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Thursday, 30 August 2001
Page: 30732

Mr LIEBERMAN (11:10 AM) —Mr Deputy Speaker, there are some things that you know are certain in life and some that you do not. I happen to know that today is certain to be the last occasion on which I will have the privilege of standing in this adjournment debate in the Main Committee because of things that are about to happen to me with regard to my future. It is an opportunity for me to record my deep appreciation to you, to the Speaker and to all the officers of the parliament—the clerks, the advisers, the attendants and the wonderful people who help us to do our difficult job and keep us out of strife, as they often do with great dignity and integrity and, of course, always with absolute independence and even-handedness. That has been a great thing that I have observed over the 25 years that I have been in state and federal parliaments: the hidden strengths of our parliamentary system.

I would just like to make a couple of comments. I have not got all the answers by far, but I have been listening very closely to some Labor speakers this morning on the Border Protection Bill. I have watched the Leader of the Opposition, the person who aspires to be Australia's next Prime Minister, and I have watched my Prime Minister very closely over the last little while. I heard the Leader of the Opposition say that he supported the government's actions up to yesterday. The Prime Minister was obviously getting an endorsement as, in a Westminster system, in serious times you do come together.

I am puzzled, though, because suddenly the people on the government side—and I am one of them, and proud to be—are being accused by some Labor members of being racist, and that is just not on. It is not on, it is not fair and it is not consistent because what you are saying is that most of the things we are doing—you might not agree on some, but the core of what we are doing—are for Australia's sovereignty. This is something that needs to be done and has to be done. It is not easy and it is not pleasant, but it has to be done. How come the Leader of the Opposition can take the same stance that we have been taking—until he did last night depart somewhat—while we are branded by his colleagues as being racists? It is inconsistent in that you are actually in a way indirectly branding your own leader as a racist, because the core principles and values we have spoken about in this place on this issue are, I think, bipartisan. So it is really quite strange.

The second thing I would like to say, in a friendly gesture, is that you have the right in a democracy to put your view on legislation and, of course, you should do it robustly and with courage. There are no problems with that. I am not offended by you doing it, except when you label good hardworking colleagues in the parliament on both sides unfairly and turn the debate into one about racism, which is quite wrong and unfair. My understanding of international law and maritime law—and I am not an expert on it—is that all countries have a sovereign right to protect their waters and their borders. They have a right to say to someone who comes in without authority and without our approval, `Go; remove yourself.' That is unarguable. That is the law. Furthermore, countries in the world have a right to use reasonable means to ensure that their order is obeyed.

If you do not have that inherent right, which is what the legislation the Prime Minister brought in enunciates in codified form, what are you arguing? Is it that the sovereign right of a nation does not exist to enforce a decision? That is really intellectually the issue, and I have not heard anything about it. I would like to see what you say about what steps you would take to protect your sovereign rights. I really would. If you want to codify the law, tell us what you say the law should say about how you can enforce the rights.

Time is nearly upon me. I just want to say one thing: if ever this nation needed four-year parliaments, it needs them now. I have observed the fact that we do not get enough things done because of the short cycle of elections, and I hope that we will amend the Constitution very quickly to allow for four-year parliaments. Thank you for all your courtesy and for your friendship towards me. I wish you all well.

Main Committee adjourned at 11.15 a.m.