MPI – the failure of the Government to address their border protection failures with clear permanent, proven and consistent policies
Posted on Wednesday, 11 May, 2011
Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (16:06): The former finance minister Lindsay Tanner has been in the news lately. One of the things he says about politics, which I think a lot of people would agree with, is that everybody exaggerates everything, but let me tell you one thing: with this government, when we say that things are actually this bad, I can genuinely say to the Australian people that they are. It is hard to remember that this government is only 3½ years old. It seems so tired, so incompetent and so incapable of moving Australia in any coherent direction. In fact, it seems so incapable of outlining any direction it would like to see Australia go in that it looks as old, as tired and as ready to be assassinated as the former New South Wales government which fell in March. For all the failings of this government, nowhere are their failings more apparent than on the issue of border protection, because the same strands of incompetence that are so obvious across the whole range of policies of this Labor government are magnified when we look at the failure to protect Australia's borders. First, one of the characteristics of this government—something that the Leader of the Opposition outlined again in question time—is that they have the reverse Midas touch. Everything they touch has turned sour. Any policy area that they turn their attention to becomes an absolute disaster. No matter how good the intentions—such as 'It is a good idea to insulate houses,' or 'It is a good idea to have faster broadband,'—and no matter how good the kernel of the idea, everything they do turns out to be a complete and utter disaster.
Yes, it is a good idea to insulate homes, but the way they do it we end up with those houses being burnt down and people killed. Faster broadband is a good idea. We all believe in that. Yet the way they tackle it is to waste literally tens of billions of dollars on an outdated scheme that is going to be an absolute millstone around the necks of all Australians for a generation to come. We will probably see the same tonight with set-top boxes.
But border protection is probably the worst of these failures, because when the Labor Party came to office they inherited a solution to this problem. The previous government had faced challenges in this area and they had shown some resolve and they had solved it. So all Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party needed to do when they came to office was nothing. If they had just left well enough alone, we would not have been inundated with the almost 11½ thousand illegal arrivals we have had since the Labor Party weakened the robust system of border protection they inherited when they came to office.
The second characteristic of this government is that it is wildly inconsistent in a way that I think highlights to the Australian people that they have absolutely no idea what they are doing. They do not appear in any way, shape or form to be competent stewards of the national interest; they just appear to be out-of-control victims of circumstance with no ability to shape events and no ability to control the direction of the country. They wind back the tough but fair provisions that the previous government introduced with Welfare to Work, yet tonight, apparently, they are going to announce a crackdown on welfare recipients. They promised 'no carbon tax' but, within months of being re-elected, they explicitly repudiate that promise and now they are going to bring in a carbon tax.
But yet again, it is border protection which most exposes their complete inability to shape events, their lack of conviction and their blatant hypocrisy. This government and the members of it spent years criticising the previous government for the Pacific solution, the solution that was part of a suite of measures implemented by the Howard government which actually ended the people-smuggling business and took control of this problem on behalf of the Australian people. The current Prime Minister derided the Pacific solution for years as the opposition shadow spokesperson for immigration. In 2003, in this place, she said:
The so-called Pacific solution is nothing more than the world's most expensive detour sign. It does not stop you getting to Australia; it just puts you through a detour on the way while Australian taxpayers pay for it and pay for it. Instead of stunts like this—
referring to the Pacific solution—
it is time the Howard government faced up to engaging in a long-term solution in relation to refugees and asylum seekers.
A long-term solution—the next eight boats! She went on to say: Tuesday, 10 May 2011 HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES 20 CHAMBER
The so-called Pacific solution is not a long-term solution. Can anyone in this place really imagine that Australia will be processing asylum seeker claims on Nauru in 10 or 20 years?
Well might we now ask: can anyone really imagine that Australia is going to take 10 to 20 years to get these 800 people who are now going to be transferred to Malaysia?
Earlier on, in a grievance debate, the Prime Minister—the then opposition spokesperson for immigration—said this about third-country processing:
The so-called Pacific solution—stripped of the other policies that the government has scrambled around and tried to put in place since the Tampa—is really no more than the processing of people offshore in third countries. It is a policy that Labor does not support, because it achieves nothing and costs so much in so many ways—in money, in goodwill in our region and in division in our community.
This is the hypocrisy that this government has now become famous for and this is why the Australian people understand that they stand for nothing, that they are enormous hypocrites and that they will do whatever they deem to be in their political interests. The Prime Minister today spoke about children in detention—another area in which they are rank hypocrites. When they came to office in 2007, not one child was in detention in Australia. There are now over 800 children in detention, specifically because of the failed policies of the Labor Party.
The third characteristic of this government is that they never tell the truth. They have a habit of making grand announcements, but you need to unwind those announcements and have a look at the detail before you can see what is really going on. We saw it with the mining tax—a big announcement followed by an unravelling once we saw how silly the details of that tax were. Again this characteristic is evident in border protection. The Prime Minister announced to great fanfare during the election campaign that one of the areas she was going to fix when she became Prime Minister was border protection. She was going to do that by creating a regional processing centre in East Timor. Sadly, and I think rather astonishingly, nobody thought to ask the East Timorese. We know that foreign affairs is not the Prime Minister's forte, because she has admitted that, but really I think it would fall into the category of commonsense that, if you were going to push for an East Timorese processing centre, you would pick up the phone and talk to your counterpart, the head of government of East Timor. That is something that never happened.
What has happened is that as this policy has completely and utterly unravelled the Prime Minister and her ministers and other members of the Labor Party have run around in what became a pythonesque farce. There was all this silliness of running around saying, 'No, this idea is not dead; it is only sleeping.' But mercifully the East Timorese regional processing centre was put to bed on Saturday when the Prime Minister announced her new thought bubble—the Malaysian solution.
Wouldn't you want to play poker with these guys? Wouldn't you want to sell them a car? In fact, I would like to sell them a bridge—the Malaysian government will take 800 asylum seekers in exchange for the 4,000 they are going to send here to Australia. You can picture the minister going up to Malaysia and starting off by saying: 'Look, what about we have some swapsies? What about we go one for one—we will give you one of ours and we will take one of yours?' And the Malaysians would have said, 'Mmm, no.' And so the minister would have said, 'What about two for one?' 'No.' 'Three for one?' 'No, I don't think so.' 'Four for one?'
You can just see the desperation that would be leeching off the minister by now. 'No, not four for one.' And finally they went with four for one—and wouldn't the Malaysian government be kicking themselves that they did not ask for more. This government has become a regional embarrassment and it is the dignity of Australia that suffers when we have a government that negotiates from such an enormous position of weakness.
The fourth thing that characterises this government is a complete disregard for taxpayers' money. We have seen it with pink batts, we have seen it with school halls and we see it with border protection. This time last year we had a $1 billion blowout on the government's failed border protection policies, although I suspect that that effort is going to look amateurish compared with what they will announce tonight. We already know they are going to blow $300 million on the Malaysia deal. There has already been a blowout of half a billion dollars to manage our detention centres, let alone the damage that has been done on Christmas Island that would run into the tens of millions of dollars which we had a chance to look at over the last fortnight.
This government has no resolve to deal with the issue of border protection and the chaos it has created is completely a chaos of its own making. If they had come to office and done nothing, Australia would not be in this position. They need to take responsibility for the chaos they have caused and they need to adopt policies that we know will work and that the opposition is now proposing. (Time expired)