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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 31129


Mr ALLAN MORRIS (1:42 PM) —For the record I point out that we are today debating just one piece of legislation, the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 6) 2001. The previous speaker talked about a number of pieces of legislation, most of which actually went through the House yesterday. So he is obviously a bit behind the times, but that is not unusual for government members.

I think there is an old saying that those who ignore history become victims of it. With immigration matters it is worthwhile looking at a bit of the history because there are lessons there to be learnt. What we have been seeing in recent months—in fact for about two years now—is effectively a fourth wave of people arriving by ship from various parts of the world. If we look back to the 1970s and the then Fraser government, the early boat people were from Vietnam—a direct result of the Vietnam War. The next lot of people were Chinese and Cambodians from southern China and Cambodia. What we are seeing now is a fourth wave from the Middle East—from Afghanistan, Iraq and, in some cases, Iran. The boat people are mainly from that part of the world.

When we say that these are different people, the question must be: what happened to the last ones? What happened to the first three waves? Why are they still not coming? The answer is that Labor in government actually addressed and resolved those issues. People need to look back at the role Australia played in bringing Vietnam into the modern Western world as a trading partner. We acted as an intermediary and we helped the Vietnamese people resolve a lot of their international relations. We helped Vietnam reduce the apprehension of its own people so that they were no longer fleeing the country. We actually addressed the problem at the core. We put a lot of aid programs into Vietnam and we undertook a lot of bilateral and multilateral negotiations with Vietnam and other countries to help get investment into the country and stimulate its economy—we were helping to resolve the issue where it was occurring.

Regarding Cambodia, Gareth Evans will live in history forever as the single most important man in the resolution of Cambodia's civil wars that went on for a decade. The effort that Australia put into Cambodia to help resolve its internal problems has meant that Cambodians no longer flee Cambodia. They stay in Cambodia—they are not rushing away like they used to. Turning to the Chinese situation too, there were negotiations undertaken so that people could go back to China. With the agreement of the Chinese government and with the investment in southern China in employment and other activities, people could in fact go back and resettle.

We did that in three different areas—and successfully. Each one was different because the circumstances were different, but the idea that somehow we can put up a barrier at the 12-mile limit and stop people penetrating is a nonsense, and we know that. The government knows that. The question is how we actually solve the problem. What we are dealing with this week in legislation will not solve the problem, because what the government has not explained to the people of Australia is what happens to the people who actually get in here. A person cannot get on an aeroplane in an Australian airport unless the airline taking them knows they can get off at the other end. What the government has not explained is where the people who are coming here—whether it be from Cocos or Christmas or Ashmore Reef or even Nauru—actually get off. Where do they go back to if no-one will take them? The answer is nowhere. We, therefore, cannot get them on a plane. What is the government doing about actually addressing the issue? The answer is: very little. In fact it has just made it worse.

The current case is an incredibly complex set of circumstances involving our relations with some of our most important neighbours—two in particular: Malaysia and Indonesia. In recent months, I have been able to be in Indonesia and talk with Indonesian parliamentarians, including the current President and the previous President, about the circumstances between us and them. We discussed the boat people, refugee asylum seeker issues, with all the key Indonesian parliamentarians, and let me tell you that we came back very positive, because Indonesia understands the problem. But part of the problem is with Malaysia as well. People of the Muslim religion are allowed into Malaysia without visas—so they are quite legally allowed to fly to Malaysia from anywhere in the world if they are Muslim—so the pressure is on Indonesia to allow them to come into Indonesia in the same way. That gives Indonesia a very difficult and complex internal problem, but it is one that must be dealt with in conjunction with Malaysia, not in isolation.

The economic downturn in Indonesia and the transfer of their policing roles to the provinces have brought about an enormous lack of resources at the local level in the parts of Indonesia where asylum seekers are gathering. When the minister quotes how many people are lined up to come on boats from Indonesia to Australia, let me tell you that he is right. We know how many there are. From our briefings in Indonesia with our departmental officials and Federal Police officials, we and the Indonesians know who they are, where they are and who is bringing them. This is not some secret; it is all known. If we know and the Indonesians know, why aren't we talking about it? Why aren't we solving it? The government chose not to. The government chose to talk to Indonesia via the airwaves of Australia, not via face-to-face discussion. What we actually did to Indonesia in recent weeks was to exacerbate their problem; we made it much, much worse. People have been talking about the potential for people involved with bin Laden being in Indonesia but, if they are, it is not for refugee purposes; it is for destabilisation purposes. The Indonesian government has long faced the problem, shared by many other countries, of potential political destabilisation by religious or zealotry forces. And what have we done about that? Do we understand that? We understand it. We know about it. What did we do about it? We just made it worse. We just made it a whole lot worse.

