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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11631


Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra) (18:16): Let me just say that I welcome the designation of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing country, but I do so with a degree of disappointment. The minister's speech still had in it the sort of language that I think leaves us dangerously exposed.

I think the most compelling figure that I have heard in this debate thus far from the shadow minister was the number of arrivals since 14 August, when the government agreed to reopen Nauru without restoring TPVs and turning boats back. The figure is, in that time, 60 boats with 3,800 people. What is remarkable about that figure is that it exceeds the total number of places for offshore processing by about three times. That is an extraordinary situation to be in, and I do not like to come into the House and to have to say that the ways in which these issues are being dealt with are highly unlikely to resolve the problem. They are highly unlikely to put to an end the tragic loss of life which the government tells us persuaded it to change its approach.

When I spoke after the government made its first announcement in this place I coined a number of phrases. I said that the measures that you might want to implement ought not to be seen as a menu from which you can pick and choose. I think the situation is so diabolical that you need every measure—every weapon in your armoury—to be brought to bear if you are going to deal with the size and the dimension of the problem that this government, through its own policy approaches, has brought about.

I suspect that the government members are still in denial. The minister spoke about the need for compromise on these matters. That is the menu argument: 'We'll give you this and you give us that; we'll have a compromise and maybe that will work.' This is not a matter in which you can, in my judgement, compromise. I think the work of the expert panel was admirable. But, as with panels, the sort of language that they use suggests that they know that there are sides that people have taken; they know there are certain constituencies and that you have to try and address them. But I think they showed in that report that they recognise that all of the measures that the Howard government had used were absolutely necessary. They certainly did not recommend the reintroduction of TPVs. But what did TPVs do? Temporary protection visas essentially denied those who were found to be deserving of protection the opportunity for a permanent visa, which carried with it family reunion entitlements. That became, essentially, the anchor on which a lot of other people would then travel.

The government said: 'We don't think you should use TPVs because if you use TPVs people will get onto boats as children, essentially on the basis that they will be unable to be sponsored by a parent if they had previously accessed Australia. More women and children will be on boats; you can't do that.' But the fact of the matter is that the government's own expert panel has said that they ought to restrict the availability of family reunion to those people who obtain permanent residency.

The problem is that the methodology that they are using involves family reunion for some and not the extended family reunion that you might have got if you were using the special humanitarian program. That means to me that the panel was at least cognisant of the important role that TPVs would play, and I think the government ought to be honest enough to say, 'We're going to use all the weapons in our armoury.' And that needs to be made clear to people offshore as well.

With respect to the turn-back of boats, when you read what the expert panel was saying, you find that they were saying that the turn-back of boats is highly desirable and you ought to be working on achieving cooperation to put that in place. And this government is rejecting it. It does not even recognise that it might be open.

I was somewhat troubled by the minister's comments because we have had some important negotiations with Indonesia on how search and rescue can be more effective in Indonesia's search and rescue areas—not ours, theirs. We are going to give them planes and we are going to enhance their ability to be able to supervise search and rescue. The one thing that is clear is that when people are rescued in somebody's search and rescue zone, the people who are rescued ought to go to the country whose zone they have been found in. What is the message that is coming out of this? The message, it seems to me, is that if you get on a boat and you get on a phone and you can convince people in Australia that they should get in touch with the Indonesians and activate all the search and rescue then all you have to do is stand over the captain and say 'I want to go to Christmas Island' and everybody acquiesces. Journeys will be less dangerous and there is no suggestion that those who are found in Indonesia's search and rescue zone are going to go to Indonesia. In my view, when you make decisions like that—I recognise the negotiations and discussions you have to have to deal with are sometimes difficult—there is nevertheless a message that is going through to all of those people who are desirous of accessing Australia that Australia is still open, open for business.

I said when I commenced my remarks that this trafficking and loss of life that has tragically occurred is a result of people coming to a view that if they get onto a vessel and access Australia, they will have a permanent residency outcome and they will have a new life in one form or another. It has very tragic consequences: some people tragically lose their lives at sea. What is more tragic to me is that people who are more deserving of an asylum place in Australia's refugee resettlement program miss out. The people whose claims are far more deserving, not just because they are a refugee but because of the very circumstances in which they are in—the immediate threat to their safety—miss out because the places are taken by those who meet the lowest common denominator threshold test, a test which a lot of well-meaning advocates who have never been to a refugee camp in their life and who listen to the people who happen to get here take the view that they have to be helped more than those who are in these other circumstances. So we see the development of a legal system that makes it even more likely that if a person's claims are considered here, they will get through the gate.

My problem is that I hear nothing from the government that suggests that they understand these issues or that they want to seriously deal with these issues. It is a question of give us Malaysia and she will be right. You want offshore processing? We will give you that. You are saying that will work. I am not saying that. I am saying all of the measures were necessary. I never argued when I was there that particular measures would work. I could not tell you which ones were going to work. What I know is that when we implemented all of the measures, it changed the total psychology of the issue.

It is a lot more reassuring when you have few people seeking to access Australia via these dangerous journeys. It is much more assuring even though you have to wear a bit of odium, even from the other side, when you know that people's lives have been saved. When you go to places like Kakuma in Africa as I did, various parts of the Middle East as I did, the Balkans as I did and see the people in those sorts of circumstances and you are able to talk to them then you understand that some of them can be helped. It does make a huge difference. I am very troubled about this issue because I believe the way in which it has been dealt with was quite clearly going to leave Australia exposed.

I debated the former minister for immigration who spent most of his time suggesting that the TPVs would not work, for instance. They were introduced and they did not stop people getting on boats. That is the argument I heard. Well, I do not know if that same minister would say—I do not know whether the government uses him in the Senate when these matters are debated—whether the announcement on 14 August, 60 boats and 3,830 people arriving was a failure of the measure or just that there was a lag in implementing it. But he never acknowledged that there might have been a lag effect with TPVs. I would suggest, as I did before, I cannot tell you if it was TPVs. I cannot tell you if it was turning boats back. I cannot tell you that it was offshore processing. But what I can tell you is when you use all the weapons in your armoury, it does have an impact.

I am very pleased to hear of the minister's support for the continuing work to disrupt trafficking. I have no doubt that the various agencies working on that, including the Australian Federal Police, are using their very best endeavours, and they are achieving some successes. But that disruption is nothing new. Disruption was being undertaken when I was there and it has been continued, and yet, notwithstanding the disruption activities which have been undertaken on a continuing basis, the number of arrivals since polling day is 18,000 and the number since the change of government is 26,000. The enormity of the movement of people to Australia unlawfully by boat needs to be understood, and the need for all the weapons in our armoury to be used needs to be understood by the government. Our support for this measure is forthcoming but we do not believe it is going to do the job.