Speech to Parliament: The Asylum Seeker Impasse
Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth) (14:47): There are no measures deployed by governments in the battle against people-smuggling which are particularly palatable. All of them have great difficulties, contradictions and painful choices associated with them. They all have aspects which are cruel, but it is our jobs as legislators and it is the Prime Minister’s job as the head of our government to reach a balance between ensuring that there is a complete end to people-smuggling on the one hand - which could obviously be achieved with the cruellest imaginable measures - and on the other hand for Australia to maintain its duty as a compassionate and generous country respecting its obligations under the convention.
Finding that balance is very hard. There was a time after the election of the Labor government in 2007 when there was a view—and I do not suggest that view as anything other than sincerely held—on the part of the Government that the rate of people-smuggling, the rate of asylum seeker arrivals, was entirely a function of push factors and that Australian domestic policy was irrelevant. I recall, as Leader of the Opposition at the time, saying again and again that the push factors varied, certainly. Sometimes they were immense; sometimes they were even more immense. But they were always immense and therefore the factor that impacted on the rate of arrival was Australia’s domestic policy.
Well, we had an experiment. Australia’s domestic policies were changed and the arrivals increased and increased and increased. As a consequence, given the nature of the vessels that these desperate people embark upon, the nature of the seas and, all too often, the inexperience of the captains, the deaths are increasing as well. And so we have come full circle and we are back here seeking to find a way to stop the people-smuggling trade.
The government wants the opposition to agree to the Malaysian solution. It states in its defence the testimony of Andrew Metcalfe, the head of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, a very experienced man, no doubt. He says that the Malaysian solution will be effective. He recognises there are problems with it but he says it will be effective. Our objection to it is not whether it will be effective or not – because only time would tell, were it to be implemented - but because it fails to reach the right balance of protecting human rights. It abandons any human rights protection, the human rights protection contained in the convention.
Politics is the art of the possible. This nation, this Parliament, needs to make a decision on this this week. The Coalition has resolved not to support the Malaysia solution. That decision has been taken. The consequence of that is that even if this bill is passed in this chamber—and I do not doubt it may well be passed—it cannot possibly pass the Senate, so it can never be law. So what is this about, other than an effort to embarrass the coalition and to put pressure on the Coalition?
I appeal to the Prime Minister to do this: to agree to the amendment. Let us pass the legislation so that Nauru can be reinstated.
Let us effectively reinstate not all but the bulk of the Howard government’s policy. If that does not work—because you will never know until you try these policies—then the Prime Minister has a basis to come back and argue that the balance between the humanitarian part of the equation and the desire to ensure border security should be re-examined. What the Prime Minister is doing is allowing her conception of the perfect to be the enemy of the good. There is something that can be achieved today. Nauru should be achieved. If it does not succeed then she has the opportunity to ask for stronger measures.