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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 2410

Senator ARBIB (Parliamentary Secretary for Government Service Delivery) (4:36 PM) —I am pretty disappointed after hearing Senator Fierravanti-Wells in her rant regarding the matters of public importance. I am disappointed but I am not surprised by it. I note that the good Senators Payne and Troeth have both declined to speak—they are not on the speaking list. They would be pretty disappointed as well by that performance of Senator Fierravanti-Wells. The really interesting thing is that it highlights the divisions within the Liberal Party on this issue—not just within the Liberal Party but between the chambers. Before I came in today, I thought I would check what is going on in the House of Reps, the other place, to see what they are talking about today and see if they are actually debating immigration and border protection. Guess what—in question time, how many questions were on border protection or immigration? Have a guess.

Senator Williams interjecting—

Senator ARBIB —Come on, Senator Williams, have a guess.

Senator Williams —I wouldn’t have a clue.

Senator ARBIB —Zero. Not one question. How many notices of motion are there on immigration or border protection? Would you like to guess? Zero—none. In the other place they are debating the economy. They are talking about the stimulus package and the budget, but here in the Senate the Liberal hardliners are at it again. The hard Right is here in the Senate holding the flag.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I ask Senator Arbib to retract that last comment about the hard Right. I think it has connotations and would appreciate it if he would withdraw that. Thank you.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bernardi)—After receiving some advice, it is a general comment across the chamber, but I put it back to Senator Arbib that a senator has found offence at that comment and he may or may not decide that it is an appropriate comment.

Senator ARBIB —In terms of my statement, at no time did I talk about the hard Right; I talked about hardliners, so I do not intend to retract the comment. In terms of the hardliners on the other side of the chamber, they do not believe in global warming, they still believe in Work Choices and now they are returning to their roots in terms of immigration and border protection. Australia went down a very dark route when John Howard and the former government played wedge politics and dog-whistled on border protection. It looks like we are going back again. Here comes the new Liberal Party-National Party scare campaign and Senator Fierravanti-Wells is at the helm. So you have to ask: why are they referring back to immigration and asylum seekers? Why are they running a scare campaign? They are desperate. They are losing the debate on the economy, they are losing the debate on climate change and they are losing the debate on workplace relations, so they are back to their typical scare campaign.

The worrying thing about the scare campaign is that it is really a political game based on opportunism. It is not based on fact; it is based on fear. If you listen to Senator Fierravanti-Wells and some other members of the coalition front bench, you would think that there is a huge difference between our position on border protection and immigration and the coalition’s position. Look at what the shadow minister, Sharman Stone, the member for Murray, said on Sky News on 16 April, straight after—this was minutes after—the Ashmore Reef explosion:

You can’t slash funds, you can’t take your eye off the ball, you can’t announce a softer policy and then expect people not to lose their lives through people smuggling ...

On 17 April, the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Wentworth, said:

There is no doubt the impression has been created that we are now more accommodating or taking a less hard line towards people smuggling than ... in the past.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells said we have given the green light to asylum seekers.

Senator Williams —Everybody says that.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells —Everybody says that.

Senator ARBIB —That is amazing, because the Liberal Party and the coalition have completely changed their position over the past two to three months. This is a complete U-turn. They have finally found another scare campaign they can run. The facts tell the story, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. Let’s go back to it. Let’s look at what the member for Murray, the shadow spokesperson for immigration, said on 2UE on 19 January this year:

Well certainly Rudd’s Government has continued with the excised migration zones. They’ve also continued with what was originally a Labor-introduced policy of mandatory detention—

that is right—

They’re using the Christmas Island detention centre, which we built.

What did she say on 2SM on 1 December? Listen to this, Senators. She probably did not think anyone was listening:

Labor is echoing very much what we did; it’s just that they seem very reluctant to loudly and clearly state into the region, look, we still do have excised zones for migration purposes.

That was the Liberal shadow minister. She went on to say:

They also still of course have mandatory detention until you can prove the identity of the people. I don’t think we need—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells —What about temporary protection visas?

Senator ARBIB —Hang on, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. Please listen to this. I think you should listen to it because it was your own spokesperson.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Please address your comments through the chair, Senator Arbib.

Senator ARBIB —The shadow minister said:

I don’t think we need to again have Nauru and Manus Island operating, because we’ve got of course Christmas Island. There’s a $360 million new detention centre sitting there.

Are the coalition coming into this chamber today and saying, ‘Let’s go back to the Pacific solution’? No. Are coalition senators coming back today and saying, ‘Let’s go back to temporary protection visas’? No. In fact, a joint standing committee looking at immigration detention measures released a report in December 2008. It was endorsed by shadow immigration minister Sharman Stone and Liberal MP Danna Vale. Senator Fierravanti-Wells left that out today, but it is useful information and I think other senators should know. The committee’s report endorsed the Rudd government’s abolition of the former Prime Minister’s inhumane approach to immigration detention. Let’s get the quote in. This is from the report, signed by the shadow minister:

The series of recommendations we have made will build on the new immigration detention values and strike a fair balance between protection of the Australian community and our obligations towards those in immigration detention.

