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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7662

Senator McGAURAN (4:13 PM) —I do not normally stay quiet during Senator McEwen’s speeches—I throw in the odd interjection—but such was her agony that I actually felt sorry for her. After 19 minutes of a 20-minute speech, she got to the crunch point and said, ‘Well, I have run out of time to talk about border security.’ This is what this whole debate is about. It is yet another indication that the other side has no concept of the crisis they have plunged this country into, let alone the human cargo. This is a national crisis, and the previous speaker has no understanding at all. But, as I said, I felt for her in her anguish, because, just before she was about to stand up and speak, Minister Evans—who oversees this portfolio and who is up to his neck in this national crisis—gave her a handful of notes and walked out. He simply walked out of the chamber. He was not going to stand here and put his case and debate the issue—and he hasn’t all week.

Where has this minister been? He has gone missing! If he does not want to be present for Thursday afternoon general business, then where has he been for taking note of the answers on this critical issue? It has been the lead story of every news bulletin all week, and in this chamber and in the other place. Where was the minister when we raised this issue as a matter of public importance? He has not led the debate once—not once this week. What is more, he scuttled out just as the debate was about to start. He has gone missing. The only time we cornered the minister was in question time. He cannot escape that, although no doubt he was looking to go on an overseas delegation during this matter, but we cornered him. What a clueless week he has had. It is quite obvious this minister, who changed the laws that brought about this crisis, has been shunted aside.

Senator McEwen —He’s not going overseas, he’s going to Shepparton—in Victoria!

Senator McGAURAN —Senator McEwen dares to interject during all of this when I remained silent for her hopeless effort. I was being polite, I must admit, but I provoke, do I? It is quite obvious that Minister Evans has been shunted aside by his own leadership group. He has not been out there in the media. This role has been taken by others, like the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade—and what an effort he put on on SkyTV today! I will address that later. He was obviously squirming and at a loss to know what the Indonesian solution is, or for that matter, what the President of Indonesia’s intentions are. But at least he is willing to go on and answer questions. At least he is willing to get up in the other place and debate the issue, but the minister who is in charge of this national crisis—with human beings in the grip of crisis—has gone missing.

I have always thought there was enough fodder, enough material, in this chamber to single out incompetent ministers. Senator Conroy is one, for example, with his $43 billion. We all like Steve because he is not serious about anything, least of all his portfolio. He is sloshing around $43 billion. He knows very well it is going to collapse. He just hopes an election comes before he has to make that final decision. He will make it on the other side of the election if he is still minister. That is Steve Conroy. Another is Senator Wong, the Minister for Climate Change and Water, the great extremist who is about to drop a $50 billion new tax on the economy. That is financial incompetence by both of them.

But we have a minister who takes the cake, and what is more he leads the government in the Senate. I bet you are all disappointed now as when the heat was on he was not quite the man you thought he was, not quite the leader you thought he was, and he has gone missing on this issue when his own leadership has shunted him aside. I know Prime Minister Kevin Rudd does that frequently, but I would have thought he would push the minister to the centre to take the heat. But he cannot take the heat. You hear the answers at question time, you see it in his eyes, he is not briefed, he does not know what is happening and he is scared, like a rabbit in the headlights. Who would have thought that of Senator Evans—I am a bit surprised, but this is what happens when you are in government. Sooner or later reality hits and you have to start making serious, hard decisions. This had not happened to Senator Evans until now and now that it has, now he is accountable and has a difficult problem on his hands, he has been found wanting. He now goes to the top of the tree as the most incompetent minister, and seriously incompetent too on this issue.

He has been happy to stand there in the last 12 months railing against this side of the chamber in regard to our own tough but successful—although he called them tough—laws in regard to border protection. I would have thought it a fundamental requirement of any government of any colour to secure our borders. He even called Christmas Island a white elephant. I believe he even said he would never use Christmas Island. Well, it is bursting at the seams and now they have had to ship in more beds. That is called egg on your face. He was happy to take the early plaudits when policy was changed because it was easy; he did not have to make a tough decision. Now that he can see and witness the failure of those policies he has not been here to debate it at any point this week other than question time, when he knows he has to walk in. He will not even step out into the media.

This minister it is the most incompetent, most culpable minister to date. As I said, that is really saying something in the Rudd government because—it has really been quite a bad week for the Labor Party—all their incompetence is now starting to seep through every part of society for the public to see, whether it is Julia Gillard’s wasteful and wicked expenditure on school halls or Peter Garrett’s still bewildering $3.9 billion on Pink Batts, Senator Conroy or Senator Wong. This minister is the most—

Senator O’Brien —I rise in a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. I wonder if you could remind the senator to refer to people from the other place by the correct title.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Humphries)—Yes, I take that point. You should refer to them by their correct title, Senator McGauran.

Senator McGAURAN —Senator Evans ought to have the courage to come in here and debate the issue at some point during the week. I also make this observation in regard to the other side and their Indonesian solution. If ever I have seen a falling out, or increased tensions, coming around the corner it is in relation to Australia and Indonesia. Remember, this Prime Minister in an emergency, a panic ridden state, dashed across to Indonesia to meet the President. A phone call would have sufficed but, no, he had to pose before the Australian media.

