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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 3317

Mr RAMSEY (GreyGovernment Whip) (12:31): I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016. I must say that uncontrolled immigration into Australia has been an issue of great concern to the public and to successive governments—since the early 2000s in particular. It is a divisive issue, and I fully understand some people's anxiety around what appear to be tough, harsh measures. But sometimes there are no easy choices in this life and there is a right path and a wrong path, or a path that leads us to a worse outcome.

John Howard showed courage back in the early 2000s in a move to stop illegal boat arrivals, which were certainly out of control at that time. I remember well the confrontations that John Howard faced in the community, with the drownings and the emergency measures, but certainly the vilification of John Howard was terrible. As he moved around the country and visited university campuses, the protesters were out there and, to them, Howard was the devil reincarnate. But his wisdom and his strength of character were shown to be the right path for Australia, because the boats did stop, and, when the boats stopped, the drownings stopped. And, eventually, some of the protests stopped.

Australia did not take fewer refugees—not at all. Even today, or especially today, we retain one of the most generous refugee resettlement programs in the world. In fact, at the moment, we are lifting this program from around 14,000 a year to 18,750 by 2018-19. Plus, because people have faith in our ability to control the borders and in the way the government is running this part of the policy, we were given the ability to announce the fact that we would take 12,000 Syrians from that terrible crisis over there, those that were most persecuted within that country. So we continue on a good path.

To come back to the Howard years again, once the arrivals stopped, the protests and vilification slowed as well. When, eventually, the detention centres were all empty, all the protests ceased. No-one was drowning, no-one was being detained, many centres were closed and even Christmas Island was mothballed. It shows that, once the border is under control, so many of these other issues just disappear. All that was left, really, in this debate was political vanity. When the Rudd government came to power in 2007 that was all on show, with the agitation of the Left within the Labor Party, its desire to differentiate itself from those harsh Howard years and its belief that we could just change the laws a little because no-one was coming, no-one would notice and it would all be okay. So Kevin Rudd dismantled those laws, and the boats started coming.

Remember, Mr Deputy Speaker—and I am sure you remember well—the great cry from the Labor Party then? 'But it's all about push factors. It's nothing to do with what Australia is doing; it's all these push factors. There are record numbers of refugees in the world,'—as if there are not today—'and it wouldn't matter even if we tried to stop the boats. You couldn't do it anyhow, because the circumstances are so completely different to 2004. We are now in 2008, and there's no way those policies would work. The evil coalition in those days,' the Labor Party would say, 'was just grandstanding,' and the Labor Party continued to defend the indefensible. The results of those policies were 50,000 illegal boat arrivals on 800 boats, the detention centres reopening and new ones being commissioned, and these figures: 8,000 children placed in detention and an $11 billion blow-out in the detention and processing budget.

This is the part that really gets to me: where were the protesters? Where were all those students on the university campuses? Where were those who marched against John Howard's detention centres when Labor built new detention centres and filled them up? Where, even, I must say, were the righteous church lobbies that were so judgemental over the John Howard years? Where were they when Labor presided over one of the worst public policy failures in this nation's history? Where were they? They were silent. They were missing. They were muted. Why was there no criticism of children in detention?

Where was the Human Rights Commission? Why were they not running an inquiry into people held in detention? That is not a question I will answer here, Mr Deputy Speaker—you can reach your own conclusion. They got around to that subject a little later, once the government had changed.

The coalition was elected and immediately did what the Left said was impossible: we stopped the boats. It has now been more than 830 days since a successful arrival. There are no deaths at sea. We have closed 17 detention centres. One I might mention—talk about a better use for a detention centre—was the Ellis Close detention centre in Port Augusta, where, in its place, only a couple of weeks ago, I opened a new drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. That is a far better use of Australia's resources. No children who arrived by boat are held in detention in Australia. The 2,000 children Kevin Rudd bequeathed to the coalition have all been released. It is worth remembering that when Labor came into power in 2007 there were just four illegal maritime arrivals held in detention.