The opposition’s own spokesperson has outlined how little difference there is in mandatory detention and border protection. You do not want to go back to the Pacific solution and neither do the government. You do not want to go back to temporary protection visas and neither do we. We do not want to go back to having women and children in endless detention, and I hope that you do not want to go back to that either. Of course, your spokesperson has said that, and I hope the senators on the other side will agree with that.

In terms of temporary protection visas, Senator Fierravanti-Wells made the point that there was a surge of asylum seekers when the government ended temporary protection visas, which is absolute rubbish. TPVs did not stop boats arriving.

Senator Johnston interjecting—

Senator ARBIB —Listen to the facts, Senator. Temporary protection visas were introduced in October 1999. There were 3,722 unauthorised boat arrivals that year. During the next two years there were 8,459 unauthorised arrivals, including 5,520 arrivals in 2001 alone. Not only was there an increase, people granted TPVs did not leave Australia. By the time TPVs were abolished last year, nearly 90 per cent of people initially granted a TPV had been granted a permanent protection visa or another visa to remain in Australia. Even the previous government realised TPVs were failing. The coalition’s 2007 election policy manifesto dealing with unauthorised boat arrivals made no reference, Senators, to TPVs because they knew TPVs were not working.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells also made some claims about two asylum seekers who, apparently in news reports, had mentioned that Australia was a great place to come because of changed policies. Senator Fierravanti-Wells based that statement on two comments in a newspaper. Senators, there has actually been a report and a study done on this by Dr Roslyn Richardson of Charles Sturt University. She interviewed asylum seekers—not two, but many—and she did it in a systematic way. Let me offer a few quotes from her paper:

... none of the respondents who were interviewed for this study arrived in Australia with a detailed understanding of Australia’s immigration policies.

... some Afghan respondents reported that they had not even heard of a place called Australia prior to arriving on Australia’s shores.

While a number of the respondents said that they knew prior to their spontaneous arrival, that they might be detained in an Australian detention centre, only one of the respondents said that before he came to Australia, he knew that he might be subjected to the temporary protection visa.

... the apparent lack of importance of Australia to refugees prior to their arrival in Australia is worth noting. Australia to the respondents, pre arrival, was perhaps only as important to them as any other country which was outside of their region and with which they had little contact.

Most of the people interviewed actually came to Australia during the excesses of the Howard government asylum seeker policies, yet they were not even aware of the policies that were supposed to deter them. The argument that somehow there was a cause and effect relationship between the movement of asylum seekers and our domestic immigration policies was false then and it is false now.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells really did not go into the global factors that are driving the immigration, asylum seeker spike either. She just glossed over it as though it is not happening. She did not mention Pakistan or the turmoil there. She did not mention the turmoil in Sri Lanka and she did not mention the turmoil in Iraq. She did not mention these issues or the conflicts that are causing people across the world to migrate, to flee unsafe environments and look for safe havens.

The UN has described the situation in Sri Lanka as an intensifying emergency as tens of thousands of civilians continue to make their way out of the conflict zone. Among the major countries of origin of asylum seekers, the biggest increase in 2008 was registered by Afghanistan—numbers were up 85 per cent. Of course, Australia is going to be an area that is viewed as a safe haven. The UNHCR mentioned a 12 per cent spike in asylum seeker traffic across the globe. Senator Fierravanti-Wells never even mentioned these facts. What is happening globally is irrelevant to the Liberal Party. In the end this is a scare campaign not based on fact but based on opportunism.

Fortunately, though, there are some good people within the Liberal Party not motivated on this issue by political opportunism who have decided to take a stand. They have talked about the push and pull factors. Mr Barnett, the Western Australian Premier, said this about global factors:

I think what we are seeing is serious unrest in areas like Sri Lanka, Afghanistan … and there are desperate people trying to find a better life for themselves.

That was reported by AAP. The member for Pearce, Mrs Moylan, supported the government’s current policies and does not believe they are responsible for the rise in boat people. She said:

I don’t think that it is domestic policy driving this latest flood. I think you will see, like it was previously, that it is events in Afghanistan.

They are the facts. This is what is happening overseas and this is why there is a spike. It has absolutely nothing to do with government policy.

In its policy the government has maintained the strongest of border protection. If you look at the figures, funding has gone up for border security and border surveillance. Immigration and border protection policy for the Rudd government is based on six pillars: the excision of offshore islands; mandatory detention of all unauthorised boat arrivals; offshore processing of unauthorised boat arrivals on Christmas Island; extensive air, land and sea patrols; the prosecution of people smugglers; and working with our regional allies.

This is what the government is doing. We are working with Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka to ensure that these countries have the support and the resources they need to stop the people smugglers. We all know that in the end these are the people who are helping to drive unauthorised arrivals, and this is what the Rudd government is concerned about. We have heard what the Prime Minister has said about people smugglers, and we will continue the fight. The government has the strongest of border protections in place but is at the same time processing asylum seekers humanely. So I say to Senator Fierravanti-Wells and those senators on the other side of the chamber: when you are addressing the Liberal Party policy, do not talk to or look at John Howard; talk to former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. (Time expired)