MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - Asylum Seekers


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:27): Before Senator Furner and Senator Carol Brown go, I want them to answer me a question. Since the beginning of this year, a few months ago, there have been 26 boats and 1,548 people come into Australia illegally. Unfortunately, Senator Furner, as is his want, leaves and will not answer the question, so perhaps Senator Carol Brown will. What happens once the Gillard government gets up to that magic number of 800 refugees it is going to send to Malaysia What happens, if it were this year, to the other 748 people who are not going to be processed in Australia and who are not going to be taken by Malaysia Can someone please explain to me the Gillard government's solution for the boat people who come here after the 800 people mark is reached

This is a very serious and very tragic situation, but it is almost humorous to see the head-in-the-sand approach of all of not only the Labor speakers but the Labor ministers and, indeed, the Labor Party. All we have heard this afternoonand we hear them every day on the TV and on the radiois, 'We are going to break the people-smuggling business model.' I think Senator Carol Brown mentioned that. I counted it about 11 times in her short address. Senator Furner mentioned those words again four or five times in his contribution. The words are there but they do not mean anything. Can I tell those speakers and the Labor Party generally that the business model was broken by the Howard government. The boats had stopped from a stream to zero. The people-smuggling problem had stopped. There were no more boats coming. There were no more people paying the $15,000.

But suddenly there was a change of government and, with typical Labor inexperience and insensitivity and factional deals, we threw away the Howard govern_ment's rules that had stopped the boats and we allowed in a new regime that just sent the boats flowing one after the other. So for all the things that the Labor Party are now struggling to resolverunning around chasing their tails and trying to find solutions forthere was a solution for them; it had been found. Sure, we went through some difficulties and we had some problems. But we fixed the problem; we stopped the boats. Now you are running around chasing your tails, trying to do exactly the same thing.

I suspect you probably have some people in your government who have some experience with Malaysia and, if you do have any ministers or parliamentarians from Malaysia, perhaps you should ask them what happens to refugees in Malaysia. Indeed, do not take my word on this, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore, I refer you to the Refugee Council of Australia. In a report which they gave me, the Refugee and humanitarian program 2011-12, part of the 10-page executive summary said:

A Malaysian NGO representative observed that many refugees who came to Malaysia from elsewhere expected to be treated fairly

as the Labor government is expecting to happen

but were shocked by the treatment they received from Malaysian authorities and the limited support given by UNHCR. While most would prefer to remain in Malaysia, after a while they began to consider ways of leaving for countries with higher human rights standards, including Australia.

This report goes on to be critical of the Malaysian situationand it is from the Refugee Council of Australia. Those comments have been repeated by the UNHCR, and yet this is the country to which the Gillard government is 'humanitarianly' turning in dealing with this particular problem, sending them to a country with a record that has been criticised above the board. I am conscious of deep divisions within the Labor Party. I know that the Left of the Labor Party want to stop this proposal. The Right want to be bolshie because they know the votes they are losing through the incompetence of the Gillard government and its mismanagement.

I take great offence at Senator Carol Brown's comment that the coalition wants to demonise asylum seekers. We have a very humanitarian program for refugeeswe always have hadand I take offence at people who say that we do not. But I cannot understand why the Labor Party cannot comprehend that when you accept peoplevery often wealthy people, people who have not been in these refugee camps for very long, people who have relatives in Australia to provide lots of moneyinto Australia and class them as refugees, some of the hundreds of thousands of genuine refugees living in squalid camps around the world, waiting for their turn to get into Australia and other places, step back in line because we bring in these other people, these wealthy people very often, who have jumped the queue. Again, quoting the Refugee Council of Australia:

The 13,770 refugee and humanitarian visas issued in 2009-10 were divided between 9,236 offshore refugee and humanitarian visas ... and 4,534 onshore visas ...

The offshore was the lowest number in eight years; the onshore the second-highest. The report continued:

These included 2,156 onshore visas granted to asylum seekers who entered Australia by boat.

Do not take my word that it; listen to the Refugee Council of Australia. When you allow these people in jumping the queue, illegally in this line, you put back the chances of those who are living in squalid camps right around the world, and the Labor Party say that that is a humanitarian resolution for this problem.

The only way to address the problem is to do what we did: learn from our experience and put people in the situation where they will not come. They will not spend the $15,000 because they know they will not be processed in Australia; they will go to a third country like Nauru which is already set up and waiting to deal with those people. That will stop the boats. Nothing the Gillard government does ever will. (Time expired)

Back to List