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Thursday, 20 June 2002
Page: 4037

Mr McCLELLAND (11:43 AM) —What we saw earlier today was the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs coming in here, standing behind his Amnesty International badge with pursed lips piously saying in the conclusion of his speech that the Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002 was the next step in a considered and comprehensive strategy. What we are seeing is simply a strategy to surrender to and not fight against people smugglers. How do you protect our borders by erasing our borders? That is the fundamental illogical position of the government. They have not explained how that can possibly be the case.

What message are you sending to people on these islands and, indeed, to the rest of the world? You are sending the message that they have a form of second-class sovereignty, that they do not have the same sovereignty as Australian citizens who are living on the mainland. We are sending the message that we are not prepared to defend their borders. It is only the Australian Labor Party that is saying that their borders are our borders. If we are defending Australia against people-smuggling, we are defending all of Australia and not simply the mainland of Australia that this government has retreated to. This bill can be called the `Ruddock line'—not the Brisbane Line that was devised in World War II to face the assault by the Japanese where it was determined to retreat to a line between Brisbane and Adelaide and then to engage the enemy. This government has retreated to mainland Australia as the Ruddock defence line. We are saying that you do not retreat. Australians do not retreat from illegal criminals—and people-smuggling is illegal. We are saying that you engage them at source and prevent them from coming to our territory.

In his speech, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs spoke of people smugglers coming here plying their trade and, I think he said, `dumping their human cargo and then escaping'. Of course, as well as dumping their human cargo they will dump ballast, livestock—quite frequently poultry is kept alive on these vessels, which they will let loose—and waste that is carried with them. Then there are all the consequences associated with those things being dumped. We are saying that we do not want this on the mainland but it is okay if you hit one of our islands and that is the consequence. Of course that is inappropriate. Aside from the illegal, organised criminal activity of people-smuggling, it involves the worst potential breaches of quarantine regulations and the potentially devastating consequences. That is the reason why we need a cop on the beat 24 hours a day; that is why we need a coastguard to prevent these boats coming anywhere near to Australian shores, not simply mainland Australian shores. Effectively, we are saying that this government is only prepared to protect our mainland and they do not care about our islands. That is not good enough for the Australian Labor Party. The government's responsibility is to protect the shores of all of Australia, not simply mainland Australia.

The reality is that these measures are entirely counterproductive. Quite clearly, if a vessel is approaching Australia and it has a choice of going left or right—right to the mainland and obtain the migration provisions that the minister says has bells and whistles or left to an island—it will head for the mainland. I think the minister acknowledged in an interjection during the Leader of the Opposition's speech that the vessels certainly intend to head for the mainland of Australia. We should bear in mind that the Kimberley coast is far closer to the site of these refugee camps than the islands that have been excised, and in some cases we are talking about islands that are extremely close to mainland Australia—I think reference has been made to Milingimbi Island in the Torres Strait, which is only a kilometre from the Australian mainland. Clearly, in those circumstances we are looking at counterproductive steps because it is simply going to result in these vessels hitting mainland Australia.

As I have indicated, the minister referred to this in his speech as being part of a `considered and comprehensive strategy'. Let us look at this government's strategy. Firstly, we saw the Border Protection Bill 2001. It was introduced at about 6.40 p.m. on one evening in parliament shortly before the election. I think we had 40 minutes notice of the bill and it was presented without even any explanatory memorandum. It was a bill written for the consumption of talkback radio hosts but certainly was not written as a constructive piece of legislation. Let us look at how considered that was. During the Senate estimates process involving the Attorney-General's portfolio, Senator McKiernan asked the relevant officer of the department how quickly that first bill had been developed. The answer from the officer was, `Quite quickly.' Senator McKiernan asked, `Was it written in a matter of hours or days?' The answer from the department was, `I think hours is closer to the truth.' How considered is that?

Then when we analysed that bill it had as much impact on Australian citizens as it had on people who were seeking asylum, because the legislation actually referred to any floating vessel. Officers of the Commonwealth, and they could have been lowly officers, were given the power to put a person—it did not have to be a foreigner; it could have been an Australian citizen—back on these vessels and take them out to sea. It could have applied to people getting off pleasure craft in the Whitsundays, taking them out of their hotels, putting them back on their pleasure craft and driving them out over the maritime border. That was the first attempt in what the minister has said has been a considered and comprehensive strategy. Of course they abandoned that—it was completely ludicrous. After appropriate consultation with the opposition, they came up with a second version that actually applied to the customs legislation and the migration legislation, which was sensible and reasonable and not these political gestures as we are seeing here today.

We also saw the massive cost of the military operation at that time of transferring people from the Tampa at sea to take them to the Pacific islands, including Nauru. We then saw the proposal to excise Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands, which the opposition agreed to given that those islands are located so close to the Indonesian territory. But the reality is that the excision of those territories could have avoided all the drama and expense of these people being taken to the Pacific islands, including Nauru.

This issue has come full circle, with the minister in recent weeks putting before this parliament legislation to provide for the return of those people from Nauru and, indeed, the proposal to construct a detention centre on Christmas Island. We estimate, conservatively, that about $1 billion has been spent on the exercise of taking people to Nauru, only to see legislation being introduced in the House to facilitate these people coming back—that is, $1 billion for a full circle, to come back to Christmas Island. How considered and comprehensive is that solution? It is a farce; it is a black joke that the Australian people are missing out on hospitals, missing out on policemen and missing out on teachers because of this government's political agenda. This bill will not protect Australian shores; it will drive people onto the Australian mainland. A comprehensive and considered solution, my foot!

Quite frankly, we are seeing the first day of the government's election campaign. We are not looking at considered, comprehensive solutions. If we were, we would be looking at hitting the people smugglers at source, ensuring that they were arrested, as indeed the People Smuggling Task Force has said is the only real solution. We would be putting funds into surveillance to get people smugglers and drug smugglers and to detect quarantine breaches, and we would be looking at comprehensive measures to develop Australia's own coastguard. Those measures and other measures announced by the Leader of the Opposition are the solution. This is not a solution; it is a political gimmick. Australians see beyond a minister standing up piously, holding his mouth like a cat's rectum and saying he has solutions. This is no solution. What we are seeing is, purely and simply, political opportunism.