Documents - Australian National Audit Office

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:11): What a disgraceful and unworthy attack that was on the hardworking public servants who during the course of this whole episode were really under enormous pressure. There were tens of thousands of illegal arrivals ending up on Australia's shores. The poor departmental officials had to try and process all of them under the time of the Labor government because they just kept coming. That attack by the previous speaker is unwarranted, unfortunate and wrong.

The previous speaker went halfway. He mentioned that the department had blamed the government. The speaker did say it was in 2012, and of course that was the Australian Labor Party government that the Greens political party supported all the way. It is a pity Senator Gallacher was not still in the chamber to hear Senator McKim, because what Senator McKim said was right about the then government that introduced this, and that was the Labor Party government that sent people to Manus and Nauru in the first instance. And you never acknowledged that, Senator McKim. You try to blame the current government. You are saying the current minister needs to look at it and the current secretary needs to look at it. It is in fact them trying to make up for the oversights—the dereliction of duty—of the minister who was in charge at the time this was all put in place. I cannot even remember who the Labor minister was, but I do remember it was Kevin Rudd, the Australian Labor Party Prime Minister, who started this Manus and Nauru issue. Senator Gallacher, I really suggest that you actually read the report before you get up and make those comments, because this report is a report by the Audit Office on the actions of the then Labor government who started the process of going to Manus and Nauru.

Let me remind senators who were not around at the time what this was all about. Years ago the Howard government did have processing centres there. They were properly managed. They had been put in place with careful consideration by the then public servants doing it the right way. The Labor Party came along and did away with that and, as a result, tens of thousands of people landed on Australia's beaches. Many were killed getting here. In a fit of pre-election anxiety, the then Labor Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, decided that, after denying it for years and years, they had better reinstate the Howard government's offshore detention proposals. In the course of a very short period of time, Mr Rudd called upon the public servants at the time without proper consultation and without the ability to sit down and work out how it could and should be done. Had they been asked to do that, the public servants would have done that very well, but Mr Rudd insisted they do it immediately, because he was facing an election. He knew the Australian people would not tolerate his government on the open borders policy, so he introduced this policy in a hurry. Senator McKim will never acknowledge that his criticism is accurate, but it is accurate against the government that introduced it, and he never mentions that. Did he call for Mr Rudd to be censured? No, he calls for Mr Dutton to be censured. It just shows how hypocritical and how dishonest the Greens political party are in the way they approach this particular issue.

As I say, before Senator Gallacher opens a page and starts commenting on a quite technical report, he should have a look at what it really said. It really laid the blame back on those early days when the bureaucrats were not given the appropriate attention. Unfortunately, time is going to escape me, but we are going to have another inquiry. The last two inquiries have been inconclusive; we have hearsay evidence on hearsay; nobody has ever proved anything; the department, which has all the facts, is never consulted. It is a bit like that children's report of the disgraceful Human Rights Commission—full of inaccuracies, which the department tried to tell the Human Rights Commission about; but they ignored it and simply issued what was clearly a political device at the time. If the department had been asked, as with this latest incident, they could explain the things and give the truth to those allegations. The audit report is right, but it is an indictment of the Labor government led by Mr Rudd.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Macdonald. Your time has expired.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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