MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE;Border Protection – 15 Mar 2010

Senator BILYK —Once again from those on the other side of the chamber we have a fear and smear campaign regarding illegal boat arrivals. The Rudd government is committed to protecting Australian borders and to the safety of the Australian people. I wonder what the opposition would be doing regarding boat arrivals if they were in government at the moment. Would they be towing them back? Would they be turning them away and leaving them to flounder?

Senator Humphries —You were going to do that!

Senator BILYK —Would they not be taking up their responsibilities under international law? By the sounds of it that is exactly what they would be doing. Australia has responsibilities in these areas and Australia takes those responsibilities seriously. The fact is: we have maintained the border protection policies of the Howard government.

Senator Cash —Very long stretch.

Senator BILYK —That is, a system of excision, mandatory detention and offshore processing.

Senator Humphries —Pacific solution!

Senator BILYK —Mr Acting Deputy President, I sat very quietly and listened to the alleged information coming out of the opposition’s mouths. I would appreciate it if you would call to order their interjections while I have my 10-minutes worth of speech. The Rudd government acts in accordance with our international legal obligations and it takes those obligations seriously, as opposed to those on the other side of the chamber, who do not have an immigration policy. They do not have a policy, they have a five-point dot plan and one of those dot points is to reintroduce TPVs. There is nothing too brilliant about those on the other side of the chamber except that they stand up and continue to run these fear and smear campaigns. They are trying to make the people of Australia anxious—earlier in the year Philip Ruddock talked about terrorists coming in on boats. The opposition have to get behind their new leader because they have had so many leaders since the change of government they have to make this one feel as though they are behind him and are not going to roll him as quickly as they rolled all the others.

I did listen to Senator Humphries because I find that he is usually quite a rational person and I can usually have a fairly rational conversation with him. But it was as though he thought the opposition had a magic wand and that everything they did was covered with beautiful fairy dust, or something, from this magic wand but that everything we did was tainted. I know that the person who wants to be the next leader on the other side has been seen in a tutu and a crown. Twice I had to watch that on a plane coming up from Hobart last night. That was fairly entertaining! But it was not as entertaining as Senator Humphries thinking that there is a magic wand somewhere that only the opposition hold and that everything we do is wrong. I think Senator Humphries might be missing out on a bit of media excitement too. He probably wants to run out and do a bit of media a bit later in the day.

People do not go in these boats just for a holiday; they come here because they are seeking refuge. A large proportion of those people are actually found to be refugees. Off you go, Senator Humphries, the media is probably waiting. Do not let the facts get in the way of a good story out there, will you? Situations around the world mean that large numbers of displaced persons are looking for settlement and can be targeted by and, unfortunately, fall prey to people smugglers. We do not condone that and we do not support people-smuggling. In fact, only last week the Indonesian President, while he was here, had discussions regarding actions they will take in regard to people smugglers.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2008 Global trends report, there were 42 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide at the end of 2008, including 15.2 million refugees. Those on the other side can sit there and smirk about this, but I feel they have no sense of moral judgment about how to treat these people. People-smuggling is not just an issue for Australia; it is a global and a regional problem. The commitment of our neighbours through bilateral cooperation and the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime are critical in addressing this most serious issue.

The Australian government has an orderly and planned migration program and places a high priority on protecting Australian borders from irregular maritime arrivals by maintaining an effective and visible tactical response program of aerial, land and sea based patrols. The Australian government’s Border Protection Command uses a combination of customs and border protection and defence assets to deliver a coordinated national response to security threats in Australia’s maritime domain. The Australian government remains vigilant and committed to protecting Australian borders. Under the Rudd government, Australia has one of the toughest and most sophisticated border security regimes in the world. The Rudd government has maintained the border protection policies of the Howard government—a system of excision, mandatory detention and offshore processing on Christmas Island of all irregular maritime arrivals. I do not know how many times we have to say it, but the other side seem to put cotton wool in their ears when it comes to hearing that message. The government also allocated $654 million in the 2009 budget to substantially increase aerial and maritime surveillance and detection operations and boost resources to stop people-smuggling.

What is the difference between the Howard government’s policy and the Rudd government’s policy? The difference is that Labor believes in treating asylum seekers humanely and is committed to meeting Australia’s international obligations under the United Nations refugee conventions. I will say it again for those on the other side—and I will say it very slowly so that they can let it sink in: the Rudd government takes border protection seriously. They are far too busy running around with their fear and smear campaign, trying to make people feel anxious about it. If they were genuinely concerned, they would at least come up with an immigration policy rather than their fanciful five-dot-point effort. How long has it taken the opposition to come up with these five dot points?

As I said, in the 2009 budget $654 million was dedicated to a whole-of-government strategy to combat people-smuggling. The opposition just do not want to accept this. Whenever they can come in and harp about it, that is what they will do. They knew that the numbers of illegal boat arrivals would increase, because they were actually the ones who built the Christmas Island facility. It was built under their government. Either they built it just to give jobs to their mates and give them something to do or they built it because they thought there was going to be a use for it. One presumes that they did build it because they knew there would be a use for it—and now they are complaining because it is being used. Maybe they would have preferred that facility to stay empty for a bit longer, get rusty and not have any use or do any good, in memory of that wonderful Prime Minister, John Howard. I am surprised it was not named after him.

Labor is committed to stopping people-smuggling and to ensuring that people who enter Australia do so by the correct channels. But, in situations where people do not, we need to make sure that they are cared for in a humane way so that they are not put at any more risk. Quite frankly, to tell them to turn around and go home again just puts them at greater risk than ever. I suggest the other side take a deep breath—thank you, Senator Bernardi, I am pleased you are listening because usually you do not. Take a deep breath, settle down about it and realise that this is part of the bigger world and not just part of the little, not-in-my-backyard mentality that they are so keen on portraying.