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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8541

Mr PYNE (SturtManager of Opposition Business) (17:54): I do not wish to delay the House unnecessarily tonight by speaking to my full time, but there are some important points that I would like to make in relation to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. I would like also to place on the record some of my views in relation to the government's latest reversal of policy.

When this government came to power in 2007 it was met with a solution to the border protection crisis, namely the Howard government's policies since 2001, and it set about creating a problem. Four years later, the government has announced, today and yesterday, a humiliating reversal of its 2008 changes to the Howard government's policies. We saw in question time today, as we have seen in all of the Prime Minister's media statements and press conferences, absolute hypocrisy and cant from the Prime Minister about this reversal of policy. The public are not stupid, yet in the last 24 hours the public have been treated like mugs by this Prime Minister as she tries to convince them that it is she and her government that have come up with a solution to the border protection crisis. If you had listened to the Prime Minister today and yesterday you could be forgiven for thinking that these problems—the 22,000 boat arrivals in the last four years, the almost 1,000 deaths that have occurred at sea, the $4.7 billion blow-out in the budget because of the government's border protection policies—were all the fault of someone else. You could be forgiven for thinking that they are simply events that transpired on her watch and that she is now acting to resolve. But the public know the truth. The public know that the policy that was seen to be a tough border protection policy, and which was unpopular in many quarters of the Howard government, worked.

In 2008, the government said that it took great pleasure in dismantling those policies. Now, in a humiliating backdown four years later, the government has reversed the bad decisions that it made in 2008. But it has not gone far enough. With the opposition's support it will be able to reopen offshore processing on Nauru and on Manus Island. Those facilities should have remained open, in spite of the fact that they were virtually empty by the end of the Howard era. That policy option should still have been available to the government. But there are two other very important legs to the three-legged stool that is the coalition's border protection policy—that is, the return of temporary protection visas and turning back the boats where it is safe and possible to do so. Without the other two legs to the stool this policy will not work to deter people smugglers, because the government put the sugar—the product that is permanent residency—back on the table in 2008. That is why the people smugglers have a product to sell. Until the government takes that product off the table, the people smugglers will continue to have a product to sell. The Prime Minister and her government are entirely responsible for putting the people smugglers back in business. They were out of business in 2007, when it came to encouraging people to come to Australia. They were put back in business by this government's dismantling of the three-legged stool of temporary protection visas, turning back the boats where possible and offshore processing.

Listening to the Prime Minister today, one could understand why the Australian public have stopped listening to a Prime Minister who can never be straight with the Australian public.

Other members of the Labor Party have admitted that they got it wrong. This Prime Minister will not do so. This Prime Minister will not apologise. This Prime Minister will not accept responsibility. Under the Westminster system, in any government where there has been such a humiliating reversal of fortune and such a humiliating backdown on government policy, the head of the government should resign out of shame and say to their cabinet colleagues: 'I led you down the wrong path. We created a problem with our solution, and my head must roll.' I know that is what many members of the Labor Party caucus and the Labor Party cabinet must be thinking. The Labor Party caucus and cabinet must be wondering why it is that the Prime Minister can stand up here at question time and, dripping with hypocrisy, try to blame someone other than herself for this disastrous government policy of the last four years which has had such catastrophic effects on so many people.

The Australian public know who was responsible and at the next election, whenever that is held, the sophistry of the Prime Minister, who attempts to always say that black is white, when people know exactly what it is, will be rewarded with the result that the government deserves, which is, hopefully, to be thrown from office, and people who have in the past managed a proper government will be given the opportunity to again be the adults in the room to competently run government policy.

This government has been dogged by incompetence, but border protection is the greatest example of the manifest incompetence which affects this government. I feel sorry for the minister for immigration because I know that last October the minister for immigration begged the cabinet to reverse its policy, to save lives and stop people making the perilous journey across the seas by doing exactly what is said in what the Prime Minister has hidden behind—the fig leaf of the Houston report that was announced yesterday and today.

In our government we had an expert panel: it was called a cabinet. It was led by Philip Ruddock, Alexander Downer and John Howard. They introduced the policies that stopped the boats. This government dismantled those policies, and the boats flowed again. This Prime Minister has manifestly failed to display the leadership that is necessary and expected from the Prime Minister, particularly on border protection. The Prime Minister has never been able to hold a consistent line on border protection. Before the 2007 election, she talked about the Labor Party bringing back temporary protection visas. Then they abolished temporary protection visas. She still has yet to bring back the third element of the coalition's policy, which was temporary protection visas. She said that they would never send potential refugees and asylum seekers to countries that had not signed the UN convention on refugees. She announced before the 2010 election that that was why they were choosing East Timor for a processing centre, because it was a signatory to the UN convention on refugees. Then her policy prescription was to send refugees to Malaysia, which is not a signatory to the refugee convention.

She told the Australian people before the 2010 election that there would be no more onshore detention facilities. We now have them at Northam and there are expansions at Curtin; the Scherger air base; Inverbrackie, in my electorate; Hobart, in Tasmania; and in the electorate of my neighbour the member for Mayo. All across Australia, detention facilities have been opened and expanded in spite of the Prime Minister's promise that that would not happen. She took great pride in the dismantling of the so-called Pacific solution, only in the last 24 hours embarrassingly and humiliatingly embracing it in a desire to stop the boats from coming, for the sheer purpose of having some fig leaf to hide the government's embarrassment about its manifestly unsuccessful border protection policies.

If that is not enough, when we were in government—and I was in government in the Howard era—the now Prime Minister and her front bench attacked and vilified Philip Ruddock, Alexander Downer and John Howard. They vilified them for border protection policies that worked. They attacked them personally and vindictively on a very regular basis in this place and in the media. They called them immoral, heartless and a failure and said that the Nauru border protection facility was an expensive failure and a disaster. In fact, Kevin Rudd described the Christmas Island detention facility as a great white elephant that would stand empty when the Kevin Rudd government was elected. Of course, we now know that it is so full that they have had to expand detention centres across Australia and have had to return to the successful Howard government policies.

I could speak at great length—endlessly—about the perfidiousness of this Prime Minister and her government. I could talk about all the comments the Prime Minister has made over the years about how the Nauru solution was costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of policy. But I do think the best comment from Julia Gillard was the one from 2003 that the Leader of the Opposition quoted today, when she said, 'Can anyone in this place really imagine that Australia will be processing asylum seeker claims on Nauru in 10 years?' That was in 2003. The tragedy of it is that if the Howard government policies had remained in place she would have been right. We would not have been processing asylum seekers on Nauru because there would not have been any arriving, as there were not by the end of the Howard era. In those seven years, from 2001 to 2007, hardly any boats arrived.

The humiliation and great irony for the Prime Minister is that it is in fact because of her government's policies and the dismantling of the Howard government solutions on border protection that we will be processing asylum seekers in Nauru again in 2013, exactly 10 years on from the Prime Minister's fateful remarks in 2003. If anyone has been hoist with their own petard, it is this Prime Minister. The Australian people know it, and no amount of sophistry, hypocrisy or cant can change that simple fact.