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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7482

Senator SCULLION (6:23 PM) —I rise to speak in support of this very important bill, the Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002, and I rise not only proudly as part of government but also as a senator for the Northern Territory. I have a number of constituents who reside on the islands that this bill deals with. They have comprehensively told me that they would like me to support this bill going through this place.

This bill is a very important part of the coalition's overall strategy to combat people-smuggling. I can recall, even before I came to this place, as someone who was a user of the seas in the Northern Territory, that much of the discussion revolved around what appeared to be almost a tidal wave of people coming to this country. In the first three weeks of August 2001—it was almost unprecedented—we had 1,212 unauthorised arrivals in Australia. Credible intelligence suggested that another 5,000 people were already signed up to travel in the same way. Clearly, unless something was done, around 8,000 unauthorised arrivals were due in 2001-02, growing to 12,000 in 2002-03.

Not only was this tidal wave of people coming to this country in an unlawful manner and giving great concern in relation to our resources; it would also have eliminated our capacity to help the most needy in this particular regard—those forgotten refugees; those people who cannot afford to pay people smugglers to bring them to places of protection. I am talking about the people in long-term camps in Palestine who, for three generations now, have been behind the walls of refugee camps. I am talking about individuals in Somalia. You can imagine their plight. For example, there is the plight of one woman with five children in a camp in Somalia who now has to prostitute herself just to feed her children. Even if she survives AIDS, the chances of her being able to get to this country while other people interdict the process and pay people smugglers to come here are extremely unlikely. While her position—where things may seem to become better every month because one of her children dies and she has fewer mouths to feed—is not a very palatable one, it is a fact.

Australia has been particularly attractive to what is parochially referred to as queuejumpers. They get access to a comprehensive and generous refugee determination and to medical benefits and income support, and the support of various NGOs, churches and civil libertarian groups. That is what this country is all about. It is a beautiful sun-kissed country, and no-one denies the right of people to wish to come to live here. The rest of the world probably want to come to live in Australia, but they will need to do so in a lawful way. Most importantly, people smugglers are able to offer refugees the potential to obtain lawful residence in Australia. That is well beyond what the convention on refugees gives anyone. Refugees do not have the right within the convention to determine the place under which they can seek protection. It is interesting, in terms of leadership, to hear a bit about the policy from the other side. Mr Kim Beazley, the leader at the time, said:

It is in the national interest of all Australians that our generous attitude towards refugees is not undermined by people who seek to flout that generosity by placing themselves ahead of others in the queue who are determined by an orderly process to be more deserving. These are all positions which ought to be commonly agreed in this nation and commonly agreed in this parliament.

Good advice—and no doubt some in the Labor Party would say it was good advice from a good leader.

Something had to be done at that stage to prevent the growing trend of people-smuggling. People smugglers were selling this very attractive package of Australia and what it had to offer, which would effectively have undermined the international system of protection. How were we to respond? How did the Howard government respond? There were a number of steps. This was a very comprehensive challenge which needed to be met with a comprehensive suite of processes to ensure that we could ameliorate the scourge of people-smuggling. In a legislative sense, we had the power to move people to declared countries like Nauru and Manus Island. We had the power to detain vessels and to interdict at sea. We introduced a new offshore humanitarian program that would encourage people not to take this very dangerous journey from the places which they departed to come to Australia. It was run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration, a very respected organisation. These were accepted processes which ensured that those people, under this Australian government funded program, who wished to have a determination made on their refugee status could be heard in those places so that they did not have to leave those very safe shores.

We introduced a maximum sentence of 20 years and a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for people-smuggling. We introduced a $220,000 fine—certainly a disincentive to come to this place in that way. But, most importantly, we prevented visa applications from unauthorised arrivals on Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island. They were very important parts of legislation that we changed. We went beyond that. This is not only about legislation but about policy. It is about how we act in a number of other ways. We have increased the number of speciality compliance officers in key overseas posts. We have placed departmental officers in key overseas airports where they train airline staff to ensure we do not get bogus documentation.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.

Senator SCULLION —Before the dinner break I was sharing with the house the very positive nature of the comprehensive strategy and policy regime laid down by the Howard government to ameliorate the worst parts of the heinous crime of people-smuggling. In terms of policy, the government have not only posted special liaison officers to key overseas posts to liaise on important issues like re-admission and resettlement but also maintained multifunction task forces, both in Australia and overseas, which coordinate investigations and, very importantly, collect intelligence. The task forces frequently update Australia's movement alert list, which is a key tool governing the entry of non-citizens and in establishing the character and security status of those people.

