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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7695

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (3:23 PM) —Thank goodness for the happy campers—the new front line in our border protection. The headlines today say it all: ‘Security scramble after boat people reach Shark Bay’. You can almost see it. They are coming ashore and they say, ‘Excuse me, where can I moor my boat?’ and they are told, ‘Just go down the road.’ It is absolutely appalling that we are now at the point where we have to rely on campers who happen to be there as the front line of our border security. The reports in today’s Australian validate our grave concerns that the Rudd Labor government is sending the wrong message to the people smugglers.

Senator Johnston gave an outline of the seven arrivals. Why have we had seven arrivals since the Rudd government came to power? It has been very clear that people smugglers are back in business, and they are back in business because the Rudd government has softened its approach to border protection. In today’s Australian a number of comments were made, and one in particular summarises it well when it quotes former minister Philip Ruddock:

“I think it is well known that smugglers have been again looking at whether or not it is possible to reopen traffic,” …

He says that whilst he does not want to mention specifics:

“… it is well known that smugglers have been anxious to get into the business again and I think the evidence is that it is occurring.”

It is very clear that the people smugglers are now testing the waters. Under the coalition, the number of boat arrivals had trickled to just a few. Why? Because we were tough on border security and we were tough on illegal arrivals. The number of unlawful entrants had decreased from 12,000 in the 30 months to January 2002 down to 250 in the years since then. Labor cannot walk both sides of the fence. You cannot go out there and talk tough on border protection and, at the same time, give effect to a change in policy by weakening detention. By changing the policy regarding temporary entry visas and by closing detention areas, you have sent a very, very clear message to the people smugglers. At estimates, Senator Ellison talked about the questions that were put to the department. I want to take you to those, because it is very clear from the evidence that was given that the department are changing 26 programs ‘spanning across compliance work, detention work, our border security areas and our humanitarian programs’. If that is not a decisive shift in the way that you guys are doing business—

Senator Cormann —Of course it is.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Of course it is, Senator Cormann.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Fierravanti-Wells, address the chair, please.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —If this is not a decisive change in the direction of this government, clearly you have it in the words of your own public servants, who are clearly answering my questions and the questions of Senator Ellison: yes, they are changing and they are changing their position decisively. Of course, the minister was desperately trying to say at estimates that it has not really changed, but the reality is that those opposite have changed it. Once identity, health and character checks are undertaken, people will potentially be put out into the community whilst their visas are being processed. This is the clear message that the people smugglers are getting, because they know, and they are probably telling their clients, ‘Look, you’ll spend a little bit of time in detention but, after that, you will be out in the community.’ One only has to look at the experiences around the world to see that once illegals go out into the community it is always a very difficult situation for them to meet their immigration obligations.

It is all very well to talk tough, but the proof is in what you are actually doing. Senator Farrell, what the Australian people want to hear from you is that you have not changed your position and you are still tough. But you are walking both sides of the fence, and you have to be truthful with the Australian public.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Fierravanti-Wells, you must address the chair.

Question agreed to.