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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2946


Mr MORRISON (3:36 PM) —Australia’s immigration detention network is collapsing under the strain of Labor’s failed border protection regime. Under Labor, our immigration detention network is in a rolling crisis. Last Sunday week, after a series of breakouts on Christmas Island, the Prime Minister said to reporters here in Canberra that ‘this is a situation that is well in hand’. Within 24 hours of the Prime Minister claiming that the situation was in hand on Christmas Island, tear gas was being dropped, beanbag rounds were being fired at protesters and Christmas Island had descended into a week of chaos.

Yesterday morning the minister at the table, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, boldly assured the nation, with the same assurance that the Prime Minister sought to assure people around the country last Sunday week, that his advice was that all asylum seekers had been accounted for. Yet last night on Lateline he had to admit that there were still at least two missing—there may well have been more; he was not able to be exactly sure—after a face-to-file check failed to accord with a headcount. This is the status of the management of our immigration detention network.

What concerns me about this is that the government is pretending that there is nothing here to see. I asked the minister whether he knew, when he went out yesterday morning and sought to assure Australians that everything was under control, that further checks had to be undertaken. I asked him whether he knew that there is not just a headcount but that you have to do a face-to-file check, as he mentioned last night. If he did know that, why was he so quick out of the blocks to try to create the impression that everything was under control, just like the Prime Minister was?

As is usual in this portfolio, the government protests as to certain facts but, as the facts become known, it is clear that the minister is in charge of absolute chaos. Yesterday on the ABC the member for Wannon nailed this pretty accurately. He knows, as I do—particularly as I come from New South Wales—that the minister is known in the New South Wales Right as a numbers man. But it is clear that he could not get his numbers right on Christmas Island yesterday. The numbers that he should be concerning himself with are the ones on Christmas Island, rather than the numbers within the New South Wales Right faction here in Canberra—where I understand he has been exceptionally busy of late. Perhaps I could suggest to the minister that to find those asylum seekers an all-points bulletin should be put out to the bowling alleys of the country, where they lost the last people who had broken out of the system. Or perhaps they are down at the Melbourne aquarium, where they found the last one. There is a whole series of places they could be. The minister may be advised that, next time, before he goes out and starts pretending that everything is okay, he might want to check that they have done all the checks, so that he can give proper assurance rather than giving false hope, as he continues to do on a daily basis about the status of our immigration program and about the status of our detention network that is in complete chaos. It is a rolling crisis.

I remind those in the House that on 21 November 2009 a bloody fight—as it was described—broke out on Christmas Island, involving 150 Afghans and Sri Lankans. They attacked each other with broom handles, pool cues and tree branches. Three detainees were medivac’d to Perth, 10 were admitted to hospital on Christmas Island and 27 others were injured. On 20 to 22 September 2010 there were rolling rooftop protests at Villawood. Literally, beds were burnt—

Opposition members interjecting—Beds were burning!


Mr MORRISON —Beds were burning at Villawood, as they were on Christmas Island last week. There were beds burnt at Villawood and people stayed on the roofs for a number of days in that fairly appalling scene. On 1 September 2010, 90 detainees broke out of the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin. That cost taxpayers $430,000 to fix the mess. And not just that, but it cost a further $790,000 to upgrade the centre because of the security problems at that place, because it was not developed to deal with this level of policy failure. Mind you, I note that we learned in estimates that no-one was charged over that incident either.

On 15 November 2010, there was a violent brawl at Broadmeadows involving 50 children. One was hospitalised. On 17 November there was another rooftop protest at Villawood. At the Airport Lodge in Darwin there was a protest over several days, from 7 to 10 February, which ended with 11 people hospitalised and a further 11 taken to the watch house. On 27 and 28 February there was a riot at Christmas Island in the family compound, where 13 people were injured, windows were smashed, three asylum seekers were arrested and 15 young males had to be moved off the island. On 16 March 2011 there was a mass breakout at the Asti Motel. They walked down Smith Street in Darwin at will. Hundreds of them walked down Smith Street in Darwin, while—not to be outdone—a rooftop protest was also underway at the Northern Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin.

On 17 March there was, for once, a quieter protest, but a protest nonetheless, at Curtin. We should be watching Curtin carefully, because the minister knows that things are boiling up in Curtin as well. On 12 and 13 March there were mass breakouts at Christmas Island, and that was the same weekend the Prime Minister sought to tell everybody that everything was under control. Then, of course, from 14 to 17 March riots broke out on Christmas Island as hundreds engaged in violent protests. Buildings and beds were burned to the ground, staff were holed up and unable to escape, police were assaulted, tear gas was used and beanbag rounds were deployed.

Such is the crisis that has occurred under this government and under this minister that Federal Police had to take by force a Commonwealth facility. That is a disgrace. That is absolutely a loss of control. Not only have they lost control of our borders; now they have lost control of the detention network—and the chaos continues.

