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Monday, 7 September 2015
Page: 6098


Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (15:55): It would be remiss of me in making a contribution to this debate not to reflect on the history of the Greens movement and what I find to be the hypocritical nature of this motion before the Senate.

Let me remind the Senate and anyone listening that the Greens were responsible for the very policy agenda implemented by the previous Labor government which saw 50,000 people arrive in Australia illegally and which saw 1,000 or more people drowned at sea because that government did not have the courage and the wherewithal to say that what they were implementing was absolutely wrong. I find it a bit sanctimonious for Senator Di Natale to bring in these emotive arguments, and particularly to characterise this as some sort of humanitarian mission by using the terrible image of that young boy who was picked up from the beach after having drowned at sea.

The facts remain that that terrible image was not brought about by recent events in Syria or Iraq. That boy and his family had lived in Turkey for three years. The money for that boy's father to pay the people smugglers was sent from Canada. The father sent them on that boat so the father could get dental treatment. They were in no fear, they were in no persecution and they were in no danger in Turkey. It was a tragic circumstance, but it is a tragic circumstance that was brought about by very similar policy circumstances to what the Greens espoused when they were running the government with the Labor Party.

People were drowning at sea because of the incentives that were being provided by their cockamamie humanitarian ethos. It is much more humane for people to go through an orderly migration program, to be put in a place where they are safe and where they do not have to take such tempting things.

We know that what is happening in the Middle East is a tragedy. But as the Prime Minister said many moons ago, 'In Syria, there are no good guys. There are bad guys and bad guys.' He was mocked for that. The Greens and others would have you believe that the Assad regime, for all its faults, is somehow worse than what the world is confronting with ISIL, or Islamic State. The barbarism of Islamic State, which is on display for all to see and which is spreading across the Middle East—with far too little resistance, I have to say—needs to be confronted. If they are the enemy of the world then we need to destroy the enemy. That is the simple fact, because if you do not destroy them they will continue to come back again and again. And the Greens would have us destroy the Assad regime rather than destroy ISIL.

When it comes to those who are displaced in the Middle East I make this point: there are millions of them who have not been accepted into many of the Gulf nations, such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Bahrain. They have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees. I would also make the point that these are wealthy nations. In many cases, they are used to the influx of millions of people for the annual visit to Mecca, where millions of Muslims visit Saudi Arabia. They can be accommodated and dealt with accordingly. Why couldn't the same thing be done with those who are displaced in their own region? It is not simply up to the West or Australia to punch above their weight. It needs a global response, and that should start in the Middle East.

With respect to Australia, we already punch well above our weight on humanitarian refugee placements. Per capita, we outdo New Zealand, America, the UK and France, because we are very generous. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that we are going to do our best to allow 4,000 additional persecuted minorities placement and settlement in Australia with their families, with a focus on women and children. Where I go, people would welcome that. People would welcome those who are truly persecuted, who have been displaced and who have been persecuted for decades if not hundreds of years. The Christians in the Middle East are among the most persecuted people on earth. Wherever they go, they are not free to practise their religion. They are attacked, humiliated and mocked. If we can provide safe haven to them, then I say we should do it. And that is what the Prime Minister has said.

I also want to make the point that a lot of the criticism of the efforts that are going on internationally ignores the fact that perhaps the greatest trade going on now is in false Syrian passports. There are enormous records of Pakistani nationals ditching their identities and claiming to be Syrians in order to get refugee status. There is a myth growing up around this that, somehow, to highlight some of the issues with this is to deny there is a problem. Of course there is a problem, but you cannot just open your borders and allow any number of people to come through without serious checks and scrutiny. That has happened in other nations and it happened in Australia under a previous government. We need to be cautious. I urge European nations to be cautious and many of them are exerting some caution. Some of the Middle Eastern nations are also being cautious because they are concerned about the identities of some who are purporting to be refugees.

There is no doubt at all that this is an emotive topic, but, in many respects, much of this has been foretold by Middle Eastern experts for quite a few years. There was a great celebration about this Arab Spring and the opportunities it would open up in the Middle East, but there were some more cautious amongst us who said, 'If you're going to replace a particular form of government or a particular leader, you best be very careful about what you replace it with.' And we are seeing the dislocation. As bad as the Gaddafi regime was in Libya—I spent some time there and I can tell you it was absolutely appalling—what is going on in Libya today is even worse. The Assad regime continues to have a great many negatives attached to it, but, if you look at what is happening in Syria as a result of the intervention by the Islamic State and at what is happening in Iraq and various other places around the Middle East, it is a true tragedy.

Are we being forced to choose between bad and worse? There are no good guys in this argument, but to simply say we should allow another 20,000 people purporting to be Syrian or escaping the Syrian conflict into our country because it is the whim of the Greens party is, I think, absolute folly. We need to continue to have a measured humanitarian migration program in this country. The Australia people want to open their hearts and open the bounty we have in this country to those people who want to come through the appropriate channels. For all the emotion, the rhetoric and the victimhood statements that the Greens and others will want to make, we have to make sure that the facts actually match up with what is in our best interest and with what is actually going on around the rest of the world.

Australia needs to continue both to play a leading role in the battle against Islamic State—I have no doubt about that and no question in my heart—and our very generous humanitarian refugee intake program, which is specifically focused on those persecuted minorities who have no safe haven anywhere in the Middle East, rather than those who, perhaps, can find safe haven in any number of countries in the Middle East. At this stage, I do not believe there is any need for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people to be ditching their identification and trying to get into Europe for reasons of safety. Many of these people have been very safely ensconced, working and housed in places like Turkey for many years. This seems to me to be becoming an opportunistic cycle which is masking the true humanitarian need that is the responsibility of all Western nations. That is the challenge for us—to distinguish between those who are being opportunistic and those are truly in need. Australia will back those truly in need.