|Extracted from House Hansard, 14 June 2006|
MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
The SPEAKER-I have received a letter from the honourable member for Watson proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The decision of the Government to silence Members of Parliament and to place Indonesia's sovereignty ahead of Australia's sovereignty with its changed immigration policies.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places-
Mr BURKE (Watson) (3.40 pm)-Earlier today, this parliament took the unfortunate step of deciding to gag the Australian members of parliament, deciding to gag members of the House of Representatives. After the government spending weeks and weeks listening to the Indonesian parliamentarians, after allowing them to determine when our immigration laws ought to be changed and the way in which they ought to be changed, we then find that there is one group of parliamentarians that this government will not allow to speak. It will hear the Indonesian politicians as much as they want, but, if you are an Australian member of parliament, at 20 past one tomorrow afternoon, nothing more will be heard.
And let us not pretend that this is only about the opposition. It is not just the people on this side of the House that the government wants to silence. There is no shortage of people on the other side of the House who know exactly how wrong these changes are. That was made perfectly clear in the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation inquiry report that was brought down yesterday-a government-controlled report, a government majority report. Recommendation 1 says:
In light of the limited information available to the committee, the committee recommends that the Bill should not proceed.
That is not a recommendation saying, `Here's how you could improve it.' It is not a recommendation saying, `There are a few changes around the edges you could make.' Recommendation No. 1, front and centre, has members of the coalition saying, `This legislation is wrong. It's wrong in its motivation, and it's wrong in its content.'
We all know exactly where the motivation for this legislation came from. There was no-one in Sydney demanding this, no-one in Melbourne, no-one in Brisbane, no-one in regional Australia, but there were people in Jakarta demanding a change. And isn't it great that the government then chose to delay this debate until this week, when the delegation was here from Indonesia, so that parliament could be a showpiece for them, so they could say to the delegation from Indonesia, `Here we have our Australian parliament. It's on show for you. What just passed is a law that we did not want but you did.'
The reason for this being done was that Indonesia was concerned about its own sovereignty. There was no argument from the opposition saying that the people who came here from Papua were anything other than citizens of Indonesia. But, in order to make it clear in flashing lights that Indonesian sovereignty was secured, this government decided to abandon Australian sovereignty. This government decided that Indonesia will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they will come. This government decided that Indonesia would take control of the immigration legislation and that, as far as Australia was concerned, we would pretend that people who arrived here by boat were somewhere else-they did not really come here. That is not border protection. You do not protect your borders by pretending you have none, and that is exactly what the government is doing, out of a demand that has come not from Australia but from Indonesia.
Twelve months ago, this parliament had a really good moment of what you would call decency and bipartisanship. Twelve months ago, a whole lot of people thought: `Maybe things are going to change. Maybe the time where the minister at the table, the AttorneyGeneral, was minister for immigration really is at an end. Maybe now we will see children out of detention, the end of indefinite detention, a decent approach to case managed mental health care. Maybe, just maybe, the oversight of the Commonwealth Ombudsman will be meaningful.'
How did the government respond 12 months later - because that is all it took? After all the bipartisanship and all the speeches of goodwill from each side and after the Prime Minister stood at the dispatch box immediately opposite and said, `Mandatory detention will now be given a softer edge,' we now find the great con.
It was not just people on this side of the chamber who were conned. It was backbench members of the Liberal Party and the Australian people who were conned, because we now get told, `Oh, but look, you only negotiated that. That was only about mainland detention centres. That's all that was about. These detention centres are offshore detention centres; therefore, that's nothing whatsoever to do with last year's agreement.'
Can somebody please stand up in the parliament and let us know why it is wrong to lock up children in Australia but okay to keep them restricted in Nauru? Why is it wrong to be indefinitely detained in Australia but fine to be indefinitely detained on Nauru? Why do you need to make sure that you do not get a complete trail of human wreckage because of the mental health impacts of long-term detention in Australia but it is not a problem at all for people in identical circumstances to go through a similar level of torment so long as it is happening on Nauru? Why is it important to have the oversight of the Commonwealth Ombudsman not only there to investigate departmental officials but also to investigate everybody who is involved in the detention system? The ombudsman could already investigate departmental officials, but we specifically changed the legislation last year to make sure that, when operations were outsourced, we would still have the oversight of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, now serving as the Immigration Ombudsman, in those circumstances.
