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Wednesday, 19 September 2001
Page: 30968

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY (12:32 PM) —I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration Zone) Bill 2001 and related bills that are before the House. While Australians may argue about the federal government's prime role, the most important role that the government undertakes, there can be no doubt that the maintenance of Australia's sovereignty would be one of those at the top of the list. It is certainly a major concern to the Australians that I speak with in my electorate. The maintenance of Australia's sovereignty includes our right to determine who will come here and when. For those who say that Australia lacks compassion, allow me to put the figures before the House. Australia has a proud record on immigration.

Mr Slipper —One of the most humanitarian countries in the world.

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —Indeed. The member for Fisher is quite right, and I will get to that in a moment. Since 1945, almost 5.7 million people have come to Australia from other countries, with almost 600,000 of those under refugee and other humanitarian programs. In fact, Australia on a per capita basis is second only to Canada in its generosity to refugees. Today nearly one in four of Australia's nearly 20 million people was born overseas. The provisions contained in this legislation are overwhelmingly in Australia's national interests. It is one of the great and enduring responsibilities of any government to protect the integrity of its national borders—and our borders are under threat. In 1998-99 there were 921 unauthorised arrivals, and in 2000-01 there were 4,141 unauthorised arrivals. In the last full calendar month of this year there were 1,212 unauthorised arrivals.

Mr Slipper —How many?

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —There were 1,212 in one month: more than in the whole year of 1998-99. The reality is that Australia's borders are under great stress and pressure. According to media reports, there are 5,000 potentially unauthorised arrivals waiting to come to Australia from Indonesia. So this is historic legislation which will be welcomed by the vast majority of Australians, particularly those in my electorate who have consistently voiced their anger to me over the defeat of similar legislation in the Senate by the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Democrats. Later in my address I will get to the concerns of citizens in my electorate.

First I would like to deal with the Border Protection (Validation and Enforcement Powers) Bill 2001, which is particularly relevant, validating as it does the recent actions of the government and officers of the Commonwealth, including members of the Australian Defence Force, in relation to vessels carrying illegal immigrants and those on board those vessels. It validates all of the actions taken by the government since 27 August 2001, which is the date on which Australia first took action in relation to the MV Tampa. It also provides additional statutory authority for future actions in relation to incursions into Australian waters by unauthorised vessels and any persons aboard any such vessels. This means that apprehended vessels, and those aboard, must not necessarily be brought to Australia, and it covers operations similar to that currently being carried out by the HMAS Manoora. This is necessary to prevent rulings similar to that of Justice Tony North being brought down in the future. This will provide certainty to my constituents in Dawson who, since the Justice North ruling, have constantly asked a quite reasonable question.

That night I had a meeting with constituents on an unrelated matter. My phone started ringing at eight o'clock and it rang and rang. Some of the calls were from people 300 kilometres away from Mackay. The message was the same: who is governing Australia—the elected government or an unelected judge? People were furious that decisions that rightly belong to an elected government that is totally accountable to the Australian people were overridden by one judge. That question from my citizens in Dawson has now clearly been given an answer. Although the Labor Party undoubtedly portrays the original legislation as flawed— and I will deal with that shortly—and sees this as some sort of backdown, nothing could be further from the truth. The scope of the bill has been broadened. Changes to the original bill were necessary because of changed circumstances, not because of the indecision of the Labor Party. The fact is that this bill covers everything that the original bill sought to do, plus a range of other measures. The bill is still necessary, just as the previous bill was necessary, to protect Australia's borders and Australia's sovereignty. I want to refer to Mr Beazley's original response in the second reading debate on the original border protection bill. One of the points that he made struck me greatly. He said, referring to Australia and the government:

... and we believe this to be the case—[it] already has sufficient law to cover the position associated with it.

