[Extracted from House Hansard, 9 March 2004, pp.26270-1]|
Immigration: Border Protection
Mr CAUSLEY (2.54 p.m.)- My question is directed to the Attorney-General. Would the Attorney-General advise the House how the government's border protection measures have been successful? Is the Attorney-General aware of any alternative policies?
An opposition member - This is not a matter for which he is ministerially responsible.
Mr RUDDOCK - I thank the honourable member for his question. It will be quite apparent why these matters are of considerable interest to me, as the Attorney-General, and my portfolio. I assure the member for Page that the efforts of the government to manage our borders effectively have been extraordinarily successful. We have had a range of measures. The package has included offshore processing, excisions of certain offshore islands, interdiction and turn around of vessels, and the provision for those found to be refugees to receive temporary protection visas only. It has also included close cooperation with our neighbours to limit the number of people potentially seeking to access our region. Of course, the result is there to be seen. In 2000-01, 4,000 people arrived on some 54 boats. After 2001 we saw very few boat arrivals, and in this past year we can count on one hand the number of boats seeking to reach Australia.
The reason for that is clear. It is certainly not for the reasons advanced by the honourable member for Perth, who suggested that it was due to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the defeat of the Taliban - one would think that these events occurred in 2001- or our ongoing improved relations with Indonesia. It has become quite obvious that the measures have been working. I think one that has been particularly germane has been the turn around of vessels. In an interview on SBS radio in July 2001, Keis Asfoor, a now successfully prosecuted people smuggler of many hundreds of people to Australia, said:
If Australia closes the door and turn back one time a ship, the day a ship is turned back I will stop this thing.
We know that the turning around of the perception of being able to deliver people to Australia successfully has been absolutely crucial to us being able to effectively protect Australia's borders and to act in the national interest, and it is the package of measures that has done this. The real concern I have is with people suggesting that those measures, such as the offshore processing, should be unwound, together with a refusal to extend the excisions and a desire to abandon temporary protection visas.
There are some other matters that are relevant to this also. I heard on the program Sunday Sunrise some comments from the member for Barton. In relation to the Navy's handling of vessels that might reach Australia, he said:
They can't use armed interdiction capacity in our zone, if you like, in our law enforcement zone. That's one of the main reasons the United States created the Coastguard.
I am sure that is not the reason they created a coastguard. He went on to say:
We have, literally, an unpoliced northern border.
Let me enlighten the honourable member for Barton. Section 51(vi) of the Australian Constitution enables the parliament to make laws with respect to the control of forces to execute and maintain the laws of the Commonwealth, and important legislation has been passed by this parliament that enables members of the Defence Force to enforce the law in offshore situations. Amendments to the Customs Act and the Migration Act, introduced as part of this government's package of border protection legislation, provide enforcement powers for use in the maritime area adjacent to Australia - including the territorial sea and the contiguous zone - and powers of hot pursuit. This suggestion that we need a coastguard because in some way we do not have powers in the Navy to be able to interdict and we do not have powers generally is a view born of ignorance of the way in which our law is drafted and crafted. I simply say that, if we are going to be able to act in Australia's interests and deal with these issues, all the avenues need to be available to us. You certainly cannot cherry pick and knock them off individually, one at a time.