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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5874

Mr RIPOLL (Oxley) (16:53): Can I start by thanking all the speakers on this matter of public importance because I know that there are many people with very strong views about people smuggling, people trafficking, refugees and asylum seekers. These issues have always been questions for debate in this House and that probably should remain so. I know the member for Reid, the member for Fremantle and many other members in this place, including the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, feel a deep sense of compassion and a deep sense of responsibility to deal with these issues. But the chorus in this MPI is unfortunately very familiar. The familiar chorus is from the same voices across the chamber. They are saying the same things in opposition that they said in government. What underlies the chorus of voices opposite is that they always play a card—the refugee card, the race card, the antihuman rights card or the fear card. They play a particular card when it is politically suitable. That is the tragedy in this debate.

This MPI is not about finding solutions. It is not about comparing one solution with another. It is not about trying to walk through a complex problem and finding solutions. It is simply about seeking political advantage—exactly the same advantage that they sought when they were in government. If it were only advantage while in opposition, you could almost excuse it by saying: 'I understand it. I actually get the political nuance of trying to take some advantage whilst in opposition and hammer the government.' But they did exactly the same thing when they were in government—they always played the race card or the fear card. They always played some card but it was never a genuine card. The card they played was never one with a solution.

They will never accept the fact that this refugee problem is not Australia's problem; it is a global problem and a problem of immense proportions. It is not unique to Australia nor is it a new problem. If you had listened to the previous contributions, particularly from the member for Cook, you would think this problem had been created in the last three years. He kept referring to this 'three-year period', as if people trafficking, people smuggling, refugees and asylum seekers were invented by this government. If you were listening to them for the first time and you had no idea of the context of this debate, you would ask yourself: 'Why would a government do this? Why would a government create this problem?' Of course, it is far from the truth.

The reality is that it is a global problem and it is a problem within our region, and Australia should play its part in finding a solution to the problem and not hive off the problem to some place like Nauru. We know from lived experience and the facts on the ground—not what may come out of some new solution but what has already taken place—that it did not work. Not only did it not stop the boats but former Prime Minister John Howard said that a large proportion of those people would never set one foot on Australian soil. It was a complete farce and, I suspect, possibly even a complete lie. At the time, it was always going to be the case that they would end up in Australia. When they were determined to be genuine asylum seekers or refugees, they would end in Australia, as they should. But we went through this farcical process of shipping them off elsewhere only to have them come back through a turnstile. When you hear the other side talk about stopping the boats, they are not actually stopping anything; they are putting in a turnstile. Stop the boats, turn them around, take them through another port and bring them back another way.

With the cycle of boats coming in and going out, let us not forget that circumstances and events across the world have an enormous impact on what happens in terms of people trafficking, people genuinely seeking asylum and refugees needing protection. We ought to play our role in that, and that is what we are doing with our plan. But we have to recognise one key part—that we should be part of the solution not part of the problem. We should make sure that we send a clear message about breaking the back of the people-trafficking business model. We need to find solutions to make sure that people do not take advantage of us as a generous country or take advantage of people seeking asylum who are genuinely deserving of our help. They should not be exploited. We should play our part in the global problem and find a long-term regional solution. We cannot do that on our own—and that has to be the starting point. We cannot sign things away and shove people off for a period—whether it is one year, two years or five years—only to have them come back through a turnstile. That is exactly what took place with the Nauru solution—which was anything but a solution.

Under our negotiated agreement, we will be looking long term at how we start dealing in a regional context with people who seek asylum and how we ought to treat them. Let us also not pretend that it is only limited to these people. Let us not pretend, as I believe the opposition are doing, that we are only talking about the numbers on the table. It is a much bigger problem. If you start talking about children in detention and making decisions about those we accept and those we do not accept then you have to look at a more holistic plan—an approach that says we treat people equally and fairly and an approach that has a process. It ought to be that we make rules, we set terms and we set limits, and that we work to an orderly process and we play our part. Part of the Malaysian solution is doing that: making sure that we increase the number of people we accept, that we put more funding towards that, that we do it in a proper and humane way and that we look at agreements with countries in our region to be part of an overall solution.

It is pretty hard for members in this place to be lecturing about Malaysia or other countries. None of us in this place agrees with the inhumane treatment, including caning, of anybody. That is why we have made sure in our negotiations for an agreement that the people who go over there are not illegal, unauthorised or in any other way part of any other system. They will be completely legal and completely accepted as part of a genuine exchange. I am sure, although it may distress some members on the other side, that some of those opposite wish that caning were to take place, because it would make them feel good about being right and about somebody else's plan failing. We on this side do not wish for that. I am saying that we ought to negotiate that plan, work with Malaysia and be part of a more regional and global solution. That is a pretty hard task, but we ought to accept, once and for all, that this is a long-term problem and one for which we ought to provide a long-term solution. We should not just duck-shove people off when there is a political incentive but do something more for the longer term. Yes, that will cost money; yes, that will take time, and, yes, we have to do it right. We hear from those opposite the repeated chorus, 'Stop the boats, stop this, stop everything.' They never take into account the fact that when the boats stop the planes arrive and that when the planes are not arriving the boats are coming back. They do not take into account the fact that when there is turmoil in regions in this part of the world an increased number of people seek refuge. We see that every day on our television screens. We ought to be a little bit more realistic about those things and about how we play our part.

We have said that we want to provide a proper system that is supported publicly by the UNHCR. We want to make sure that the proposed arrangements are a step forward and that there is better protection for refugees in our region. If we do not do that, people smugglers will continue to bring people across, whether it be by boat or by plane. There is always risk, but particularly for people who come by boat. There is no greater reason for us to do this than to prevent people getting on those boats holus bolus. No-one should get on those boats. The message ought to be clear that we will not be part of people trafficking and smuggling in our region. We will do what is necessary to break that business model. We know that the negotiated solution we have on the table is the way forward and is the right thing to do. We will make sure that asylum seekers are treated with dignity and respect and that they are treated in accordance with the human rights standards that apply to them. That clearly means they will not be caned, or treated otherwise inhumanely, while in Malaysia. Any asylum seeker who is transferred to Malaysia will be processed by the UNHCR and will not be an illegal immigrant. That is an important point. We are putting a solution on the table. We want to be part of a long-term solution. The opposition should support that rather than have its usual chorus of voices. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The time for this discussion has concluded.