This is not the first time we have seen riots and other protests in our detention network, as those on this side of the House know. But there is a big difference now as opposed to when the coalition was in government. When this side of the House had to deal with the difficulties of people coming to this country, we acted. We took steps; we took action; we stopped the boats. We did that through a series of measures, not just one measure. The minister tries to make out that there was just one measure here and one measure there. There were a series of measures put in place and, as a result of those measures, the boats stopped. The number of boats reduced to an absolute trickle. I noticed that last night the minister said that his goal at Christmas Island is to get a detention population to 2,000. That is his goal!

I see the Father of the House here today. The Father of the House put in place a series of measures that ensured that when the coalition left office in November 2007 there were not 2,000 people on Christmas Island, there were not 2,000 people in the detention network; there were four people who had arrived illegally by boat who were in our detention network. That is a goal the minister might want to take up. Rather than 2,000, he might want to think about trying to get the number to four. But to get it to four he has to do some things which I do not think this minister has the resolve to do. Resolve, as the member for Berowra knows, as the former Prime Minister knows and as those who have served in that capacity know, requires you to take difficult decisions. Resolve requires you to send messages when there is chaos in our detention network and requires that you immediately sanction those who are involved in rioting.

This is a minister who is happy to have a three-month review and not know who was involved in the riots last week. He is not happy to suspend those people immediately. They are going to wait for about six months, and after that period of time, maybe even in 12 months time, when he does his general character test review case by case, he may well decide to deny them a visa. But you have to go on his form. It was revealed in this House yesterday and today that three people on SIEV36 were part of a plan, as the Northern Territory coroner said, to scuttle that boat. An independent assessment and review by the coroner found that they sank the boat. The minister knows that the general character test does not require a criminal conviction. He knows this absolutely. He knows that at any time, regardless of any other criminal proceedings, he could have revoked those visas. He could even change those visas. He could have given them a 449 safe-haven visa. But this is a minister who decided not to act. As long as this minister decides not to act, the boats will keep coming, the detention centre chaos will continue and we will continue to see the harm, the waste and the frustration of the Australian people who are angry about one thing: a government that cannot run an immigration system. They are sick to death of a government that simply refuses to listen to them and understand that what infuriates them is a government that has lost control of our detention network, our borders and our immigration system. Their only answer, as the Prime Minister did shamefully in this place a few weeks ago, is to say, ‘The Australian people feel this way because they have been victims of a race baiting campaign by the opposition.’ That is a disgrace. Before the last election the Prime Minister said, ‘If you are concerned about border protection, you are not a racist.’ Commander Bradbury over there I am sure put this in there because he knew—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Order! The member will refer to the member for Lindsay by his correct title.


Mr MORRISON —I will refer to the member for Lindsay by his appropriate title rather than what I referred to him as before. It was the member for Lindsay who—before he went on that great expedition to Darwin, the well-known port in Lindsay—went out there and encouraged Australians that he was all keen on border protection and so was the Prime Minister, and the people of Lindsay did not have to worry about the government thinking they were racist because they were concerned about the government’s border protection failures. They did not have to worry about that, because that was all behind us. But in this place several weeks ago the Prime Minister restated her assault on the Australian people for having concerns about her border protection failures.

They have no policy at all. This is their policy to stop the boats: East Timor. We can have a processing centre in East Timor—as a new millennium project, I suspect. It will not be this millennium; we will have to wait for the next one. It will be the millennium processing centre at East Timor in the next millennium, to go with the Millennium Dome, I suppose, from this millennium.

The minister was saying last night: ‘It takes time and we have to wait and wait. We do not have an immediate plan; we have a long-term plan.’ I think a millennium is a particularly long period of time. But this is the plan that the government has and it is a plan that is coming to nothing.

This is a plan that worked: on 1 September 2001 Prime Minister Howard said, ‘There will be third-country processing at Nauru’; 19 days later the centre opened. Eight months after the Prime Minister announced her processing centre in East Timor, it is no closer to coming into being. This is a processing centre that is a ‘never-never’ solution.

The only other proposals they put forward, apart from removing the Howard government’s regime, was the asylum freeze. That worked well. It led to a tripling in the amount of time people spent in detention and a doubling in the detention population and it was such a great deterrent that over 50 boats turned up in the meantime and over 2,000 people. Every time this government touches this area, it completely turns to mush. The cost that is paid in humanitarian and financial terms and in the integrity of our immigration program is simply too high.

I have a challenge for this minister. This minister has to decide this week whether he is going to be part of the solution or part of the problem. This minister has to decide whether he is going to walk out of this chamber today and walk into the Prime Minister’s office and say: ‘We’ve got it wrong. We shouldn’t have changed the policy of the Howard regime. It has absolutely turned to mush. I am sitting in a sea of disaster when it comes to our detention network and you will not let me take the decision.’ That is a decision that I am sure the minister knows he has to take—he would know he has to take these decisions—and he can decide to do that today or he can roll over to the Prime Minister and continue to swim in this sea of absolute failure.

I do not think the minister will do that. I think this minister is part of the problem not the solution. His only answer to date is to go out there and employ another six media officers to spin the boats away. You cannot spin them away; you have to act and you need to act now.