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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5539

Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (12:45): I will continue my remarks on this week's developments for improving Australia's border protection, and in particular my visit in 2002 to both Manus Island and Nauru in the presence of the now Prime Minister.

I am staggered that despite having been and seen the success of offshore processing herself in 2002, the Prime Minister and her government have been slow, reckless and belligerent in returning to policies that have clearly worked. A decade ago this Prime Minister saw for herself the success of these policies when she visited Manus Island and Nauru. Her views of what she saw are for every Australian to see. The Age newspaper reported on 6 February 2002:

On Sunday, Ruddock and his Labor counterpart, Julia Gillard, visited the base, free of any prying media.

Yesterday, both were united in their praise of the facility. To the surprise of some of her colleagues, Gillard went out of her way to declare that she saw nothing wrong with how things were operating.

On the same day the Canberra Times stated:

She said people had shelter, health care, adequate food, …

Not surprisingly, she commented that conditions were tough and that there needed to be more attention to the adequacy of schooling for children. So how can the Prime Minister not feel deeply, deeply ashamed that 10 years ago she witnessed firsthand a policy setting that she has now agreed to endorse?

The tardiness of her handling of this issue has come at considerable cost: not just the $4.7 billion cost to the Australian taxpayer but the 22,000 illegal boat arrivals, the almost 400 illegal boats and, most tragically, with the loss of almost 1,000 lives at sea. After a catastrophic policy failure only now has the Prime Minister finally seen a better path—a path that was not hidden from her, but one that she saw firsthand for herself 10 years ago in 2002 when she visited Manus Island and Nauru.

I am afraid to say that the newsletter of the Socialist Left of February 2002 was prophetic in its commentary on Labor's border protection policies. It said, 'Labor's indecision on the border protection bill exposed a policy-on-the-run approach and a lack of leadership. A sorrier story of policy failure mixed with political self-preservation we have not ever seen.'

This legislation is not perfect, nor is it a complete remedy for Australia's border protection dilemma, but it is a necessary first step. The next steps must be the imposition of temporary protection visas and turning back the boats when it is safe to do so.