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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7674

Senator FURNER (5:14 PM) —I rise today to speak about this outrageous motion presented by Senator Parry. First of all, may I say that people smuggling is not just a problem for the nation of Australia. Despite Senator Abetz’s view that it is something attuned to or associated with Australia only, it is a global problem. To blame a government for increased levels of people smuggling is ridiculous when it is clearly global issues that bring these people to our borders. Regardless of the policies of Australian governments, Liberal and Labor, asylum seekers will continue to seek refuge here, just as they have each and every one of the past 20-plus years. Let us not forget that Australia has one of the largest sea surrounds in the world, with a coastline of 59,736 kilometres. I would also like to point out from the onset that the Rudd government takes border security very seriously, and for the opposition to question that is nothing but political sabotage—not to mention the fact that the opposition have not yet suggested one, single alternative course of action. It is interesting to note that the opposition have been arguing with the government for weeks on this issue and have criticised the government in this house in the media. Now we have this motion from Senator Parry which reinforces what we already know—that the opposition have no policy and so will use any means to discredit the government to hide that fact.

Let me first refer to the Sky News interview with Mr Ruddock on 23 October 2009. The journalist asked, ‘What would the opposition do differently to change the nature of things at the moment?’ Ruddock said, ‘I’ve advised all my colleagues that that’s the question they shouldn’t answer.’ The journalist then said, ‘But why not?’ And Ruddock answered, ‘Because we’re not the government.’

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marshall)—Senator Furner, you need to refer to members in the other place by their full name.

Senator FURNER —Okay. Mr Ruddock.

Senator Ferguson —The Member for Berowra.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Mr Ruddock is fine, thank you.

Senator FURNER —So, because the opposition are not in power, they should not indicate what they would do differently. And because the opposition are not in power they should not bring forward their own policies or alternative solutions. Why did he answer like that? Because they have no policy. It is my understanding that political parties generally stand for something and have policy to back up their beliefs. Is the coalition afraid the government will steal their policy? No. I believe the real reason the coalition have not come up with one, single alternative is that they simply do not have one.

Here is another interesting comment, from a doorstop interview on 22 October. When asked, ‘What would you actually do?’ Mr Turnbull simply answered, ‘Well, what I would do is not have a policy that has comprehensively failed.’ It makes me wonder whether, when asked at the next election what the coalition’s policy on border protection is, the answer will be, ‘Anything but the ALP’s.’ The opposition simply have no substance to their arguments, to these questions and even to their motions, including this one. You cannot criticise policy when you have no other suggestions or alternatives.

Interestingly enough, Mr Ruddock, the man responsible for the children overboard scandal, is now advising coalition leaders. On 14 October 2009, the Sydney Morning Herald reported:

The Herald has learnt that the former immigration minister Philip Ruddock is taking part in the development of the Coalition’s policy on the matter. He has been working with a former cabinet colleague, Kevin Andrews, who is in charge of the process. He is also understood to have been advising Malcolm Turnbull.

How can this government take the opposition seriously when you have the man responsible for creating such an untruth, and who caused so much grief and pain, advising the opposition leader on border security—a portfolio he failed in in the first place?

This next one is my personal favourite, however. During an interview with 2SM on 29 October 2009, Dr Sharman Stone was asked: ‘The opposition has been pretty long on criticism but short on answers. If you were the Prime Minister, how would you solve it?’ In her response, she says, ‘Well, we wouldn’t have had this problem.’ It is good to know that if the opposition were in power then all global issues would cease to exist, therefore stopping any future asylum seekers and refugees entering our waters. This is essentially what Dr Stone is suggesting: that there would be no problems in border security because—mysteriously enough—there would be no global issues causing people to seek asylum.

