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Thursday, 23 June 2005
Page: 150

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) (5:41 PM) —Firstly, I am very proud—as is every member of this government—to be a part of a government that has taken every possible step to ensure that the boats do not continue to come. In particular we want to ensure that boats like the SIEVX do not continue to come so that people do not lose their lives. That was just one of the consequences of leaving things as they were and allowing the boats to continue to come.

Secondly, we are very proud to be part of a government that has consistently, certainly since we have been in government, been in the top three countries that offer resettlement to people most in need. I believe this was the case under previous Labor governments as well but I have not checked. If we want to talk in the compassion stakes about where my heart lies first, it is with people in refugee camps who do not have running water or power. I will always take every step I can to give them preference over people who have enough money to pay a crim, spivvy people smuggler. I am very proud to be part of a government that does that.

Thirdly, the UNHCR is not of the view that people who have to flee their homeland for whatever terrible reason are best to leave and stay away forever. Amongst people who are genuinely interested in refugee issues, as opposed to using them for political point scoring—I do not include you in this category, Senator Bartlett; I understand that you have a longstanding committed view with respect to these temporary visas—the primary aim is to settle whatever hazard there is so that people who have had to flee can go back. That is the primary aim: that people can restore their lives as they were and, if they cannot restore their own lives, they can at least contribute to restoring a portion of their country, or their whole country, if that is at risk. So, bearing that in mind, I do not see a problem in offering people protection for as long as they require it. That is Australia’s position. Anyone here who needs protection will get it. If they need continuing protection they will continue to get it, but we will continue to offer permanent visas to those people who come from offshore lawfully and are stuck in refugee camps. We will always give them priority.

The business of government is not easy. I remember being in opposition, thinking getting into government was going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. I think I still do think that, but it was not quite the sort of sliced bread that I might order. Dame Margaret Guilfoyle said at one of our conferences once that education teaches but responsibility educates. There are frequently decisions to be made that are not easy. Government is not about saying: ‘Here are three easy choices. Which one would you like? Here’s the lucky dip; you’ll always get a prize.’ It is frequently about choosing to give priority to competing principles, when you would really like to have both but the circumstances will not allow you to give equal weight to them. You are forced to make a choice. Or you are forced to make a choice between policy alternatives, and you do not want either of them but you have to have one. Or you are forced to choose between alternatives when you want both of them but you cannot have both.

Government is not about the luxury of writing on a whiteboard what is the ideal world; Mrs Ros Kelly’s sports rorts put aside. It is not about the luxury of sitting in academia and saying, ‘What would be ideal?’ It is about what must be done in the national interest at this time and what is fair. Senator Nettle, I understand that you have this longstanding view. I would not even call it a begrudging admiration that you continue to raise it, provided that you accept that other people have, legitimately and fairly, a different view. I have that and this government has that.