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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7678


Senator FERGUSON (5:30 PM) —Far be it from me to offer Senator Furner advice, but I suggest you get a new speech writer. In the 17½ years that I have been in this place, one of the proudest things about this country has been the fact that for all of that time we have been able to maintain an orderly migration program that is the envy of the rest of the world. I have been to other countries where migration programs are not nearly as controlled or orderly, and they envy Australia. They say, ‘If only we’d taken the tough decisions that you made, we might be in a far better position ourselves.’

Senator Furner says the motion moved by Senator Parry on border protection is an ‘outrageous motion’. That is how he started off his speech. This is a motion to debate what is probably one of the most important issues that is facing this government today. It is an issue they simply do not know how to control. Senator Furner says that boat arrivals are a global issue. As far as Australia is concerned, boat arrivals are an Australian issue. For years—from the previous Labor government prior to 1996, throughout the years of the Howard government and now into the new Labor government—boat arrivals, in cyclical terms, have always been a problem that can arise. It is how you deal with the problem after it arises that really counts. We have heard Senator Furner say we ‘have no policy’. In fact we do have a policy: orderly migration. I thought it was one that the Labor Party supported as well.

Orderly migration allows us to take refugees into Australia. We have a quota of refugees. There are, as we have heard today, millions of refugees around the world who would love to come to Australia. We cannot take them all—it is impossible—although they see Australia as a very attractive destination. Like others on this side of the chamber, I do not see why people who can afford to pay people smugglers—to buy their way into Australia—should take the place of genuine refugees who do not have the money to purchase a ride on a ship to come to Australia via a people smuggler. That is why this government is not showing the right attitude and not sending the right signals out to people smugglers.

Senator McEwen in her speech earlier—I happened to be in the chair when she made her speech—started off by saying that the opposition had made an issue of border protection on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and that we were wasting the time of the Senate. I tell her that the Australian people do not think we are wasting time raising the issue of border protection. The Australian population are very concerned about our border protection issues, and it has been debated day after day because it is so important. Senator McEwen also said that people should be able to seek a better life for themselves and their families. Of course people should be able to seek a better life for themselves and their families, but they should do it through the proper channels. We have an orderly migration program. We take in 13,000 refugees, so those people who wish to come here to seek a better life should go through the orderly migration program that has been supported by Labor governments and Liberal governments in the past. It is only this Labor government that has gone soft on border protection, encouraging people to come to Australia unauthorised.

Senator McEwen also said that we should not be raising the issue of biosecurity risk. Only an urban dweller would say that we should dismiss the risk of biosecurity. I can tell you that we have spent years and years taking a bipartisan approach to making sure that, as far as biosecurity is concerned, we keep Australia the way it is: free from many diseases, particularly animal diseases. So we have the situation where I think that biosecurity is a very important issue, if not in bringing in human diseases than certainly with regard to animal diseases and other things that may be brought into Australia under the guise of biosecurity.

I read from a media statement that was made by Julia Gillard on 23 April 2003. It is headed ‘Another boat on the way, another policy failure’. It says:

Reports today that yet another boat of Vietnamese asylum seekers is on its way to Australia is a stark reminder that the Howard Government policy is not working. This is the second unconfirmed report in two days of a boat carrying Vietnamese asylum seekers heading to Australia. The situation highlights, once again, the failure of the Howard Government to conclude an agreement with Indonesia on people smuggling.

A people smuggling agreement would ensure a strong working relationship between both governments, enabling the sharing of accurate and timely information on people smuggling …

She then goes on:

The situation also highlights the need for a Coastguard to protect our borders. Only Labor will establish a Coastguard - a cop on the beat 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Labor believes Coastguard - a truly effective maritime police - should carry out surveillance and interception of any asylum seeker boats heading toward Australia.

The Howard Government has said that a Coastguard is not needed because there are no more boats coming. They should now recognise the folly of that statement.

My question to those opposite is: where is this coastguard? Your policy at the last election was to establish a coastguard. Why the change?


Senator Ronaldson —They’ve got McHale’s Navy!


Senator FERGUSON —Yes, they’ve got McHale’s Navy all right! Do you know who made that press statement? None other than the then shadow minister for population and immigration and now Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. If Ms Gillard was so sure that we needed a coastguard—and at the time of the last election the Labor Party were still saying it was their policy to have a coastguard—where is it? What has happened to the coastguard which you said would be the way that we could fix all the problems that we have in relation to boat people arriving or the surveillance of our coastline and maritime patrols? This is an example of the Labor Party saying one thing in opposition and then coming into government and doing another thing. You promised the people a coastguard in opposition. It is yet to be seen.

One of the reasons that I wanted to talk about boat people coming is that members opposite have talked about the numbers of people that arrived in Australia by boat during that dreadful period between 1999 and 2002 when we had so many people in detention. The Howard government put in place strong border protection policies, and what happened? In 2002, there were 19 boats and 3,039 people. The following year, there were zero. It went from 3,000 unauthorised arrivals to zero. The next year, when Ms Gillard made her press statement about more boats arriving, we actually had three boats, with 82 people. What happened the year after that? There were zero. And yet you say that the Howard policy did not work because of all the people that came in from 1999 to 2002. The policies and structures that were put in place to discourage people from coming to our shores were as successful as they could possibly be, reducing the numbers that came into Australia to absolutely zero.

It would not hurt the government of the day to look back at those policies that were successful in making sure that unauthorised arrivals did not come to Australia. If they did that, we might find that there was some deterrent to people smugglers trying to get people into Australia for significantly large sums of money.

