since then 15,430 people have turned up.

Instead, the government went down a different path. It seems that every time this government is faced with a fork in the road on border protection, they always make the wrong choice. On this occasion, when they had the opportunity to go forward and reopen offshore processing on Manus Island, they said, 'No, we are going to go down the Malaysian route,' and we all know where that ended. It ended in the High Court with a thumping thud. Since that time, the government has been able to remedy that measure and has been dragged kicking and screaming to introduce these measures that are before us. Also, it was in December of 2011 and in January of 2012 when the minister himself said, again: 'We believe there is a place for an offshore processing centre. We pursued and gained the agreement of Papua New Guinea to that centre.' But, again, there is still no centre. And that was 11,700 people ago—before they had arrived in Australia by boat.

At the end of the day—even though we have this matter now before us—in the eight weeks since the decision was taken to reopen these facilities, some 3,830 people have turned up. Some 6,436 people have turned up since the government's own self-imposed impasse at the end of June. Equally, they could have brought matters into this House to see the offshore processing centre established at Papua New Guinea, on Manus Island. The opportunity extended all the way through this period of time, and the decision still was not taken to put it in place. Well, here we are, thousands of people later—as is set out in the minister's own statement, in the record of arrivals that have occurred while we have waited and waited and waited—and, finally, the day has arrived. But, as we know, the government did not always feel this way about the reopening of Manus Island.

The now Prime Minister, in another capacity in 2002, said, 'We know that the Pacific solution is unsustainable from the point of view of our agreements with Papua New Guinea and Nauru, with both of them stating substantial reservations about the continuance of the so-called Pacific solution, and we know that delivers absolutely no outcomes.' This is what the now government, then in opposition, described the Pacific solution as at that point. We all know the record of the six years, including that one in which the now Prime Minister made that statement: 272 people turned up on fewer than three boats a year over the six-year period. Now, that is not an outcome? I would happily have the government compare their outcome over a similar period, when we have had almost 26½ thousand people turn up over a space of less than five years.

So, I am happy with the outcome the Howard government was able to achieve with its successful measures. Even though the Prime Minister had also said that Labor would end the so-called Pacific solution when they were in opposition, as well as the processing centre and the detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific islands, because it is 'costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle'—these are things the Prime Minister once said—here we are today with a complete capitulation on all those years of demonising, once again.

This government, when it was in opposition, opposed these measures. They abolished them in government, and now we are at a position where they are seeking to reinstitute them. They said they would get rid of it on day one—and they did. They did get rid of the Pacific solution on day one. Now, on day 1,803, they have to put it back in place, and that is what they are doing. But they will still not go far enough. As a result, they cannot expect the outcomes of the Howard government if they are not prepared to put in place the policies of the Howard government. They simply cannot have that expectation—and that expectation certainly is not being realised by what we have seen in recent months.

Now, why won't they go far enough? It is because, as we all know, at the end of the day they just do not believe it. They have been forced to this position by politics, not by a belief in the policies. I think this is the real difference between those who sit on that side of the House and those who sit on this side of the House when it comes to the issues of border protection. They have been driven to it by politics, not conviction. And I think the lack of conviction, the lack of genuine belief and the lack of genuine commitment to this policy—and equally to the policies that are also required to ensure that we have an effective set of measures in place with temporary protection visas, with turning boats back where it is safe to do so, and with a raft of other measures the coalition has outlined on many occasions—has become the pull factor. And that is what the problem is. If you look at the core of the problem the government faces, it is the government themselves; they are the pull factor. Their lack of conviction, lack of credibility and lack of belief when it comes to these issues is the reason that those seeking to come here know that this government is a soft touch—and that has not changed.

They may change their rhetoric, they may backflip on everything they ever say they believe in—but who knows? At the end of the day, there is not a track record of conviction, there is not a track record of belief, there is not a track record of performance—but the crisis does roll on. The crisis rolls on because of this lack of conviction. We see it in the record of arrivals, now at over 2,000 per month, that continue under this government. We have seen it since the decision to reopen Nauru, with 1,585 people turning up—and over 3,800 since the decisions were taken some months ago. These decisions of restoring offshore processing in the vacuum of other, necessary policies cannot be considered to be going far enough, in our view. As a result, the government cannot expect to see a change in the outcomes.

With record arrivals, with a record detention population, it is now true that at the end of August there are more people in immigration detention centres. I am not just talking about the alternative places of detention; that is on top of this figure. There were 5,216 people at the end of August who were actually in detention centres. That is more than were in detention centres at the time of the Christmas Island and Villawood riots. There are more people in detention today, with community release and community detention taking place—and the government trumpeted their credentials on that side—because there are more people coming. This government cannot get them out the door and into the community fast enough, and our detention centres continue to fill up. And that comes at a significant cost. Last year the cost, on average, per boat turning up—when you look at the costs across managing asylum seekers—was $12 million. That is what it cost: $12 million a boat, under this government, last year. That is what the taxpayer had to pay every time one of those boats turned up: $12 million in costs. This financial year alone, we have had this government exceed the estimated number of arrivals by more than 1,000. They anticipated 5,400 over the entire financial year. In 100 days, they have blown that by more than 1,000.

That is going to have a consequence in this budget. This budget already puts aside $1.1 billion, more than 10 times what was spent in 2007-08 in the last budget of the Howard government, to deal with these matters, and that budget will blow. This Treasurer has still not yet come into this place and said what the bill will be for the continued failure. We will have to wait for that, it would seem, in MYEFO. We look forward to hearing that number because the Australian taxpayer at least has the right to know, if this government is going to continue to fail, what the bill will be. And they will find out what that bill is ultimately, just as we have found out at every single MYEFO and every single budget, where the accumulated blow-outs under this government, because of their inability to have the conviction needed, backed up by the policies that worked to deal with this problem, has led to blow-outs of $4.9 billion and counting. That does not include the extra $50,000-plus per person they are going to add to the annual refugee and humanitarian intake. It does not include the costs that are now going to be incurred as a result of the measures that we are discussing here as a result of this designation. It does not deal with the extra costs that are going to happen this year because of the record arrivals I have pointed out.

This government's record of cost blow-outs, of arrival blow-outs and of detention centre blow-outs is unparalleled. This government, this Prime Minister, simply needed to do one thing when they introduced this measure today, to say: 'We got it wrong; we should never have abolished these measures. We are now going to restore them and all the others that need to be restored that the Howard government had in place'—but they will not do it. The only way that will happen is with a change of government at the next election.