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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8559

Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (19:26): It is my great pleasure to speak on the amendment the member for Cook has moved to the amendment proposed by the member for Melbourne to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. On 28 June this year, the Prime Minister outsourced her job to a committee led by a distinguished Australian— the former Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston. That decision was a symptom of a government which does not have a border protection policy. It does not know what it believes in. It does not know what to do.

Air Chief Marshal Houston (Retired) handed down the panel's report to the government yesterday, Monday. The committee's recommendations substantially endorse the coalition's approach to stopping the boats. It confirmed unequivocally that pull factors created by Labor's policies were significantly responsible for the resumption of people smuggling straight after the repeal of the Howard government's successful and proven border policies. Angus Houston said so in words much like those the member for Throsby used to make that point in the debate in the last sitting week prior to the winter recess.

The panel made 22 recommendations, including re-establishing offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island as soon as practicable; introducing legislation into parliament to allow offshore processing of illegal boat arrivals at designated countries, with provision for parliament to disallow the legislative instrument designating a particular country; and prohibiting people arriving by boat from using the family reunion provisions of Australia's humanitarian program, instead making them apply through the family stream of the migration program. The panel also said that turning back irregular maritime vessels can be operationally achieved and can constitute an effective deterrent to people smugglers. I note they made the point that this can be done 'as long as Indonesia acquiesces'. 'Acquiesces' is the fundamental word—not 'approves', not 'endorses', but 'acquiesces'. Lastly, the panel found that the protections for asylum seekers set out in the Malaysia people-swap are inadequate.

The panel, by which and to whom this government outsourced one of the most fundamental responsibilities of any government—the security of its borders and the defence of the realm—has produced a report which solidly affirms what the coalition has been saying for almost half a decade. It is the proven Howard government policies which worked. When Labor came to power in 2007, there were less than a handful of people in detention. And I mean less than a handful—just four, to be precise. How many are there today? The number eclipses 4,000. The coalition has consistently argued for proven policies that work together to strengthen our nation's borders.

Our policies on borders have worked. We know that because they worked in the Howard years. Combined as a suite, they are an effective deterrent. They worked. The coalition in government will reintroduce offshore processing on Nauru, because then the rights of asylum seekers are protected because we know where people are every second of every day. We will return to temporary protection visas because people will be safe, but not grant permanent residency, with all the benefits that go with it. We will turn back boats where it is safe to do so. The Sri Lankan defence force has shown it can be done. The Indonesians have done it recently. The US have done it recently. We know it works because the Howard government did it in 2001. And the Houston panel report endorsed the policy, where it is safe to do so. In other words, the outsourced panel gave a green light to Nauru and a red light to Malaysia.

The simple fact is that, if Prime Minister Gillard had not been so stubborn, frankly, if she had not been so full of pride, the full cost of the failure of our borders could have been avoided—and the full cost is abhorrent: over 22,000 people arriving illegally, self-selecting Australia, most of them travelling through numerous countries to get here; somewhere short of a thousand tragic deaths; and $4.7 billion in expenditure. Why? Because Labor took a proven solution and threw it away, and pride stops them putting it back. For four years, our borders have been weak and porous. Lives have been lost. Our reputation has been tarnished. Costs have blown out. Who knows what $4.7 billion could have been used for in the life of the nation. The NDIS, combined with the $5 billion from the states, could have been fully funded now but for pride. For pride—it is staggering.

Yesterday, the Houston panel fundamentally and categorically rejected Prime Minister Gillard's rhetoric on Nauru. Australians have to wonder why this did not happen years ago. Why was a successful policy regime pulled apart? It is a fair question to ask. Why the pretext that Nauru would not work? Why the wild claims that it would cost billions to reopen? Why the stubbornness and why the pride? The Good Book remains true: pride does indeed come before a fall. So much has been spent, so much has been lost, because of pride.

In opposition, Prime Minister Gillard was against offshore processing and the Pacific solution. She made the point:

Labor will end the so-called Pacific solution—the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific islands—because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle.

But, in government, they changed their minds by negotiating with PNG, and here we are today. Ms Gillard said then:

There's no point getting on a boat because your claim won’t be processed, but we will continue to work through with Malaysia, and it’s also very clear to Australians we’ve been in discussions with PNG.

In opposition, Ms Gillard supported turning back the boats:

The Navy has turned back four boats to Indonesia. They were in sea-worthy shape and arrived in Indonesia. It has made a very big difference to people-smuggling that that happened. … And we think turning boats around that are seaworthy, that can make the return journey, and are in international waters, fits in with that.

