Asylum Seekers

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (16:45): Can I start with Senator Polley's words about turning the boats back. Let me quote the now Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard. The Australian people must also be wondering what is going on when the Prime Minister, and people like Senator Polley, are saying today, 'You can't turn the boats back,' when in 2002, when Ms Gillard was in opposition, she said:

And we think turning boats around that are seaworthy, that can make the return journey and are in international waters, fits in with that.

Ms Gillard was saying turning the boats around, when it was safe to do so, fits in. Of course, prior to the 2007 election, the then opposition leader Mr Rudd, the politically decapitated Mr Rudd, said, 'Turn the boats back when safe to do so.' So we have got the now current Prime Minister saying that, we have got the former, politically decapitated Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, saying the same, and now we have got these people saying, 'No, you can't do that.'

This whole asylum seeker industry has become one big tragedy. Last Saturday week I was with the deputy opposition leader, the Hon. Julie Bishop, up in the New England area at Tenterfield, a great place where Henry Parkes and others sat down to help establish the Federation. It is the birthplace of Peter Allen. It was very interesting as I showed Ms Bishop around Henry Parkes's museum there. He was an interesting man—he had three wives and 18 children and obviously had quite an exciting life. What a great contribution he made to our nation. But Ms Bishop was telling us that when the Labor government was elected in 2007 there were just four people in detention centres in Australia. Just four! And then, in August 2008, the then Prime Minister Mr Rudd at the request of the previous opposition immigration minister Ms Julia Gillard said, 'We will change the rules. We will do away with the Pacific solution,' a solution that the Howard government had brought in under the careful guidance of the Hon. Mr Philip Ruddock. The coalition had a problem and found a solution. This government had the solution and you turned it into a disastrous problem. What have we seen? More than 20,000 asylum seekers have arrived since August 2008. We have seen 386 boats. At the last election—you would remember it well, Madam Acting Deputy President Boyce—the then Prime Minister Ms Gillard said, 'We will do a deal with East Timor.' She told all of Australia, 'We will do a deal with East Timor.' It was just that she did not happen to tell East Timor. So then it was, 'We will do a deal with Malaysia.' It was not a very good deal: 'You take 800 of our asylum seekers and we will take 4,000 of your refugees.' Eight hundred for 4,000—that is not a very good deal either. Of course, the High Court put an end to the so-called solution that the Gillard government had in relation to asylum seekers. It was the end of that when the High Court handed down its decision. So now we see the government, under the Houston recommendations, adopting Nauru. I do not know how many times Mr Abbott has said it.

How many times did Mr Abbott say, 'Pick up the phone to Nauru'? Hopefully, the facility will be back in working condition soon. Hopefully, those people who traffic in human beings for money, putting their lives at risk, will be brought to a stop. Some 22,000 people have come to this country seeking asylum on boats since the introduction of this government. Some figures say four per cent of these people lose their lives. We are talking 800-900 people may have drowned at sea making this dangerous journey to our country. That industry must be shut down.

I am very fortunate to live in a beautiful country town where we have refugees from Sudan who have come to our town and become established there. They are really good people. One lady came there with four children. Her husband was murdered. I think her brother was also murdered. She got a life again, a new start in a lovely country town like Inverell, where the people have made them most welcome, where they are good citizens and where their children are being educated, getting work and going off to university. That is an ideal result—looking after those in refugee camps, those who are threatened, not those who are paying their way to come here. I find it amazing when we see boatloads of people coming and seeking asylum and they are all men. The boat is full of men. What, the women and their children are not seeking asylum? What is going on here? These are the people paying to come here. The industry must be stopped. I think it is certainly good that the government has now adopted the Nauru solution. It has worked before; it will work again. I know this is embarrassing for members of the government who have resisted this in arrogance for so long. But now we are getting steps that hopefully lead to this industry being shut down—lives will be saved and we can continue our compassionate settlement of proper refugees.