Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (13:02): In his speech on this bill, the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012, the member for Cook referred to the greatest region of the country, Western Sydney, and talked about the fact that he had been out there quite a bit. Out in my region, in RSLs and clubs, they often have hypnosis acts where the hypnotist will call people up from the crowd and hypnotise them. It is quite often the case that the hypnotist never actually applies their own arts to themselves. In the case of what the member for Cook just did, I cannot seriously think that he believes half the garbage that he passed through as some sort of parliamentary contribution today. He mentioned a couple of times that he and the coalition support the bill but then went on to provide us with a whole range of arguments that were breathtaking in their hypocrisy.
Consistency in public life is absolutely the goal. In terms of the setting of policy, it is absolutely important. But consistency that ignores reality and is divorced from reality and circumstance is not a substitute for good policy. We are not going to have a situation where those opposite, in terms of consistency, substitute policy and thinking differently about changed circumstances for just holding the line on something that they believe worked 10 years ago, when there is nothing to substantiate whether it will actually hold true today.
All those opposite have had on this issue in dealing with irregular maritime arrivals is to go back to what John Howard did. The member for Warringah has never had an idea that John Howard has not thought of first. Anything that is in his playbook right now is pretty much going back to what former Prime Minister John Howard advocated—and there is never anything really new. That is why they are stuck on this issue of consistency. It is because, when they open the policy cupboard, frankly, it is bare.
How is it they can lecture about consistency when, for example, they opposed our Malaysia agreement on the basis that Malaysia was not a country that was a signatory to the refugee convention and yet, on the other hand, they pursue a policy that advocates towing boats back to Indonesia, which, funnily enough, is not a signatory to the refugee convention?
And, in most recent times, they have announced a policy that would have Sri Lankan asylum seekers automatically sent back to Sri Lanka, with no processing of their claims in accordance with the refugee convention. This coalition policy announced in September has no regard for the convention. Are they sending them back to a country that is a signatory to the convention? No.
They lecture us on consistency and bring up comments in relation to consistency throughout this debate. For example, when they were seeking the support of the Greens in the House when we were dealing with the member for Lyne’s resolution in relation to asylum seekers back in June, they said they would support an increase in the humanitarian intake, which is advocated in the Houston report. That report has a series of recommendations into which we have breathed life over the course of the last few months. On the one hand, the coalition say that they will support that; then last week the member for Warringah, the Leader of the Opposition, said they will not support that. And they come in here and talk about consistency, when we see a complete absence of consistency from their side.
They talk about suppressing dissent. During that debate on the member for Lyne’s resolution, I clearly remember, as many in this House would remember, the member for Curtin, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Julie Bishop, and another coalition member bookending the member for Moore and preventing the member for Moore from exercising his view on what should be done in relation asylum seekers. How is it that they can overlook that suppression of a view on their side and put pressure on the member for Moore and the member for Pearce—
Mr Briggs: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member is suggesting that members of the opposition breached privilege, in effect, and that is highly out of order. He should withdraw that accusation.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Leigh ): There is no point of order.
Mr HUSIC: There is no point of order: the tapes show exactly what occurred—
Mr Briggs interjecting—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Mayo has made his point of order; he will resume his seat.
Mr Briggs interjecting—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Mayo on a different point of order?
Mr Briggs: To that point of order. It is a highly offensive suggestion that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition breached the privilege of the parliament. He should withdraw.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Mayo has other channels through which he can take up that issue.
Mr HUSIC: We have the situation, again, regarding the application of consistency, where they should be consistent in relation to the expression of alternative views on their side of the fence on this matter. What we are doing is exactly what was put forward in the Houston report.
To break the deadlock in this chamber on this issue, an expert panel of eminent Australians was brought together to consider this and to put forward a range of recommendations about what should be done. We are breathing life into one of those recommendations in the bill before the House. There are people who express surprise about this move, but it is clear that if you arrive in some part of what is considered Australia then you are transferred to Manus Island or Nauru, but if you proceed to the mainland then you would be treated differently. There is no consistency in that sort of approach, and that is what this bill seeks to deal with. I have had people raise that view; I even had it on Twitter today, where people were expressing their view in relation to this matter. This is about consistency. It is about dealing with the fact that since 2008 1,500 people have put their lives at risk travelling beyond Christmas Island or Cocos (Keeling) Islands to try to get to the mainland and they have been intercepted. We need to do something about this.
