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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 3390

Mr HOWARTH (Petrie) (16:52): I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016. From day one of the coalition government, we have made it an absolute priority to have strong border protection, ensuring that we decide as a government how people come to this country, and it is working extremely well. This bill will further strengthen that and ensure that the system continues to work well, not just now but well into the future. Every day, we need to continue to deliver on this promise to provide secure borders in this country. In fact, it is working so well that there has not been a single boat arrival in the last 830 days.

Mr McCormack: 830 days?

Mr HOWARTH: If we go back to 2013, we remember that there were a few of them rocking up every day at one stage. It was unbelievable. We went into the 2013 election with the three-word slogan that those opposite used to like to talk about: stop the boats. They said it could not be done. They said it would never be done—it was just words—but here we are and there has been not one boat arrival in 830 days.

It gets worse because, when you go back to 2007, when Labor took office, there were no boats coming then either after the 11 successful years of the Howard government. How many people were in detention then, Member for Riverina? There were four, I think, in 2007.

Mr McCormack: Four adult males.

Mr HOWARTH: That is right. Do you know how many children, Mr Deputy Speaker, were in detention when I was elected in 2013? Almost 2,000. Labor have learnt nothing in the last few years after their abysmal record of six years in government. Clearly, our strong border protection policies have sent a message to people smugglers that life in Australia is not a commodity to be sold at a profit to the desperate and vulnerable. Illegal immigration, of course, is a worldwide problem. In 2016, we are seeing the worst of this in Europe, and I believe it was a big factor in the recent Brexit vote and in today's US election. Our border protection policies have been so successful that other countries, including in Europe and Great Britain, are looking to us, saying: 'What have you done? How did you implement policies that are working so well? We need to do the same here.'

However, as the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, the member for Dickson, said today, we cannot afford to become complacent. Now is not the time to send a message to the people smugglers and to the Australian people that the Australian government will go soft on this issue or that we are complacent on this issue.

The bill before the House today will amend the Migration Act to further strengthen Australia's migration border-protection arrangements. The purpose is to reinforce the government's longstanding policy that people who travel here illegally by boat will never be settled in Australia. Of course, we know that this policy position is longstanding. The coalition government have had this policy position since around 2000. Do you remember the Tampa in 2001 when the Howard government was in office? It is now almost 2017 and we have not changed. The Labor Party, on the other hand, are all over the place—the most wishy-washy government and opposition ever who caused a major disaster in their six years of government.

Ms Collins interjecting

Mr HOWARTH: The member for Franklin was there as part of that government. She was one of the members who weakened TPVs and that weakened everything—for example, the Pacific solution, that Howard had in place. I would not be interjecting if I was her.

There are many differences between the coalition government and Labor. While the coalition acts in the best interests of the Australian people, Labor does not. They do not act in the best interests of the Australian people on this issue relating to illegal maritime arrivals. They are too interested in what everyone else thinks. That is why, from what the members opposite have said today, they do not want to support the bill. We need to look at their record over their time in government. Some 50,000 illegal maritime arrivals came on over 800 boats. As I said before, some 8,000 children came through detention. The Labor government reopened 17 detention centres and two offshore detention centres in Nauru and in PNG. We know that there were at least 1,200 deaths at sea and an $11 billion blowout in border protection policies.

Mr Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, talks about people smuggling and the need for resettlement as though he and Labor have no responsibility in the facts and figures that I have just read out and they have no responsibility for offshore processing and detention. But they have absolute responsibility. Let's not forget that in May 2008 the Rudd government announced that it would abolish the system of temporary protection—out of the blue—when previously former Prime Minister Rudd had said they would not do that and they were on a unity ticket with us. But in May 2008 they abolished the temporary protection system.

The TPV system was formally ended by amendments to the migration regulations on 9 August 2008 and those Labor members elected in 2007, including the current shadow minister, said nothing. They just supported it and let it go through, and we know what happened afterwards. Now it seems, after listening to the shadow minister today and other members opposite, they have learnt nothing in that time—absolutely nothing.

