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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11275

Dr STONE (4:41 PM) —We have a most extraordinary situation here, with the Rudd Labor government continuing to refuse to acknowledge the pull factors which have brought on this whole new wave of people-smuggling. In August last year the Rudd Labor government dismantled the coalition’s strategy and destroyed the reputation of Australia as a place of strong and fairly managed immigration policy and border protection. In August 2008 five years of virtually no smuggling activity came to an end, and since then we have seen several thousand people successfully make their way to Christmas Island—and, unfortunately, many others lose their lives in the process. We have had a boat explosion, with Australians as well as asylum seekers having been seriously injured as a result. The 42 asylum seekers who survived have now been released into permanent residency in Australia, although they are still subject to inquiries in relation to the coronial inquest into that explosion.

We now have chaos. We have a serious humanitarian crisis when it comes to the two boats from Indonesia we have been talking about. The Prime Minister is paralysed with indecision and bereft of any idea about what to do next. He says he has not been consulted—or he is not asking. How can this Prime Minister, as this issue appears day after day on the front pages of newspapers and as the leading item on television news, seriously expect us to believe that he is not following events all that closely? He tells us about his ‘Indonesian solution’, which he hatched that Sunday, many weeks ago, when he picked up the phone to the President of Indonesia. He had a crisis. His crisis was too many people on Christmas Island. He had brought in the portables and put bunks in the recreation area. He needed a quick fix. We are told he asked the president if he would kindly intercept the boat of 255 Sri Lankans, divert it to a port in Indonesia and lock up Australia’s problem in detention centres in Indonesia—and that might be the end of that. Of course, as we know through Alex, the spokesman on that vessel, the government has no solution. The asylum seekers say they are going to be on that boat until Mr Rudd delivers them to Christmas Island. What is Mr Rudd, as Prime Minister of this country, going to do? We have no idea—nor, it seems, does he.

Then we have the boat that we are told was going down and called out a distress signal about 10 days ago. Yes, they were in distress. It would seem the crew had left the boat and taken the steering gear with them. That was serious. And there may have been a sick child on board—we would not doubt that. So the Australians conveniently helped the Indonesians, of course, in their safety and rescue zone. Their boat was left and some 78 Sri Lankans were put on board the Oceanic Viking.

Presumably the Prime Minister, the Minister for Home Affairs and the Minister for Immigration breathed a sigh of relief and thought, ‘That is okay. These 78 will be quickly landed in Indonesia and put into detention there for an indefinite period of time, until the UNHCR might get around to processing them. But that is another problem off our hands.’ Unfortunately, as we know, the 78 Sri Lankans are still on board the Oceanic Viking. It seems that the great Indonesian solution did not include the governors of the various islands who happen to be hosts to detention centres away from Java.

So we have this extraordinary problem. It is not just on these boats in Indonesia that we have this problem with women and children. The Australian Human Rights Commission has said that the Labor government is also transgressing mightily in its attention to the needs of children in the Christmas Island facilities. We have there a significant number, over 80 children, who are being kept in areas like a construction camp. The Australian Human Rights Commission says that is not good enough. Since 2005 the coalition has said this should not happen, and we made sure children were not kept in detention centres. But this Labor government hosts these poor little children—more than 80 of them—in a construction camp on Christmas Island. This is a disgrace. (Time expired)