Matters of Public Importance - Asylum Seekers


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:48): I am not quite sure which planet Senator Polley lives on or comes from, but clearly it is not the same planet as most other Australians. Whilst I am disappointed that the Labor Party has breached the bipartisan nature of our border security today, I guess that from a political point of view it probably suits us well, because most Australians totally and strongly support the government's position and actions to stop the uncontrolled entry across our borders by many people who are not refugees but simply people expecting and wanting a better economic life.

I will go through a few statistics just to put this argument in perspective. Under the Howard government, the influx of refugees across our borders had stopped and the number of people in detention, including children, was very low. In fact, I think there were no children in detention at the end of the Howard government. The Labor government came along and opened the borders up to everybody and anybody. Whether you were a refugee or just someone who wanted a better life, it was: 'Come to Australia.' They were welcomed by the Labor Party. They probably signed a lot of them up in their branches when they arrived. What I can never understand about the Labor Party and the Greens is that, because Australia's very generous refugee intake is a fixed number, every time someone jumped the queue it meant that genuine refugees living in squalid refugee camps right around the world had to wait another year for their chance to get to the promised land. The Labor Party seemed to be keen to help those very wealthy people who could afford the airfare from wherever they came from to Malaysia and Indonesia. A husband, wife and several children were all paying for airfares. When these people got there they then paid the people smugglers $15,000 a head. These are not poor refugees. These are not the sort of people waiting in the squalid camps that the UNHCR has to run around the world. These people were jumping the queue. And not only were they jumping the queue; but many of them were putting their own lives at risk. We were aware of the fact that the 1,200-odd bodies recovered were of those who drowned on the way here. We do not know how many other thousands of people drowned in attempting to illegally get across Australia's borders.

Australia has nothing to be ashamed of as far as refugees are concerned, and certainly the coalition government has a very proud record. For years, we have taken approximately 13,000 to 14,000 genuine refugees—people who follow the rules, who apply to the UNHCR to come to Australia. We have houses for them. We have jobs for them. We plan our social security because we know they are coming. Just recently, the coalition government increased that number—I do not have the exact number on me—to about 17,000 to 18,000. In addition to that—

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: and we heard Senator Polley with her old 'desperate PM', 'desperate government'; she keeps saying it. Senator Polley, just because you are saying it does not make it true. There is no desperation in the government. The coalition government actually increased the intake of genuine refugees by an additional 12,000 people—something the Labor Party never did. These people are genuine refugees, who actually do the right thing and take their turn. For some reason, the Labor Party and the Greens seem to fancy the wealthy people who can fly from their country of origin to Malaysia or Indonesia and pay people smugglers $15,000.

The whole Manus and Nauru issue has been debated to death. We have had about four, five or six Senate committees inquiring into it. We get the same old people making the same old submissions, trying to get their mates into the country—out of the queue, out of the system. The Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, which is holding yet another inquiry into this issue, recently had the gall to approach the President about the committee visiting Manus and Nauru. I do not know what the President has done, whether he has dealt with the matter or not. I know that Senator Reynolds and I, two government members of the committee, were totally opposed to it. Do you realise, Mr Acting Deputy President, that it would take, according to my investigation, something like $40,000 and plus, plus, plus—because that is just for airfares alone—to get the committee up to those places. I am sure the taxpayers of Australia would rather their taxpayer dollars be spent on things other than having this committee doing a jaunt up to Nauru and Manus. And for what? Any evidence that is legally useful in Senate committees can be got from sitting in a committee room here in Australia. I think this just demonstrates the weird approach the Greens and the Labor Party have to this whole situation. This new legislation is not the subject of this debate—but Senator Polley talked of nothing else. It will come before the parliament and it is destined to say to people: 'Don't bother leaving your homeland. If you are a genuine refugee do it via the appropriate places, but if you are not a genuine refugee do not bother. Apply via the normal migration situation and entry level.'

Most of these people are not refugees. They are wealthy people who want a better life—and I do not blame them for that. But it just makes the real situation intolerable. Genuine refugees wait longer in squalid camps thanks to the Labor Party— (Time expired)

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