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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2153


Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (16:10): I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate today, and I thank the Greens and Senator McKim for moving this motion. It is funny, in a way, that the government is very happy to talk about this issue and the Greens are very happy to talk about this issue. We are happy to talk about this issue because we have a record that we are proud of—and I will come to that in a moment. The Greens are happy to talk about this issue because they have a very sincere and deeply held belief on this issue—I do not share it and I think it is a bit strange—and they have been prosecuting their point of view on this issue consistently for many years. What I have left out there is the Labor Party. Interestingly, on the day on which they finally resolved their position on this issue and declared their hand—that they would be opposing the proposed legislation by Minister Dutton—they did not ask a single question in question time in the Senate today about this issue. It fell to Senator McKim to ask a question on behalf of the Greens. It fell to Senator Reynolds to ask a question about it on behalf of the government.

Those opposite showed a curious lack of interest in this issue—although I am looking forward to Senator Carr's contribution to the debate shortly. Personally, I do not think Senator Carr has a great deal to be proud of. Senator Carr was part of a government which at the encouragement of, in part, the Greens presided over one of the greatest public policy failures in the 21st century. I think there will be an apology by a future Australian Prime Minister, as Senator McKim said, but it will not be for the strong border protection policies that this government has implemented, nor the strong border protection policies that John Howard and his government implemented, both of which saved lives; it will in fact be the border protection—or lack thereof—policies that prevailed between 2007 and 2013 which wreaked a trail of human havoc and misery for six years, for which those opposite have still not been held responsible but should bear great shame.

This is their record. In 2007, when they came to government, they were warned: 'Do not weaken John Howard's successful, strong border protection policies. If you do, there will be serious consequences.' Opposition leaders Nelson, Turnbull and Abbott all pleaded with various iterations of that government to not water down and weaken John Howard's successful border protection policies. They did not follow that advice. They ignored that advice. And the result of ignoring that advice was that, over six years, 50,000 illegal maritime arrivals came on 800 boats. Over 8,000 children were placed into detention. We know of at least 1,200 deaths that occurred at sea—although there may have been more. There was an $11 billion blowout in the border protection budget and there were 17 new detention centres opened.

I remember, in the dying days of the Howard government, the great criticism made of the detention centres in operation. They were many fewer than the number that had to be opened and operated under the Labor government under former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. I remember all the criticisms of the harsh conditions in detention centres. By the end of the Howard government—and again under this government—there were no people experiencing those conditions. But, under the former Labor government, 8,000 children alone experienced those conditions.

By contrast, this government has a very proud record of recognising the problem created by our predecessors, acting to fix that problem and having success in doing so. Under our watch, there have been no deaths at sea. That is despite the fact that, when we were in opposition, we were warned that if we implemented a policy of boat turn-backs, tough border protection policies—temporary protection visas and other measures—there would be deaths at sea and human carnage from that. We were warned not just that it was wrong and not just that it would not work but that it was illegal and immoral. But we proceeded with our policy and it has been a stunning success. There have now been 835 days without a boat arrival. All the children who were put in detention by the previous Labor government are now out of detention. The 17 detention centres that were opened under their watch have now been closed, and our humanitarian intake is to be increased from 13,750 to 18,750 by 2018-19.

I have to borrow a phrase from one of my distinguished colleagues, Senator Abetz, who, commenting recently on Kevin Rudd's opinion piece on this issue, said that it was very much reminiscent of an arsonist returning to a fire and giving a lecture to the firefighters about how to fight that fire. Sadly, we have seen, with the decision taken by the opposition today, that they too are arsonists coming back to lecture firefighters.

In 2013, members opposite were part of a government that ran an expensive, lavish taxpayer-funded advertising campaign. It featured grainy writing; it featured photos of boats; it was translated into many languages; it was published here in Australia and overseas; and it said, 'If you come here by boat, you will never be settled in Australia.' This government and Peter Dutton are trying to put into effect that promise, made in 2013 by Kevin Rudd and those opposite.

There are two options here for those opposite. One is to admit that they were insincere in 2013, that they did not really believe it. They were just pretending to be tough on border protection because they knew there would be political consequences if they did not, and because they were aware of their failings while in government. The other option is that they have changed their minds since. That is fair and reasonable, because we do all change our minds. But if they have changed their minds, they should admit it and should explain why Bill Shorten's promise, made prior to this election, that he would be a carbon copy of the coalition when it comes to border protection, was also false. Their record on this issue is nothing to be proud of. By contrast, we in the coalition can be very proud of our great success in this policy area.