Why does one system of decency arise and become important in Australia but does not matter one bit on Nauru? The answer to the difference is simple: the government never believed for one minute in what we saw last year.
The Attorney General who is at the table right now consistently defended locking up children. He consistently said that it was not a problem to have children detained. Now the minister has found his way to fix what I am sure he regarded as the mistakes of 12 months ago. Now the government think, `If we can't detain the children in Australia any more, there's another way of going about it; we will just move the children to Nauru, and it can happen right there.' There is no decency and no principle. There are none of the things we thought the government might have become fair dinkum about 12 months ago. It has all gone. All it took was 10 months and one canoe, and everything that we were told mattered was thrown out the window never to return.
Indonesia was right to be concerned about its sovereignty-Papua is one-third of its territory-and we can all understand why. But I do not for one minute understand why the Australian parliament, of all places, should be the place to assert that Indonesian sovereignty is more important than Australian sovereignty.
That is exactly what we are about to see-not border protection but the pretence that we have no borders at all and the creation of a situation where there is some magical difference between coming by sea and coming by plane. When 50 or so people arrive here by sea, it is cause for alarm but not when more than 1,000 people arrive by plane. I guess that maybe there is something magical about the seats they sit on on their way here.
But that does not mean there is a problem-a completely different set of rules applies for people who come by plane! Why is it that there is a different approach to the border depending on whether you come by sea or by plane? Why is it that if you come by sea there is no border at all? There is no principle behind it; there is no good public policy behind it. The answer is very simple: Indonesia was concerned about 43 people who came here by sea-that is the reason-and it is nothing more sophisticated than that. The government has not managed to come up with an argument that explains that there is anything more than that behind it.
It is simply for the appeasement of Indonesia-nothing more, nothing less.
What we should have done is so simple. We should treat Indonesia in the way Indonesia treats Australiathat is, respectfully. Let us not forget what happened last year. Last year, there was no end of occasions when many, many Australians were deeply concerned about the way in which the Indonesian criminal law was being applied to our citizens. What did Indonesia say? Indonesia said, `They might be your citizens, but they're in our country. Our law will apply and you have to respect our legal system.' Why couldn't we say the same thing to them? A Labor government would have had the courage to say, `They are Papuans. They certainly are citizens of Indonesia, but they have entered Australian territory and Australian law is what should apply'-not, `We'll change the law for you.' The moment you say that you will change the law, you are acting as though you have done something wrong.
We congratulated the government on the issuing of 42 protection visas. When the Papuans arrived, we insisted publicly that the decision making process should be done independently. It should be done at arm's length, and our foreign affairs interests should have nothing to do with a solid legal assessment of the claims before us. I have to say that we all feel a bit guilty for having congratulated the government, because the government's response was to make sure that they never made the same mistake again and that the level of decency shown to the first 42 Papuans will not occur again. There is talk going on in government corridors at the moment about how they might amend it.
That is the other reason we have had the delay. We could have debated the bill today or we could have debated it yesterday, because at least the Indonesian delegation was here on time so we still could have been on show. But they still want to do it later because of the discussions that are going on with their own backbench.
I will tell the parliament now: there is no way in which you can amend the bill we will be looking at that will affect the law of Nauru. No amendment will be moved in the Australian parliament that will change the law of Papua New Guinea to affect people who are dumped on Manus Island. There is a really simple principle: if people enter Australia, Australian law should apply. That is it. It is straightforward and it is simple.
Labor supported the first three excisions with respect to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Ashmore Reef and Christmas Island-and we supported them for a very particular reason. People-smuggling operations were occurring and we were about to enter the fifth anniversary of SIEV X. [emphasis added] People were drowning and lives were being put in peril by appalling operatorsand that had to stop. The excisions are not the only reason for that stopping but they are part of it. Fortythree people directly fleeing persecution in their own canoe is not a people-smuggling operation. Forty-three people directly fleeing persecution in their own canoe throws out every argument that the minister at the table had told us was important. We thought the concept of country of first asylum actually mattered. We thought the concept of people going through multiple nations, paying money to dodgy operators and putting their lives in peril was the argument; we were told that was the argument. But now, when we are the country of first asylum, the government decides to be even worse, to be even meaner and to be even more callous-to pretend that, once you are here, you are not in Australia. To quote the tourism commercial, if you are not in Australia, where the hell are you? Where the bloody hell are they, if they land on the mainland of Australia?