Subsequent events have shown that in fact that was a totally erroneous conclusion, as were so many others. The shadow Attorney-General has said that the original bill was deficient. The only deficiency is in the lack of leadership shown by the Labor Party and the Democrats in this debate that is absolutely riveting for all Australians. The fact is that the government has spent the past two weeks in the Federal Court, arguing about the destination of those who were aboard the MV Tampa, and this highlights the precise reasons why it is necessary that the government introduce the border protection bill. This new bill will cover the Tampa and any other vessels, together with those on board who seek to make unlawful entry into Australia. It also covers those on the Aceng, plus those who have arrived at the Ashmore and Cartier Islands and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

I note that one of the Labor Party's arguments was that Australians on Australian vessels could be subject to the original bill. While technically that may be correct—and I notice that the shadow Attorney-General said that it would depend on the political colours of the government—the fact of the matter is that no government is suddenly going to decide that some charter vessel with Australian citizens having a happy sail should be towed out of Australian waters. The suggestion that any officer of the Commonwealth or any member of the defence forces would undertake such an action is an insult to our defence forces and to the very high standards of Australian Commonwealth officers. To suggest that a vessel that is perhaps sinking or damaged might be towed out of Australian waters is a further insult to those who work either in our defence forces or as officers of other departments. It was a convenient excuse that the Labor Party used but, of course, it did not fool the Australian people. They are most astute and shrewd and they saw the reason: it was simply lack of leadership.

Returning to the bill, we need to confirm the authority for the actions taken by our defence forces in moving people from the waters surrounding Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands to Nauru. The government is confident that any actions taken under the authority of this bill will fulfil our international obligations. I will speak briefly about the bill dealing with the excision of some Australian territories from the Australian migration zone. The bill is to ensure that any intending illegal immigrant who arrives in an excised area after 2 p.m. on 8 September 2001 will not be able to make an application for an Australian visa if detained by Australian authorities. It would also enable an authorised officer, including a member of the Australian Defence Force, to take an offshore entry person, a would-be illegal immigrant, from Australia to another country. This would, for example, enable a person to be moved from Christmas Island to Nauru for the purpose of refugee assessment. The bill also, importantly, prevents any legal proceeding against the Commonwealth or any person acting on behalf of the Commonwealth. This bar on legal proceedings would have effect notwithstanding anything else in the Migration Act or any other law.

The new and stricter visa regime contained in the bill will deter further movement from, or the bypassing of, other safe countries. Most importantly, the bill will crack down on people smugglers and make their predatory profession far less attractive. The truth is that people smugglers do not care what happens to the people who get on their boats, they do not care what happens to the boats themselves; they only care about the money. For those who say that we should be compassionate and aware of our international obligations, it is quite right to assert that Australia should do that. But those who watched the Four Corners documentary a week or so ago—and it was an excellent production—would have seen the situation in Taliban Afghanistan, with mothers who cannot work and provide food for their children and women who are not allowed an education. It is a desperate situation for many. Those, such as those women and children, who leave Afghanistan and go into refugee camps in Pakistan and elsewhere and who are genuine refugees who fear for their lives and are persecuted have no money to pay people smugglers and have no other options. Their only option is to wait and wait and wait, while others who do have the money— and the amounts being bandied about are anywhere from $A12,000 to $A30,000 or $A50,000—can pay people smugglers. People who have access to such funds are not those who are destitute and without resources. They jump ahead of genuine refugees who wait patiently for their opportunity to come.

The people smugglers, as I have said, care about none of that and are determined to continue their exploitative business. While we are working, quite properly, with other governments to stop this trade, we need to send the strongest message possible to these people that they will pay the price if they are caught. The legislation provides for mandatory sentencing arrangements for people convicted of people-smuggling offences. Where five or more people are smuggled into Australia, the perpetrators can receive a sentence of up to 20 years. First offenders will be sentenced to at least five years; repeat offenders could get at least eight years imprisonment. The message is quite clear: if you engage in people-smuggling and you get caught and convicted, you will go to jail for a very long time—not as with some of the penalties that we have seen imposed by courts recently. This, of course, does not apply to minors.

In summary, this is an important legislative package for both the government and the Australian people, who will welcome its passage through the parliament. It would be remiss of me not to congratulate the Prime Minister on his leadership in this matter— leadership that is, regrettably, totally absent in the ranks of the opposition.

