Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11636


Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (18:45): The coalition endorse the designation of PNG—specifically, Manus Island—as a regional processing country. Since 2007, 26,347 people have arrived on 446 boats. This government's immigration policy has more twists and turns than a track at the grand prix, and the coalition's position has been consistent for over a decade. We support the reopening of Manus because PNG signed the refugee convention, so there are legally binding protections in place for people who are being sent there.

It was the coalition who made sure that human rights were protected in the Migration Act under section 198A for those who are processed offshore. We saw the ridiculous situation where this Labor government proposed the Malaysian deal, with a five-for-one people swap. It was a ridiculous deal that was not going to provide enough protection. There was not going to be sufficient protection for children who were sent there in terms of their education and health, and there was no way that we were going to support that. So it is really good to see that the government has come to this position.

The coalition have always opposed the Gillard government's attempts to strip away all those protections from the Migration Act, and our stance was vindicated by the decision made by the High Court of Australia, and again by the Houston report, which found that the Malaysian deal did not contain enough adequate human rights protections for those who were being sent there.

As I said, there have been a number of twists and turns in this government's immigration policy. When you look at the number of announcements that have been made and what has occurred as a result, the government has done anything but stop the boats from arriving. As at 25 November, when the bridging visa was announced, there had been 187 boats and 12,798 people arrive. The total number of arrivals after the High Court decision was 206 boats and 14,159 people. Since the Malaysian announcement on 7 May 2011, the total number of arrivals has increased to 222 boats and 14,844 people.

In September, the government put before parliament a very special legislative instrument to authorise offshore processing on Nauru. That declaration passed the House of Representatives and the Senate with the support of the coalition, and this new designation of PNG as an offshore processing country is very similar in form and content. The deal with PNG, according to the documentation the government have provided, is open-ended and does not require a five-for-one people swap as in the ridiculous deal in their failed Malaysian agreement. The deal also provides support for a whole number of age cohorts and for families, and makes sure that educational opportunities are provided. But, as usual, the government have been dragged kicking and screaming every step of the way.

And what did they do when they again faced the situation of a huge number of boats arriving? There was a boat arriving almost every day, under the circumstances. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming to reopen Nauru, and even then they outsourced their decision to the Houston panel. They could not make a decision themselves; they had to give it to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers. While the panel did the very best that they could, Australia is becoming known as a country that is turning its Navy into a taxi service. We are picking them up from Indonesian search and rescue.

People smugglers have thrived under this government. They have made more money than they have ever made in their entire history under this government's swapping and changing of policies. Hundreds of people have died at sea, including women and children, but the government have steadfastly refused to introduce the full range of measures we advocated, including temporary protection visas and turning the boats back. You cannot just pick and choose; you have to introduce the whole suite of measures or it will not work. We have seen the result in the number of boats that keep arriving.

This has been a very costly exercise for the government. Their immigration expenditure has blown out to $4.9 billion as a result of the Houston report. Settlement will cost about $1.9 billion, because every time there is a boat arrival it costs another $50,000 to settle people. And it is not just the financial costs that are absolutely exorbitant; there is also the terrible humanitarian cost in the loss of lives at sea.

There are at least 8,100 people who have been waiting offshore in camps, in desperate circumstances. I have been to those camps. I have been to the Thai-Burma border with Chin and Karen people. I have seen them waiting patiently in camps. There are 140,000 people on the Thai-Burma border all being interviewed by the UNHCR and all wanting to come to Australia as genuine refugees. It is heartbreaking to see the people in these camps who genuinely want to come to this country and are doing all that they can. They simply do not have the money to pay people smugglers.

We have one of the best humanitarian immigration programs in the world. The number of humanitarian program places is capped at 13,750. Every boatload of people coming in illegally deprives the people in those offshore camps of the opportunity to come to Australia through acceptance under our refugee and humanitarian program.

I had the wonderful privilege of attending Access Community Services' 10 years of settlement celebration. Access have been resettling refugee and humanitarian entrants for 10 years and doing it very well. I heard some heartrending stories about people who had been in camps for 20 years. I heard stories of African women who had been in camps for several years finally being allowed to come to Australia. I heard of one woman's exaltation when she was accepted, with her two children, being greeted at the airport by the caseworker, being taken to her home, being given essential equipment—saucepans, bedding—all of the things to help them start life in Australia. That is how we should be welcoming people to this country through the United Nations refugee program. Instead, we are depriving genuine refugees an opportunity to come to Australia—the ones who cannot afford to pay people smugglers, the ones who are in camps, the ones who have been in camps and had to raise families in camps. It is heartbreaking to hear their stories.

We do things very well in this country—settlement under the humanitarian program. We have been doing it a very long time and we should be able to accept many more people under the humanitarian program from offshore. As people are languishing in camps in many places around the world, we are facing a situation where illegal boats arrive and the only people who are benefiting are people smugglers. The coalition has always had a strong border protection policy, and an orderly immigration system is essential to safeguard the integrity of the humanitarian refugee program. Per capita, we run the most generous settlement program in the world. It is not just me saying this. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was here last year and commended Australia on the great work we do. Less than one per cent of the world's 10 million refugees will be resettled in any one year. We believe you have to steadfastly protect the integrity of the program. We should be in a position to decide who will get the rare chance of resettlement.

If elected to govern, the coalition will restore the full suite of proven policies, including offshore processing in Nauru, temporary protection visas and turning boats back where the circumstances permit. We have to restore the integrity of our immigration program. We have to make sure that we accept wonderful refugees like Godfrey who has gone through the Access program. Godfrey has a Bachelor of Arts in Business Accounting and is studying for his MBA. He and his partner, Julie, have a 20-month old girl. James Ladu, who is studying theology at the Australian Catholic University in Brisbane, is going to be ordained to be a priest in June next year. John, married with four children, has a Bachelor of Information Technology, is working in the disability sector and lives in Toowoomba. Daniel Zingifauboro's is the most amazing story I heard at Access the other day. Daniel trained to be a lawyer in this country and has chosen to be a politician. I know not many people choose to be a politician. He also studied to be a lawyer. He has gone back to South Sudan where he is going to take up the role as Minister of Local Government and Law Enforcement. So here are some great success stories of people who have come through the refugee and humanitarian program. Not only are they making a huge difference to Australia but some of them have gone back to their own country to restore law and order and to restore democracy.

The number of boats will keep coming unless the full suite of measures is restored. Last week, six times the number of people turned up on boats than those who were sent by Labor to Nauru. Overwhelmingly the government's attempt at offshore processing is getting worse. We have a huge number of boats continuing to arrive. Many countries are represented at the moment among the offshore arrivals—Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan—and the number of people who have already been sent to Nauru totals 211. Boats will keep arriving unless something is done to restore the suite of measures from when we were in government and the member for Berowra was immigration minister. We support the designation today to make Manus Island a processing centre.