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)The member for Watson will refrain-
Mr BURKE-The Prime Minister has said it often enough.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER-I would prefer not to have swearing in the parliament, member for Watson. Ms Roxon interjecting-
The DEPUTY SPEAKER-If the member for Gellibrand wants to argue with the chair, I will deal with her.
Mr BURKE-Members of parliament not being allowed to speak sets the pattern for what we are about to see over the next couple of days. When we get to 20 past one tomorrow afternoon and the minister stands in reply, we will have a piece of legislation that is no better than the one we have now. It will not be any better and it cannot be any better, because the principle behind it is fundamentally wrong. It is just wrong to pretend that you are a nation without borders. It is just wrong to throw away your immigration law at the request of another country. You do not abandon your sovereignty to preserve another nation's sovereignty.
Now that we have coalition members of parliament actively negotiating and a parliamentary committee unanimously recommending that this bill should not proceed, the demand on the Australian government is really simple. The demand on the Australian government is completely straightforward. For weeks and weeks, this government has been willing to listen and has proven that it can listen to the concerns of Indonesian parliamentarians. All we ask is for the government to listen to the concerns of Australian parliamentarians-and we all know that is the one thing this government does not want to do.
Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra-Attorney-General) (3.55 pm)-It is with some pleasure that I take this opportunity to respond to a very inadequate presentation by the member for Watson and I hope that he will remain in the chamber. He has demonstrated today that he has little understanding of the concept of sovereignty and little understanding of the nature of the parliament and parliamentary debate. There will not be any gagging of members. There will be an opportunity for people to speak in debate when legislation is considered. It will be under the rules of the parliament, which have been applied in a consistent way over the decades that I have been here. I have experienced programs that have required debates to be conducted within particular time frames. That does not curtail the debate; it simply ensures that the debate occurs in a managed way.
In dealing with the issue of immigration, first let me repeat what I said at question time today. Good immigration policy is what the Australian people aspire to have put in place by governments. If they do not, people become very resentful of those who fail to implement good immigration policy and take it out very often on other people in the Australian community. We have seen immigration, I think, restored to a level where people are prepared to sustain increased levels of migration. We have had a good selection process of people with high levels of skill; we have had a response to genuine and close family reunion, without the manipulation that used to occur; and we have had generous refugee and humanitarian programs that focus on the most vulnerable of people. The fact is that you can only administer programs in that way if you have in place effective border protection.
It is a question of sovereignty to determine who comes and settles in Australia and it is for the government of Australia to determine those matters-and that is exactly what we are doing. The fact that we change the definition of what might constitute the migration zone does not mean that we are abandoning our border.
The migration zone merely determines the rules that will apply if you happen to be within it-and that is a matter of sovereignty. It is the sovereign government that determines those rules. We have never abandoned sovereignty. But what we are now seeing is that a Labor Party in office would take the view that, if other people determine that they will simply turn up without a valid visa, they will be able to dictate the circumstances in which any claims are dealt with and the way in which issues are resolved.
It seems to me that this is an issue in which the Labor Party is about playing politics. This is particularly disappointing, because I think once the Leader of the Opposition used to take a more considered approach on these matters. Before reinventing himself as a populist in August 2001 in this place, he said:
... we believe more generally that policies in the area of immigration, which are quite fraught in debate in this country, are best settled on a bipartisan basis ...
On that basis, I would suggest to the shadow minister that he should listen more attentively in these areas and should work cooperatively with the minister in dealing with issues that support our sovereignty and in determining these matters.
Mr Beazley also supported a more considered response in relation to our dealings with Indonesia. Indonesia does not determine what our policies are. Let me make that very clear. We made it clear to the Australian people that when we processed asylum claims within the migration zone we were not going to alter those decisions. We made it clear that they had to be determined properly in accordance with our law. They were.
We indicated that decisions would not be changed.
They have not been and they will not be.
Our response was a positive one in asserting Australia's sovereignty to be able to deal with those issues.
But, in establishing a framework of law, it is not a dereliction of our sovereignty to determine that some people may seek to manipulate our entry arrangements.
And I think there was a degree of manipulation in this instance. It is quite clear that there was contact between people in West Papua and Australia that determined that, rather than going to Papua New Guinea, as they had in the past, they would make the journey to Australia with the deliberate intention of exacerbating tensions between Australia and Indonesia. That is the fundamental reason why we have come to the view that their claims, such as they are, should be processed offshore rather than that we should give them the opportunity to come to Australia to make a political point in the context of events that are occurring in West Papua.
