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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 8570

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (20:11): I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. No person comes out of this debate covered in glory—not one of us. However, those opposite have presided over the squandering of $4.7 billion of taxpayer money. In breaking a system that worked, they have lived in denial and have finally been dragged, kicking and screaming, to the first of the three stages that will finally re-fix the problem. Only with the re-introduction of temporary protection visas and the turning back of boats where it is possible and safe can we finally kill off the business plan of the people smugglers.

I feel for the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship; I believe him to be a good man. The problem is not of his making, but he has been trying to do the right thing for some time now. My issue with the government and its handling of this matter is that not one person on that side of the House is prepared to take responsibility not just for the $4.7 billion of taxpayer money and not just for the 22,000-plus arrivals but also for the nearly 1,000 people who have lost their lives trying to get here. If this were a company and the CEO had presided over a $4.7 billion loss and a loss of life, the CEO would take the fall for the loss. If this were a football team, the coach would have been sacked ages ago. But this government can see no fault. In fact, the member for McEwen earlier today basically told the House that it was our—the opposition's—fault. He took pot shots at the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for immigration for the stance we have taken, when our stance was simply to oppose poor policy. I will be straight up with the member for McEwen and let him know that I will back my leader, my leadership group and my shadow minister on counts of integrity, character and conviction against anyone he cares to line up.

Madam Deputy Speaker, $4.7 billion is a lot of money. It will buy you nearly five fully functional teaching hospitals. It would have given the NDIS the flying start it so desperately needed. It would even have helped the immigration department actually do the job it should. I will highlight four cases where I feel the immigration department has stopped providing good service or has been compromised into making ultraharsh decisions.

In my electorate there is an engineer from Papua New Guinea who was brought down by a company. He studied at James Cook University. His visa required that he return home, but the company by which he was sponsored went broke, leaving him destitute in Townsville and with no way of getting home.

So technically he was in breach of his visa. He was able to find additional work, but he was in breach of his visa and he could not afford to get home. The immigration department has racked him up a $60,000 debt. The finance department has decided that it will collect on that debt. We are fair with that too, and so is he. But the finance department will not budge on the nearly $2,000 per month that they are requiring him to pay on this debt. He has got the debt down to $37,000. Despite representation from the shadow foreign affairs minister, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, to the minister and the department, they will not come to the table in any way, shape or form.

There is a taxi company in Townsville operated by a gentleman who is about to retire. A young Indian immigrant, now a permanent resident, started driving taxis for him and now has expanded the business and is taking over as manager. The retiree went back with the young Indian man to India to witness his wedding. He was a guest of the family. They love each other dearly. But this permanent resident cannot get his wife into Australia. The department flatly says: 'No. She has been over on a tourist visa; she must go home now. She must wait her turn.' That is the decision that the immigration department has made. All he wants to do is get his wife over here and be part of this country that he has made his home. He is a permanent resident. He has done the right thing. He has done everything right, and at every turn we have stopped him from completing his family.

A young Iranian engineer got headhunted from across the world to come to Australia. He started in Newcastle and has ended up in Townsville, which he calls home. He has his permanent residency and is working towards citizenship. He is a lovely young fellow. He wants his 65-year-old parents to come to Australia for a holiday before they die. You have to understand that 65 in Iran is getting very near to the end. He has been trying for three years to get his parents here for a one-month holiday. He is prepared to put up surety to make sure they go home. He is prepared to jump through any hoop that he must. But the department have told him that it will be at least another 12 months before he can get a decision made and before he can have that appeal done.

I want to tell you about two Indian doctors in my home town, the city of Townsville. One is a radiologist and one is a neurosurgeon. They are in the public hospital system where they work shifts. They have two beautiful boys—one in prep and one in grade 4. Because they are doctors they work a seven-day shift and they work on weekends, so the boys are in home care. So what they have done is have her father across from India to stay with them. His visa is about to expire. He is of no cost to the Australian taxpayer whatsoever. The benefits of having a family member stay at home at no cost are untold. But we are insisting that he goes home. We are insisting that if he overstays his visa he will be kicked out.

All the way through, all these people have arrived in Australia properly. All these people have done the right thing. All have paid taxes. All have asked for assistance and all have been refused. All have been left asking the question, 'Why?' These are just four examples of the humanitarian work that the department should be doing. I bet every member in this House—150 of us—could come up with at least four examples. I have given you only four, but I have more.

That is the humanitarian work the department should be doing. They should be looking after Australians trying to do the right thing all the way through. No-one in the department wants to do the wrong thing here. But if we are spending $4.7 billion on other things when we should be spending it on doing the right thing by these Australians and permanent residents then we are going to be the losers. These people will leave our country and they will go to Canada, the United States and all around the world because their knowledge and their capital is a valuable commodity. If we do not do it right, we will be the losers. Immigration is what makes this country great. Immigration is what makes our country as diversified as we are. My wife is Italian. We are fantastically rich in this country because of what the people who came to Australia straight after the Second World War brought. They came to Australia because we asked them to.

I have pensioners in my city coming to me saying that they want to hop on a boat, go to Christmas Island and get what is being thrown at refugees. The first time it is funny and the second ironic, but these people are generally serious when they are saying that they are seeing that these people are getting things that we should be doing for ourselves. We want to be humanitarian. We want to be caring. But when you keep on giving it is only so long before patience just runs out. No-one has covered themselves in glory today, and no-one should take joy in any decision that this House makes. Some of us should take some responsibility. I thank the House.