House of Representatives- Migration Committee Report 2008

I rise to speak on the first report of the inquiry into immigration detention in Australia by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration. First, I would like to commend this report and the committee’s chair, the member for Melbourne Ports. It is a thorough, well-researched report that attracted support from both sides of politics and whose recommendations set the tone for a strong but fair approach to dealing with border protection and those who seek to come to Australia. The report draws attention to the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s investigations into the problems of past detention policies and makes a series of suggestions as to appropriate future policy

I rise to speak on the first report of the inquiry into immigration detention in Australia by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration. First, I would like to commend this report and the committee’s chair, the member for Melbourne Ports. It is a thorough, well-researched report that attracted support from both sides of politics and whose recommendations set the tone for a strong but fair approach to dealing with border protection and those who seek to come to Australia. The report draws attention to the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s investigations into the problems of past detention policies and makes a series of suggestions as to appropriate future policy.

It is interesting to see that the joint standing committee, which includes the opposition spokesperson for immigration and citizenship, the member for Murray, supported in this report the government announcement in July which outlined seven values that would form the new immigration policy. That included the determination that three groups will be held in mandatory detention: unauthorised arrivals to be checked for identity and health, those who pose an unacceptable risk to the community and those who have repeatedly broken visa or immigration conditions. Those outside these three groups will reside in the community until their case is resolved.

We heard the member for Murray just this morning on Sky News warmly endorsing the joint standing committee’s report. In light of the support that has been expressed by the member for Murray as the opposition spokesperson, it is interesting to see the coalition’s rhetoric on this important issue return to that of the Howard years—the time of ‘mean and tricky’. Yesterday in question time, the member for Murray accused the Rudd government of ‘giving the green light to people smugglers’. It has to be said that the member for Murray and her sidekick, Senator Fierravanti-Wells, simply cannot get their story straight—whether it is about detention centres, budgets, boat people or the intervention by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship in individual cases.

The member for Murray has no credibility when it comes to her own policy let alone the government’s. In September, she said:

I am pleased to see the new Labor government choosing to continue the Howard policies …

Then in November the member for Murray said that the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship had to:

… loudly and clearly articulate what Labor’s border security policy is.

Then yesterday the member for Murray said that Australia is ‘still very strict and strong’ in regards to border protection.

As if that level of inconsistency from the opposition was not enough, Senator Fierravanti-Wells, who acts as the coalition’s shadow parliamentary secretary for immigration and citizenship, is saying something different again. When talking in the Senate about Labor’s immigration policy yesterday she said, ‘There’s been a decisive shift in the way you guys are doing business.’ So which is it?

The same question could and really should be asked in regards to the member for Murray’s thoughts on detention and processing centres. After the Rudd government closed down the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres, the member for Murray criticised us in October for having only one facility at Christmas Island. Yet yesterday—which was a very busy day of totally flipping on anything she had previously said about the Rudd government’s immigration and detention policy—the member for Murray said, ‘I don’t think we need to again have Nauru or Manus Island operating, because, of course, we’ve got Christmas Island.’

The member for Murray is not just lacking credibility when it comes to policy; she also seems to lack the ability to count. How many boats have illegally arrived in Australia this year? Good question. The member for Murray claimed at a doorstop interview yesterday that it was seven. Then in question time she claimed it was eight. In fact, the number is four boats, carrying 48 passengers. For the record, five boats arrived last year and six in 2006.

While the success of the government’s border security policy cannot be judged purely on the number of boats that arrive on our shores, the least the member for Murray could do is get her facts right and not—as she did in question time yesterday—incorrectly claim there has been a ‘surge’ in attempted boat arrivals. We have seen this tendency towards inconsistency and being misleading in this policy area from the Liberal Party before not just on how many boats have arrived on our shores but also earlier this year. Border security is very relevant to the report because the issue raised in this report is directly concerned with border security issues. As I said, the claim made by the member for Murray and the shadow parliamentary secretary, Senator Fierravanti-Wells, was a false claim that $67.4 million had been:

… stripped out of the critical area of border security and immigration processing.

The facts are that the budget papers clearly show that the closure of the offshore processing centres in Nauru and Manus Island results in a $68.7 million saving over five years. The budget papers also show that the $68.7 million saving is offset by a $1.3 million cost for the abolition of temporary protection visas granted to refugees by the previous government. What we have had from the member for Murray and Senator Fierravanti-Wells is a false claim designed to mislead the public that $67.4 million has been cut from border security measures. The budget papers reveal directly that there has been a $116 million increase in total net resourcing for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for 2008-09.

It should be made clear: the Rudd Government’s track record refutes the opposition’s claims that we are somehow weak on border security. We have maintained the excision around some of Australia’s territories, and we have maintained the Christmas Island detention and processing centre. Our immigration policy is tough, but also fair and humane. It gives me tremendous pleasure to say of the Rudd government that it has been able to put an end to what is fairly described as the ‘barbarity’ of the previous government’s immigration policies.

It is worth mentioning also that the member for Murray misled the public just a few weeks back in relation to another immigration matter on the issue of a Western Australian midwife whose daughter suffers from Down syndrome, who was seeking to stay in Australia. On 10 November this year, the member for Murray called for the exercise of ministerial discretion in this case and she called for it again in a media release on 26 November which has mysteriously fallen off her website. The former call led on 13 November in Senate question time to Senator Boyce asking the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship whether he would exercise his ministerial discretion in this case. Then the member for Murray on 19 November in a speech said:

Their case has been waiting for ministerial discretion, having reached the end of the whole business of ministerial tribunal reviews for a very long time now.

Then in the media release of 26 November, the one that has now gone missing, the member for Murray said:

… Minister Evans steadfastly refused to use his special powers, leaving the almost identical case of the Robinson family in Perth languishing. After nearly seven months sitting on Minister Evans desk, and with only weeks left on their visa, the Robinson family and their Down syndrome son David were finally granted a permanent visa after public outrage and embarrassing questions asked of the Minister in Parliament.

The facts of this matter are that the minister made the initial decision to approve the family’s visas in August and, subject to normal security and health checks and following completion of those checks, the files were returned to the minister for the second round approval in November and approved on 12 November 2008.

You might note that the family’s ministerial requests had been knocked back twice under the former government—so much for the level of consistency or any accuracy at all in the way in which the member for Murray has been dealing with these immigration issues. The protestations about this case by the coalition, indeed the recent statements by the member for Murray generally on border security, are alarming. However, I return to this report. Regardless of the member for Murray’s indecision and inability to understand basic statistics, it was good to see her endorse the Joint Standing Committee on Migration’s report. Therefore she is making a warm endorsement of the Rudd government’s immigration policy. I am pleased to see that the member for Murray agrees with me that the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has done a fine job in keeping our borders secure, and in massively improving our treatment of refugees in his first year in office. I commend the report to the House.