Having achieved so much, it is unbelievable that those who held their counsel during the Rudd-Gillard years have rediscovered their voice. The outstanding success of Operation Sovereign Borders has stopped dead in its tracks the very lucrative, evil people-smuggling trade. The peddlers of misery, the creators of death by journeys at sea, have stopped. But our intelligence community inform us that they are still there; they are waiting for their opportunity.

I remember that, in the lead-up to the last election, Channel 7 sent a television team to Indonesia, where they looked at those who were queuing for illegal boats. It is estimated that 14,000 people are waiting in Indonesia for the opportunity, for a sign of weakness from Australia. To paraphrase one potential boat traveller: 'We are hoping that Labor win the election because we know they like boat people.' Well, he was certainly half right—whether or not they like boat people, I am not sure, but they certainly do not mind having a rampant trade in people smuggling. Their past actions underline this fact. In fact, their resistance to this legislation today would say that nothing much has changed.

All this has occurred while we have seen a disaster unfolding in Europe. Countries which had earlier expressed concern with Australia's methods are now lining up to see how we have stopped the boats. I remember listening to the German Chancellor when she opened the floodgates to uncontrolled immigration in Europe by basically saying, 'If you can get to Germany, we will look after you.' They are now dealing with the human safety issues that uncontrolled migration present. All the countries they travel through to try to get to Germany are now trying to resurrect borders which they had abandoned 20 years ago. They are dealing with terrible, miserable issues. All this is feeding into Europe's great disquiet that they are losing their identity. I would suggest that the events of the last two years have set up a certain instability within Europe that they will be struggling with over the next 20 years.

Labor lost the election, and the coalition is determined that no false signals will be sent to those people that would wish to arrive in Australia by boat. The message that they just need to be patient and that Australia will blink and allow them in is a message we must not allow to gather speed. That is why we are presenting this legislation for a permanent ban, making sure there is no back door. We are doing no more than giving substance to the statements made previously by Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and the Leader of the Opposition that boat arrivals will never be allowed to settle in Australia.

Our proposal has a date criterion to clearly delineate those who may have tried to come here before the government declaration—which was in fact Kevin Rudd's declaration, when he said: 'As of today, asylum seekers who arrive here by boat without a visa will never be allowed to settle in Australia.' Those who were under 18 at the time they were transferred to a regional processing centre will not be affected by this legislation. It will affect no-one who has attempted to come to Australia since the coalition was elected, because they have all been unsuccessful. It will affect only those who came to Australia while Labor were in power. That is why they should back us in continuing to clean up the mess that they left. But, once again, they have caved in to their Left with gesture politics, pretending to show a little bit of compassion, a little bit of weakness. That will make no difference to the outcome.

We will continue to work hard. We will empty Manus and Nauru, but not by dropping our guard and just letting these people come to Australia because everything else is too hard. We will find suitable countries for these people. Yes, it is hard, it is difficult—certainly it is—but we are up to the task and we will get there. These things take time. The point missed by so many is that, while there are still people in the regional processing centres in Nauru and on Manus Island, no-one is being added to their numbers, because there are no new boat arrivals. The coalition has not been putting people in detention. We are dealing with the people that were left here by the Labor administration.

We will not allow those held in offshore detention to entertain the thought that, if they continue to refuse the options put in front of them of settling in a third country or returning to their home country, they will get into Australia by default. They will not. Yes, it is tough. This is tough legislation, but that is because there are no easy choices in this game—whatever you do has consequences. But it is responsible and it is delivering a better outcome for more people. We accept more refugees into Australia as a result of the solid policies, the successful policies, of this government. We should be given some credit for that—not just some credit but a huge amount of credit. We are delivering a more humane and receptive refugee policy to the world. We will not be dictated to by others and we will not offer false hope. I commend the legislation to the House.