In the time left to me, I would like to move to others who perhaps have been less than helpful in this national debate. I refer to an article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled `Stumbling on a path of inhumanity'. It is by Malcolm Fraser, a previous Prime Minister of Australia. I have great regard for previous prime ministers, regardless of which party they have come from. They have served our nation and they are deserving of our respect and regard— particularly Mr Fraser, who heads Care Australia. He is obviously spending his time in retirement in the very worthy activity of community service. However, I have to say that those who have been Prime Minister of Australia have an obligation to give a more insightful, thoughtful overview of national issues. I will pick up perhaps some of the references that Mr Fraser made in his article. He said:

When policy falls heavily on the poor, the destitute, those seeking to flee hunger, brutality and tyranny, then that policy is wrong. It is inhumane.

He went on to say:

The destitute have been made pawns in a harsh political contest.

The truth is that those who are poor, destitute and seeking to flee from persecution are in fact those who languish in refugee camps around the world; they are those who have no money for people smugglers and have no option but to wait. The truth is that Mr Fraser, in opposing many of the government's sensible and fair-minded measures, is in fact ignoring those he seeks to assist. He went on to say:

Turning 430 destitute people away from our shores cannot be regarded as an act of Christian charity—

referring to those on the MV Tampa. The truth is that those people are not destitute. They have been able to pay people smugglers. What would be an act of Christian charity would be to ensure that refugee places in Australia are there for those who most desperately need them—not for those who can most cleverly exploit the lack of laws in Australia, as has been the case to date—and to ensure that only those who are deserving are able to access such places. In what is a very long article, Mr Fraser went on to say:

We should ensure sufficient places are made available in recipient countries so that genuine refugees are not kept in camps for many years without hope.

That is certainly a very laudable sentiment, and he is absolutely right. But, if there are 23 million refugees worldwide, the possibility of the recipient countries—and there are only a limited number of countries that have so far agreed to take refugees—being able to take all 23 million refugees is, frankly, impossible, much as we would wish it otherwise.

I am very disappointed with that article written by Mr Fraser. It ignores much of the information that the current government has made available to the Australian people and it does not add to a balanced debate in Australia; it is not in our long-term interests nor in the interests of genuine refugees. I hope that ex-Prime Minister Fraser, compassionate as he is, will perhaps give more thought to the conflicting arguments in this debate and argue in our national interest and that of genuine refugees.

In the time left to me, I will turn to the media. They actually were stumped during this debate that the Australian people did not share their views. In fact, never have I seen the gulf between the self-proclaimed pseudo-intellectuals in the media and the fair dinkum Aussie so stark. Christopher Pearson put it very well in the Australian Financial Review when he said, referring to an article by the Australian's Paul Kelly:

Instead of being “an inept saga of crisis management” and scrambling by John Howard—

as asserted by Paul Kelly—

... this was a deft exercise of influence and a defining moment in domestic politics.

He probably did not realise how prophetic his words would be as time went by. Just in the last two days I have distributed a petition calling on the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Democrats to allow the passage of this bill through both houses of parliament, and the number of people who have signed it is extraordinary. I have signatures from Kirwan, Brandon, Ayr, Longreach, Home Hill, Mackay, Slade Point, Bowen, and Winton— which is far west of where I am and, I think, in the electorate of Capricornia. The signatures are flooding in. There is no doubt that this issue has sparked great concern across Australia and great regard for the government and particularly for the Prime Minister's leadership on this issue. I will quote from one letter that is symptomatic of those received by newspapers in my electorate. It is headed `Labor takes weak stance' and has been written by Mr P. Gibbins of Mackay. It states:

So Kim Beazley and his Labor comrades didn't have the 'ticker' to vote for the federal government's legislation permitting the forced removal of ships from Australian waters. Why am I not surprised?

The ALP have showed they are prepared to put the interests of people smugglers and illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of Australian taxpayers. Labor has again demonstrated that they are hopelessly out of touch with ordinary Australians and only interested in listening to noisy minorities.

(Time expired)