MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE Asylum Seekers

Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (16:17): I hate to begin my contribution with a confession such as this, but I have to confess that I missed the member for Cook's contribution to the debate on this MPI. Luckily for me, the member for Holt and the member for Lyons are here to tell me what he said. I imagine that the member for Cook said that border management is a joke. He probably said that we should never have changed what those opposite did. He probably said that we should go back and do what they did before.

Mr Adams: Yes.

Mr Byrne: Indeed.

Mr HUSIC: Yes, pretty much; I am sorry I missed it. The member for Holt may be able to help me out here: did he at any point make a contribution that spelled out what those opposite would do?

Mr Byrne: Not that I am aware of.

Mr HUSIC: Not that you are aware of; I thought that that would be the case. The only policy those opposite have on the complex subject of asylum seekers is to go back to their old policy. They do not recognise that, as the member for Holt said, times have changed. They do not accept that people smugglers alter their tactics to take into account government policy. It never comes into their thinking. Those opposite are all about going back. They always talk about doing something that John Howard did. As I have said previously, the Leader of the Opposition has never had an idea that John Howard did not think of first. Coalition policy is the biggest recycling program this country has ever seen. They talked about Work Choices being dead, buried and cremated. I do not know how that works, but bringing up all the policies they tried in the past is a big exhumation job. They think that all their old polices will fit circumstances now.

The motion in the MPI debate today talks about consistency. Consistency for those opposite is all about ignoring reality and not looking at the situation as it is now. Their policies are one-size-fits-all, and the problem is that the size of the policy they are trying to fit onto today's situation fitted circumstances 10 seasons ago. But perhaps I am being unfair: they did have one new policy. I remember them hectoring us, 'Just pick up the phone and call Nauru.' Then they made a call to scope out how much it would cost to reopen the processing centre on Nauru. Who did they call? They did not call Immigration—they did not call anyone in the know about what it would cost to reopen the centre on Nauru. They called a catering company. That is the quality of the policy-making of those opposite. They used an accounting firm instead of Treasury to cost their policies in the lead-up to the 2012 election, and they used a catering company to work out how to reopen the centre on Nauru! They outsourced policy to Masterchef, yet they lecture us on policy and say 'just do what we did in the past'!

We have tried to break the impasse on asylum seekers by having an eminent trio of Australians, led by Angus Houston, step forward to work out what the best way forward is: what course can we take that will get us out of the political divide where there is a logjam and we are unable to move? They came up with 22 recommendations looking at the incentives which exist at the moment to people-smuggling: does the system as it is geared presently allow people to abuse the system to get here? They have tried to work out how to put in place incentives for people to use the system properly. People have the personal wealth to buy passage to Australia, and there are people profiting from their desperation by trying to get them here in vessels which are clearly unsafe and which people who are masters of the sea would never allow to be used to transport people. Things were put in place—for example, the no-advantage rule that has been steadily implemented by this government to create a disincentive for people turning to people smugglers—and there were things put in place to fix up loopholes, as has been the subject of legislation that is currently being debated in this place about unauthorised maritime arrivals.

We have increased the humanitarian intake. This is an interesting point because this matter of public importance calls for consistency. Now, in an effort to try and win the Greens' support in June, when the member for Lyne moved his resolution on regional processing, by all accounts a quick meeting was convened by those on the opposite side, where they agreed that they would increase the humanitarian intake. They did that—and then what happened? Last week we had the Leader of the Opposition say that he has trashed that. He is now not supporting an increase in the humanitarian intake. In fact, he will now wind it back.

Those opposite lecture us on consistency when, in the space of a couple of months, they have moved away from their policy. Just to secure and meet their own political ends in this place they have done that. There is no consistency when it comes to the policies of those opposite. They say to us, for example, that they will not support the Malaysian agreement. As I said earlier today, if you were against having people detained for extended periods, if you were for people having work rights—as those opposite have advocated—and if you were for people having some access to education, you would support the Malaysia agreement quick smart. You would not support the situation as it is now.

As I said earlier today—I have been quite frank about it—I do not think Manus Island and Nauru will work in the longer term. I have said that previously. I have said it to the minister and I have said it publicly. I do not think it will work because it is not reflective of the situation we are in now. The situation now is that we need to remove the incentive from people smugglers to say to people, 'You'll just sit on Nauru for a bit and then you'll get here.' That is it: it is a holding pattern that they are offering to people who want to pay to get here.

The longer-term decision for us is to do what the Houston report said: the next stage of offshore processing has to be Malaysia. The Houston report said that we need to move on this as quickly as possible. My argument is that this should be done as soon as possible to ensure that we are able to break this down.

Those opposite do not support it. They say it should only happen if you can find a country that has signed up to the refugee convention. They say this regardless of the fact that their tow-back policy would see people towed back to a country that is not a signatory. They say this regardless of the fact that in September they instituted a policy that would see people shipped back to Sri Lanka straight away, ignoring the refugee convention and not even giving fair consideration to their applications. The opposition would send them back to Sri Lanka, which, coincidentally, is not a signatory to the refugee convention.

Again, we are lectured on consistency by people who are, themselves, inconsistent. As I said, if you want to see a massive dent in the approach taken by people smugglers—a massive dent in the success of people smugglers—you will support Malaysia in a heartbeat. But those opposite are happy to play politics while we are trying to deal with a situation where people are drowning because they are being offered false hope. And the worst thing about this entire debate is that, we will argue, with regard to other policy issues—for example, on this whole notion of means testing—that people who have high incomes should support themselves. We talk about that. We give no regard for the people stuck in refugee camps. We are talking about people who have the money to pay for a berth to come here while other people see the best years of their lives go past while they are sitting in refugee camps. We are not looking at liberating them; we are looking at this.

We do need to put in place every single disincentive possible to prevent people from risking their lives and risking the lives of children—and people profiting off that—and, in the process, we potentially need to give people a second chance at a new life by freeing them from refugee camps. That is consistent policy.

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley


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