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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8574

Senator CAMERON (4:31 PM) —I am very pleased to participate in this debate. I totally reject the proposition that the Rudd government has failed on immigration policy. We need to put the coalition’s assertions in context. We need to understand the politics of what the coalition are trying to do here and we need to expose why immigration and asylum seekers have been the focus of the coalition over the last few weeks. What is happening is that the coalition are trying to make up for their own incapacities and their own failures. This is a vain, futile and desperate attempt to divert attention from their failures, their weaknesses and the disintegration of the colation forces in this country as an effective opposition.

The coalition have demonstrated a clear failure of policy. There is a failure of leadership in the coalition. The member for Wentworth, the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, is under constant siege from many of the opposition senators sitting across this chamber. And that has meant that his leadership is a failed leadership—a leadership that is delivering nothing for this country, because we have a coalition that is no more than a disorganised rabble.

There is a failure of ideas. There are no ideas coming from the opposition as to what is required to develop a proper future for this country. There is a failure of compassion when it comes to the issue of refugees. There is a failure to properly analyse the issues that are involved in refugees seeking asylum within Australia. And on this basis we have a coalition that is failing the nation. They have a weak leadership, they are divided and disorganised, they are at each other’s throats and they are relying on a fear and smear campaign.

They have no policies and no ideas; they simply rely on smear and fear. And we see the smear and fear campaign in their approach to climate change. It is a totally disorganised and divided opposition on climate change. They have no policy and no ideas on industrial relations, where they meekly gave up on the jewel in the crown of the previous government: Work Choices. When you are weak you fail and you end up with policies like Work Choices. On the issue of refugees, we had children overboard and children behind razor wire. As a government, we are not going to accept that proposition.

On health insurance, again, the opposition rely on smear and fear. They argue that the industry would collapse if you gave low-paid workers a fair go on health insurance. On the economic stimulus package the fear campaign is on government debt, when we have the lowest debt of all the major advanced countries. What was the opposition’s position on the global financial crisis? It was to wait and see: to do nothing. And when the Labor government acted on that issue we were the only advanced economy to register positive economic growth during that financial crisis. We have the second lowest unemployment rate of major advanced economies. We had the lowest budget deficit of major advanced economies. And, as I said, we have the lowest debt of advanced economies—13.8 per cent of GDP by 2013-14. Ours is the only advanced economy not to go into recession, and without the stimulus package the government introduced, one million more workers would have been unemployed.

Yet what does the opposition do? The opposition, with no policy and no ideas, resorts to what we have seen coming out of Senator Ronaldson’s office, an email headlined, ‘Digging dirt’. It calls on media advisers in the coalition to concentrate on quirky stories which draw the attention of journalists rather than policy discussions. ‘Quirky stories’: that is what we have from the opposition. Quirky stories, but no policy; quirky stories, but no ideas. What we saw was this from Senator Ronaldson’s office:

You don’t get news stories by trying to change perceptions, you get them by reinforcing stereotypes.

That is what the email from Peter Phelps, media adviser to Senator Michael Ronaldson, said.

Reinforcing stereotypes is what the coalition is very good at: stereotypes of refugees, stereotypes of trade unionists and stereotypes of the poor in this country. That is the form of the opposition. They go on to say:

Stories worth pursuing should cover: Fat cat public servants not caring about taxpayers, pollies with snouts in the trough, special interest groups getting undeserved handouts from tax taken from hard-working Aussies, a favoured pro-Labor contractor who seems to be getting all the work for a particular job etc.

This is what we are seeing in relation to immigration and refugees. The argument is that they should look for a quirky story and not bother about policy. Worry about the truth or worry if it is about trying to stereotype refugees or asylum seekers? They are being told to do the Ronaldson job, which is to stereotype refugees—look for the quirky story and do not develop proper policy. That is what the opposition is about.

Labor are determined to expose the hypocrisy of the coalition regarding these issues. We will continue to expose the weakness of this opposition, who do not have any ideas or policy. We will continue to expose the divisions within the opposition. This is an opposition that is not ready to be a real alternative government in this country. They have no compassion, no ideas and no economic policies. They want to smear and to use fear. That is the approach from the opposition in this country. We will expose the smear and fear.

There is a debate within the coalition on this issue of asylum seekers and immigration. There are two arguments being made. These arguments were clearly identified in the Australian when Kevin Andrews, on 16 October, published an opinion piece in which he said:

Hardly a week goes by without another boatload of people arriving in Australian waters ... 1800 people have unlawfully been smuggled to Australia in the past 12 months.

Let us have a look at the Howard government’s record in similar circumstances to those that this government is facing.

Severe social dislocation and wars taking place in some of our neighbours. In Iraq we had the war and in Afghanistan we had the Taliban insurgency. During the period of 1999 to 2001, 12,000 refugees sought help from the Australian government; 12,000 came to the shores of this country. Yet Kevin Andrews simply calls this mass illegal immigration. Kevin Andrews talks about an open door policy towards people smugglers. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no open door policy for people smugglers. Anyone who knows anything about what is happening knows that the Labor government has established a dedicated border protection committee of cabinet to deal with these issues. We have created a single point of accountability for matters relating to the prevention of maritime people smuggling. We have continued regional engagement and cooperation, including reinvigorating the Bali process at ministerial level. We have increased maritime surveillance and patrolling by Border Protection Command. We have successfully prosecuted people smugglers and we have successfully extradited alleged people smugglers.

Compare that to the rhetoric that you have heard from the opposition today, both in question time and in this debate before the chamber. There is no substance to it; there is no policy. It is all about smear and fear. That is the position that this coalition adopts. There is absolutely no way that you could argue that the Labor government does not have strong border security provisions and is not dealing with the issue of illegal immigration seriously.

The debate that is going on within the coalition is epitomised by that of Petro Georgiou, who in a response to the Kevin Andrews opinion piece said this:

Unless we are very careful, we are about to engage in a corrosive debate about people seeking refuge in our country. The portents are there. Political skirmishing is intensifying about who is tough, tougher or toughest on border protection. The term ‘illegal immigrant’ is being bandied about. Refugees are being labelled ‘back-door’ immigrants. Anecdotes about asylum seekers not looking genuine are being recounted. Unsubstantiated assertions about the number in asylum seeker ‘‘pipelines’’ are being given currency.

He goes on:

Uninvited refugees may offend a sense of order, but escaping persecution is not always an orderly business. The circumstances under which asylum seekers travel and arrive can unsettle societies that are used to order and control, and can obscure a sense of perspective.

This Liberal backbencher finishes up by saying:

The current bout of chest thumping, of assertions of toughness and accusations of weakness undermine all this. Responsible leadership should not be about using vulnerable people as a political football. The arrival of a small number of people fleeing persecution requires an evidence-based and humane response, not a macho slanging match. We have been there before. It was a dark chapter in our history. We should not turn the page back to it.

When was this dark chapter in history? It was under the Howard government. I think we would do well to look at what Petro Georgiou is saying, because you see the results of what is happening in the UK when this debate gets used as smear and fear by political parties. You see the rise of the British National Party who want to send every immigrant home, who want to use immigration as a fear campaign against working-class people within the UK. That is what you are opening up. That is what the member for Kooyong is actually indicating. (Time expired)