Up until now the opposition have not had a single problem with this government’s border protection policy. The opposition did not oppose the government when we abolished temporary protection visas in August 2008. The opposition never opposed our changes to the Pacific solution announced in December 2007. In late 2008, the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Migration released a report entitled Immigration detention in Australia: A new beginningc riteria for release from immigration detention saying:

The committee recommends that, as a priority, the Australian Government introduce amendments to the Migration Act 1958 to enshrine in legislation the reforms to immigration detention policy announced by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

Dr Sharman Stone, a member of that committee, said on Radio 2SM on 1 December, ‘Labor is very much echoing what we did’. When asked, on Sky News, if she welcomed the report’s recommendations to finetune the system, Dr Stone said, ‘Yes, I do.’ Then, on 16 April in the Australian, Dr Stone ruled out the reopening of the offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island:

We no longer have that requirement because we’ve got an alternative place which is in our excised migration zone, Christmas Island.

That was her response.

As far as the Rudd Government is concerned, if people show up on our borders, it indicates an issue. It indicates a global issue and as a government we do not apologise for acting swiftly; nor do we apologise for being upfront with providing the public with updates on this matter. I believe the opposition would have done the same had they been in power. I would like to set the record straight once and for all on how the 78 people on board the Oceanic Viking came to be there. Put simply, this case was a rescue. A vessel on the high seas carrying 78 people became distressed. Under our safety of life at sea obligations, an Australian vessel, the Oceanic Viking, had no choice but to rescue these people from a vessel that was not seaworthy. If the opposition are now suggesting we should not have rescued these 78 people, I would ask them to reflect on the gravity of that suggestion. Safety of life at sea obligations exist for the benefit of everyone, including Australians, who find themselves in danger on the high seas. We honoured those obligations in rescuing these people and we continue to honour them by disembarking these 78 people at a port nominated for disembarkation by the Indonesian authorities.

I would like to reflect on Senator Parry’s four points and mention a few things of interest. Senator Parry believes: (a) that there is increased activity in illegal people smuggling in Australia’s region; (b) that there is an increased number of unlawful arrivals who have taken perilous journeys; (c) that there has been a diversion of border protection agencies and resources; and (d) that security and biosecurity risks have increased.

I would like to put on record that this government has committed more assets to patrolling our borders than the previous Howard government. In 2008-09, both the total number of flying hours undertaken by aircraft and the total number of sea days undertaken by vessels conducting surveillance in our northern waters under the control of Customs and Border Protection Command was greater than in the previous year. The number of sea-patrolling days in 2008-09 was 5,921. That is more than 16 per cent greater than in 2007-08, over 27 per cent greater than in 2006-07 and 25 per cent greater than in 2005-06.

This government has a better record on interceptions. Since it came to office, this government has intercepted 98 per cent of all SIEVs before they reached the mainland. Under this government, only two per cent—one out of 44—of suspected illegal entry vessels have reached Australia’s mainland or mainland harbours. In the period of the Howard government, 11 per cent of the 244 suspected illegal entry vessels reached Australia’s mainland or mainland harbours. The Rudd government has intercepted 98 per cent of people, with the previous Howard government’s interception rate being 89 per cent. How then, Senator Parry, has there been an increase in the amount of illegal people smuggling and in the number of unlawful arrivals? Where is the evidence that supports this misleading motion?

Let us look at the previous government’s track record on immigration. An Australian citizen called Cornelia Rau was wrongfully detained. Vivian Solon was unlawfully deported. Tony Tran, the husband of an Australian citizen, was wrongfully detained for five years and assaulted while in detention. Children were held in immigration detention centres. In June 2003, there were 95 children in immigration detention centres and, as late as April 2005, there were 69 children held in detention centres. The Commonwealth Ombudsman identified 247 cases where people were detained who were not unlawful.

I would like to quickly reflect on the situation at Christmas Island. Asylum seekers receive legal advice and assistance, access to independent review of unfavourable decisions and external scrutiny by the Immigration Ombudsman. While there is no statutory obligation to process asylum claims on Christmas Island within a particular time frame, the vast majority of claims are being dealt with in about 100 days. It is only right that we should treat people who seek our protection humanely and it is right that we meet our international obligations under the UN refugee convention.

