Border security at risk

Why are we here today discussing this matter of public importance proposed by the member for Stirling? The matter of public importance is:

The threat to Australia posed by the Government’s budget cut to customs and border protection.

There is one simple reason that we are here. We are here due to one indisputable fact. The Labor government has totally lost control of Australia’s borders. It is that simple. We know that 15,900 asylum seekers have arrived on illegal boats. That has put, and is putting, incredible pressure on the resources of this nation and on budgets. Why? Because this Labor government has literally trashed the successful border protection policies of the coalition government. People smugglers are using this opportunity to charge at least $10,000 per person. At the same time, we have seen that the budget for border protection has blown out by $3.9 billion. Unfortunately, Australia’s ability to protect and manage its borders under this government is not only a national disgrace but also an international joke. But the joke is on Australian taxpayers.

We know that this Labor government always finds wrong answers to the important issues, whether it is climate change with the great big tax, whether it is on animal welfare in banning live exports, whether it is fiscal stimulus with the global financial crisis, coming up with deadly pink batts and the failed cash-for-clunkers scheme, or whether it is regional education where they tell country students they are independent but make them dependent on their parents’ income, which was used to slash their access to independent youth allowance. If it is border protection, the Labor government’s answer is to throw open the doors to people smugglers. This is on the back of very desperate people-people who put their lives at risk in leaky boats. They have literally abandoned the principles of border protection.

We know about the cuts that Labor have imposed. We know that they do not take front-line border protection seriously. If they did, we would not have seen cuts that we have. We have seen not only illegal boats but also illicit drugs and weapons. All these things have resulted from the cuts in funds and resources to Customs. We know about the cuts to aerial surveillance by $20.8 million and the loss 2215 aerial surveillance hours. That is more than 90 days. Labor have axed a further 90 staff from Customs on top of the 250 staff cut in the 2010-11 budget. Labor have cut $9.3 million in 2014 to Customs to reduce capital spending and other low-risk organisational activities, I understand.

Labor are cutting $34 million over four years for passenger facilitation at Australia’s eight international airports. This is not all. There are cuts of $17.3 million over five years for the management of vessels of illegal foreign fishers. In the 2009-10 budget, Labor cut the budget of Customs for cargo screening by $58.1 million. This cut to screening reduced the number of potential sea cargo inspections by 25 per cent. We wonder why we are having this debate today.

When these cuts are put together, this gives us an incapacity to manage our borders. The cuts have resulted in a 75 per cent reduction of air cargo inspections. That is why we are here today. In the recent Customs annual report it was revealed that only 4.3 per cent of sea cargo is X-rayed and only 0.6 per cent of sea cargo is physically examined. Can you imagine that in relation to sea containers? What does this mean in practical terms? With even greater volumes of cargo projected for the years ahead, that means even fewer are going to be physically inspected. We have heard today about the cuts to ASIO and the various agencies. This is what we have heard today.

The government has a really poor record of defending Australia’s borders and of maintaining our border protection, quarantine and biosecurity. People frequently forget that this has broad-ranging implications for Australian manufacturers of agriculture and food producers who rely on our clean image and our clean quality produce. These industries are regarded as safe and it is essential that we maintain the reputation, but it is being put at risk by the incompetent neglect of biosecurity. Australia has a unique environment that is under threat from pest and disease incursions and needs protection.

The Beale quarantine and biosecurity review must be a constant embarrassment to the government. It was commissioned by Labor and called for hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on AQIS and quarantine annually to provide real protection for our nation’s borders. But what have we seen? We have seen nothing but cuts, as the member for Stirling has said. Instead of heeding this report, the government has failed to act and has spent nearly three years since its release stripping its assets and running it down. Australia’s border security is a massive Labor failure. It is a massive cost to Australian taxpayers and, unfortunately for the Labor Party, I think that all Australians are now seeing this for what it is. No wonder the government has to keep coming back to this parliament to extend the credit limit on its credit card debt ceiling of $250 billion.

People are looking for leadership to resolve this issue, and I think the member for Stirling gave that today. Instead, the Labor Party just simply wants to pretend this is not happening, that these cuts are not real and that they are not actually impacting in a very direct sense. If our leaking borders are really not damning enough, the impact of the government’s incompetence goes even further. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship is bogged down because the resources are directed to managing asylum seekers. When you look at the lack of skilled people, the impact on 457 visa holders and the impact, as the member for Stirling knows, that that has in Western Australia, that is where the resources should be directed, not into areas of failed Labor government policy.

We are projected to have a shortage of 150,000 skilled workers. This is the area where the resources of the department should be allocated as well as for Customs and Border Protection. Instead, we see the opposite. In 2001 the coalition government made it perfectly clear that Australia was not a soft touch, which is what it is seen as now. It was not a soft touch when it came to border protection. In 2001, people smugglers made 43 successful incursions into Australia. In 2002, they made only one. In the last six years of the coalition government there was an average of just three boats and 50 people per year. It can be done, if there is good leadership and if you use the appropriate policies of the coalition government.

In 2008, the newly-elected Labor government threw open Australia’s borders to people smugglers and here we are today with, as a direct result of that, as I said, 15,900 people and a government that has continually raided these budgets. No wonder we are here discussing this matter of public importance today. I support the measures that the member for Stirling has outlined because they reinforce to the Australian people that the coalition once again has the answers.

It has the answers on border protection and it will provide strong border protection for this nation. That is the history of the coalition in government and it is one thing-besides managing the economy effectively-that the Australian people can be sure of: the coalition will be a government that provides strong border protection and confidence for the Australian people-something that is sadly lacking under this government.