That is the reason that we took this approach.
I am very interested that the opposition indicated today that they supported excisions, for reasons that I think were quite bona fide. I was very concerned at the loss of life of people trying to enter Australia without lawful authority. SIEV X was not something that we sought or wanted, and so far as I was concerned every effort had to be put into ensuring that, if refugees had claims, they were properly processed in Indonesia as part of the total set of arrangements that were put in place; that people were discouraged from getting into boats; and that we would be able to work cooperatively with Indonesia in dealing with those issues and in establishing a relationship with Indonesia like the one that existed back in the 1970s, when they were prepared to hold and see processed Indonesian asylum seekers. [emphasis added] But, because they were left holding the baby, they did not want to be in that situation again.
One of the points that I would make about the excision is that the excision measures, along with the others that were implemented by the government, worked and have been very effective. It is of course the case that, each time those measures appear to work, those who are often engaged in helping so-called asylum seekers will find a way of extending the boundary.
Ms George interjecting-
Mr RUDDOCK-Well, not everybody is a bona fide asylum seeker.
Ms George interjecting-
Mr RUDDOCK-They can, but not all do.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)-If the member for Throsby wishes to speak, she can seek the call.
Mr RUDDOCK-The fact in relation to these matters is that over a period of time those who are engaged in organising these matters ensure that, when one venue is closed off, the next venue is accessed. That is why we sought to move to excise further islands, and that is why we have sought to make this further decision in relation to unauthorised boat arrivals.
That is consistent with our sovereignty. It is consistent with the promise that we made to the Australian people, particularly in 2001, when we made it clear that we would take all reasonable steps to ensure that unauthorised boats did not land on our shores. Our proactive measures have been very effective because, mercifully, we have been spared of loss of life and we have been spared of the spectre of unauthorised arrivals until recently.
I have to say that I find these matters very difficult. I do not think the Labor Party have many policies in relation to these matters-and when they do, you find that their policies are often contradictory. One of the policies of the Labor Party-and they trot it out every time when there is a boat arrival or something of that nature-is that they would establish a coastguard. In fact, in April the Leader of the Opposition was saying that a coastguard would have stopped the 43 West Papuan asylum seekers from coming in the first place. He said that a coastguard would be doing `joint patrolling'-presumably with Indonesia-and that `good fences make good neighbours'. Yet it was only on the following Sunday that the shadow minister for immigration told Laurie Oakes that our coastguard would be intercepting boats to bring them to Australia for processing. You cannot have it both ways. This is a case of the Labor Party wanting to walk both sides of the street. The shadow minister is saying-
Ms George interjecting-
Mr RUDDOCK-The Leader of the Opposition is saying that a coastguard would be doing joint patrolling, that good fences make good neighbours and that they would have stopped them coming in the first place, and the shadow minister for immigration is saying that they would intercept the boats to bring them to Australia for processing. There is only one side of politics that has clear and decisive plans when it comes to protecting our borders, and it is this side of politics.
The only other point I would make is in relation to the claims that are made in dealing with unauthorised border arrivals. This government is not the only government that has had to deal with unauthorised border arrivals. Labor had to deal with unauthorised border arrivals, and the numbers were quite large. Many of them entered our waters from China, and people, including women and children, were detained. I do not recall any alternative detention model being set up for them. I do not recall any special arrangements for their release into the community. I do recall special arrangements being put in place with China to ensure that they were able to be processed with minimal interference, particularly from the legal profession. An enactment was put in place to ensure that, on the basis that they had prior asylum claims-that is, the SinoVietnamese-they would be forbidden from making asylum claims in Australia.
That was the approach that Labor took in office and implemented. When the numbers became so large that they could no longer detain them at Port Hedland, they opened the centre at the air base at Curtin. Labor had there provisions that I would describe as `improvised'.
They were essentially prefab buildings brought onto the site. Certainly people were kept behind the razor wire and were sufficiently isolated that Labor did not expect that people would be able to be in touch with them. Unless they argue that, as they administered these matters in office, faced with those sorts of difficulties, they did it considerably better, let me say: there were attempted breakouts, there were people who were injured. They sometimes argue that when you have an outsourced model involving detention centres and detention centre staff, in government hands it would be different. This is no criticism of the Protective Service organisation, but the fact is that they had to deal with exactly the same issues that private sector organisations have had to grapple with over time. If you look back at the data, you will find the level of complaint and the numbers of irregularities-that is, breakouts and like factors-were comparable in every respect.
