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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7194

Mr BROADBENT (12:26 PM) —Before I begin my remarks on the Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill 2009 I would like to send my best wishes to Dr Mal Washer, who is in a Canberra hospital today after emergency surgery on his appendix. So we send him all the best. I know he would be sitting here beside us right now if he could be.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr AJ Schultz)—I thank the member for McMillan for that kind thought. I am sure that all members in this House wish Dr Mal Washer all the best for a speedy recovery.

Mr BROADBENT —I know he will be listening now and will have just heard the contribution from the member for Mackellar. People who are listening to and watching this broadcast would know her better as Bronwyn Bishop. I stand in total opposition to the presentation that the member for Mackellar has just given. There would be many who would ask, ‘ Why would it be that Russell Broadbent and Bronwyn Bishop are at odds when the member for Mackellar is a friend, a parliamentary colleague and, more than that, a warrior in marginal seats who proudly boasts that the only time he wins his electorate is when she has been involved in the campaign?’ It is because I find that this legislation was wrongheaded when it was introduced by Gerry Hand as the then minister in the Keating government, not the Hawke government—let us not blame Mr Hawke for things that he did not do. I find the repeal of these laws by this legislation right, just and the right thing for this parliament to do.

It is very difficult to oppose your own side. I did that once before, hoping never to have to do it again. There is a process that I have to undertake with regard to doing this. I have to go to my leader and say, ‘Leader, I cannot support you on this bill.’ I have to tell my leader that I think this bill is merciless, unfair, unjust and ineffectual. As the member for Mackellar has just stated, the figures do not add up. I am from a business background and I know that when it costs you more to collect the debt than the price of the debt you do not pursue it. This parliament should not be pursuing these debts. This legislation has come out of a process of this parliament, but I will speak to that in a few moments.

Then, after I have been to the leader, I have to go to my whip and explain that I will not be supporting this legislation. Then—the hardest thing of all—I have to go to my party room and stand before my friends and colleagues, who, along with the rest of the people of this nation, I have the highest respect for, and tell every one of them that I cannot support them on the position of the leadership. In the great Menzies tradition, I can do that. In the process of speaking to my whip, the member for Fairfax, Alex Somlyay, said to me: ‘Russell, you passed this legislation. You voted for this legislation in 1992.’ What do I know of 1992? A lot. I remember 1992 very, very well. All I would have heard of that legislation when it was introduced by Gerry Hand, the minister, would have been the motion ‘that this legislation be moved for a third time’ and it going through on the voices.

God forgive me that I was part of the parliament that did that, which caused so much distress to so many families over such a long period of time. It was wrong in the Hawke years and it was wrong in the Howard years, and the wrong will be righted today. The debts against some of our most vulnerable people will be removed, will be waived. It is the Australian thing to do. It is about fairness, justice and rightness.

In 1992, Victoria was a basket case. Australia had just removed its most popular Prime Minister ever in Bob Hawke. I stood on the other side of this parliament with a senior minister, a friend of mine, who was in tears that his Prime Minister was being replaced. It was a time of high drama, very similar to now, except that, in my electorate of Corinella, 30 per cent of the kids could not get a job, 20 per cent of the population could not hold on to their job, mortgage rates had soared to 18 per cent and interest rates for small business were 22 per cent. Yes, I remember 1992 very, very well. We were in the midst of a war in the Middle East—does this sound familiar?—we were in a major recession and there were major issues.

Is this a big issue for this nation? No. Compared with what is happening today in this House and what has happened and is happening around the world, it is nothing. But what is it to the people that it affects? It is everything. It is their wellbeing and, to many, it is their honour—after all they have been through and all the detention, we give them a bill! Goodness gracious!

I remember 1992 very, very well. In remembering my time in this place before, I remember that I also stood up in my party room around that time and suggested to John Hewson some thoughts on the politics of Fightback! and where we might end up. That was then reported by Laurie Oakes in the Bulletin, and I was called to account for those remarks. I was called to 104 Exhibition Street in Victoria, to the state director’s office, where for one hour I was thrown around that office. What he was talking to me about was party unity, sticking behind the leader and doing the right thing. Do you know who that state director was—do you have any idea? That state director was Petro Georgiou.

This is very hard for us to do. It should never be misunderstood—when we stand in a place like this to oppose our own party, we do it with great regret and great grief. But when there is a bigger issue that the nation needs to address, an issue that the soul of the nation needs repealed—the something that was that should not be—then it is time to state your case, as I have.

If you want a forensic analysis of this issue, go to the member for Kooyong’s speech. It is all there. If you want a heartfelt analysis of the issue, go to Judi Moylan’s address of last night. If you want to know how this came about, go to the speech of the member for Hughes, Danna Vale, of last night, and look at the forensic work of both committees but especially the most recent committee. Look at the evidence of the people that addressed that committee, and remember that committee proceedings are equal to the proceedings of this House. You cannot go into a parliamentary committee and mislead that committee. Important issues are raised, and issues are worked through methodically, usually with a brief from a minister.

I said before I have high regard for the members of this House, and all of the Australian people also have my respect. That is why, when I stand in this House and talk about these issues, I know that my colleagues on both sides of the House and in the Senate have closely looked at this issue, and they came up with a recommendation on the part of the parliament.

Mrs Irwin —Bipartisan.

Mr BROADBENT —It was a bipartisan statement, and that bipartisan statement said, ‘This should be removed; this part of the legislation should be repealed.’ They did not do it lightly. Last night, the member for Hughes listed all of the people that the migration committee spoke to and she acknowledged the interests and exchanges that she had as a member of parliament on that committee in coming to the position that she came to—out of the experience of speaking to the people that this either directly or indirectly affected.

It is a process of the parliament that that committee report was picked up by this government and brought into this House for legislative change. Members of this House, I feel like I am standing on solid ground because I am standing on that committee report. My personal feelings on this issue are probably well known by all, but this legislation has come out of sincere hard work and deliberation by a committee of this House, and it decided on all reasonable terms that this is the right way to go on this issue—Immigration detention in Australia: a new beginning.

I do not have to go through the arguments, because I sat here when Peter Costello stood in this House just the other week and, to the applause of the chamber, told us just how important it is to be a parliamentarian, each individual; the responsibilities we have to the nation; and how this parliamentary process is important. We have been reminded recently that we are one of the oldest democracies and we have been reminded that, among all of the blessings of this nation, we have stable government. We saw the government change in this nation without one shot being fired and with hardly a word in anger. This is where we have our word in anger; this is where we confront the issues of the day.

That is why I stand today to support the government on this issue. I do not expect all of my colleagues to agree with me on any issue that comes up. But, on this issue, I have form; I will admit that. I have form, and I have never been more proud of that form or of those who walk with me on that road. There have to be some that will stand up for the most vulnerable in our community and consider their position, whoever they are, and the fact that they are Australians, however they have come to contribute to this House. So there is a reason why I remember everything that has happened to me in this place and who I have walked with and where we will go together. But most of all I am here today to see this legislation go through. I will watch it go through the Senate. And I will see people, Australians, relieved of a burden that should never, in the history of this nation, have been placed on them in the first place.