What are their excuses for not supporting this important amendment that will send the strongest of signals that our borders are secure? The Leader of the Opposition spoke the other day about genuine refugees and said that all the people coming by boat were genuine. Now, we now that that is not the case. There are two people in my electorate alone who are men from Iran. One is a young guy who is about 27 years of age who came by boat before 2013—so he would not be affected by this policy. He is currently on a TPV in the Australian community. He has just moved into a regional area. I spoke to Amid and said: 'Mate, what was the issue?' He said he was or was about to be persecuted in Iran because of his political beliefs. I said, 'Okay, what did you do from there?' He went to neighbouring countries—I think it was Egypt—and lived there for 12 months and then flew to Indonesia and lived there for another 12 or 18 months. Then, eventually, he paid around $10,000 to come to Australia by boat. I said to him, 'Were you being persecuted when you were in Indonesia and Egypt?' He said, 'No, I wasn't.' He is a nice young guy, but he said he was not being persecuted. I said, 'Why did you then illegally pay a people smuggler to come to Australia by boat?' He said, 'Look, I just wanted to come.'

And I cannot blame him. Of course people want to come to Australia because we have the greatest country in the world. I understand that. But I said to him: 'Amid, that is the illegal part mate. You cannot actually pay a people smuggler. It is against the law to pay a people smuggler to come to Australia by boat.' I do not blame him for wanting to come, but 1,200 of his fellow travellers drowned at sea because of Labor's changes. We must send a signal that this was—

Mr Conroy: You voted against Malaysia. It was an appalling decision.

Mr HOWARTH: You do not have to worry about it. You were not here at the time. I am not blaming you. I am blaming members elected in 2007, Mr Conroy.

The other thing Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, said is that he is worried that the citizens of the US and Canada may face a ban. I spoke on this yesterday in a 90 second statement. I said, 'Bill, you don't represent the people of the US or Canada. You don't represent those people. You actually represent Australians in your electorate.' He is opposition leader and obviously he wants to be Prime Minister, but he has to learn that he represents Australians and that he has to look after Australians. He is not here to look after the interests of US or Canadian citizens. He is totally mixed up. I know he could not help himself intervening in this current US election by making some of the disgraceful comments he had made in relation to the Republican candidate who, in a few hours time from now, may well be the next US President. I am sure his remarks will come back to bite him. He has to learn that he is here to represent the Australian people.

The bill will prevent unauthorised maritime arrivals who are at least 18 years of age and who were taken to a regional processing country after 19 July 2013 from making a valid application for an Australian visa. The amendments will also apply to transitionary persons who were at least 18 years of age and who were taken to a regional processing country after the date. The amendments will include ministerial discretion, where the minister will be able to permit a member of a class of people within the designated regional processing cohort to make a valid application for a visa if the minister thinks it is in the public interest to do so. This is important because there are sometimes cases that are so important that it is not possible to assess them under a standard piece of legislation.

When the shadow minister spoke on this all he could do was criticise the current minister. He just went to town on him as though that was important. Given that he was elected in 2007 and was responsible for much of the chaos, I just found it outrageous. The current minister has a strong record. He has a very strong record. I am sure that future ministers from whatever government could make the right decision when it comes to ministerial intervention in these matters.

The minister made some contributions on this bill when he presented it to the House. He said notwithstanding the success of Operation Sovereign Borders people smugglers will continue to take advantage of vulnerable people by trying to convince them to get on boats for Australia and to risk their lives at sea. This bill will further undercut the people smugglers' business model. It will communicate unequivocally to the 14,000 people currently waiting in Indonesia to board a people-smuggling boat that they will never settle in Australia. The bill will communicate to illegal maritime arrivals on regional processing countries that they will never settle permanently in Australia, no matter what advocates or others may tell them. That is an important point—to stop people languishing on offshore detention centres set up by Labor for so long because some advocates might say, 'Just wait it out. The government will change. They'll weaken their border protection policies and you will be allowed in.' This will send the strongest of messages that the Australian government is serious about protecting our borders and maintaining our sovereignty and the interests of Australian people.

I know for a fact that the majority of people in my electorate of Petrie want to see our borders protected. And I think those opposite and, perhaps, some of the crossbench senators would also know that, in their states and in their seats, support for this measure is important. In stark contrast to Labor, the federal coalition government has stopped the boats, it has closed 17 detention centres, it has moved thousands of children out of detention and it has been able, as a result, to increase our refugee intake, including recently for 12,000 additional Syrians. People are absolutely in fear of their life because of ISIL at the moment in Syria and Iraq—ISIL is slaughtering these people on a daily basis. Why? Because they are Christians or something. Unbelievable! Now, our refugee intake will enable them in instead of IMAs. This is a very important bill to make sure that the message is sent clearly.

I thank the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection for his work on this bill. The coalition will get on with the job. I commend the bill to the House.