The important point I would make is that border protection is never an easy policy, but it is easy to sling off at those who are engaged in having to administer it.
The one thing I can assure the Australian people is that, if you leave issues like this alone, the numbers move very quickly and have the propensity to do so. The measure that we have announced was announced with a view to legislating to ensure that the measures operated retrospectively. That was for good reason: to make it very clear to people that if they were contemplating coming to Australia, they would not get this political advantage out of the arrangements that they were putting in place. It was to make it very clear that, if people were seeking to enter Australia without lawful authority, they would be processed offshore in accordance with our international obligations, in accordance with the assurance that the minister for immigration has been giving about ensuring that children will be able to live in the community, that it will be done humanely and appropriately, and that people who have proper protection claims will be found a resettlement opportunity. Those were the arrangements that we put in place for those that were processed under the existing offshore processing-(Time expired)
Dr LAWRENCE (Fremantle) (4.10 pm)-We have just had a very strange experience. Apart from the absence of the minister's colleagues, who are notable by not being here, we have also heard yet another upsidedown, `Alice in Wonderland' rendering of the state of policy on asylum seekers in Australia. I do not know where the minister lives sometimes. I wonder where he derives his observations and his ideas. It is very curious indeed. It is an experience that I sometimes have to shake my head after having been exposed to. But after all, this is the same man who has indicated on previous occasions that depression is not a mental illness-or at least that some people might think so.
But the real standout performer in this bizarre morality play is the Prime Minister. He really has got a lot of front. We saw it again today. This is the same man who berates as weak and vacillating anyone who changes a policy position for whatever reason. He was doing it again in question time today, and behaving at the same time like the naughty schoolboy, tittering among the others on the front bench. The Treasurer took up the same theme. The Prime Minister is berating our leader at the same time as he has effected the fastest, the most spectacularly craven and abjectly humiliating retreat from a policy position that I have seen in 20 years in politics. It was absolutely spectacular. Talk about the earth moving-the whole globe shifted on its axis! And not because he discovered some good policy reason for making the change or because the people of Australia were clamouring for change-in fact, precisely the opposite view is held by them we have discovered from Newspoll-and not because the MPs in this place were agitating for improvements and amendments. No, for none of those reasons, but to accommodate another government-the government of Indonesia.
At the first whiff of disapproval-and that is really all it was-at the proper administration of Australian law, the so-called `man of steel', what a joke, showed himself to be the man of tin that he really is. It turned him into a quivering mess. He was not prepared to defend our own laws and to explain to Indonesia the quite proper processes which led to refugees from West Papua being granted asylum here in the first place-a move that we all applauded. The Prime Minister has not even been prepared to try to mount an argument about our sovereignty or to advance the many reasons why we as a nation are committed to the proper protection of genuine refugees. There has been not a peep out of him on that, let alone to insist to Indonesia that they should desist from treating the West Papuans so brutally that they flee from their lives. They were found to be genuine refugees. There was a reason behind it.
These are not wilful schoolchildren just popping across for a day trip. Instead, this Prime Minister cavalierly sets aside universally agreed standards of human decency so as not to offend a neighbouring countryputting people's lives at risk so as not to offend a government.
He is trampling on those Australian values that he and his ministers so often lecture us about and tell teachers they should be endorsing and teaching in school. Australia's interests in the region are not going to be served by showing that we can be so easily bullied into abandoning our cherished values of freedom, independence and decency, respecting human the rights of all comers.
I would say to the Prime Minister: live by those values, Prime Minister, or at least demonstrate them in your decisions if you cannot live by them every moment. Your example is much more powerful to young people particularly than any amount of preaching. They watch you, they see what you do and you have just trampled on those values that you claim to see as important. The clear message the Prime Minister is sending is that care and compassion, freedom, integrity, responsibility, honesty and trustworthiness-they are all on the list-are just words. They are just words to the Prime Minister.
I think we are entitled to ask a few questions and to get answers to them. How can the Prime Minister so wilfully ignore the recent unanimous vote of this parliament to amend the Migration Act to effect a much needed overhaul of Australia's detention and asylumseeking regime? How can he do that so soon after that judgment has been made? How can he so brazenly turn his back on the Palmer report after his public utterances, and those of his ministers, that the recommendations would be implemented and the lessons learnt?
