Labor immigration policy failures has only benefited people smugglers

I acknowledge the contribution of my colleague the member for Pearce. She has been consistent in her views and certainly has cared sufficiently to express them.

Unfortunately the stark reality behind the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill is that the government has lost control of Australia’s borders.

It is a simple but inescapable conclusion demonstrating a serious policy failure, and after listening to the member for Pearce we can understand just how serious. This action represents the inability of the government to perform even the most fundamental function.

A sovereign nation’s borders are a part of its very definition. The first way we define a country of the world is to define its borders. This has been the way of human history. Nations have waxed and waned, and that has usually been measured by the expansion and contraction of their borders.

Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome are historically defined by the borders they established and defended, and the same applies to civilisations around the world.

Wars over borders have been fought throughout history—border issues are probably the cause of more wars than all the other causes combined.

Throughout history leaders have been defined by their ability to manage and defend their nation’s borders. So, when history reflects on the current government and its ability to manage Australia’s borders, it will, unfortunately, only see dreadful, dismal failure.

Worse still, in my view, this has become not only a border protection failure but also a humanitarian, social and economic failure.

When Labor came to power in 2008, purely driven by cheap politics it simply dumped a successful border protection policy.

We did know that policy was a success—only four people were in the detention system at that time. But rather than build on that success the Labor government abandoned it—for all of the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, this has been done at a cost to the community.

As I said, there is a social cost, there is an economic cost and there is a humanitarian cost. There is a border protection cost. It is interesting that the Labor government has come to this, given that it was a Democrat in the United States, John F Kennedy, who said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country’. That sentiment is important in this debate.

Most Australians are proud of their country and fiercely defensive of our borders. Most Australians do not agree with Labor’s approach of abandoning our border protection. They are angry and frustrated.

They are angry and frustrated not only because the government has jeopardised Australia’s strong border reputation but also because of the financial blow outs that have been revealed.

This does cause the social challenges in our community that I have referred to. It does impact on social cohesion, and people do become very concerned about what this approach is costing and who is paying for it.

I am frequently asked, as I suspect many members of this House are, particularly in relation to aged care, about what has come out of the ACFI funding model for some of the smaller service providers as opposed to what this policy failure is costing. That is what this type of failure unfortunately causes in the community.

As I said earlier, this was a program that did cost, as we heard earlier, less than $100 million five years ago under the coalition government but it is now costing more than $1 billion under this government.

The government said it would spend just $100 million in each of the years of 2010-11 and 2011-12, but they have spent $879 million and $1.2 billion respectively. The government went back to the parliament last year asking for another $295 million to cover the budget blow out, and the year before it needed an extra $120 million.

My constituents have got to the point where they do not believe that the Labor government can stop the boats or fix this mess. They know this is a dreadful policy failure, and I am concerned about its divisive nature in the community.

The people do know that the coalition government had to deal with this in the 1990s. There was a dramatic increase in the number of boat people arrivals, from hundreds in 1998 to 1,000 in 1999—a tenfold increase since the early nineties.

By 2001, the then coalition government made it clear that Australia needed to protect its borders and that it would take strong action to do so. In 2001, people smugglers made it to Australia 43 times.

Thanks to the tough coalition policies of 2002, in 2002 they only made it once. Over the remaining years of the coalition government, 25 boats entered Australia illegally. That is an average of 3½ boats a year from 2002 to 2008.

As I said, there were only four people in the immigration detention system when Labor achieved government in 2007. But, in 2008, the Labor government cast aside that policy and basically threw open Australia’s borders. In 2009, people smugglers reached Australia 61 times.

In 2010, they earned their illegal income through 134 successful incursions. This basically put the vile people smugglers back in business, and I just cannot accept that. The floodgates reopened.

Unfortunately, since Labor abolished the coalition government’s Pacific solution, over 30,000 people have arrived on over 500 boats. When I look at that figure of 30,000-plus people, I see a city the size of Busselton, in my electorate.

We also know of the tragedies that came with those boats—dreadful tragedies. At least 1,000 asylum seekers and crew have lost their lives at sea, and not one person to date has been processed offshore.

Illegal boat arrivals are now occurring at the highest rate on record. We have gone from an average of three boat arrivals a year in 2002 to the arrival of, on average, 2,000 asylum seekers per month in recent times.

It is just appalling, in my view, that people smugglers believe they are in control and in charge—and they are clearly making a fortune.

We need a solution to this problem, because the current approach is haphazard and just a mess, and we as a coalition have solutions to offer. The shadow minister for immigration, the member for Cook, has provided a bill this week that provides such a solution.

The process that we are seeing from this government is in constant confusion. The re-establishment of temporary protection visas is an essential plank of a real response to people smuggling, and the member for Cook’s bill will provide real action.

Temporary protection visas were a vital and effective tool in ending the trade in human misery that is people smuggling.

The government of course has used a spurious argument in defence of its refusal of this effective tool. According to the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers released in August this year:

TPV grants from inception to abolition (1999-2007) was 11,206.86. Of the 11,206 people granted a TPV, 9,043 were irregular maritime arrivals. Of this number 8,600 (95 per cent) were eventually granted a permanent visa in Australia.

The Labor argument is that this somehow demonstrates that TPVs were ineffective. The reality is vastly different. TPVs did not prevent genuine asylum seekers coming to Australia, most of whom gained residency; but they did provide a real disincentive for those who were not genuine refugees.

The member for Berowra eloquently talked about the refugees waiting in camps who cannot afford to pay people smugglers exorbitant amounts of money, such as $10,000 or more.

It is appalling that these TPV holders were able to gain priority over those who are in camps around the world and who have been denied access to Australia because we have people smugglers plying their vile trade and people who can afford to pay them.

I do not support that at all. We need policies that address this but, with this government, that is exactly what we do not have. The Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers does not identify temporary protection visas as a failure, and the government should stop misleading the community in this way.

Of course, I understand why the government remains opposed to real solutions: they would have to acknowledge the successful policies of the coalition government.

Most Australians understand that strong leadership involves acknowledging your mistakes and correcting them, but this government is not capable of that.

Instead, the Labor government have brought another bandaid bill into this House to try and patch up what is a dreadfully failed policy—there is no doubt; we cannot cope with the 2,000 arrivals per month—and people simply do not trust them to get it right.

How can you trust a government that cannot protect its borders, that cannot get border protection right? It is a fundamental responsibility of government.

To go back to where I started, there is no doubt that this is not only a border protection failure; it is also a humanitarian failure, a social failure and an economic failure of core government responsibility and core government policy.