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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5539

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (12:48): I welcome this move towards offshore processing. This has indeed been part of the coalition policy agenda for over 10 years. But what the government has done here this week is simply not enough. The government must implement all the coalition's proven measures in order to establish an effective policy against people smugglers and illegal boat arrivals.

What we have here today is a one-legged stool. It has the beginnings of a functional object, but without the other legs it will never be stable or effective. Unfortunately, that is something that this government is good at doing—not being stable or effective.

In contrast to the disarray of Labor I am proud to be part of a party that has consistently supported good border protection policy and opposed bad border protection policy. Year after year we have stood firm in pursuing the policies that worked in deterring the people smugglers' trade, but I cannot say the same for this Labor government. They have backflipped and flip-flopped to such an extent that I wonder whether they know which way is up these days. Let us just have a look at their track record.

In opposition, the Prime Minister supported turning back the boats. Three years ago she said that turning back the boats was a shallow slogan. Now she seems to support a virtual turnaround of the boats. In opposition, the Prime Minister talked of temporary protection visas as part of Labor's policy; now her government does not support temporary protection visas. The number of empty words from the Prime Minister and her colleagues is simply astounding. Those on the Labor side should indeed hang their heads in shame at the intransigence of the last four years.

Just look at the damage and tragedies that have occurred: over 22,000 illegal arrivals on 386 boats; an increase in the people-smuggling trade that puts people's lives at risk day after day after day; a $4.7 billion blowout—for those Australians who are actually listening to this, that is $4.7 billion of your taxpayer dollars being spent because of Labor's failures—and, tragically, there were hundreds—perhaps even thousands—of deaths at sea. In just four years, Labor has easily eclipsed the number of illegal boats and arrivals that came during the entire 12 years of the Howard government. Labor took a policy that was working and they created an enormous problem. They put their own ideological bent before the interests of this nation. Such a grievous error of judgement is simply unforgivable.

The travesty that Labor has allowed over the last four years is proof that this Prime Minister is not fit to hold the highest office in this land. Those on the other side of this chamber will eventually wake up to this fact, just as they have finally woken up to the fact that offshore processing on Nauru is important to stop the people smugglers' trade, just as they will wake up to the fact that temporary protection visas are a necessary element of stopping these boats and just as they will wake up to the fact that turning the boats back where it is safe to do so is also an essential part of effective border protection policy.

But we all know that Labor find it really difficult to recognise sensible policy. It is simply deplorable to deliberately trash established, sensible, effective policies in order to replace them with weak and futile attempts at ideological policy. We would not be here today trying to clean up this mess if the government had done the right thing and left the established policies as they were. We would not have had four years of an influx of boats, with thousands upon thousands of people paying people smugglers and risking their lives on a perilous journey, and we would not have had the hundreds—perhaps thousands—of deaths at sea.

However, finally the government have seen sense about how damaging their policy failures have been, with the flourishing of the people-smuggling trade and so many of these deaths. Yet, I regret to say, the delusional Greens party, championed by Senator Hanson-Young, continue with their cavalier attitude to protecting our borders and protecting asylum seekers from harm. This is perhaps best—or worst, I should say—summed up by a comment from Senator Hanson-Young just last year. When asked whether the Greens accepted any responsibility for the loss of life in the sinking of an asylum seeker boat off the coast of Java, she replied: 'Tragedies happen. Accidents happen.' That is hardly the compassionate view that the Greens constantly talk about. In this place I have seen Senator Hanson-Young cry her crocodile tears for the cameras while both she and her party blindly refuse to accept any responsibility for the dysfunctional nature of this country's border protection policies. They are just as culpable in this fiasco and this disaster as the government is.

Australians have every right to be outraged at the conduct of this government and their partners the Greens in respect of protecting Australia's borders. They also have every right to question the judgement and integrity of the Prime Minister and her government. But, in short, the buck does stop with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister owes the people of Australia an apology. She should apologise for her perfidy. She should apologise for her mendacity. She can no longer hide behind the claim of being young and naive, as she has in the past. She now needs to do the honourable thing and resign or call an election.