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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7670

Senator ABETZ (4:53 PM) —Labor’s so-called border protection policy is symbolised by the Oceanic Viking—drifting aimlessly with no end in sight and all at sea. Today’s question time highlighted Labor’s policy paralysis on border protection. When the Labor leader in the Senate was asked, ‘What is the Prime Minister’s role in this ever-growing debacle?’, the devastating retort of the Labor leader in the Senate was, ‘That is an odd question.’ In fact, it is not odd. The Prime Minister actually has to take responsibility for Labor and his party’s failed policies.

For those unabashed rewriters of history opposite, let me correct the record and remind them that mere repetition of false assertions does not actually make them true. Allow me to remind Senators McEwen and Brown of a bit of history. In the month that I came into this parliament—it seems like only yesterday but it was February 1994—the Labor Party was in power. There was a parliamentary committee, the Joint Standing Committee on Migration. Amongst its members were Mr Laurie Ferguson, now the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services. In a unanimous report, this was their recommendation:

Unauthorised border arrivals who claim refugee status be held in detention during the determination of their status, including during administrative processing, administrative review and any legal appeals …

That was Labor’s policy in government and, might I add, for a number of years until the Howard government got in. But I pose one question: which government had the most children in detention centres? The Labor Party know the answer to this. It was Mr Paul Keating’s Labor government. They were the ones with the most children in detention. We, in fact, changed the rules and laws to minimise that occurrence.

It is interesting to go through the history on this. The stark history is what Labor said during the 11 years of the Howard government and their duplicity over it. It is correct that the coalition were confronted with a huge problem of people smuggling and, yes, there was a flood. Labor, including the now Deputy Prime Minister, rightly said that every boat that entered our waters was a policy failure. We were confronted with a huge problem, but we fixed it. Courtesy of the coalition, Labor had a solution to people smuggling but deliberately and wilfully unravelled it as a sop to those who now seem to have a very, very serious case of laryngitis. Remember Mr Burnside QC? He was on the TV every night ranting and raving against the inhumane Howard government. Sure, he has come out against the Rudd government—only because he was forced to—but he has been very subdued, very quiet and without the degree of repetition and salivating he had during the term of the Howard government.

Allow me to refer to an Australian Financial Review commentator, who said this about the Howard policies on 1 September 2001:

John Howard has gone bottom fishing for the redneck vote … And at what cost to morality and the national interest?

This was because of our policies on border protection. Interestingly enough, the same commentator on 27 October—just a few days ago—wrote this:

It is easy to criticise Kevin Rudd for pursuing what he calls “the most hardline measures necessary” to deal with asylum-seekers. But nobody seems to be offering practical political alternatives to Rudd’s still evolving solution.

What sick, sympathetic and, some might even say, sycophantic writing and what hypocrisy and duplicity. If Mr Howard does something that is hardline, he is after the redneck vote. But if Mr Rudd allegedly does it—and he is not doing it, I might add; he is just saying he is doing it—the same commentator comes out and says we have to be sympathetic and understanding of Mr Rudd’s position. We are told by this commentator that Mr Rudd has a solution but that it is an evolving solution. If so, it has been evolving for a long, long time. In fact, some would say it has been devolving.

I also recall Senator Faulkner’s pious additional comments to a Senate report in 2002 condemning our involvement with Indonesia in the battle against people smuggling. Senator Faulkner is now strangely quiet on the issue. But one thing Labor has done is to appoint an ambassador for people-smuggling issues. I have a high regard for the gentleman who holds that position. During Senate estimates recently I asked whether in his travels through the region our ambassador had asked the reason for the upsurge. Do you know what he answered? No, he had not. I do not blame him for not asking the question, because as the very well-trained individual that he is he knows not to ask questions to which you do not want certain answers.

I say to everybody in Australia: if you are serious about border protection and you are dealing with a flood of people coming into your country and you are trying to solve the problem, wouldn’t one of the first and fundamental questions be, ‘Why is it happening?’ If you do not know why it is happening, how can you develop a solution? But Labor wilfully go around the region saying, ‘We’re not sure what is causing the problem but chances are it is an international problem.’ This is Mr Rudd’s mantra. Each and every time there is a problem, it is never his problem; it is always an international problem or somebody else’s fault. Labor are too scared to ask what is causing the problem. They do not want to know the facts.

Why is Labor flip-flopping on this important issue of border protection? There are the views of the member for Melbourne Ports who says that we should be bringing the people on the Oceanic Viking to Australia. There are the views of the member for Fowler, there are the views of the member for Wills, there are the views of the National Secretary of Australian Workers Union—and the list goes on. Those people who are the reason and the cause for Labor’s soft border protection policy are now saying what all of us feared—that they aren’t soft on border protection and they want the mantra to be matched by action. Mr Rudd, being so poll driven as he is, knows that the Australian people do not want that to occur, so he is betwixt and between. He says he is taking a hard line whilst changing all the policies behind the scenes—which has now led to this flood of illegal entrants.

Let me talk about another example of the duplicity in this debate—the use of the term ‘illegal entrants’. When my good friend and colleague Senator Cash used the term ‘illegal entrants’ during question time, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Evans, frothed at the mouth condemning Senator Cash for using deliberately provocative language. When asked the next day whether any minister in the Labor government had used similar language, he refused to answer. Although the words of the Prime Minister as spoken on the Mark Colvin program on ABC radio on 20 October were quoted to Senator Evans, he was unable to bring himself to tell us whether he similarly condemned the use of that language when spoken by the Prime Minister.

