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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5545

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (13:19): There was such an inevitability to the debate that we are having today on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2012. It was inevitable from the moment that the Australian Labor Party won office in 2007. It was inevitable from the moment that they started to systematically dismantle the policies that the Howard government had in place. It was inevitable that, every day between then and now, reality would come crushing down on the heads of those in the Australian Labor Party that this is a problem, this is a situation of their making and only legislation of the sort that we are debating today could undo that damage. It was entirely inevitable that we would end up at this point. That is why the Australian Labor Party say: 'Let's not talk about the past. Let's just talk about the future. Let's not play the blame game. Let's just pass this legislation.' And pass this legislation we should. But the reason the Labor Party do not want to look back is that they would have to confront their culpability for the sheer volume of boats and individuals who have been put in harm's way.

I well recall the current Prime Minister railing, along with Mr Rudd, the then coalition government's policies before 2007. They denied the existence of pull factors; only push factors existed, apparently. They were outraged at the very concept of offshore processing. It was immoral—we heard that more than once. And the hideous regime that the coalition had in place of offshore processing, temporary protection visas and turning back the boats where it was safe to do so was so reprehensible that dismantling those policies had to be one of the first things that the Labor Party did in office, and they did. I, like many colleagues on this side of the chamber, have been very critical of many policy areas of the Australian Labor Party, for not honouring their election commitments, but there is one election commitment that they honoured in full—lock, stock and barrel—and that is the systematic dismantling of the deterrents that we had in place, deterrents that were effectively shutting down the people-smuggling business.

The Australian Labor Party have spoken often about breaking the people smugglers' business model. They should know how to break the people smugglers' business model because they are the people who designed the people smugglers' business model through their policy. There is a direct relationship between the Labor Party's policy going into the 2007 election and the people smugglers' business model. This legislation today seeks to undo that damage and undo that business model.

One of the things that has frustrated me no end—it has driven me to distraction over the last six to eight months—is hearing members of the Australian Labor Party continually talk about the need for compromise and the need for a grand bargain, as though there is some innate virtue in compromise for compromise's sake, as though there is some innate virtue in a grand bargain, as though there is some innate virtue in shaking hands across the chamber, as though there is some innate virtue in making people feel a little better about politicians and the parliament. There is no innate virtue in any of those things. The only virtue is in good policy that shuts down people smugglers and makes it less likely that people are put in harm's way. We on this side of the chamber have never been interested in just reaching an agreement. This should never have been approached on the basis of some sort of industrial negotiation where one side makes an ambit claim and the other meets them halfway or it is treated like haggling over the price of a house in a sale. We have stood firm. No, we are not just going to reach compromise for compromise's sake; we are going to hold and stand firm until the government agrees to good policy and agrees to a return to the policies we had before.

We are part of the way there with this legislation. Offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island is a good thing, but we still need temporary protection visas and a commitment to turning back the boats where it is safe to do so, because it is not only policy that matters; it is also the strength and resolve of government that matters. Those other measures will, if they are adopted, send the message to the people smugglers that the government again has the strength and resolve to stamp out this evil trade of people smuggling. It will ensure that people are not put in harm's way or advantaged by approaching Australia in an irregular way. The coalition will be supporting this legislation, as my colleagues have indicated. It is important that the chamber as a whole does.