They have just been thrown out the window, it would appear. We are entitled to ask the Prime Minister: how can he so cavalierly toss aside the goodwill of all the MPs and senators which was evident following the release of the damning Palmer report and during that very protracted discussion and negotiation that led to the much needed changes? They were just set aside without apparent regard.
How can he so shamelessly revert to a system which will keep innocent children in detention-no matter what the Attorney-General says-in circumstances that we know will cause them serious harm? He has never answered that question, and he should. How can he knowingly-this is it: knowingly-reintroduce the disgraceful regime of indefinite detention for which so many people are still paying with their sanity? Let us be clear about that: there are still people paying with their sanity. There are some who have paid with their lives. And how can he traduce our independence and our proud democratic traditions-I should say once proud democratic traditions-so easily?
What the Prime Minister has shown to the nation is that direct negotiation with him, as occurred with his own backbenchers, is worth nothing. He is simply not to be trusted. Not satisfied with having trashed Australia's standards of compassion and decency, the Prime Minister is now prepared to sacrifice our independence too, and I really choke on that. The stark reality is that our immigration policy is now being dictated by another nation, whose representatives then come here to watch and make sure it is done. How humiliating. Our parliament's examination of the legislation to give effect to this capitulation is likewise, as we have heard, to be curtailed to avoid our speaking the truth to our neighbour.
If we were really a good friend to Indonesia, we would not be afraid to stand by our own standards and our commitments to treat asylum seekers with at least residual decency-and that is all it really is with this government. If we were true friends, we would tell them what we know about what is going on in West Papua. That is why the decision makers found them to be refugees. All is not well in West Papua. We would tell them that we have read the reports and heard the witnesses who attest to the fact that Indonesian police and military have engaged in violence and killings in West Papua. We would tell them that we know that Indonesian authorities have been responsible for torture killings of detained prisoners and that political, cultural and village leaders have been killed. The Attorney-General does not want to mention these untidy details.
We should tell the Indonesians that we know that some detained people have suffered electric shocks, beatings, pistol whipping, water torture, cigarette burns and confinement in steel containers, sometimes for weeks on end. We would tell them that we are aware of resource exploitation, of the destruction of Papuan resources and crops and of forced relocation and unpaid labour. We would tell them that we condemn such actions and we will protect anyone who flees from terror.
If we were true friends, we would argue that there are other ways to govern the territory and that we understand but we cannot defend their reluctance to face the facts. But instead our Prime Minister humiliates all of us by his obeisance, by his capitulation.
This is the same man who said over and over again, as we have heard, `We'll decide who comes to our shores and the circumstances in which they come,' and variations on that theme. But he is not prepared at all, apparently, to defend the legislative independence of our national parliament. We are supposed to roll over and make the changes. He is now ignoring, too, the unanimous recommendation of the Senate committee that the bill should not proceed. Pushing the legislation through does not change that fact. He is not prepared to allow even the most cursory examination of this truly bizarre legislation which effectively deletes Australia, abandons our responsibilities as an international citizen and attempts to foist them on our impoverished neighbours in the region-who, by the way, are not all signatories to the necessary international conventions-or to find someone, anyone, who will relieve us of the discomfort of offending Indonesia. What a brave, brave man.
Mr ROBB (Goldstein-Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs) (4.20 pm)-Notwithstanding the matter of public importance submitted for discussion by the opposition, there is no question of silencing anybody in this debate. On our side there has been extensive debate in the party room, the Senate has reviewed the legislation, the policy has been in the public arena for many weeks now and debate has ensued. The matter will be debated in this House, with some restriction on the time available for parliamentary debate, but it will be properly debated.
The only reason that any time restriction is required is the endless filibustering on various bills by the opposition where they have nothing to say or nothing new to say. It is a cheap tactic designed to disrupt the House. On some bills we see speaker after speakerand we have seen it in recent days and recent weeksstand and basically repeat the speech of their colleague before them. It is simply a tactic to force the government to seek a limit on the time for debate on critical bills so that this opposition can then grandstand and seek to make cheap political points, as they have done today. Labor creates the problem and then complains bitterly about the solution.
You would think from all the feigned anger and the long faces that they were genuinely concerned. But of course the Labor Party are very familiar with restricting the time for debate. The Labor Party are world champions at restricting the time for debate. The Labor Party come to this accusation with form, with unclean hands. Between 1990 and 1996, when members opposite were in charge, the guillotine was used on no fewer than 437 occasions in just six years. Those opposite were ruthless with the guillotine. Let me quote some of the reasons that the now Leader of the Opposition gave back on 8 May 1991. He said:
I agree that we have had to operate a guillotine very heavily.