I have observed President Yudhoyono of Indonesia over many years. He has built a genuine and worthy relationship with Australia over the years of his term. He is a fine President. In relation to this posed dash to Indonesia by the Prime Minister, I venture to say that the President would not have been impressed at all by Mr Rudd’s performance. Nor would he have been impressed by the airing of an Indonesian agreement as soon as Mr Rudd got back—an agreement about which the Prime Minister cannot give any details let alone the financial details. Having observed this President, I know he would not have been too impressed by that. Nor would the sorts of words used here have passed unnoticed by the President or by the Indonesian foreign affairs department, particularly the words used by Senator Evans. But Senator Evans is only mimicking the Prime Minister: ‘Indonesia must honour this agreement’—whatever it is—‘Indonesia have an agreement with us and they will fix it and they will sort it out.’ Rest assured, in the limited experience I have in foreign affairs, but as an observer of a relationship with Indonesia, that will not go down too well.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs was on Sky TV today repeating all that, saying that ‘Indonesia must and will honour this agreement.’ But he got the obvious question, ‘Why is it now 10 to 11 days?’ He answered with a condescending comment that will backfire in Jakarta. He said, ‘It takes some time for the President’s words to trickle down.’ That is condescending, it is undiplomatic and it is not true. It does not take a lot for the President’s words to trickle down at all. It will not take long for those words to shoot across to Jakarta. I can tell you that you if the President wants it, no local governor will get in his way. I say: watch that particular space. And Senator Evans, again, foolheartedly, unaware, ham-fisted, comes in here without any knowledge that words are bullets and thinks he can turn the heat up on Indonesia—saying that they ought to fix this chaos.

The previous speaker and others tried to nail us on our policy. As if we created any of this! There are three moral issues as to why this side of the House seek to bring the Rudd government to account here. Labor must address these three moral issues. The first concerns the people smugglers. Labor are giving succour to the people smugglers. That is immoral. Whilst the Prime Minister is happy to say that they are vile and to criticise them, frankly, that is water off a duck’s back to those sorts of evil people. The Prime Minister is not willing to act with firmness and clarity to stifle their trade. Again, the Prime Minister is all words and no action. He is all spin; all con. Of course they are vile. Of course they are evil.

Where are the policies to stifle their actions? He knows what works. We left him the template. Not one boat, I think, arrived in three years when were in government—I have that information somewhere here. He knows the template—that is, the former government’s policy. It was there and it sent the right message. Instead, the Labor government are giving succour to the people smugglers, these cruel operators who have absolutely no concern for the safety of women and children and who do not mind fleecing them for every cent they can get. All it would take is a determined effort by Australia to choke off that trade, from this point of view: the law’s of this country and the actions taken by this country.

The second moral issue involved in this is the safety of the asylum seekers, who, though in the grip of the people smugglers, make the decision to sail across the seas because they are given the hope from these shores that they ought to take that perilous journey. The Australian laws are such that they believe they will gain permanent residency, virtually permanently. Of course, as we know only too well, some of them do not make it. When you are in government, you have a responsibility to appoint but you also have a responsibility to close off, as best you can, at least from this side, that sort of false hope. You have to stop them from making that perilous journey. We are only too aware of the tragic stories of sunken ships that never get here. The latest surge is all because of the changed laws and the softness of those laws. Clearly, the government have a responsibility to discourage those dangerous journeys, not incite them. We must do what we can. There will always be boats attempting to come across. We have a surge now and those opposite have buried their heads in the sand. They are in denial that the softness of their laws have had a direct effect.

The third issue in this matter is central to this debate and it concerns the thousands of people waiting to enter Australia legitimately. I know this has been said before, but it is true: it is about queue jumping. These people have been waiting with their families for years to be processed and allowed into Australia. Every person who comes across on a boat illegally—there is no other way or nicer way to say it than that—and makes that perilous journey in the hands of people smugglers bumps a legitimate refugee in a refugee camp who does not have the $15,000 to pay. Fairness is what we are talking about here.

The point I make is far from being just a debating point. This week I received a letter from my colleague the member for Fadden, Stuart Robert, who has just returned from Uganda. I am sure he will not mind me saying that he has, over many years, done a great deal of charity work in Uganda. He pointed out to me and to several other colleagues that the need over in those refugee camps is crucial and immediate, yet those people do not have a fair chance. That is a great Australian ethic, is it not: a fair chance? Every asylum seeker who comes by boat and gains refugee status will bump those in refugee camps. The concern of Stuart Robert is that it is not fair. And it is not just his concern; he goes on to say that those in the camps say it is not fair. They are only too aware of it.

So they are the three moral issues. Let us just recap on the morality of those opposite taking tough and realistic decisions, which is the responsibility of government. You have got away with not doing it for two years. It has all been so soft and easy dishing out the billions of dollars. But now you have hit the wall. It is crunch time. The minister has failed. The most incompetent minister in the Rudd government—what a claim to have.

It is not as if the minister was not told. Back in October 2008, just one month after the law changes in August, his own department briefed him to expect that these laws would be used by the people smugglers and to expect a surge of boats on the grounds that the laws had been softened. I am not making this up, by the way. This comes from freedom of information documents obtained by the Herald Sun.

In 2009 the Australian Federal Police sent the same signal out, saying the softening of the laws had created the perception that Australia’s border security was soft and the people smugglers had started up their trade. They sent that brief out to all the departments—ASIO and the intelligence departments that operate in Indonesia to disrupt the people smugglers—but it seems that the Attorney-General did not receive it, did not read it and still has not. He does not want to know the truth. So you cannot tell me that the government was not aware that all this was coming. As I said, you cannot tell me, nor will anyone believe, that there is not a connection between strong and humane laws and the government’s change of laws in August 2008.

Labor have failed at every single level on this issue. They have failed administratively and morally. They have failed the Australian people by not providing proper and secure border protection. They have failed in their primary responsibility in not providing border protection. They are now reliant on another nation to carry out the crux of their policy, they have given succour to people smugglers, they have failed to discourage desperate asylum seekers from taking the perilous journey and they have let down the patient and legitimate refugees who sit in camps awaiting permission to come in. Labor’s policy is neither tough nor humane; it has failed.