The Hon. Con Sciacca, the then shadow minister for immigration, back in 1998-99 said:

… the Government must now view the flood of illegal immigrants as a major crisis and a possible threat to national security …

Steve Cook, the Chief of Mission for the International Organisation for Migration in Indonesia, in December last year said:

People smugglers have clearly noted that there has been a change in policy and they’re testing the envelope. Up until about a year ago there was very little people smuggling activity. Over the last year there’s been a considerable kick-up. … There are rumours of a lot of organizing going on.

The most telling statement was made by a 31-year-old Iraqi by the name of Samer, who said:

I know Kevin Rudd is the new PM. I know about him. He has tried to get more immigrants. I have heard if someone arrives it is easy. They have camps, good service and if someone arrives they give us a limited visa and after three years you become an Australian citizen.

The government members need not try and get the message through to us that they have not eased up on their border protection, that their policies are not recognised overseas, by those that want to come to Australia, as making Australia now a much easier target than it has been for a long, long time.

The UNHCR regional representative, Richard Towle, in October this year said:

I think perceptions of policy can certainly play a role in people smuggling.

And you have heard what the Iraqi gentleman said. Mr Towle went on:

They have a product that they need to market, and to show that Australia is a place where refugees can get fair and effective refugee protection is something that is understood.

It is understood by those who want to perceive that policy as being much weaker. It is time the government took stock of the current situation. I heard Senator Furner going on and on about historical events, all of which occurred when he was not here. He has only read about them. He does not understand them. He mentioned the ‘children overboard’ scandal. I happened to be on the inquiry into the ‘children overboard’ scandal. I urge Senator Furner to read the report of the committee and see what really did happen, because popular myth gives a very one-sided view of what happened in that particular event. In fact, the inquiry was set up in the first place to try and find some excuse for the Labor Party’s appalling performance in the 2001 election rather than to really get to the truth.

I was on that committee and heard and read of a report of the captain of the Adelaide actually saying, ‘They’re throwing kids overboard.’ That has developed through the mists of time, so now we have this continual line by the Labor Party about a ‘children overboard’ scandal. It is not Senator Furner’s fault that he is ignorant of the facts. He was not here at the time. Perhaps he only believes what he reads and only believes the commentary that is made by other people—people like Tony Kevin and others who wanted to drag it out further and have an investigation into SIEV36, as though that was something that the Australian government was responsible for. If he had been around at the time, he might realise exactly what did take place.

He also mentioned that these 78 people were rescued at sea. You are only in danger at sea if your boat is likely to sink. In the case of this particular vessel there have been a lot of allegations made—none of which have been confirmed yet. But one of the allegations is that those on board informed the Australian maritime authorities by phone of what they were intending to do with their vessel. That does not sound like a ship in distress to me. That sounds like someone planning to do something so that the Australian authorities would have to come to their rescue and that would make it easier for them to get to Australia. Why would they ring the Australian authorities? They were much closer to Indonesia’s territorial boundaries. Why would they not ring the Indonesian authorities rather than the Australian authorities? Before Senator Furner reads a great diatribe that has been prepared word for word on things that he has read about or been fed by other people he ought to perhaps have a go at trying to find out the real details behind exactly what is happening.

Of course, we now have the problem that the seasons are changing. We are about to move into the cyclone season. The real danger will occur if these people smugglers try to get people to Australia when they are in much more danger of being affected by the weather to the north of Australia. We all know the cyclone season goes for some time. It could put these people at even greater risk if they intend to put themselves in the situation that the 78 people on the Oceanic Viking find themselves in at present. Of course these are not people that were island hopping through Indonesia to try to get to Australia—they sailed directly from Sri Lanka to try to make their way through to Australia.

That is where the Rudd government, the Labor government of those opposite, have to really make sure that they do something about the policies that they are currently developing, because they are the government. It is all very well for Senator Furner and others to say, ‘What would you do?’ In fact from opposition we cannot do anything. We are not the government. It is the government’s responsibility and they are the only ones that can do anything about it. It is sad for me to see that the Prime Minister of the day has no solution in Indonesia or anywhere else to the border protection policy chaos that has been created by the Rudd government’s changes to immigration policy. There has been the dismantling of the Pacific solution, the abolition of temporary protection visas, the significant winding back of immigration detention policy, the abolition of detention debt, the abolition of the 45-day rule and changes to the citizenship test to make it easier to get citizenship. Yet those members opposite would try to say that they have not softened their attitude towards those who want to come to Australia as unauthorised arrivals.

The coalition’s record on border protection speaks for itself. It is well known to the Australian people and it is well known to the people smugglers. That is why people smuggling and unlawful arrivals ceased in the mid-2000s, because they were aware of our record on border protection. We in this place have been asking questions of Senator Evans and the Prime Minister in the other place all this week about their role in the Oceanic Viking fiasco and they have just been washing their hands of it. We have even got to the stage today where Senator Abetz had to ask Senator Evans, ‘Who is the minister responsible?’ Nobody wants to know, nobody wants to own your border protection policy because in fact it is a policy failure. I would not want to own it either. But that is the reason that we are in this situation today.

Unless this government gets its act together, strengthens its border protection policy and makes some courageous decisions then we are going to see a continuance of people trying to find their way to Australia because they see we are a soft touch. As I said, right from the beginning I have been proud to be part of both a government and an opposition which has a very strong and orderly migration policy. That migration policy should not change. It should never be changed. We take our quota. We take the second-highest per head of population quota of refugees in the world. That is something we can be proud of, but it does not mean that we can have this willy-nilly dismantling of a strong border protection policy so that all the work that has put in over the last 15 or 20 years, which has been sensible work, is washed away because of a lack of concern by the current government in relation to people who will unlawfully arrive in this country.