We find that the use of the guillotine in fact gives members of parliament certainty as to when matters will be debated and commonsense as to when they get to bed at night.
We do not legislate by exhaustion; we legislate by expedition.
This is the now Leader of the Opposition back when he had charge of the House. Compare the record of 437 guillotines in six years with the record of this government. Since 1996, in 10 years, there have been just 42 occasions when this government has resorted to the guillotine. So the hypocrisy of the Labor Party on the question of restricting debate is palpable. There has been substantial debate and this House will have an opportunity for proper debate of the migration amendment bill.
The opposition is seeking to quite wrongly claim that Australia is placing Indonesia's sovereignty ahead of Australia's sovereignty with its changed immigration policies. The legislation in fact is all about further enhancing the border protection policies of the Howard government. And in doing so, as my colleague the Attorney-General said before me, we are asserting our sovereignty with the legislation that is coming before the House.
The offshore processing arrangements introduced in October 2001 and supported by those opposite have been an outstanding success. They have ensured the integrity of Australia's borders and preserved Australia's strong commitment to refugee protection. Two very important objectives have been achieved with those offshore processing arrangements. Under those arrangements, unauthorised arrivals at certain offshore parts of Australia identified as excised offshore places are prevented from making valid applications for visas, including protection visas, in Australia, unless the minister considers such an application to be in the public interest. This was legislation roundly supported by those opposite. Such persons may be removed to a declared country such as Nauru, outside Australia, for the processing of any claims that they are owed refugee protection under the refugees convention as amended by the refugees protocol.
These arrangements have proven their worth. Since the introduction of this legislation in 2001, enthusiastically supported by those opposite, there have been 1,547 people processed offshore under these arrangements. All had access to reliable refugee assessment processes, undertaken either by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or by trained Australian officers. Not one person found to be a refugee in the offshore processes has been forced to return to their homeland. This record has demonstrated that the government has delivered on its obligations under the refugees convention to all of the people processed under those arrangements. However, it is important today, as it was in 2001, that Australia continually reviews its policy and legislation in this critical area. We must ensure that proper arrangements are in place to deal with new developments as they occur. Border protection requires continued vigilance. Those opposite understand this, or should-they had these responsibilities during their time in office. There should be some redefining of persons to whom the offshore processing arrangements apply in the view of the government. The government has formed this view.
This legislation is a response to the fact, as my colleague identified earlier in this debate, that some Indonesians from West Papua have had an intention to use our migration laws for political purposes to create a staging ground for an independence movement, for a separatist movement. Australia cannot find itself in a situation where our migration laws are manipulated and used to influence internal political factors in other countries. We cannot stand by and see our border protection compromised and used for other purposes. We are asserting, in this sense, our sovereignty. We have every right as a country to protect our borders, an issue Labor is reluctant to face on this occasion. Our migration laws are strong because we have established programs to direct who comes into our country and when they do so. We are in a position, and we must maintain in asserting our sovereignty, to ensure that our migration laws are not manipulated or used and abused by others with other agendas. Yet in doing so we are criticised for having a conversation with our Indonesian neighbours. Again, we face hypocrisy from those on the other side.
Let me remind you, Mr Deputy Speaker, what the Leader of the Opposition said in that debate in September 2001 when we as a government, with the support of the opposition, excised certain areas and islands off our coast. The Leader of the Opposition said:
It is incumbent upon Australian governments to assign top priority in Australia's international relationships to the region around us and, even when we have a difficulty, not to run away from it. We should take the opportunities that are presented to us for a constant conversation and, when we are handling a problem associated with the immigration laws of this country in which they are engaged, we should conduct the diplomacy on a basis of mutual respect, care and caution and we should not brace them with a megaphone. One of the most shameful things in this whole exercise has been the fact that the original cause of all this border protection legislation lay in the fact that the Prime Minister and the government could not engage in such a good conversation with our nearest neighbour- a la Indonesia. The hypocrisy again is presenting itself.
There has been and will be a proper debate on this matter, but it has not been assisted by the mindless tactics of those opposite. This bill will further assert Australia's sovereignty by strengthening Australia's border protection measures.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)Order! The discussion is now concluded.
Back to sievx.com