Why do I raise this issue? Because I say to the journalists in this place, especially some of the female ones: just imagine if Mr Philip Ruddock attacked a female Labor backbencher in that way for using language that Prime Minister Howard had adopted. You could see the keyboards rattling away with righteous indignation, with columns being written that the Liberal Party was full of misogynists, and how dare they—what duplicity! But, of course, when a left-wing leader of the ALP in this place like Senator Evans does that, it just goes through to the keeper; it is not worthy of mention in any of those columns. That is one of the great difficulties we have in this country.

While some journalists are not picking up on this duplicity, the Australian people are. Mr Rudd says he has never been a socialist but then says he is a Christian socialist. He is the man who says that he is an economic conservative but then condemns the markets. He is the man who is Mr Humane one nanosecond and then Mr Tough the next nanosecond, depending on what or whom he is talking to or about. One thing we have never accused Mr Rudd of being is Mr Consistency—unless you say inconsistency is his form of consistency. It is the sending of mixed messages, of trying to walk both sides of the street, that has caused this huge dilemma and has made Australia a laughing stock in Indonesia and, indeed, around the world. He is now realising that you cannot walk both sides of the street. The policies of Mr Ruddock that he condemned, and condemned so loudly, are now looking very good both from a border protection point of view and from a humane point of view.

But I always wondered why Mr Rudd was called Mr Rudd. I think I now know: because he is only half the name and half the man of Mr Ruddock. Mr Ruddock had the policies for this nation and I would invite Mr Rudd to adopt them.

Senator McEwen interjecting—

Senator ABETZ —He knows that the policies of Mr Ruddock worked. Senator McEwen foolishly interjects about throwing children overboard. Let’s just quickly revisit that issue, because I am more than happy to do so. Were children in the water? Yes. Did they have to be saved by Australian naval personnel? Yes. How did they get into the water? Strangely silent. It would seem on the evidence that the boat was deliberately sunk out from underneath them. Can I ask you: if in 2004 we had gone to the election saying the children were not thrown into the water but the illegal entrants deliberately sunk the boat out from underneath the children, do you think that would have changed one single vote in this country? Absolutely not.

But what is even worse is deliberately changing the policy, Senator McEwen, in a way which gives comfort to the people smugglers. That is what has allowed them to ply their trade again. The people smugglers existed in the Hawke-Keating era, they existed during the Howard era and they exist in the Rudd era. The question is: why couldn’t the people smugglers ply their trade towards the latter years of the Howard government? There is a very simple reason.

Senator McEwen interjecting—

Senator ABETZ —Senator McEwen says they did. They did, but not to Australia, did they? They did not come to Australia. We stopped the boats. We stopped the criminal behaviour of the people smugglers, and how many people have suffered as a result of people smuggling? By saying, ‘We are not open for business to people smugglers,’ we saved, without doubt, many, many lives.

Can I also say that the illegal entrants who have come into Australia—and, courtesy of the changed Rudd policies, we have had over 2,000 of them in the last year—have displaced 2,000 people who Australia would have taken under the orderly United Nations refugee program. When these left-wing people try to tell me that there is no queue for refugees, I simply invite them to talk to the Sudanese who are in this country. They were processed and recognised by the United Nations as refugees. They waited for one year, two years, three years—some of them up to 15 years. Try and tell them there is no queue and that we should somehow give precedence to those that have the financial capacity to engage people smugglers. Where is the social justice in that? ‘Because you are stuck in Africa without a red cent to your name and you can’t afford a people smuggler, you can keep rotting in those refugee camps while people with the financial wherewithal are able to come to Australia courtesy of people smuggling.’ Is that justice? Is that fairness? Is that humane?

Indeed, this is the one area where the Labor Party does not seem to preach its politics of envy. All of a sudden, this is one area where they actually support the rich and those who can buy favours. Everywhere else they condemn it outright but in this unique little area, this little niche, they say, ‘If you’ve got the money, if you can buy criminals to do a favour for you, you will get precedence.’ We on the coalition side are very comfortable in saying that that is not justice; that it is inhumane. We on this side of the chamber will continue to have a very strong policy of protecting our borders.

The simple fact is that a signal is being sent out by the handling of this current boatload of illegal boat people, and it is this: that you do not now even have to reach Ashmore Reef, nor Christmas Island, to invoke the process of rescue by Australian authorities. It is now possible to contact advocates in Australia by satellite phone and claim a crisis in the zone in the expectation that Australian naval assets will come to the rescue. That is what the Labor Party are now presiding over.

Senator Ronaldson —What a disgrace.

Senator ABETZ —Senator Ronaldson, you are right. It is a disgrace, but you know what? We will not be allowed to say that in our newsletters because of the Labor Party’s censorship laws. But, coming back to the issues at hand, Ms Gillard told us that every boat that came into Australian waters was a policy failure. As I said earlier, she was right. Labor now have not one or two boats but 45 boats to their name. If one boat is a policy failure, what is 45? A policy success, no doubt! It is policy failure multiplied. It is policy failure personified—personified in Mr Rudd, who is presiding over this debacle. Labor stands condemned, and we will continue to support strong border protection policies. (Time expired)