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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 11350

Senator SCULLION (1:05 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002 [No. 2]. At the outset, I have to say how nervous the previous speaker, Senator Sherry, made me. I come from the north of Australia and I am delighted that some of the students and their teachers from Darwin High School have travelled down here to listen to this debate, which seems to be far more central and important to the people of the Northern Territory and certainly far more important to the people of north-west Australia and Northern Queensland. As they will attest, for a number of years they have seen vessels coming into Darwin Harbour. They have seen reports of it on the news. It happens all the time. It is almost not newsworthy to have vessels coming in. We live in southern Asia in Darwin and we are exposed to these issues on a regular basis. We were all very relieved in Northern Australia when, eventually, a boatload of people landed near Coffs Harbour.

A number of people have put forward their electoral point of view, and we heard from the member for Lalor. I am not sure how frightened they are about people who enter this country via their electorates, but I am certainly frightened about people entering mine. This impacts on Northern Australia. There will not be an impact on other places in Australia; the impact is going to be on Northern Australia. It is very important that the boats that have been landing in Darwin, at Cape Wessel and Cape Don and around the Kimberley coast are stopped from landing there. It is very important for a number of reasons that have been made very clear in this place.

The spokesman from the other side, Senator Sherry, says that we are ending the Pacific solution, ending something that is recognised internationally as one of the very best solutions. The remainder of the world are now looking to Australia to resolve their issues in terms of illegal migration processes and people-smuggling because they know we have the right answers. I have heard lots about a coastguard, but that just makes me wonder and shudder. So many of my constituents in the Northern Territory are part of the defence forces and do such an amazingly good job. The Navy do a fantastic job. In Operation Relex, how many got through? The Customs people have vessels right around the coast. What was the outcome? How many people came through? None. But we have the other side telling us that this somehow failed. It is anathema to me. I did not understand it, but then again that is probably not surprising.

We have had calls for help from right across the top end of Australia. This government put in legislation that is absolutely working. One of the biggest problems I am faced with when I go to these communities is that people ask me: `What about the things on the bottom of the boats? What about the environmental issues that are going to come with these people?' There are not only the issues about the people on the boats and the people-smuggling and other heinous crimes that are being committed but the issues about the environment. The Indigenous people are very concerned about their economic future. I would have to say that in most of the places, particularly the offshore islands, their economic self-determination is very closely tied to the marine area and to maintaining the pristine environment.

When I was in Kakadu just last week I spoke to traditional owners there who were bemoaning the fact that in two years time they will not see any lizards, there will be no goannas and there will be no snakes—there will be no predators—because the cane toads will have killed them. We were all sitting down around the fire saying: `Why didn't we do something when we had a chance? Why is it now we're starting to look heavily at it?' I did not have an answer. But I can tell you now that I do not want to be sitting around those camp fires with those island people saying: `Why didn't we do something about this when we had an opportunity?' We have an opportunity today. Those people who care about the environment, who care about the people who live on those islands and who care about the issues of economic self-determination for Indigenous people should be supporting this bill in this place.

We have got people like this week's leader of the Labor Party coming out and saying, `Look, this is just a sovereignty issue—we're giving away Australia.' Someone who lives on those islands would read that and say, as they have said to me, `But we are not.' I said: `Of course we are not. That is what you call fear. That is what they do—they spread fear amongst people to somehow gain support.' It is absolutely outrageous that people would seek to do that. This legislation only affects people who are involved in the most heinous of crimes, the most heinous of activities, and that is trading in the lives of human beings. If you are an Australian citizen or you have a valid visa, this does not have any impact on you whatsoever.

Who does this legislation actually impact on? As I have said, it also has an impact if it does not become law because it will impact on northern Australians, both Aboriginal and white, with consequences for our future. We are talking about who wants this legislation in place. There must be an awful lot of people smugglers out there who have just heard declared in the Senate of Australia that we are going to wipe out the Pacific solution. They will be arriving in droves on aeroplanes to vote for the Labor Party, because this is clearly in their business interests: `What a great outcome! That will be tremendous. They are going to change the only set of rules that have kept us at bay.'

I have only been in parliament a very short time but the whole issue about being in parliament is about listening to the people. I travelled with the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee to those very islands to speak to the very people that this actually has an impact on. What they told us was very clear. It was not vague, it was not grey and there to be interpreted; it was very clear. I will quote from Hansard the evidence given by Richard Gandhuwuy, who is a traditional owner and a great fishermen and somebody who has a great deal of wisdom on these matters. He said:

I would like to strongly support the new proposal that the committee is looking into now that is going to be a part of the legislation to control the coast, especially in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. I would like to strongly support that legislation to go ahead and be approved by parliament and become law, an act.

He was very clear in saying, `That is what we want to happen to our land, Indigenous land, part of Arnhem Land, part of the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Trust. Mr Crean says, `Clearly, people just do not understand the impact of this legislation.' But Mr Gandhuwuy went on to say:

And I am just hoping for the people wanting to become part of Australia that that will still continue. But ... I support very strongly that this legislation will go ahead and the law will be passed to control Australia.

Unlike Labor, I can tell you that Indigenous Australian people in the Northern Territory understand this legislation and absolutely and utterly want it to become an act. So I have to say with no shame but a great deal of pride that this side of parliament has supported this bill. But last time this bill was before this place it was rejected by the same pathetic carping we heard a minute ago by people using this place to give a five-minute rationalisation about why they are going to pursue this political agenda and give 15 minutes to a policy debate about what they are going to do with repainting boats and putting `Coastguard' on the side and how exciting that is going to be to Australians. The reason they only gave it five minutes is that that is as long as the discussion could possibly take.

I have just been back to those communities and they asked me, `What have you done, Nigel? What have you done, Senator?' I said: `This is how it works. I know you told us that you wanted this. We told them how important this was to your future, but they ignored it.' They ask, `How can that happen—it was a joint committee? I said: `Well, that's just how it works. It is unfortunate but that is how it works.' This week's leader of the Australian Labor Party was asked by a journalist about this bill and he said, `Listen, it's going to have an impact on sovereignty.' He was asked, `What do you think the voters will say, Mr Crean?' He responded by saying, `Well, the voters will have their say come the election. I wouldn't be worried about that particular poll.' The Australian Labor Party made the same mistake today when they ignored the interests and the wishes of the Australian people in re-electing that particular leader. I think that is a sadness that will affect the Australian political scene for some time.

This place has an opportunity today to do the right thing, the just thing; to do something that is equitable and will protect some of the most marginalised and remote places in Australia. This bill impacts negatively only on people smugglers and those people seeking to come to this country unlawfully. I urge those people on the other side to consider their wider responsibilities in this place and consider the impact on the people who do not live in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. This needs that wider consideration. It is very important to note in relation to some of the recent debate that this is a place of equity; this is a place of the states and territories. We have reviewed it. But, remember, if you are going to deliver equity to those places that are not founded on a large population base you need to consider that. I can tell you right now that Territorians are watching very closely what happens to this particular bill. I commend the Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002 [No. 2] to the Senate.