That is what the current Prime Minister said when Labor was in opposition. But then, of course, she changed her mind and did not support turning back boats when in government:

I speak of the claim often made by Opposition politicians that they will, and I quote: "turn the boats back." This needs to be seen for what it is. It's a shallow slogan. It's nonsense.

Let me say very clearly to the Prime Minister, as I said at the Defence Reserves Association conference last week to the assembled masses, to our military elite: don't underestimate our resolve; we will turn back the boats where it is safe to do so. And the Prime Minister's own eminent panel yesterday showed that that is a deterrent.

In opposition, Labor and Ms Gillard supported temporary protection visas. They said:

The proposal in this document, Labor’s policy, is that a unauthorised arrival who does have a genuine refugee claim would in the first instance get a short Temporary Protection Visa.

But, once in government, they said:

The Rudd Government is proud of its reforms in abolishing temporary protection visas …

There is nothing consistent in the way the government have handled this entire issue. When asked today in question time by the member for Berowra, 'Prime Minister, why did you dismantle the Pacific solution?' all she could do was blame Kevin Rudd: 'It was the government's policy; Kevin is responsible.' There is zero consistency in what they do and what they say.

Now the Prime Minister is using the Houston panel as political cover. She is attempting to use it to whitewash Labor's history of failed and erratic policies on border protection. The Leader of the Opposition said today that the request had been made 106 times to pick up the phone and call the President of Nauru. But the Prime Minister did nothing until today—when, I gather, the phone was picked up. But nothing whitewashes the facts, and that is the good thing about facts. The Prime Minister and the rest of Labor can spin all they like, they can obfuscate until the proverbial cows comes home, but the facts will stand truly as a light on the hill as one of the wildest acts of government incompetence in living memory.

Let's look through those facts. This government wound back, unwound and pulled apart the proven Pacific solution whereby, when they came to power, there were four people in detention. Since they abolished it, it has cost the nation $4.7 billion—fact. The most recent budget alone revealed a cost blow-out of $1.7 billion—fact. Compare that to the $85 million it cost in 2007-08 to manage asylum seekers arriving on illegal boats.

If Labor had simply left in place the strong border protection regime they inherited from the Howard government, the 2012-13 budget would have been $3.3 billion better off—fact. Since they unwound that regime, 22,000 people, on almost 400 boats, have self-selected Australia—fact. And as indicated by the Minister for Defence Materiel, almost 1,000 of those 22,000 people, or about four per cent of them, have perished tragically at sea—fact. That is the shameful record of this whole disaster. And now with the Houston report in front of them, with the knowledge of history which says that offshore processing, temporary protection visas and turning back the boats where it is safe to do so works, this government has chosen only one—Nauru. It is a good step and, heaven forbid, we are thankful, but at the rate of one step every five years, how long will it be until the full suite of programs is put in place? Nobody knows, but the facts spell out what is undeniable. This government lost control of our borders. Their decisions have led to disaster on so many levels.

Since they abolished the Pacific solution, 22,518 people have arrived—fact. The total number of arrivals since polling day, 21 August 2010, is 231 boats and 15,169 people—fact. The total number of arrivals since Julia Gillard assumed the mantle of Prime Minister is 246 boats and 15,879 people—fact. The total number of arrivals since Malaysia was announced on 7 May 2011 is 11,048 people, excluding the crew—fact. The number of arrivals since signing the Malaysia deal is 10,581 people. The number of arrivals since the High Court decision is 10,330 people. However you dice and slice the facts, they point to the same conclusion—disorder, disaster and disarray on our borders. Despite Labor's attempt to whitewash and misinterpret the Houston report, the facts speak the truth: the Houston panel endorsed the coalition's policy.

While Labor MPs across the country have said, 'You can't turn the boats back,' Angus Houston says you can. The coalition has always known that. HMAS Anzac is now in the gulf. It is the 30th ship since 1991, having replaced the Melbourne. Our Navyhas intercepted between 1,000 and 1,700 vessels in the gulf in extremely hostile situations. Our Navy can deal with so many vessels in the gulf, some of them heavily armed by sophisticated terrorist organisations out of Yemen, but the government seems to think they cannot deal with a few leaky wooden boats. It is an insult to our professional men and women, and this government has turned our Navy into a taxi service and a veritable NRMA. The US Coast Guard sent back 2,400 people on illegal boats last year and the Sri Lankan navy has also turned around boats.

We have over 500 ADF personnel working on Operation RESOLUTE. They endure struggles and difficulties as the monsoon approaches; and we have sea states 4 and 5 and our Armidale class patrol boats have a 300 per cent increase in their effort, and the sailors on board are being impacted because of what this government has done. Our call is simple: implement all three legs of the policy stool; do not take just one.