MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE Border Protection

Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (16:04): I have heard it said that half the job of writing history is hiding the truth, and we do have a great degree of that happening right now. We are being asked to embrace a suite of policies that has been advocated by the other side to deal with a critical issue that they claim their track record proves works, when the reality says otherwise.

I do love how they now refer to the idea of tow-backs. During the campaign I never saw any asterisks next to their policy about stopping the boats. There was never an asterisk on those brochures. Where they said, 'Stop the boats,' they never referred to the asterisk that said 'wherever possible'. They said in definite terms that their policy was to do just that. Now we have a situation where they had to put the clarifier on that to say that they will do it 'wherever possible', knowing that the possible is impossible and that countries like Indonesia will refuse—countries, by the way, that we are being urged to deal with on these matters only if they have signed the refugee convention, and in Indonesia's case they have not. They say that they would turn back the boats to a country that would not receive those boats—a policy at the outset that is simply flawed and will not work. They talk about, for example, Nauru. Only in recent weeks we have had the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship before Senate estimates saying that the department's view is that the Nauru option simply would not work and that the combination of circumstances at the end of 2001 could not be repeated successfully—a policy that they tried to use back then would fail even more dismally now, with the passage of time. Why? The fact is that people smugglers and those seeking to enter Australia know the facts about the so-called Pacific solution. On the decision to use Nauru, I will refer to the facts: 1,900 people arrived by boat. Of those that were processed and found to be refugees, 95 per cent ended up being settled in Australia. Where is the deterrence? It is nonexistent. In other words, Nauru had a 95 per cent failure rate in stopping the boats.

The situation is similar with temporary protection visas. It is worth noting this triumvirate of failure in turning the boats back, which will not happen because Indonesia will not accept them. With Nauru there is no deterrent—95 per cent of people were resettled, because they were found to be genuine refugees, in either Australia or New Zealand. In the two years after TPVs were introduced, 8,000 people jumped on unsafe boats. Many of them were women and children, and ultimately 90 per cent of those granted a TPV were granted permanent settlement in Australia. So we come back to the point: what was the success rate of this policy of stopping the boats? There was no success rate to boast about; there was a 90 per cent failure rate.

The issues that we are dealing with here—regardless of the inflated terms that are used, such as that we are seeing our borders completely overrun—from my perspective were brought into sharp relief by the events of the last year: in particular, what happened in Christmas Island. The focus for both sides of this House has to be the safety of those asylum seekers who are being taken advantage of by people who seek to profit on desperation—the people who suggest that getting on a boat that is clearly unseaworthy will provide guaranteed safe passage, when nothing could be further from the truth. The vessels are unseaworthy, people are crammed upon them and, as has been indicated previously, four out of every 100 people who make that trip disappear or perish.

For both sides of the House, our focus and responsibility has to be on dealing with a critical safety situation and finding an effective deterrent. The things that are currently advocated based on previous policy simply will not work. Someone that the other side hold up as an authority on this matter, the member for Berowra, in his candour admitted that we have to go beyond what is being looked at by even their side. That is in line with the secretary of the department of immigration saying that, if you are relying on policies from years gone past, you can expect that they will not deliver. They did not deliver then; they will not deliver now. You have to think beyond that.

We are being told to embrace a series of policies that will not deal, as I said, with the critical safety issues of people being crammed on unseaworthy vessels. On top of that, as has been indicated by the minister for immigration and as we heard when members in this House formed the parliamentary inquiry—and some of those people are here today, including the member for Stirling—members of the Navy are forced to engage in rescues on seas that are turbulent, such as those experienced in December last year, and we can expect to experience turbulent seas in the coming months as the monsoon season hits. That turbulence causes vessels to break up, leaving a film of diesel on the water. Members of the RAN try to reach into those waters to pick up people whose limbs slip from their arms, putting at risk not only the lives, obviously, of the asylum seekers but also the very personnel with the responsibility of ensuring that border protection is undertaken and undertaken safely. We put at risk the rescuers while they are trying to save the people that are desperate to be rescued. It is simply untenable and unacceptable for us to continue with a policy to, for example, return to a suite of failed policies to create a deterrence effect, when our responsibility is to find what works. We cannot keep embracing that failure.

Again, from my point of view, both sides of this House have the responsibility to deal in a calm, clear and methodical way with this issue, which affects both the people who are trying to come here because of desperate circumstances and the ones that have to save them. There is no point continuing to engage in politics and point-scoring when we have that challenge.

The test for us on both sides of the chamber is to find out what works. What will clearly work is not just at the point at which people arrive here; it is at the other end, in their region—deterrence. For us to be successful we need to be able to harness the cooperation of all countries in the region, and we have been trying to do that. We have been doing that through work with PNG, and I know that there are people in the chamber right now who have been working closely with the PNG government to build up cooperation. We have Indonesia and we have Malaysia. If we agree that we need a regional solution, can someone seated opposite tell me how to build regional commitment on this issue when we go out and bag out countries like Malaysia? We are relying on their cooperation at a time when the government is embarking on a series of reforms to change the way they work, and you go and bag them out.

It is not only about those countries; when other countries in the region see how one of their neighbours is treated and we turn to them for help, do you think they would seriously want to help when the reputation of their neighbours has been so solidly trashed in our country? It is inexplicable that you would believe that you would be able to get that regional support. The test for us is to find a way to cooperate on this issue. We have to do better. (Time expired)

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley


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