The intergovernmental consultations on asylum in Europe, North America and Australia are leadership roles. We are showing the world the way in regard to these matters. The Asia-Pacific consultation on refugees concerns irregular migration and migrant traffic in East and South-East Asia. There is the Pacific rim intelligence officers conference. Another great step in leadership was taken and a real bipartisan approach—unlike what we get from the other side of the chamber—was shown by both Indonesia and Australia when they cohosted the regional ministerial conference on people-smuggling in February this year.

All the changes the government have made are quite clearly not only lawful but also consistent with our international obligations. At the moment we have credible information to indicate that people smugglers could be turning their interests away from the areas we have excised—because those very good disincentives have worked, have hit home—and looking to places further to the east, particularly islands further to the east. Most importantly, people smugglers are looking for places that are not excised offshore locations, because the product that they are selling requires a migration outcome.

This information has not come from someone we just had a yarn to in the pub; this came from the People Smuggling Task Force, which was set up to coordinate all aspects of intelligence, including from the Attorney-General's Department—and ASIO through that department—the Australian Federal Police and Customs. The task force coordinated all the intelligence it could get together in a cooperative sense to ensure that the information we had was validated. As I said, we had credible information to indicate that people smugglers have now turned their interests to non-excised places to the east, which are clearly the islands we are intending to deal with in this legislation today. The Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill proposes nothing that is too complicated—it is further border protection, which this entire house agreed to.

Mr Acting Deputy President, I have just laid out for you the credentials of the Howard government that show that we are experts in this policy. We are international leaders. I wonder why the Labor Party are resisting this border protection measure. In their recent policy announcement, they actually supported the existing legislation regarding Christmas Island, Cocos Island, Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island. In fact, they fought so hard for it that it has been reported it was a substantial plank in the decision of one of their frontbenchers to move from the front bench. Why would they have gone through all of that division in their party? It was because they knew that there is only one policy in this regard. If you look at the great mountain in front of you there is only one path up it. The Labor Party should just see that we have the right path. We are internationally renowned experts in this matter, and the Labor Party should look to us for the policy.

The whole issue of trying to pander to the far left of the Labor Party is really going to put them out of step with reality and the wider community. As Kim Beazley, one of the previous leaders of the Labor Party, said at the time:

This bill is being supported because it is legal, because it is workable and because it will be effective

These are prophetic words indeed because that is exactly what this legislation was. This legislation became the most effective suite of policy measures that has been put in place to ameliorate the problem of 1,212 people coming to these shores in three weeks. I have heard people say in this place: `What's that to crow about? You've only gone for 12 months without a boat coming here.' This is absolute evidence that this is the only policy.

I am absolutely mystified as to why the Labor Party think walking on both sides of the street is going to somehow impress people. The current leader of the Labor Party, Simon Crean, said:

I don't see how we strengthen our borders by surrendering them ...

He is alluding to the issue of sovereignty. A bipartisan committee looked at the issue of sovereignty and found there was no issue with sovereignty. In fact, we are talking about the sovereignty of the islands that I represent in my constituency—and that Senator Crossin represents in her constituency. Those people have said to us clearly: `We support the legislation. Make sure it goes through the house. It is most important to protect our borders, our culture and our environment.' The existing excision of Christmas Island has worked comprehensively and it has been based on excellent policy. Again, I will quote Mr Sciacca, a former opposition spokesman on immigration, who stated:

I want to say on behalf of the opposition that we support these bills in the spirit of bipartisanship, because we are concerned about the effects of people-smuggling and about the integrity of our borders.

I do not see that bipartisan spirit here today. I would suggest to the opposition: do not be ashamed of following the only path up the mountain; do not be ashamed of following the only good policy that is around; do not be ashamed of perhaps admitting that, coming from a policy-free zone in this area, we actually have to go somewhere. If the Labor Party continue to pander to the Jurassic Park of the Left, they are going to continually be out of step with the wider community. I really believe that, unless the Labor Party support this legislation, the public will quite rightly see that Labor have been soft on border protection and out of step with the views and demands of the Australian people.