So we have virtually guaranteed that Indonesians cannot take people back once they leave their country. That is what we have guaranteed in recent weeks. As for talking with Malaysia about their visa problem— which all the ASEAN countries agree is a problem—we talked about it via the airwaves again, not face to face, not as neighbours discussing a mutual problem, but as people telling them what to do. The reason it happened in that way is that there is an election in the offing, and the government, after five years of failed negotiations, is out there now pretending to try to solve it. The issue of consultation with our neighbours in this matter is absolutely critical. It is one that many people fail to understand.

In recent weeks I have again spoken to the Indonesian politicians I spoke to two months ago, and I inform the House of their disappointment and their absolute dismay at the fact that we were not talking to them. Why hadn't we spoken to them? Why hadn't we negotiated with them without going public? Why weren't we talking to their ministers and their President before we went and told the world what Indonesia should do? The level of disappointment that they felt and the undermining of our credibility in Indonesia is massive, and it will take us years to repair that.

We knew that we had difficulties over East Timor. That was unavoidable, and the Indonesians knew that. But they all said to us that the relationship with Australia was the most important issue that they had on their plate—that the relationship was incredibly important and that we must fix it; we must make it work well. A delegation of Indonesian parliamentarians is visiting the parliament today. What are we talking to them about? We are not talking about these issues, because they are just too difficult now. What has happened in recent weeks has been, firstly, amateurish and, secondly, dangerous. That is not in any way to deny Indonesia their rights, or our right to protect our borders. But the fact is that we can only solve the problem if the people stop coming to us. The idea that we can somehow put up a barrier, a fence around Australian waters, and stop every ship coming in has now proven to be nonsensical. The Navy has been up there for the last few weeks, yet ships are still coming through. The fact is, as I said, that we know who is bringing them in. We know who is doing it; the Indonesian government knows who is doing it, but they are not being stopped. And why aren't we doing that? Because we are too busy politicking in Australia. Rather than solving the problem in Indonesia and Malaysia, we are too busy politicking in Australia.

For the information of those people who question whether the government is playing politics, let me give some examples which are not just illusions or deceptions but downright dangerous deceits. Let us take the first example: a lot of government members have talked about queue jumpers. Somehow the issue is about queue jumpers. Labor, in government, was as concerned as this government about people going through the right process. Most of the procedures in place for dealing with illegal entrants were in fact put in place in bills introduced by Labor. There has been very little change in legislation in the last five years, so most of the machinery being used was in fact Labor's. So we were just as concerned about the matter.

But there is a contradiction between what the government is doing and what it is saying. We currently take, as Labor did, a significant number of people under the refugee humanitarian program as humanitarian cases. About 3,000—about a quarter of the program every year—are not refugees at all. They are actually people that we take on humanitarian grounds who would not qualify, under this legislation or any other, as a refugee. But there is money involved. These people effectively jump the queue, but the beneficiary is the government and not some third party. In these cases the government is not liable for air fares; these people are sponsored by somebody with money, who sponsors them and pays their fare. They jump the queue, and the government says this is terrific.

We have been told this week by the government that, with respect to people who have aged parents overseas who are trying to come to Australia—they have been approved and have passed all the health tests and everything else—there is a 20-year queue. But the government are saying to us, `We want to put legislation through the parliament so that if they pay $60,000 they can jump the queue.' We are saying, `No, that's just not fair. We are not about queue jumping as a country; we never have been.' There are people sitting in that queue who have been there for five years—parents who have already been waiting for five years. They have not got $60,000; why should they be pushed back? So the government endorse queue jumping if they get paid for it. It is not about queue jumping; it is about who gets the money. And that is fair enough—if you are going to be for sale, it should come to Australian taxpayers, not to some person making a profit offshore. But let us not have all the piety and nonsense from the government about queue jumpers and their expressions of horror about it, because they are up to their eyeballs in it.

