Matter of Public Importance

Asylum Seeker Policy

House of Representatives

20 November 2013

I am pleased to rise in support of this matter public importance. I commend the shadow minister for bringing this to the attention of the House. As we on this side of the House know, the substance of this MPI is one that is not lost on our constituents. It is one that is being raised regularly, that this is not the government that they voted for. They did not expect and they do not deserve the level of secrecy that is going on here. It is certainly something that they did not anticipate and that is coming through loud and clear. I know that my colleagues are getting exactly the same feedback from their local electorates.

It is very important, first, to look objectively at what has happened in this portfolio over the last couple of months. It is important to look at the facts. Look at the period from 19 July 2013—when the policy changed; the catalyst for this policy change and still the policy today—and the two weeks before the election, only four boats arrived as a result. Anyone who tries to claim credit for anything other than a successful policy in response to that policy change is totally wrong and the facts demonstrate that. When we look at 19 July when the former minister for immigration and the then Prime Minister reached an agreement, it was implemented immediately and had immediate results. In the month after that arrangement was put in place there was a 40 per cent reduction in boat arrivals.

Those opposite talked a big game. They talked a really big game when they were in opposition. They were pushing each other out of the way to stand in front of a billboard—all those billboards—telling how many boats had arrived. They said they were going to buy them. They were going to turn them back. Well, what happened? Now they are hiding them. The minister is not in the chamber but it would not make any difference if he was because he does not answer questions anyway. It has gone from ‘stop the boats’ to ‘hide the boats’. Quite seriously, this is the same side that claims credit for a policy—I remember very clearly, and I am sure the shadow minister would too—that they said would not work when it was announced last July. Now they are taking credit for it.

What happened? Today’s minister and the then shadow minister, the member for Cook, panicked. You could see the panic when this policy was announced. He said, ‘They’ve got an arrangement; it might work.’. So what did he do? He thought of another three-word slogan: ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’. Three-word slogans might have cut it when you are talking the big game in opposition but now the adults are in charge and don’t they act like adults. Operation Sovereign Borders took an extraordinary step of conflating two very separate issues that are quite clearly problematic today, as has been exposed in Senate estimates—conflating immigration and defence.

Let us be clear about this. The only thing Operation Sovereign Borders does is invoke these parameters of a military exercise quite clearly to censor information and mask all these failures of the coalition’s policy. I refer—do you not to take it from me—to the Australian Defence Association who warned of this occurring. They said: Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s plans to appoint a senior military commander to attack people smuggling and boat arrivals have been dismissed. It is not conducive to informed public debate to militarise discussions of what remains unequivocally a civil law enforcement issue.

It is no wonder we have Lieutenant General Campbell getting up in estimates and stressing that he does not want to be involved in the political process. He said, ‘I am not involved in the political process.’. I stress again: ‘I am not involved in the political process.’ Unfortunately for him, this is what he has been dragged into—nothing more than a change in media management. Boat buybacks: a failure. How many? Zero. Boats to be towed back: we know they have tried to tow back one and they destroyed it—real geniuses, this government. And the minister daily failing to be upfront with the Australian people. Well, the Australian people are on to it. (Time expired)