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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11247

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (15:42): Earlier this week the member for North Sydney gestured across the House to ask whether in my heart I could support this amendment to the Migration Act—whether someone who is associated with human rights and has a close association with many migrant and refugee communities in this country could endorse it. Later in the week, my convictions were questioned by the member for Mitchell. He has nothing better to do with his time than to rush to his local paper boasting about how he has been thrown out of the House and that he had said as he departed: 'I remember when Laurie was a lefty'. These people are stereotyping this debate and making it extremely simplistic.

It is no surprise that today they were joined in their analysis of this debate by the member for Melbourne. As we know from listening to a previous speaker, in a recent radio program, Senator Bob Brown, the leader of the Greens, who does not believe in any offshore processing—and, of course, he is joined by Senator Hanson-Young and the member for Melbourne in that belief—indicated that the eventual outcome of this debate would be that offshore processing would be destroyed. Today, we are going down that road for certain.

The contribution of the member for Melbourne to this debate today was as infamous as his misunderstanding earlier this week of the history of the Vietnamese who entered this country. He said that they had all come by boat; he had no knowledge of the processing wait in Hong Kong and no knowledge of the situation of the Vietnamese in camps in the Philippines, which can be seen in the film In Limbo. Furthermore, he made the extremely erroneous allegation that Labor was advertising to the Australian people that it was sending people to be caned in Malaysia. He went on to say that poll after poll in this country has endorsed onshore processing. One poll, a recent Fairfax poll, has endorsed that position. The question has been rarely asked of the Australian people. Surveys from May 2009 to July 2010 from Morgan, Galaxy, Age/Nielsen and Essential Report showed that over 60 per cent of Australians said that they supported a tougher policy in this area. In one of those polls they actually asked about offshore processing, and 62 per cent of people said that they endorsed a stronger policy on offshore processing.

I refer the member for Melbourne to the work by Professor Goot, Population, immigration and asylum seekers: patterns in Australian public opinion 2011. He may get some worthwhile knowledge by reading that publication. There is nothing right necessarily about Australian public opinion. Basically, you should only utilise it when you feel it is right. But he has come here today and said that the Australian people want onshore processing. That is totally incorrect and he knows it. He has described this as a grubby debate and a race to the bottom. As with those Liberal members, he is making this very simplistic. There is nothing wrong with offshore processing, even if you support a strong humanitarian refugee migration intake. There is nothing wrong with endorsing offshore processing, if you are concerned about people being in the camps for two decades and are concerned about the people who live near the camps.

Essentially, there is a real moral question here and people can take different positions on it and understand it in different fashions. I strongly endorse offshore processing, and I do not think you are going to see too much inconsistency from me on this matter. At the same time, I do believe that the number of boats arriving has a relationship with events in other countries. It is not just about what Australia does. It is not just about how available the boats or the smugglers are. We do not exactly get refugee claimants on boats from all lands on this earth. At the moment we are getting the Tamils from Sri Lanka, Iraqis, Afghans et cetera, and there is a clear relationship with events in those countries.

The opposition is now coming forward, at a very late stage in this long debate, saying that the be-all and end-all is whether people have signed up to the international convention and that Nauru is justified because it has signed up and others have not. Earlier today I heard the member for Goldstein quoting Freedom House about the situation in Malaysia compared to Nauru. We all know that Nauru is not a long-term option. I spoke to a person this week who is very involved in refugee policy who has recently been there. I heard that part of the camp is currently being used for schoolchildren. There are water shortages. The water is cut off for a few hours every day. There is no work available on the island for the people if they are let out. The situation is chronic indeed. What are they going to do when 1,500 people are there?

Those opposite are talking about what a failure this has been because all the boats have come. If they did not think the boats were going to come—under either side in government—why did they spend $317 million of taxpayers' money on Christmas Island? If they had solved the problem, if boats were never going to come again, why did they build that facility? They built that facility because they knew there was always going to be a challenge to Australian immigration policy and the right of the government of the day to have some say in our refugee and humanitarian program and where refugees come from. When the laws were changed with respect to temporary protection visas—the new nirvana; the new glorious solution—those opposite stood there like stunned mullets and let the legislation go through. Dr Stone, the member for Murray, said at the time that it had outlived its purpose. And now, today, it is Nauru or nothing.

The member for Goldstein quoted Freedom House on the situation in Malaysia. Freedom House said that Malaysia got eight out of a possible 14 with respect to human rights—14 is the worst case; it got eight. Those opposite say that everyone has to sign the convention, and it is very interesting to look at the other countries that have signed the refugee convention. Those opposite say that we cannot send them to Malaysia. Malaysia have a court system. When Anwar Ibrahim was basically set up by the government, he could fight his way through the legal system. They have a democratic political system. They have recently legislated with regard to getting work rights for refugees in the country. They have got rid of their internal security legislation.

