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Thursday, 25 November 1999
Page: 12732

Mr SCIACCA (5:36 PM) —First of all I want to thank my colleague the member for Denison for all the work he has done on this legislation. The opposition always made very clear to the government that we would be supporting these enhanced measures to try to protect our national borders and I fully agree with the legislation. I want to take a couple of minutes of the House's time to make a few comments with respect to this whole problem that we presently are suffering, if you like, with these illegal immigrants. Firstly, I think we need to take into account the fact that it is not only Australia that has these problems. Indeed, not long ago one of the European ambassadors said to me, `You think you've got a problem; we have up to a thousand of them per night coming into our country.' So I think we do need to keep it in perspective.

I also want to say that I was less than impressed with the minister—and I am glad the minister is in here because, generally, I have a high opinion of him. But I do feel that on this occasion he has gone over the boundaries. I think the way in which he pulled that figure out of the air—and I repeat: pulled that figure out of the air—when he said that something like 10,000 people were going to arrive was disgraceful. He tried to tell the Australian public that all of a sudden we were going to be invaded by all these illegal immigrants, that whole Middle Eastern villages were packing up to come here. I think what he did was quite reprehensible. I think it was playing wedge politics at its possible worst. I think he unnecessarily alarmed the Australian public by saying that this is a much bigger problem than it is.

I would have thought, Minister, that you were a little above that, but obviously you are not. I think you may have given yourself a bit of a short-term advantage as a result, but I can tell you now that because you have been asked the question of where you got that figure from and have not been able to answer it—you have hidden behind `that was the intelligence that I received'—no-one in Australia, certainly no-one who knows anything about these issues, will believe you. Certainly, you have been questioned about it and you have got yourself a bit of a win, if you like, but at a cost to you that you may not yet realise.

In any event, having said that, I want to say this: I accept that this is a difficult problem. I accept that it is something that needs to be fixed up. As you are well aware, Minister, you have the bipartisan support of the Labor Party on all of this. Never mind that you tried to, if you like, shift the blame away from your handling, or the government's handling, of what is a difficult problem, and I acknowledge that. But, nevertheless, you tried to blame the opposition, and you know that was wrong. You did so and you got away with it, but you have done so at a great expense to your own reputation as a decent, caring and compassionate person. I think you will find that amongst all the organisations that are your constituency, you may have lost a lot of that. I am certainly not going to deter them from that way of thinking, because I agree with them.

In the end all these measures give the minister and the government the armoury they want. Again, I say that it is a difficult problem but it is one that, obviously, the minister is having extraordinary difficulty in handling. There is no question in my mind that the three-year temporary visa, which we have supported him on and which of course has been there for about a month now so it was not awaiting anybody's approval—all the ones that have been coming in over the last month have in fact been processed under that regulation, which is not of course what the minister was trying to tell the Australian public. He was trying to hoodwink them. But the point is that you have that armoury now and every time a boat comes in, Minister, it is your problem. Every time a boat comes in it depends on how you are going to handle it. You have the armoury that you wanted, and now it is up to you.

I want to finish by saying that the minister himself has said what we have been saying, that is, that we have to redouble the diplomatic efforts. Given the comments of President Wahid of Indonesia this morning when he said that as far as he was concerned this was our problem, I believe that nothing less will do than for the Prime Minister himself to arrange an appointment with President Wahid to ask his assistance in trying to help us with this problem. We all know that Indonesia is the staging point. There is no point sending Stockings Downer over there; I do not think he is going to be able to do too much about it. This is a very serious problem—a 10 on the Richter scale according to the minister. I call on the Prime Minister to get over there to try to fix this problem in Indonesia.