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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11639

Mr RANDALL (Canning) (18:57): I rise to speak on the motion to approve the instrument of designation of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea to be a regional processing centre. As our previous speakers have said, we agree with the assignment which this motion deals with in terms of Manus Island. This is part of the select committee report and it is only sensible, because it was our policy, that we agree. I want to bring to the attention of this House one of the issues which Minister Clare, who was previously at the table, raised in his speech, which was that the full suite of measures are not needed. He talked about not being able to turn boats back. This government continually talks about not being able to turn boats back.

Recently I have been fortunate enough to have spent some time on my study leave in Sri Lanka examining some of these issues. A report on the Sri Lankan website states:

Australian MP visits SLN Dockyard.

Australian Member of Parliament, Hon. Don Randall visited the SLN Naval Dockyard in Trincomalee on 30th September 2012. He was warmly welcomed by the Deputy Commander Eastern Naval Area, Commodore PH de Silva.

The Deputy Eastern Naval Area Commander briefed the visiting Australian MP on the current situation and the port facilities available at Trincomalee Harbour. The MP took the opportunity to look into the matters of persons who are illegally bound for Australia and to obtain first hand information regarding the preventive measures the Navy is implementing.

Also along with Commodore de Silva was Captain Sujeewa Seneviratne and Captain Rohan Lelwala. They accompanied me on my visit to Trincomalee Harbour. Trincomalee is interesting and necessary to this debate because Trincomalee is one of the best natural deepwater harbours in the world and from there many people leave by boat bound for Australia. Trincomalee Harbour services the economic zone of Sri Lanka, an area of some 118,000 square kilometres, so it is not an insignificant amount of land.

The briefing that I received from the navy is quite comprehensive and took a considerable amount of time to prepare. I will not go into the full detail of it, but I will mention some of the issues. They have given me details of boats engaged in human smuggling that were arrested by the navy in the financial year from July 2012 till now. The number of boats is 52 and the number of people involved is 2,279. Why this is so crucial to the debate is that the Sri Lankan navy are not only doing something about stopping people leaving but turning them back when they get to sea. They are not allowing them to go to Australia if they can detect them. The boats are very hard to detect. They are generally wooden and they go out to sea for some miles, pretending they are going fishing. They have the nets and the fishing hooks on board. I went over these boats and saw how they leave out of the sight of radar and the navy. They are then fed by smaller boats with their tragic human cargo.

This briefing is so comprehensive that it gives a huge amount of detail about each boat. Here are some of the details about human-smuggling activities from 10 July 2012 to 30 September in this area. I know I will not be allowed to table this, so I will just show it to you, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams. This is the sort of information that was given to me. This is a picture of a boat and the people that were taken back from the boat after it was turned around. The information is broken down into the date and the area where the boats were turned around, the details of the trawler and the details of the emigrants, as they call them, and their ethnic origin. For example, the first boat, on 10 July 2012, was called the Sinhale 07. It carried 37 male Tamils, two female Tamils, one of whom was pregnant, two children and two Muslims. Despite what a lot of people think, it not just Tamils who are leaving Sri Lanka; there are Muslims and there are Sinhalese. The area of Trincomalee actually has a 41 per cent population of Muslims.

I will not go through the details of all these boats. I would love to table this document, but it would not be permitted, I suspect. I will just pull out the details and pictures of a few boats as we go through. For example, on the Kavindi, on 20 August this year, off Pigeon Island, there were eight Sinhalese, along with 26 male Tamils, one female Tamil and four children. There were a total of 39 on that boat. On the Prasansanee Duwa, there were six Sinhalese, 34 male Tamils, one female Tamil and three Muslims. I could go through the details of all these boats, but I have not got time. I want to go to the most recent, the ABI, which was intercepted on 29 September, the night before I arrived. There were 36 people on that boat—seven Sinhalese, 25 male Tamils, four female Tamils, seven children and one Muslim male.

I was taken over these boats, and the tragedy is that most of them are unseaworthy. They are coastal shipping boats. They are not designed to go the massive distance to Cocos Island or Christmas Island. While I was in the harbour, the boat in this picture was severely listing. The navy told me that after two days at sea, in any sort of seas, that boat would have sunk and the entire tragic cargo would have been lost. This is the tragedy of this whole situation.

These boats are leaving regularly but the Sri Lankan navy is finding them and bringing them back. Out of the whole cohort, there were 2,135 males, 66 females and 78 children. There were 1,846 Tamils, 124 Muslims, 307 Sinhalese and two Indians. They came from all over Sri Lanka. There were 27 boats in the harbour which had been apprehended by the Sri Lankan navy. As I said, I was taken over the boats and the conditions were inhumane—one toilet for all the people on board. I can show you the picture, Mr Deputy Speaker. This toilet is a bit of plywood perched over the edge of the boat—for males, females and children. It is just unbelievable, if you want to talk about humanitarian considerations.