It is interesting to see who has else has signed the refugee convention—and we can send them there, those opposite reckon. Afghanistan got 12 out of 14, China got 13 out of 14, the Democratic Republic of the Congo got 12 out of 14, Iran got 12 out of 14 and Zimbabwe got 12 out of 14—and we ceaselessly hear opposition members, particularly those from Western Australia, telling us how bad Zimbabwe is. These countries which have signed the convention—which is the one thing those opposite think a country needs to have done for us to send people there—are the countries which we receive many of our refugees from. And those opposite are saying that those countries are good enough to send people to.

There has also been the statement that they can tow people back to Indonesia. The shadow minister's nice bit of language about this was: 'Oh, we can't send them to Malaysia because it has not signed the convention, but we can tow them back to Indonesia'—which is in a similar class. While supportive of reforms and change in Indonesia, I do not think there are many people here today who would say that Indonesia is that much more democratic, liberal or tolerant than Malaysia.

Mr Danby: And there is no agreement with them.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON: And, as was indicated, we have no agreement with them. Nauru is a recipe for failure. Those opposite say that we have had so many boats and so many claimants since we suggested Malaysia. They know very well that in the same sort of period, after they suggested Nauru, the boats kept coming. The numbers in that lead-up period—a very similar time frame—were very strong.

Those opposite can argue that a lot of the people from Nauru eventually went to New Zealand and they did not all come to Australia. The fact of life is that the overwhelming majority went to New Zealand or Australia, and anyone who follows immigration knows that New Zealand is often the first step to migration to Australia. That is why Australia had some concerns a decade ago with regard to the huge number of Fijian-Indian claimants that New Zealand was taking because, in a very short time, they would be coming here afterwards. So the policy that supposedly stopped the boats led to most of these people eventually coming to Australia—the overwhelming majority of them. The cost of this has been assessed as $1 billion—$1 billion of taxpayers' money will be needed for this useless, senseless alternative with respect to Nauru. The situation is the same with regard to TPVs. Most of these people eventually came here, but it was after individual human suffering.

Mr Pyne interjecting

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON: It is right, member for Sturt. The overwhelming majority of them came here, but they were separated from their families for years on end. Basically, there was no effective retardation of the eventual success of their cases.

We do need offshore processing because, quite frankly, onshore processing is a recipe for people to have decades-long cases against the Australian legal system. In the last fortnight, a person walked into my office—admittedly, he had arrived by plane, but it is the same picture as when people get so much access to our system—who had been fighting the Australian legal system for two decades from a baseless case. I heard from a Hazara last Friday on a rejected spouse case. He had come by boat and he is now complaining that there are so many Hazaras coming by boat with fraudulent claims. This is the kind of situation we have. We do need to have a deterrent to dissuade people from paying people smugglers and to dissuade people from believing that they will be successful if they arrive.

People cite to me the huge approval rate of people who arrive by boat. I say that they are inflated figures. I say that the 90 per cent pass rate—and recently it was a 70 per cent rate—does not necessarily indicate the bona fides of cases. The reason the pass rate is so high is that many of these people cannot be sent back to their homeland, even when they are rejected. Even where we have agreements with countries, we return very few under Labor or Liberal governments. We find it difficult to disprove their cases because they either do not have identification or they destroyed it on the way here. The contrast for the people in the camps is that they are in situ. We can seriously look at their claims on the spot. We can investigate them more thoroughly.

I very strongly endorse the government's proposals that we must in some manner give people in the camps and those living nearby a bit of room in this intake. We cannot have the intake totally dominated by those who come by boats and planes. We have to ensure that the government of the day has some say and can respond to the UNHCR's request as to what it sees as the most needy peoples around the world at any point in time. If the arrivals are totally dominated by boats and planes, then the government of the day, Labor or Liberal, can have no say when it is said that we should react to the labour situation in Burma or we should have something to say with regard to Bosnia; we should respond and support what the UNHCR says is the demand of the day.

People criticise Malaysia. In recent times we have seen them get rid of the emergency situation and we have seen them agree to work rights. Perhaps work rights are of no interest to the opposition. I noted the comments of their then spokesperson in the report Immigration detention in Australia, when it was proposed that we give work rights to released claimants. Dr Sharman Stone, at 1.7 in the report, said:

As unemployment continues to climb, it cannot be assured that asylum seekers can readily step into and keep employment. As well the perception of additional competition in the work place will cause more stress to Australians in the workforce as they compete to gain or hold what work is still available …

Today, we see the alliance between the Greens, the Leader of the Opposition and the coalition—a desperate attempt to make sure that the government cannot operate the Malaysian scheme, which they are very fearful will succeed. They are very fearful that the number of boats will be reduced, that the rhetoric about the process being out of control will diminish and that the ammunition will disappear.

Quite frankly, the situation is that it is important in this country that the Australian people, who are fair but not stupid, can have confidence in the government of the day that is operating the system, and that the department of immigration is determining who are the humanitarian refugees. Every day of the week in Europe we are seeing growth in the Swedish Social Democratic Party, the Old Finns, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, and other parties in Europe. There must be confidence that the government of the day can operate an offshore program and that it can determine that people will be dissuaded from attempting to come here. I strongly recommend the legislation.