This bill seeks to ensure that we are consistent with the Houston report. That report is critical in charting a way forward as to how we proceed on this. There are things in that report that I do not agree with, frankly. I have expressed this to the minister and I have expressed it publicly, and I do not have any problem expressing it here. I do not think that Nauru and Manus Island will work in the longer term. Those opposite believe it will; I don’t. The reason for that is that times have changed and policy should reflect the times in which we operate. With the greatest respect to the Houston panel and the government, in all honesty, I think the government are trying to reflect what we have said publicly—that is, that we will follow the Houston report and the recommendations. Those opposite have not necessarily committed to every single thing that we have put forward or have seen put forward through the Houston report, even though this report, comprehensive as it is, deals with difficult issues. I commend this report to anyone who has an interest in this matter and suggest they read it. They will see the consideration that has been given to dealing with those issues that are bedevilling us on this matter, such as ensuring that we do not give anyone advantage if they become an unauthorised maritime arrival—getting to this place and seeking asylum—and that people will not be placed at a disadvantage if they are trying to follow the proper process but then see someone as an unauthorised maritime arrival get here.
The Houston report deals with this issue in the breadth of its recommendations and the panel should be commended for that. I think we are reaching the point of wondering, as people have seen, as to whether or not Nauru and Manus Islands will be effective. As I said, I do not think this legislation will work in the way it was first intended, when it was introduced by the Howard government. If you are concerned about extended detention, work rights and ensuring that the children of people seeking asylum get education then, logically, you would support what we have advocated under the Malaysian agreement. That agreement reached with the Malaysian government provides for work rights, education and ensures that people are not detained.
Do not take my word alone. I think it is time to reconsider the Malaysian agreement. I would put to the House words not of anyone from this side of the chamber but of someone from that side of the chamber. I note that it is causing great entertainment for those opposite to go back to quotes from way back when. In terms of consistency I would be happy to change my mind on public policy where it saves people’s lives. If you contrast what I have said in the past to my position now, I am happy to do so. Because, quite frankly, I have my own conscience to deal with in advocating for policy that will save people’s lives, as opposed to just blandly or stolidly sticking to something that will not change the circumstances in which we are in. That is why I read to the chamber this statement by the member for Wentworth in his contribution to the House:
I appeal to the Prime Minister to do this: to agree to the amendment. Let us pass the legislation so that Nauru can be reinstated. Let us do that; let us effectively reinstate not all but the bulk of the Howard government’s policy. If that does not work—because you will never know until you try these policies—then the Prime Minister has a basis to come back and argue that the balance between the humanitarian part of the equation and the desire to ensure border security should be re-examined.
Bearing in mind the bulk of the Howard government’s policy, we have reinstituted Nauru and Manus and we have seen what is happening there. In the last few days the government have announced changes in terms of detention here in Australia. This is what the member for Wentworth said back in June. He then concluded by saying:
There is something that can be achieved today. Nauru should be achieved. If it does not succeed then she—
the Prime Minister—
has the opportunity to ask for stronger measures.
In my heart of hearts I believe that is where we are getting to because, if you are serious about trying to totally disrupt the valued proposition being put forward by people smugglers which is, effectively, transit to Australia, some period in detention and then release, and they are using this proposition to milk money off the desperate, to profit from their desperation, then you would look at another system that would completely smash that and that is exactly what was proposed in the Malaysian agreement. That is what should be encouraged to happen.
However, in the interim, we have had the parliament’s singular inability to reach agreement on this matter. Why? Because, frankly, those opposite are more interested in political advantage than seeing a system brought into place in terms of Malaysia and offshore processing in a way which was even advocated by the Houston report. Those opposite will not do that. They will conveniently side with those who have a completely different view on the issue of asylum seekers and, notably, the Greens. They would seek to do that and defeat what is happening here, again, lectured on consistency by those opposite. Yet they are prepared to side with people who do not support their view of what should happen with asylum seekers in an effort to block Malaysia.
If they wanted to see the Malaysia agreement in place and they wanted to see us bringing down those numbers of unauthorised maritime arrivals, they would support it here and now, and they would—again, in the interests of consistency—do what we did in opposition, which is support the Prime Minister. That is what we did when Prime Minister Howard called on the then Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, to support him on a broad sweep of changes, to allow the government of the day to govern. That is what they will not do, because they put political interests above the interests that should be followed in this case in dealing with this problem.
That is why, despite the member for Cook arguing on a number of occasions that he was in support of what we are putting forward here and then trying to contrast positions from way back when with what is being said now, he was unable to actually outline a new idea—some new approach on this issue. That is why they are unable to do so. They will not be able to put forward a policy proposition, even though we are both being granted a blessing in the form of the Houston report, which tries to depoliticise this issue and tries to put forth very pragmatic ways forward for both sides of politics to be able to deal with this critical public policy area and ensure that ultimately we save people’s lives. The Houston report is probably one of the best pieces of work in terms of trying to deal with a vexing policy issue. It is, as I said, to be commended for its breadth, and it should be seriously pursued by both sides. We are doing it. This legislation today is reflective of our position in relation to this, and it should certainly be embraced by those opposite.