The navy identified the people smugglers in the briefing they gave me and described how they have brought them back and dealt with them. What the people smugglers do is organise a point of assembly, a point of departure to the final destination, and organise the logistics and financial transactions. The navy, once they arrest them and bring them back, provide the people with food and water. They escort the craft to shore, give the people medical check-ups, look after the children, provide separate washing facilities for the women and interview the personnel. They hand the personnel to the CID. The CID forward the people who are caught to the courts, and they keep the boats in safe anchorage until there is a court ruling. The personnel are handed over to the CID and not to the police because there is a separate maritime unit available to the CID on that base to conduct inquiries into these activities. This unit maintains databases on these activities. The unit has direct links with the Australian Federal Police.

Let us find out what they do when they are caught. Crew members or facilitators receive a jail term of one year or less. Organisers get the same—one year or less. The passengers, as they are called, are fined between 5,000 and 10,000 rupee, which is something like $10. Why would you only fine them that amount? It is because they are very poor people generally.

Why do they undertake this journey? The financial prospects—they are economic migrants—are a pull factor to Australia; they want to join the rest of their family; or they have had a briefing from personnel already in Australia about why they should undertake the journey and misinformation by interested parties for their advantage—in other words, the Tamil diaspora organisations in Australia. They are going now because they are trying to miss the monsoon. They believe that, if they can get to Australia, the long legal procedures involved in processing asylum seeker claims in Australia are to their advantage, and they know about the success rate once you get to Australia: if you can get to Australia, you get to stay there.

In the last few minutes of my speech I want to talk about the fact that I was able to go and meet those last 36 people in the gym on the navy base. There was a young Tamil gentleman there who spoke perfect English, so he was able to interpret for me to the whole range of people on that base who were being detained from the night before. Interestingly, when I spoke to all of them with the interpreter, they all had a different story to tell. One had been a public servant and had resigned from his job. One had been a local fisherman. He was Sinhalese, a young man with a young wife and a five-week-old baby being breastfed as we were talking. There were a whole range of people.

I want to make this point: when I was speaking to them, not one of them said to me that they were going for humanitarian reasons. I want to repeat that: not one of them said that they were taking this journey for humanitarian reasons; they all said that they were going because their job prospects in Australia were better. The fisherman said that the job prospects in Australia were better. The public servant said that his job prospects in Australia were better. I said to them, 'Why are you doing this, because you will not get a visa?' Several of them had disabilities like withered arms and dwarfism. I said, 'You won't get a visa.' The fisherman broke down and cried because he suddenly realised that he had been lied to by the people smugglers. They had sold their houses to take this journey. It is a US$2,000 deposit and the balance when you get to Australia.

The Sri Lanka navy are doing their job. They are turning the boats back at sea, and they are making sure that when the people get back they are rehabilitated. How do I know this? I went to Kilinochchi and met with the IOM, the International Organization for Migration. They said that they receive these people and they help resettle them, and there are no threats of torture or abuse, as is claimed in Australia by those who want to make mischief in this area. I spoke to the UNHCR in Kilinochchi, and they said the same thing. They are helping resettle the people who come back by boat, and they are helped by the Sri Lankan government. There are no humanitarian issues on the part of those people leaving and there are no human rights issues for the people who return to Sri Lanka by boat.

This is a tragic trade by, in many cases, the rump of the LTTE, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, essentially, trying to re-establish a power base here in Australia. This is a cruel trade in vulnerable people who do not know any better, and they are being totally misled. As I went further through the north of Sri Lanka to Jaffna, I had people saying to me: 'Oh, you're Australian. I'm going to Australia.' I said, 'Why are you going to Australia?' 'Well, I can get a job there,' said the waiter in the restaurant in Jaffna. 'What would make you think that you would get a visa when you got to Australia because you're a waiter?' 'Oh, I'm told that once you get to Australia you can get a visa and you can earn so much money.' That is the situation, and that is why they are coming. So many people were telling me wherever I went in the north, particularly amongst the Tamil population, that they intended to come to Australia by boat because they could get jobs. But I repeat: not one told me that they were coming for humanitarian reasons.

So, when we talk about this evil trade in human smuggling, we are not talking about the fact that—

Honourable members interjecting

Mr RANDALL: The minister missed out Sri Lanka? He mentioned it three times. Yes, Indonesia could do more. Unlike Sri Lanka, Indonesia does not try and turn back boats in its economic zone. Sri Lanka does, and Australia could do the same. We are setting a terrible precedent in acquiescing to a country like Indonesia which is not very interested in helping us to turn around and stop this evil trade in humanity. I congratulate the Sri Lankan government on the great work that they are doing. We should be putting more resources into helping them stop people coming in this way to Australia, which will cost many of them their lives.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): The question was that the motion be agreed to. To that motion an amendment was moved by the member for Melbourne. I will put the amendment question first. There being more than one voice calling for a division, in accordance with standing order 133(b) the division is deferred until 8 pm.

Debate adjourned.