Committees - Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee - Report

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:05): This report by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee is, to my recollection, probably the fourth or fifth or sixth report that this Senate has done on the Nauru and Manus Island centres. These reports all stem from the goal of the Labor Party and the Greens and some of the crossbenchers to denigrate the wonderful work the coalition government has done in stopping the boats and preventing the illegal entry into Australia of people who are, quite frankly, jumping the queue. For some reason, the Labor Party and the Greens think it is okay for people who have the money to do so to fly from wherever to Malaysia or Indonesia and then pay people smugglers $15,000 per person or more to enter Australia illegally. The Greens and the Labor Party seem to think that is not a bad system. It is a system which most Australians do not agree with, in fairness, and it is one that we were determined to stop and have stopped.

As a result of that, the Labor Party eventually got the message from the Australian people. It was when Mr Kevin Rudd, a Labor Prime Minister, was in charge that the penny eventually dropped. He realised that he had to adopt a similar process. So Mr Kevin Rudd, the Labor Party Prime Minister, made arrangements with the PNG government and the Nauru government to set up detention centres on their islands so that these people would not be in Australia but be in some other countries. This was an arrangement—I repeat again and again—made by the Labor Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd. He did it badly and in a hurry, and as a result the Auditor-General's report which Senator Pratt referred to made some findings that we accept. We know they are right, because the Labor government put these arrangements into place so quickly that they made mistakes—gross mistakes, very serious mistakes.

Over the time we have been in government we have tried to address those mistakes, and all credit to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for the wonderful work they have done. They have been under a lot of pressure. They were under real pressure when there were 2,000 or 3,000 people arriving on our shores illegally every week. They did a fantastic job as public servants. It was a very difficult and emotional area of public policy, but they did the job. Then they were asked by Mr Rudd, the Labor Prime Minister, to make these arrangements with Nauru and Manus almost overnight, and mistakes were made. We have acknowledged that, and they have acknowledged that, and we have addressed most of those mistakes.

I must say that I was not able to attend most of the hearings related to this report, although I am deputy chairman of the committee. But very often—and this is a complaint I have often made—those hearings seemed to be scheduled for times when the Labor Party and the Greens knew that neither I nor the other government senator on that committee would be available. And so I did not attend a lot of those hearings. But for those that I did—and I tried to attend wherever I could—the 'evidence' that is referred to in the majority report on this particular inquiry really, in most cases, was not evidence at all. It was hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay. It was comments made by people anonymously, so they could never be checked. Where allegations were made and were referred to the department, the department almost in every case had an explanation that was quite different to what the witness or the submission had said. I think the majority report even acknowledges that a lot of the allegations were unsubstantiated and unsupported. It is for this reason that I take little notice and little regard of what the majority has said in this report. I would suggest to anyone listening to this and to all other Australians that they should treat this report with real suspicion and should very carefully assess what is said.

The minority report of government senators was done very quickly at short notice, but it highlighted some of the things that I have been saying tonight. It highlighted that these are simply allegations from people who, I might say, have a specific interest in this issue. You have people who illegally tried to enter Australia. They were sent by Mr Kevin Rudd, the Labor Prime Minister, to Manus and Nauru. They have been very angry, and you can understand that. They paid tens of thousands of dollars to people smugglers and to airlines to almost get to Australia. You can understand that they are very unhappy at being incarcerated on Nauru and Manus. They will do anything possible to get into Australia. And, in this, they are supported by the Greens and the Labor Party. It just undermines the border security and border arrangements that have been put in place—badly in the first instance by Mr Rudd, the Labor Prime Minister, but then perfected by us.

We have made it very clear that these people on Manus and Nauru can go back to their country of origin at any time at the Australian taxpayers' expense.

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: They are housed in situations which are, in some cases, far better than many original Australians are housed in in our own country. There are facilities in these centres that many Australians do not enjoy. There are many Australians without air-conditioning. Yet we have complaints from these people who are illegally trying to enter Australia.

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting 

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Senator Hanson-Young is asking if I have been there. No, I have not. But, Senator Hanson-Young, we have a professional public service—a public service who are not part of the political game but who do the job. They are there regularly; they are talking to people who are there regularly. All of the allegations made by people there and by the Greens political party, in particular, are from people with a motive. And you notice that the people supporting them—the lawyers who now do not have the government funded work in dealing with many of these applications, and there are other groups—have, I might say, conflicts of interest. So you have to take with a big grain of salt a lot of the allegations made. There are some serious concerns raised. These are followed up by the department professionally, sympathetically and in a very humane way. But you do not hear about that from the Greens or the Labor Party. Our professional public servants who are in charge of this do a wonderful job.

Just because the people who are running these systems on Nauru and Manus are not Australian officials but officials from governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru, for some reason the Labor Party and the Greens will say, 'They're not doing it right.' If you talk about xenophobia, you would see a bit of that in the allegations made by the Greens and the Labor Party against government officials from PNG and Manus who do a good job, a wonderful job in difficult circumstances, and they are supported very substantially by the Australian taxpayer and by assistance from Australian officials. I conclude by saying: for anyone interested in this subject, treat this report with a lot of caution. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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