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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7666

Senator CAROL BROWN (4:33 PM) —I wish I could say that in Senator McGauran’s contribution there was some style over substance, but sadly there was very little style and no substance at all. I think it is sad that so often I follow Senator McGauran’s contributions, because I can hardly take it in. He goes from one thing to another and makes, I believe, absolutely no sense at all. But what was quite interesting in his contribution today was that he decided to give some advice on diplomacy. No wonder the Liberal Party are in such disarray. We have Senator McGauran giving advice on diplomacy and we have Mr Ruddock giving advice on asylum seekers—and we all know his record of shame there. And we know what happened when they took advice from Mr Grech. The coalition are in disarray.

Here we go again. This is exactly what we have come to expect from those opposite. Time and time again they peddle negativity and falsehoods. Those opposite seem continually to take the low road with this issue. They are an opposition who persist with the same old tired point-scoring political line. Over the past few weeks we have heard some extraordinary claims from those opposite in relation to people smuggling. The comments coming from those opposite really are not helpful, especially when dealing with such a complex issue. As the Prime Minister has stated, people smuggling was a problem in the past, it is a problem today and it will be a problem in the future. Those opposite know this, and to pretend otherwise is just to create mischief.

A number of global factors certainly have contributed to the current spike in the number of refugees seeking asylum in foreign countries. In 2008, we saw an 85 per cent increase in the number of Afghan asylum seekers claiming protection in other countries. Between 2005 and 2008, the number of internally displaced people assisted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, jumped from 142,000 to over 230,000, an increase of over 60 per cent. We have also seen recently, with Sri Lanka emerging from decades of civil war, around 250,000 Tamils from the north of Sri Lanka in camps for internally displaced people. And between 2005 and 2008, the UNHCR saw the number of people they assist from Sri Lanka balloon from over 324,000 to 504,000, an increase of 55 per cent.

So it is indeed false, and a myth created as part of a sneaky scare campaign operated by those opposite, to claim that their policies saw a reduction in asylum seekers. In fact, whilst I am touching on the arrival of asylum seekers under the watch of those opposite, I cannot help but touch on the policies of those opposite which saw the inhumane treatment of refugees. After all, it was those opposite who implemented the Pacific solution, introduced temporary protection visas and also inflicted detention debt on asylum seekers—fundamental policies which, despite the myths and falsehoods peddled by those opposite, actually did nothing to reduce the influx of asylum seekers. In fact, all we got from those opposite were policies whereby asylum seekers inherited the costs of their detention, which we all know was unreasonable as the vast majority of asylum seekers coming to this country had little more than the clothes on their backs. We also got the temporary protection visa regime, which often left people languishing in detention for years and which actually resulted in nearly 90 per cent of the people who were initially granted TPVs gaining a visa allowing them to settle in Australia. Finally, the Pacific solution saw $289 million spent by those opposite on detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island to process asylum seekers—and for what? Certainly not a reduction in the number of asylum seekers, because we know that asylum seekers will continue to come to Australia, regardless of the government of the day.

This is a problem that will face every government. Indeed, we have found this out, because the events of recent days have been challenging for the Rudd Labor government; we know that. However, the government remains committed to working with other countries in our region to tackle this problem. In fact, the Rudd Labor government has decided, with the Indonesian government, to create a framework for cooperation on people smuggling. This framework will deliver a new, higher level of cooperation to tackle the challenges facing our region. And, despite what those opposite might say, the Rudd Labor government is committed to enforcing vigilant border security protection programs.

However, as it was for the previous government, this remains a challenge because, after all, Australia has one of the largest coastlines in the world, stretching over 59,000 kilometres. So we have implemented more aerial and surface assets to patrol our borders—more patrols, I might add, than under the previous government. This means that in 2008-09 the total number of flying hours and sea days undertaken by vessels and aircraft conducting surveillance in our northern waters under the control of Customs and Border Protection Command was more than the previous year. In fact, the number of sea days in 2008-09 was 5,921, which was over 16 per cent more than in 2007-08, 27 per cent more than in 2006-07 and over 25 per cent more than in 2005-06.

I hope these figures help to dispel the continual falsehoods those opposite like to peddle, that the Rudd Labor government has gone soft on border protection, because nothing could be further from the truth. The Rudd Labor government, like the previous government, will continue to process asylum seekers at the mandatory detention centre on Christmas Island, and we will continue, like the previous government, to conduct mandatory health checks, mandatory security checks and mandatory identity checks on asylum seekers.

But what do we get today from those opposite? The same old political grandstanding and scaremongering. In fact, we would not expect anything less from an opposition which is divided on immigration. That is right—they cannot even get a cohesive message together. Perhaps those opposite should be more focused on getting their party united on immigration than on trying to score cheap political points. I think it is rather apparent that those opposite are more interested in playing politics with what is indeed a very serious and difficult issue. It would appear on the surface that those opposite are totally focused on and certainly much more interested in scoring cheap political headlines.

You would think, in the face of some border security challenges, that those opposite would be looking at a positive way to help tackle the problem. You would not think an opposition with serious alternative policies would come into this place and sling mud at the government. But this is what we are faced with—an opposition that really has no alternatives; an opposition with no alternative policies; an opposition which simply focuses on negatives; an opposition that has, unfortunately, gone to the fear-and-smear play-book. We know this, and Senator McEwen touched on this in her contribution. An article in the Australian advises all and sundry and the Australian people that:

MALCOLM Turnbull’s office has been … advising Coalition press secretaries to demonise special interest groups and attack public servants as fat cats.

So what we are seeing is that—as Senator McEwen said in her contribution—the modern Liberal Party’s core philosophy is that policy discussions are nice, but dirt-digging and scare campaigns are better. They have decided that that is going to be their policy.

