I think all of us in this place can recall a pretty significant day in the diary of this parliament, 24 June 2010, when Julia Gillard, the now Prime Minister, and Labor deposed for the first time a first-term Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. They said that the government had lost its way. Obviously, this was Kevin 07’s fault. It was a case of: ‘We’ll just cut his throat and slide him aside, and we’re going to get back on with the job of fixing this up.’
THE DEPUTY PRESIDENT:
Order! Senator Scullion, you must refer to members of the other house by their correct title or their correct name and salutation.
I withdraw. There could be no more visible example of how badly they had failed at that stage than their border control and protection policies. When Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party won government in August 2007, I think people all around the world would have looked to the policies that the coalition government had put in place. You could say from a comparison of those policies with those of any other government that they had been a very, very effective suite of policies.
I came to this place in 2002, and I recall that in that financial year 3,039 people had arrived in 19 boats. There were 54 the year before and 75 the year before that. Certainly, it was a very serious circumstance and we needed to address it—and we did. We introduced temporary protection visas. We made sure that there was offshore processing. There were a number of regional agreements to interfere with the process of people smuggling, and they worked. This is not just on my say so. The statistic that shows this most starkly is when we went from 3,039 people in 19 boats to zero people and zero boats. I think the reason for the spotlight on us from international communities was that they were working very hard against criminal organisations engaged in people trafficking and they were looking very carefully at Australia as an example of how well they had done.
Of course, when the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, took over as Prime Minister of Australia, Labor simply thought the problem was solved and that they would get straight on with the job and say: ‘Don’t worry about those policies. After all, our motive is not that we need to protect Australia and the people who are refugees around the world from the pressures of international people smuggling. What we want to do is to make sure that we have some electoral benefit. It is not a problem for us. Things are solved in that area. The process of preferential voting means that we need to toss up whether we think about this nation’s interests or whether we think about the electoral interests of the Labor Party.’ Here comes the nub: the Greens and the Independents were talking about having a more compassionate approach. All the wisdom around the world said: ‘No, don’t do that. This is a really good set of policies that protects people, that looks after people and that ensures they don’t make this very, very ugly voyage to Australia.’ Immediately the policies that were in the interest of the Australian Labor Party were implemented, the border protection that was in the interest of this nation was destroyed.
For those in this chamber and for those outside it who are listening, this is always the problem with Labor. It goes to motive. Why do you do a thing? Why do you have a policy? Is it in the interests of the Labor Party or is it in our national interest? I think more and more Australians are starting to put the ruler of motive across the policies that we see rolled out by those opposite.
So the trade was back on. I do not know how many times I have sat in here and heard the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Evans, say: ‘No, no, it’s not our policies that have changed it. Something odd is happening in Europe. Something odd is happening somewhere else.’ Perhaps something is happening with the climate—I am not sure, because there have been a whole range of excuses. International policy makers everywhere have clearly understood that if you change this policy the consequence is a major rush of vessels. We saw that from the time Labor took over in 2007. We have gone from three boats straight up to 1,033 people in 22 boats, to 5,604 people in 117 boats and, in 2010-11, 4,949 people in 89 boats. That is a staggering endorsement of those people who said, ‘When you change this policy, there will be a consequence.’ Because those opposite have put their grubby paws on preferential voting for the interests of the Labor Party, they have deserted the interests of this nation.
So we now have the situation where there are some 15 million mandated refugees around the world. As an Australian, my heart, like every Australian’s, goes out to them. These are sometimes stateless people. There are 15.4 million people looking for somewhere else to be. So Australia decided that, rather than act as a single nation or country, it would be part of a group of countries—in fact, part of the United Nations process—to identify those most in need. Australia takes around 13,500 refugees, of which half are taken as the highest priority refugees in the world. A very small percentage of the 15.4 million require a refugee outcome. The UNHCR decides who those people are. At the moment, they come from the Horn of Africa. People which find themselves in camps like Kakuma in the Horn of Africa well know the reason they have been chosen as the most in need. It is that they live in the most horrific circumstances. Their life expectancy is so low compared with that of refugees in other parts of the world. I have had some staggering statistics put to me about this. Children who are under four years of age have, for a period of time, a life expectancy of less than six months. That is why they are on the priority list. That is why those people must be a priority in coming to Australia.
Importantly, the other half of the 13,500 refugees are part of the family reunification humanitarian scheme which ensures that those who are part of the refugee diaspora—after they have been flung around the countryside—are able to come together again, to join up as a family again. They are able to join their families in Australia. That is our contribution, and it is a very large contribution compared with the size of our population. Under Labor’s new arrangement, we now have people coming from all over the world. If you can afford the $8,000 or $10,000 per head to get here in a boat then you have jumped the queue. The people who will not be coming here are the 6,000-odd people who are part of the family aspect of that demographic. They will not be coming here because their places have been taken by boat people—people who have simply come here. Originally, under the coalition, we sent a clear message: do not come here by boat; if you do you will be treated in exactly the same way as the place from which you left. So people stopped coming. The previous Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, came and said: ‘Look we’re going to change all that. We’ve sold our souls to the Greens—to the devil.’ That is why we have this situation. Julia Gillard, the current Prime Minister, took her place and said, ‘We’ve lost our way: we’ve lost our way on border protection, we’ve lost our way on the carbon tax, we’ve lost our way on the mining tax.’ But, most importantly, as an iconic process, they have lost their way on border protection. Well, hello! We know that, but they said they would fix it. Kevin Rudd failed because he simply was thinking more about the interests of the Labor Party. Julia Gillard seems to be failing because she is more interested in the interests of the Labor Party than in the interests of Australia and Australians.
If you want to think about compassion—and as somebody said, it is the coalition and those interested in a tough border protection policy that send the clear signal: please do not put the lives of your families at risk; the UNHCR will decide who comes to this country—then think for a moment about the men and women, but mostly about the women and young children, in places like Kakuma. If you are compassionate, then every time we weaken a policy think about their lives and how short their lives are. This Labor Party stands absolutely condemned for putting its interests and its political motives—their relationship with the Greens—above the national interest. (Time expired)
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