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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11233

Border Protection

Mr HAYES (Fowler) (14:43): My question is to the Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice. Why are the government's amendments to the Migration Act a vital part of an effective border protection policy to deter people smugglers and to prevent loss of life at sea?

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (GortonMinister for Privacy and Freedom of Information, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice) (14:44): I thank the member for Fowler for his question. This government takes border protection very seriously. We know that border protection can be very dangerous work. For the men and women of Customs and Border Protection and for the men and women of the Australian Federal Police, this is not something that is just chatted about at workplaces at lunchtime. This is not just chatted about in pubs or in front of televisions. Indeed, it is not about a debate in parliament. For those men and women, border protection takes place on the high seas. Border protection takes place in villages in Indonesia and at cliff faces on Christmas Island. They know that without us stopping this insidious trade there will be more maritime disasters in this country. 19 October is the 10th anniversary of SIEVX, the tragic loss of 353 people, 65 men, 142 women and 146 children, who perished on that day 10 years ago—a terrible tragedy. In April 2009 five people tragically died in the explosion of SIEV36 and of course we know on 15 December last year approximately 50 men, women and children perished after their vessel foundered on the rocks at Christmas Island. Indeed, that would have been worse if it were not for the brave, selfless deeds of Customs and Border Protection personnel who literally plucked people from the water.

I say to this parliament that those people, the AFP and the Customs and Border Protection personnel, know something about this issue and they deserve to be listened to. I want to say particularly to the Leader of the Opposition that the Australian Federal Police and Customs and Border Protection believe that the Malaysian plan is the most likely plan to deter people from getting on these unseaworthy vessels on perilous journeys. That is what they believe. You know what? They deserve to be listened to for what they know and what they do every day. That is what they deserve. Indeed, it is true to say that that has not been listened to by the opposition. What sort of political leader does not listen to police on criminal matters? What type of political leader does not take border protection advice from border protection agencies? Indeed, what type of political leader puts his own interests—

The SPEAKER: Order! The minister will be very careful of the way he uses material.

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: ahead of those of men and women of Customs and Border Protection?

Mr Pyne: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is unnecessary, it is offensive and I would ask you to require the minister to return to a more sensible answer to this question.

The SPEAKER: Yet again, sometimes when people are interjecting they might not hear that I invited the minister—I forget now what I invited him to do—to come back to the question. I am happy for him to mention that he is speaking to the chamber and in particular to a member but, I agree, when he then starts to berate, debate or argue, that is not helpful. I attempted to do that. At the same time I have people interjecting and people jumping up to give points of order. The minister will pay attention to the comments. The minister will relate his material in a directly relevant manner to the question.

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: I have been asked about potential maritime disasters and I am saying to this House that I believe it is incumbent upon the parliament in considering matters to consider the advice that we receive from Customs and Border Protection and the Australian Federal Police. That is what I am saying to this House. I say to the House that those agencies are of the view that the Malaysian plan is the most effective deterrent. My view is that, in his heart of hearts, the opposition leader knows that. In knowing that, it is one of the most unconscionable acts, one of the most reckless acts, to ignore that advice because the consequences may well be—

The SPEAKER: Order! The Minister must not overly argue the question.

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: not only people on leaky boats perishing but people on our boats, in our uniforms, who protect our borders.