Need I remind those opposite that the Rudd Labor government remains vigilant and committed to protecting Australia’s borders? Since being elected, the government has maintained one of the toughest and most comprehensive border security regimes in the world. Contrary to the false accusations from those opposite, the government firmly believes that the control and management of our borders is integral to the nation’s security. And, contrary to suggestions by those opposite that we have somehow gone soft on border protection, we have in fact built up previous measures by providing more funding and increasing the extensive patrols of our coastline. The falsehoods those opposite have been peddling—that the government has gone soft on border protection—are nothing but spin and a grab for headlines.

I might just highlight for the benefit of those opposite that the Rudd Labor government went to the last election with the commitment of maintaining a system of mandatory detention for all unauthorised boat arrivals—a commitment, contrary to what those opposite would try to have you believe, which has been honoured. Those opposite would be aware of this. We have also retained the excision of offshore islands and the offshore processing on Christmas Island for unauthorised arrivals. So for those opposite to claim that we have sent a signal to people smugglers that we are open for business, that we have waved the white flag, is really beyond belief. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As I have highlighted time and time again during my contribution, we have actually increased our measures to combat people smuggling and the arrival of unauthorised vessels in our waters. To suggest otherwise is just creating political mischief. I highlight for the benefit of those opposite that we have maintained and extended extensive air, land and sea patrols, put a priority on the prosecution of people smugglers and increased our strategic regional engagement. All of these measures are the actions of a government that is strongly committed to protecting our borders and reducing the number of unauthorised people arriving in our country.

Indeed, we have acted upon these commitments in the 2009-10 federal budget, when the Rudd Labor government committed more than $654 million to tackle people smuggling and improve our border protection—$654 million to implement a comprehensive, wide-ranging approach to help stop the arrival of unauthorised immigrants to Australia. Included as part of this wide-ranging investment in combating people smuggling were a number of commitments. Firstly, we committed $324 million of funding to increase maritime patrol and surveillance, which means additional maritime surveillance craft will be present in Australia’s northern waters and increased maritime surveillance time. We also delivered almost $63 million for a funding increase for aerial surveillance, which will mean two additional surveillance aircraft, and $93 million to strengthen our engagement with our regional neighbours and international organisations—and already this has begun.

On 15 September 2009 we saw Senator Evans announce that the Rudd Labor government would be providing $18 million to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, and the International Organisation for Migration, IOM, to combat people smuggling and manage irregular migration. Senator Evans said at the time of the announcement:

More than $10 million will be provided to the UNODC to fund three projects specifically to target transnational crime and people smuggling activity throughout Asia.

Part of the announcement was an $8 million commitment to IOM, which will enable the organisation to maintain its network of outreach offices in Indonesia over the next four years. This commitment is crucial as we continue our cooperation with the Indonesian authorities to combat people smuggling. Senator Evans reiterated this by stating as part of the announcement:

The IOM commitment will boost efforts between Australia and Indonesia to combat irregular migration and ensure the suitable treatment of irregular migrants. The funding will enable IOM to continue to assist Indonesian authorities to monitor and manage irregular migration flows and gather information on people smuggling activity.

Also as part of the budget announcement, we delivered $13.6 million to strengthen our legal and prosecution capacity and enhance regional cooperation on people-smuggling laws.

The Australian government has had some success prosecuting people smugglers. Since September 2008, 15 defendants have been convicted in eight people-smuggling prosecutions. Currently we have before the courts 38 defendants, relating to 14 matters involving captains and crew and three defendants in three matters involving organisations that facilitate this inhumane crime. These are good signs, and we will continue to work hard to bring people smugglers to justice. I think it is evident that the Rudd Labor government is committed to tackling the people-smuggling problem. We will continue to enforce tough border protection laws. The mischief created by those opposite is political grandstanding of the highest order.

I would also like to touch on the global context of what is a global problem. This is indeed a global problem. There are over 42 million displaced people around the globe. In recent years, global factors have continued to see an increase in the global number of refugees and asylum seekers. The United Nations Secretary-General noted in a recent report to the Security Council that ‘2008 ended as the most violent year in Afghanistan since 2001’. Just to restate my previous comments: in 2008, there was an 85 per cent increase in the number of Afghan asylum seekers claiming protection in industrialised countries worldwide. Between 2005 and 2008, the number of internally displaced people assisted by the UNHCR in Afghanistan increased from around 142,000 to around 230,000. In Sri Lanka, for the same period, the number of internally displaced people assisted by the UNHCR in Sri Lanka increased from around 300,000 to 504,000—an increase of 55 per cent. Sri Lanka has just emerged from a decades-long civil war which cost tens of thousands of lives, uprooted hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans and left an economic divide between north and south, east and west. As I said earlier, there are currently 250,000 Tamils from the north of Sri Lanka in camps for internally displaced people.

I also talked a bit earlier about the myths that have been created by the opposition. I just want to mention those in a bit more detail now. The opposition claim that the Pacific solution caused the reduction in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia between 2001 and 2003. The number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia after 2001 did significantly decrease, but these decreases were happening all around the world. Between 2001 and 2003, the number of Iraqis claiming asylum globally dropped from around 52,000 to approximately 27,000—a drop of 48 per cent. Between 2001 and 2003, the number of Afghans claiming asylum globally dropped 73 per cent. Between 2001 and 2003, the number of Sri Lankans claiming asylum globally dropped from around 14,500 to around 5,500—a 61 per cent drop. There are push factors that we have been talking about and which are at play that the coalition continue to deny. The Rudd Labor government have proven that we are more than capable of showing the leadership necessary to steer our country through the global economic crisis, and we have demonstrated the same leadership when it comes to border protection. (Time expired)