We are being asked this week to agree to legislation to allow aged parents to jump the queue if the kids in Australia have $60,000 to spend. What morality is involved in that? It is the same morality as a Snakehead has— exploiting people under emotional duress. Families in Australia are under enormous pressure because their parents cannot join them. They will beg, borrow and steal the money if necessary in order to pay for their parents to come here. That is the kind of emotional duress being exploited by the Snakeheads, and this government is no better. It wants to do exactly the same thing and then it wants to lecture us about supporting queue jumpers. We are the ones who are saying, `No queue jumping.' Let us do it properly, but let us not be hypocritical and contradictory.

The second thing that we are hearing about is the drug smugglers. People say that all the refugees and asylum seekers are drug smugglers and terrorists. Mr Deputy Speaker Nehl, you were with me at a meeting in Bangkok a few weeks ago when the Australian Federal Police told us about the passports you can buy in Bangkok. You can now buy passports in Bangkok which are absolutely top class—right down to Australian visas which would fool officials at most countries' immigration borders. Drug smugglers have lots of money. Why would they want to come to Australia on a leaking boat and take that risk, and then go through months or years of detention, when they can buy a passport in Bangkok? Quite simply, they do not do that. The government knows that this is nonsense, but it peddles this line over and over. Why? Because it knows that the public does not know any better and that it will fall for this nonsense. The fact is that drug smugglers and terrorists have access to large amounts of funds—and we all know that. They do not need to come in as refugees or asylum seekers. They can come in—as they do in America—as students, businessmen, or whatever you like. Whatever name they want, they can buy. There is no way in the world that any of those people are going to take the risk of coming in the other way.

Let us look at the students who come to Australia now. Do government members want to tell me how much those students are checked up on? Look at the people coming in as students and working as prostitutes. Who checks up on them? I can tell you: no-one does. It is up to us as parliamentarians to find them and report them. We know the government is spending money on all kinds of things—Navy ships and all that kind of stuff—but it is spending nothing to make sure that the hundreds of thousands of overseas students who come here do not include people from the Triads in China or the terrorist gangs in the Middle East or elsewhere. Yet the people who are coming here as asylum seekers via boat—the ones who are taking the most risks—are being told that they are drug smugglers and terrorists.

Let us go further on the blackguarding of these people. I do not know who these people are, but let me tell you who they might be. I was in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan and Iran some years ago. I know that the people who the Taliban would be uncomfortable with are the ones who are educated. Those people would normally be from the professional classes: lawyers, teachers, doctors and nurses. In particular, they would be doctors and nurses, because nowadays under the Taliban women and men cannot be trained together and there is a great problem with male doctors dealing with women. Doctors would be very unwelcome in modern Afghanistan. So the people who would be targeted by regimes like the Taliban would be from the educated classes or groups in that country—the ones who are more likely to have resources, have access to resources or have families overseas with resources. They are being accused—because they are educated; because they are from the most professional class in the country—of having something wrong with them. This is back-to-front logic of the greatest order.

We are also being told that they might be terrorists. The fact is that—and we all know this—the people who are coming here are, in the main, escaping from Saddam Hussein, who we see as a world terrorist, or the Taliban, which America is now almost at war with. We are then told that there may be underground cells of bin Laden supporters in Indonesia—and I do not doubt it—but if there are, they are not there to come here; they are there to undermine the Indonesian government. What have we done in recent days? The Minister for Defence, in particular, made the claim that the asylum seekers are camouflaging terrorists—which therefore means that Indonesia is technically condoning, in world terms, the entry into that country of known terrorists. What that has done to Indonesia's credibility internally and externally is extremely serious.

This government has said every day that it does not want to welcome people. Through that process, we are making ourselves the most inhospitable country in the world. Yet, on the same day, the Minister for Sport and Tourism was talking about attracting world tourism here. The two things actually go together. There is now a perception in the world that Australia is using people—people who have enormous problems in their own countries—as scapegoats for a politically failed government. Reading what the government members said in debates last week and this week, I have no doubt that this issue is being used for maximum political purpose and not to solve the problem. When the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs tells us how he is going to get the people off Nauru and back to somewhere else, when he tells us what has been done with Malaysia and Indonesia in terms of concrete negotiations to stop the problem at its source, to stop people leaving those countries to come here, then we might start taking him seriously.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101A. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member for Newcastle will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.