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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 11346

Senator SHERRY (12:45 PM) —The Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002 [No. 2] is back before the Senate today as part of the Howard Liberal government's cheapjack political opportunism in creating double dissolution triggers. The bill we are considering has nothing to do with protecting Australian borders; it has everything to do with cynical politics. The Howard government wants to be in a position to force Australians to an early election if it decides it is in its political interests to do so. The question of the nation's interests is irrelevant to the making of this decision. Australians should remember, if they are forced to such an election, that their interests counted for nothing while the government's interests in being re-elected counted for everything.

This is a government that will do and say anything to stay in power. The children overboard affair has proven that to us beyond dispute. This is a government which, despite being the highest taxing government of all time outside wartime, finds itself incapable of providing Australians with decent health and education systems. Australians pay their taxes now for next to nothing in service delivery while the Howard Liberal government spends its time on political stunts like this bill.

The Howard Liberal government initially excised or removed over 3,000 islands from Australia's migration zone by regulations made on Friday, 7 June last year. These regulations were rightly disallowed in the Senate on 19 June last year. On 20 June the Howard government introduced the Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002 into the House. The bill we are considering in the Senate is identical in terms of the disallowed regulation. The government rushed consideration of the bill and the House of Representatives passed it on the same day. The Senate referred the bill to the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee, which tabled its report on 21 October 2002. The Senate rejected that bill on 9 December 2002. On 26 March this year Minister Ruddock introduced the Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002 [No. 2] into the House of Representatives.

This bill is identical to the previous bill and its rejection would create a double dissolution trigger. The bill excises or removes from the Australian migration zone the following: all islands that are part of Queensland and are north of latitude 12 degrees south; all islands that are part of Western Australia and are north of latitude 23 degrees south; all islands that are part of the Northern Territory and are north of latitude 16 degrees south; and the Coral Islands territory. All in all, some 3,000 islands lie within the excised or removed zone. Many of the islands are small and uninhabited. It should be noted that many of the islands lie very close to the Australian mainland. For example, Groote Eylandt is 40 kilometres from the mainland, Melville Island is only 24 kilometres from the mainland and Prince of Wales Island in the Torres Strait is just 16 kilometres from the mainland. Many of the islands caught in this excision or removal are not on any direct route from Indonesia, and a boat travelling from Indonesia could reach part of the mainland more easily than it could reach a number of the excised islands.

When this bill was before the House on the first occasion, the member for Lalor said:

The government is standing here somehow pretending that excision would stop people-smuggling. It is trying to create this image that excision is somehow a stop sign. How on earth does that follow? Determined people will still come. If a part of the nation is excised and if they think that they would be advantaged by going a bit further then why would they not simply drive for the mainland?

If you excise all of these islands, what you are going to do is send a signal that people should go to the mainland. How does that help with border security—to send a signal—

to people attempting illegal entry that they should head for the mainland. She continued:

We will have unauthorised arrivals on the mainland with all of the disease risks and the humanitarian issues that that implies as people pull up on very remote stretches of coast. How can it be logically contended that excising islands that you can see from the coastline—that you can swim to and that, for some of them, you can walk back and forth between at low tide—is going to do anything effective to prevent people-smuggling? It is a nonsense.

Now that this bill is back before the House for a second time, you do not have to take my word on the ineffectiveness of it. Now, because the bill was subject to a Senate inquiry, we have direct evidence of the ineffectiveness of this bill from the experts. The Acting Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Ed Killesteyn, stated in that inquiry—

at the start of page 1405—

It is a simple matter of geography. If you remove the outlying islands from the capacity of smugglers to simply drop off their cargo, they are forced to look for other routes ...

That was said by the person who was at that stage acting secretary of the minister's department. This is a direct admission that the excision bill will lead to people-smugglers aiming for mainland Australia. This is a direct admission that the Howard government's border protection strategy is to make sure unauthorised arrivals end up on mainland Australia.

