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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2533

Mr LAMING (Bowman) (19:54): Tonight is an opportunity for dispassionate debate about a very sensitive issue and I acknowledge the strong feelings held by members on the other side of this chamber, one of whom has just spoken. I recognise his strong feelings on this issue, but the debate around temporary protection visas is one for which we do have to peel away the emotive and look at the essence of the debate. Yes, he is correct that there are significant movements between countries and between areas that are at war, engaged in hostile internal disputes, many of which will qualify for, and seek out, protection.

But tonight is a chance for us to improve that system and not to stick with the system that we are experiencing under the current government. I do not think that tonight is an opportunity for us to pick through the remnants of what has been a disastrous management of this issue by the Rudd government and subsequently the Gillard government, most clearly exemplified by the fact that, if this were truly a more compassionate approach that had been carefully planned and orchestrated by this government, we would not have seen the economic blow-outs to managing our borders, because this government would have planned for them in advance. It is clear that it did not.

From that first budget blow-out of $2.3 million in 2008-09, which became $233 million the following year, which became $1.3 billion for the following two years and this year already is in excess of $2.1 billion, this has not been a compassionate government, carefully unpicking Howard's successful border protection laws. No, this is a government that did it unknowingly and is now reaping what it sowed, which is complete incontinence of its border protection arrangements. That is no better illustrated than by any table available in the public domain of the arrivals, which have blown out since 2008.

This proposal to introduce a 785 and a 447 visa that provide temporary protection is a simple one that has already been outlined by our previous speaker. It is quite simply that those who seek the protection that Australia's obligations entitle them to, those who will come through secondary countries, those who have illegally arrived without a visa—by definition illegally—on Christmas Island, Cocos island or Ashmore Reef, those who pass a health and character check, are eligible for a temporary protection visa.

I was so interested in the previous speaker's allusions to Ibrahim, who gave a very impassioned plea in favour of permanent protection, because, in that somewhat mangled case, in that very, very emotional quote, came at the start an appeal for the safety of his family, and it finished with an economic case for the future of his family. When we tease that apart, the great irony of this government's argument is that 8,000 people like Ibrahim's family languish in border camps, unable to apply for a humanitarian visa because of the lack of control that this government has demonstrated. That is correct. Let me say it again: Ibrahim's family, for whom he hopes so much, are trapped in border camps unable to come to Australia because this government lost control of its protection arrangements. That is 8,100 and even more now—the number is counting—potential applicants crowded out by the loss of control over the borders and the arrivals that we have seen.

Family reunification is an important part of the current sugar that entices people to travel, as is permanent residency. They are the two major issues that, if you ask arrivals, they will tell you they are seeking more than anything. We do not blame people for seeking that protection, but the point is that there are many people just as worthy who cannot make the trip, and at some point a state has to be able to step back and say, 'We consider these arrivals on the basis of need, not simply who is closest, not simply who engages our protection, not simply someone who turns up on a reef and not simply someone who has the money to pay for the trip.' It has been made very clear before that the great majority of these arrivals travel commercially by air to other Islamic nations where they do not need a visa, so none of these people turned up with no means. None of these people effectively fled their home and put in an appeal for asylum. No, in many cases they have already passed through nations where that protection is already offered and it has not been sought, nor have they necessarily sought protection from the local UNHCR office. These are simple observations and I know that they are, in many cases, generalisations, but every one of us here can only speak from our personal experience.

It is simply not enough to say that as a politician you have travelled around to meet other politicians and you have asked them for their views on immigration. It is simply not enough to turn up in Afghanistan and look through a bus window and make observations about what a border camp is like. It is not simply enough to travel in a delegation of colleagues and to be basically led around by the hand and have the suffering explained to you. You have to go and live in that country to understand.

I have been lucky enough to work with minorities in northern Afghanistan for a number of months and actually live in the country concerned. Those people, when you ask them, will tell you a very different story. You will not hear of these people coming to Parliament House. Their story will not be told here by minority groups in this country; no, you need to go to the source—to the situation in which they live—and listen.

She has not been to that town. She has not toured the parts of Afghanistan directly affected. She may well have had all the conversations over a cup of tea in Western Sydney about this issue, but the other side of this chamber is completely removed from the economic deprivations going on in many of those countries and the fact that the great majority of them can never countenance making a trip such as this.

All one can ask of a state is to treat those people equally, to treat those who are stuck within the borders, making their first appeal as they cross—because they cannot make it from within their own boundaries—and those who make a journey equally. But, until you cease offering permanent residency as the end result, you will continually have a problem where those who can assemble the resources are the ones who take priority and necessarily squeeze out the rest.

The figures were fairly simple: over six years of the Howard government, there were 16 boats with 272 people. It was not that hard to assess those people in great depth. The problem is that when you start getting 8,000, even 10,000, arrivals per year, suddenly it becomes very challenging to assess them meaningfully under the treaty. It becomes extraordinarily difficult. The previous speaker, the member for Hindmarsh, said about 90 per cent of these applications are actually being approved. That says to me two things: firstly, how can they seriously consider these cases, and in depth; and, secondly, that is the system working.

I do not have a problem with people being properly assessed; what I do have a problem with is large proportions of people at even greater risk being completely excluded. I have a problem with Ibrahim's family, from the previous speaker's contribution, being stuck in a border camp, not able to apply. No, they cannot. They will sit there and never be able to lodge an appeal.

Ms Smyth interjecting

Mr LAMING: Okay. That is fine, because there are plenty of people who are not yet in your electorate who would also like to be looked after by this country, preferably those who are in greatest need. You have ignored them, Member for La Trobe. She has ignored them, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams. She has ignored them by hanging on to this notion of permanent protection without considering the most important part of the Howard government interventions, which was temporary protection visas.

If we peel all of this back and just look at the treaty, we are obliged to provide protection—you are nodding on the other side. We are not obliged to provide permanent protection. I think every person on the street would realise that in half of the world, at some point, there is some form of internecine, tribal, religious, political or ethnic destabilisation or form of violence going on. You name a part of the world and I will tell you the country where it is happening. It is happening in most nations around the world. By definition, everyone is eligible for asylum? No, they are not; they have to make that case.

Ms Smyth interjecting

Mr LAMING: That is right. At this stage, you on the other side leave those people languishing without help and your government will only look at those who turn up on Ashmore Reef, and that is not good enough. There are 8,100 people who have been squeezed out and crowded out by a government that cannot run this policy effectively.

Mr Neumann interjecting

Mr LAMING: Okay. I take the interjection from the member for Blair about increasing the amount. We will increase it to 13,750; what does that achieve? It has simply blown out your budget by $2.1 billion. So, no matter how many times you increase that number to make it look like this is orderly migration, the fact is that this is a government that has never been able to budget for these increases.

Mr Neumann interjecting

Mr LAMING: It is patently clear that you have lost control of the borders. This government has never been able to budget ahead for the true cost of the arrivals—again, evidence that they have completely lost control of the borders, which is a basic requisite of being in power. It is a basic requisite of being able to run a nation. Providing figures from Greece and Italy as evidence, saying, 'If nations like Italy and Greece can handle half a million arrivals then so can Australia'—well, that one needs to be sold in Parramatta and in Ipswich. The members of parliament opposite are very bold in this chamber but are suddenly very reluctant to debate it when in their own electorates. TPVs are the future. They are the Howard formula that worked in the past; they will work again with a newly elected coalition government.