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Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 3781

Senator McGAURAN (3:56 PM) —The problem with following Senator Brown in this matter of public importance debate is that you do not know where to start. Her speech was full of intellectual errors and a lot of it lacked honesty. Let me just sum up the other side’s case in this. They have utterly failed in the most basic responsibility of a government to provide security—in this case, border security. That is what we are debating today: the Rudd government’s failure to control our borders. Whatever side of the fence you are on or whatever your political colour, a government has a basic responsibility to ensure security for its people and for its borders. This government have failed in this fundamental responsibility.

The minister in charge, Senator Evans, can run from his responsibility, as he does daily in this place, but he cannot hide. This minister, who represents the government, is probably the most incompetent and dangerous minister in the government. That is saying something when you consider Julia Gillard and Peter Garrett.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator McGauran, you must refer to people by their proper titles.

Senator McGAURAN —Ms Gillard and Mr Garrett. Senator Evans’ ministry deals with people’s lives. When you take up the responsibility of the office of the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship it is not going to be easy and you always know that you have to make tough decisions—it is the role of any minister. Certainly when we were in government we had several immigration ministers whose daily chores were probably harder than those of a lot of other ministers, but there is a responsibility to process, which creates fairness in that ministry.

But Senator Evans has run from that responsibility. He has dispersed the responsibility. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has in fact stripped this minister of much of his responsibility. What the Prime Minister has not stripped from him he has confessed to handing over to his own department. His own department will make the crucial decisions that the minister was voted in and appointed to make. He swore his oath of office at the Governor-General’s residence that he would make—

Senator Ludwig interjecting—

Senator McGAURAN —I thought ‘Mr Point of Order’ was about to say something.

Senator Ludwig —I was just standing.

Senator McGAURAN —It was enough to throw me off, anyway! The minister swore his oath of office in regard to making decisions about permanent residencies, appeals and visa appeals. This is the job of the minister and he has delegated it back to his department. This is a weak minister and he epitomises the government’s weak approach to border security. On the minister’s weak decision making epitomising the government’s approach, remember the SIEV 36 asylum seeker boat that sank in international waters. No action was taken against those held responsible, despite the Northern Territory coroner’s assurance that the weight of evidence indicated who had created the fire on board the SIEV 36 that cost five lives. Those bad characters are still in this country and they have not even been charged. This minister has the authority to expel them from this country. This minister in the same matter allowed the Navy personnel who attended this incident to be pilloried in public by his political backers, who said that the Navy were much to blame for the incident. Nothing could be further from the truth and the Northern Territory coroner found as such. Yet the minister has remained mute. He has remained mute during the pillorying and remains mute in defence of the Navy.

His weakness in decision making is notorious in relation to the Oceanic Viking, where 76 Sri Lankans held hostage and blackmailed a nation. It was much to the astonishment of the Indonesians that we caved in; moreover, it was much to the astonishment of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who declared the double-dealing as queue jumping. Even though ASIO advised that five of the Sri Lankans on board the Oceanic Viking were a security threat, they were still allowed into this country—and they are still here. This minister has given up on his portfolio. He never wanted to take on the difficulty of the portfolio in the first place.

It was reported in today’s papers that some Labor members are now getting a bit nervous about this issue, that their seats may be in doubt over this issue, particularly in the western suburbs of Sydney given Saturday’s by-election results. But they are just looking at the political effects of this. They have finally woken up to the political effects of this—not the moral effects, not the security effects. They have looked at this issue from day one through the prism of politics.

We read today that 200 more are on their way to Australia and that bureaucrats are looking at whether to reopen Woomera detention centre—that will be the advice to the government. They are suddenly getting politically nervous about this, but their concern about this is only political. They have made their decisions on political grounds and that is why they are in the mess they are in now.

The government’s first decision was to soften the laws in 2008 and since then we have seen a surge of boats. They only made that decision on grounds to appease a certain element who supported the Labor Party—a minority, I should add; not their base but some left-wing, naive noise-makers. They changed all the laws that worked that brought the boats to zero. They changed them on the grounds of politics. When reality hits and when we have had over 174 boats come to our shores with thousands upon thousands of asylum seekers, they decide to make some changes. But they are only political gestures. They keep their soft laws and they do not go to the source of the problem, and then they make the bizarre decision to suspend for six months the processing of Afghani and Sri Lankan asylum seekers. What a contradiction to it all. That decision has not stopped the boats from coming; it has made Christmas Island jam-packed full of unprocessed asylum seekers. Where is the humanity in that? It has now forced an onshore detention centre policy. That is what it has done. It is a contradiction to their policies and it is a political solution that simply has not worked. They talk about locking up children. They try that card, yet there are 450 children in the lockup as we speak. There are bureaucrats running around looking for onshore placements for thousands. There are extreme tensions and even violence inside detention centres. They have had to send extra Federal Police to Christmas Island to cover those tensions and possible riots. It is a volatile situation on Christmas Island. The minister is in the chamber. I wish he would get up and speak on this issue. He declared Christmas Island a white elephant. It probably was under the coalition policies, but it is not anymore. Bureaucrats are looking to open up Woomera.

The opposition claim that the government’s moral failure is threefold. Firstly, the government’s policies are giving succour to the people smugglers. The Prime Minister can rail all he likes against people smugglers and call them ‘vile’, but it is just water off a duck’s back unless he acts with firmness and undertakes policies that he knows will stop these boats and take these poor, desperate people out of the grip of people smugglers. That is the moral situation: choke off the trade. Secondly, there is the moral issue of the safety of asylum seekers. By introducing these soft policies, the government have simply seduced them to come across perilous waters, where we know many hundreds have been lost. They give them hope with their policies and they put them in the grip of people smugglers. Of course these people are going to take that perilous journey across the Indian Ocean, and many do not make it here. You ought to look at the morality of that. Thirdly, there is the moral issue about the queue jumpers. What about the thousands in refugee camps? What about the people waiting to come out here with their families? Even the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called it ‘queue jumping’—they were his words. These are not terms we use; these are terms that the United Nations used. (Time expired)