People found to be refugees will generally be granted Australia’s protection. If they are found not to be owed Australia’s protection, they will be returned. The AHRC’s report recognises the efforts being put into the offshore processing of asylum seekers on Christmas Island and reflects positively on the quality of care and services provided to clients on Christmas Island. Healthcare arrangements and support are commensurate with those available to the broader Australian community. The government continues to work with other agencies to ensure continuous improvements to processing and to the quality of care provided to our clients on Christmas Island.

Under the Rudd government, people detained on Christmas Island are provided with independent advice and assistance during the refugee assessment process. Those people found not to be owed protection through the process have access to an independent interview and review of the decision. The Commonwealth Ombudsman will scrutinise the arrangements.

Asylum seekers have more humanitarian rights now than they ever did under the Howard government. Under the Howard government, many people were left to languish in detention for years on end without review and with no resolution of their cases in sight. I truly believe that, given the opposition’s track record on border security, they should be the last ones to lecture this government on how to handle it.

Let us go back six years to Saturday, 25 August 2001—back to when Australia was still shaping itself as a model of international citizenship, back to when we thought that the rise of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in the late 1990s was just a racial hiccup, back to when the Howard government was facing re-election and was in serious trouble in the polls. I reflect on a comment that Senator Abetz made about claims the then Prime Minister was chasing redneck votes. I can remember fronting up to the booths in the 2001 election, when the opposition was using scaremongering tactics, to find bunting claiming that they would decide who was to come to this country and under what terms. That, in my view, was certainly redneck vote chasing.

Everything changed on Sunday, 26 August 2001, just 24 hours later, when Norwegian freighter MV Tampa sailed to the aid of 438 people whose boat had sunk in international waters en route to Australia. After the successful rescue of what were mostly shocked Afghans fleeing the Taliban, Captain Arne Rinnan headed for the nearest landing port, Christmas Island, and radioed for medical help. Rather than providing aid, for nine days the Howard government left those people sitting on the decks of the Tampa. The Tampa was eventually diverted to Nauru as part of the government’s newly enshrined Pacific solution, prompting then Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Philip Ruddock, to say as some sort of defence for his government’s avoidance of its international responsibilities that the authors of the international refugee convention would not want the convention seen as ‘the enabling tool for organised crime’. Two weeks after the Tampa incident, two hijacked planes, as we know, flew into the World Trade Centre in New York. The Prime Minister seized upon that opportunity and turned border protection into a national security issue. Rather than work with a firm but compassionate government to find solutions, the opposition wants to pull the same race card out of its rear pocket and play it at the tables of bigotry.

I have developed an extensive network of friends from Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam, China, Taiwan and Lebanon, to name just a few. All of these Australian citizens appreciate our democracy, our beauty and our multicultural society, all of which we all cherish. Many, if not all, of these citizens migrated to this country to find a better life, building successful careers and adding to our communities. Many of these citizens understand the policies and compassion shown by the Rudd government when it comes to migration matters. They realise the desire of many of our neighbours abroad to reach our shores and prosper in our rich and diverse multicultural communities. However, they all also understand that we cannot admit everyone simply on the basis that they wish to come to our shores.

In closing, I ask Senator Parry two simple questions that not one of his colleagues has been able to answer. Firstly, would you authorise HMAS Armidale and the Oceanic Viking to rescue these people? Secondly, would you have directed the Oceanic Viking to disembark these people in Indonesia? This government is getting on with the job. It is doing what the opposition originally had no problem with. We are protecting Australia’s borders while protecting the humanitarian rights of asylum seekers. This is more than the Howard government ever did for this nation. I urge the opposition to work constructively with the government in finding humane solutions to these issues rather than moving motions which are nothing less than bogus, scurrilous attempts to use desperate asylum seekers in a race debate.