This is of course the worst of all possible worlds. For the asylum seekers involved it means that they could end up in remote Australia without the necessary food and water to survive. It is the worst of all possible worlds for asylum seekers to aim to reach mainland Australia as they take greater risks with their lives. They could end up stranded in very remote places without us knowing that they are there and without the necessary food and water to survive. Individuals might require medical attention and the like.

From Australia's point of view, this means that the Howard Liberal government's border protection strategy is to expose Australia to the disease and quarantine risks associated with having people land without any form of scrutiny on mainland Australia. If the accurately quoted admission by Mr Ed Killesteyn at the Senate inquiry did not highlight the absurdity of this bill starkly enough, we have the extraordinary admission of the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mr Mick Keelty. He said:

This is a far preferable way for us to go ...

... ... ...

... if they are going to commit a crime in the way they are sending people to Australia, we can at least try to get them sent to where there is ... some infrastructure support for them.

The head of the Federal Police is admitting that the Howard Liberal government actually wants unauthorised arrivals coming to the mainland rather than landing on islands and that this desire to have people land on mainland Australia is the strategy driving this bill. Australians might well be justified in asking: why should we support a government when its border protection strategy, a strategy it has prided itself on so much, is actually designed to ensure people cross over the border and onto mainland Australia?

Let us now turn to the legal effect of the excision—or giveaway or removal. Let us assume that this bill passes this parliament and these islands are excised. What would happen if a boat reached them? Presumably, the asylum seekers involved would be taken to PNG or Nauru for processing. Excision is not a stop sign; it is a different processing regime in a different place. People will get processed, they get sorted into refugees and non-refugees—and you might be surprised to learn what happens next. Australia generally then takes the refugees and resettles them here, despite the government at the last election leading—or misleading—the Australian people to believe that this would not happen. And don't we remember it all very well. We remember the Prime Minister carrying on about the asylum seekers on the Tampa. As he was reiterating and walking about the press gallery and jumping from foot to foot with excitement, he said that not one of them would set foot on Australian soil. Let me reiterate that. The Prime Minister said before the election that not one of them would set foot on Australian soil. And remember the Prime Minister saying that the asylum seekers involved in the children overboard web of lies were not the sort of people he wanted in Australia.

The Prime Minister was running the airwaves around the time of Tampa and the time of the children overboard affair representing to the Australian people in crystal clear terms that these people would not end up in Australia, the whole theme of the Liberals' last election campaign being, `We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.' True to form, when these representations were made the Prime Minister was not being frank with the Australian people. He was not being honest about the children overboard affair or about what would happen to asylum seekers caught up in the so-called Pacific solution. Most of those found to be refugees have in fact been settled in Australia. Despite all of the representations—misrepresentations— surrounding the last election campaign, most of those found to be genuine refugees have been resettled in Australia. So much for the Prime Minister's claim that not one refugee would be allowed to set foot in Australia— not one.

The so-called Pacific solution is nothing more than the world's most expensive detour sign. It does not stop you getting to Australia; it just puts you through a detour on the way while Australian taxpayers pay for it and pay for it and pay for it—a much more expensive way of eventually getting to Australia. So, instead of stunts like this, it is time the Howard Liberal government faced up to engaging in a long-term solution to refugees and asylum seekers. The so-called Pacific solution is not a long-term solution. Can anyone in this place really imagine that Australia will be processing asylum seekers' claims on Nauru in 10 or 20 years?

The Labor Party has a truly long-term solution which I am sure the ministers in this place have been interested to look at the detail in our policy Protecting Australia and Protecting the Australian Way. This policy is founded on Labor's belief that the No. 1 priority of the Australian government is to protect Australia. Labor has a proud record of doing so and will always put Australia and its protection first. Labor will protect Australia's borders with a $600 million Australian coastguard—a cop on the beat 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Labor in government will also better protect Australia in the following five ways. Labor will introduce a US style green card system to crack down on illegal workers and ensure they are not stealing Australian jobs and undermining the pay and conditions of Australians. Labor will smash onshore and offshore people-smuggling rings through tough policing, including stationing more Australian Federal Police officers in Indonesia. Labor will impose harsher penalties, including million-dollar fines for people smugglers. Labor will focus on eradicating people-trafficking for the purposes of sexual or other exploitation as well as people-smuggling. Labor will better protect our airports and seaports.

Labor understands the concerns of Australians and shares their view that unauthorised boat arrivals are the worst of all possible outcomes both from Australia's point of view as a nation managing its borders and from the point of view of the asylum seekers who risk, and all too often lose, their lives on the journey. Australians rightly want a managed and fair system. Labor will seek to protect Australia from future boat arrivals and will seek to create a fairer worldwide refugee system whereby the world adopts one processing system for refugee claims. One worldwide processing system would be the ultimate deterrent to people-smuggling and boat arrivals. Why pay a people smuggler and risk your life to get to a developed nation if, when you get there, you have no better chance of your claim being accepted? One system is also the way of ensuring fairness so that the most disadvantaged waiting in refugee camps have the same chance of having their claims accepted as an asylum seeker who arrives in a developed country.

Advocating a new worldwide system is a bold step, and leading the world always requires leading by example. In its policy, Labor outlines its intention to lead in the following five ways. Labor will maintain the excision of Christmas Island in order to pilot the processing regime it will advocate should be adopted globally. Christmas Island will be the prime asylum seeker processing and detention facility. Labor will put its processing regime to the ultimate test by monitoring the return of failed asylum seekers. Labor will increase the funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to $25 million per annum in order to better assist those who live, and too often die, in refugee camps overseas. Labor will boost aid to address the issues that cause people to move, such as poverty, natural disasters, conflict and environmental degradation, and will increase aid to countries of first asylum. Such aid is desperately needed and is important to facilitate the development of a system of return of asylum seekers. Labor will keep mandatory detention for the proper purposes of protecting Australia from health and security risks and ensuring that refugee claims can be dealt with efficiently and failed claimants are removed. However, under Labor the system of mandatory detention will be a humane one, not a system of punishment as we currently know it under the Howard Liberal government.

To that end, Labor has given the following commitments. Labor will end the so-called Pacific solution—the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific Islands—because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle. When we are in a circumstance where we are now told that one of the detention facilities in Nauru is `self-managed', in the department's parlance, because they have lost control of it, I think it is time for us on this side of the Senate to urge those on the other side of the chamber to again look at the so-called Pacific solution and bring it to an end. For those who are not aware, the detainees in the detention centre at Nauru have, in fact, revolted. They have taken over the detention centre. Rather than the Nauru government admit that the department has lost control of the detention centre, they call it a `self-managed' centre, because the department and the Nauru officials cannot get into it. What an extraordinary position—refugees are running the centre.

Labor will free children from behind the razor wire. Labor will return detention centre management to the public sector, where it rightly belongs. We will remove some of these shoddy private contractors. Labor will shift the shroud of secrecy around detention centres through media access and the involvement of independent medical professionals. Labor will run a fast, fair and transparent processing regime on Christmas Island and on mainland Australia that will determine 90 per cent of refugee claims in 90 days. Genuine refugees will be quickly identified and released while failed claimants will be quickly returned to their place of origin. Labor will administer better health and ASIO security checks. Those with a claim of merit who are ASIO security cleared and health cleared and who pose no risks will be able to live in hostel-style accommodation. Christmas Island will have such a supervised hostel. Any other supervised hostels required will only be located in regional communities that bid to have one because they want it to be there.

Labor will create an independent inspector-general of detention who will monitor detention conditions and resolve complaints. Labor will have an expert committee which will review and make recommendations on any case in which a person is detained for more than 90 days. Labor will replace the current temporary protection visa system with a short-term temporary protection visa, after which a genuine refugee can access a permanent protection visa. That will end the cycle we are in now where it is conceivable a person could be here a lifetime because they are a refugee but only ever qualify for rolling temporary protection visas and have no access to family reunion. For the reasons I and my colleague in the other place have outlined, this bill should be very quickly, clearly and decisively rejected.