Matters of Public Importance - Immigration Detention

I applaud Senator Siewert and her colleagues for maintaining such a consistent position on this matter for many years now. Let's face it: that is more than can be said for their position on wind farms, which has quite literally gone whichever way the wind blows!

The Greens are trying to frame this debate as a matter of legitimate asylum seekers being denied their legitimate claims for asylum in this country. They prefer to perpetuate the myths that this government is placing people in offshore detention because we are just cold and heartless and that people are suffering at our hands from poor medical treatment.

That hyperbole hit fever pitch not just in the speech by the previous speaker, Senator McKim, that we just heard but also when he described the actions of the government as 'cruelty for cruelty's sake', as if, in our spare time, we like to pull the wings off flies and bite the heads off chickens.

The Greens do not have a monopoly on compassion. Indeed, there is nothing compassionate or fair about encouraging people to pay tens of thousands of dollars to organised criminal people-smuggling rings. There is nothing compassionate or fair about leaving vulnerable women and children who don't have the money to pay a criminal people-smuggling ring to sit and rot in refugee camps year after year while others push them to the back of the queue. There is nothing compassionate or fair about penalising those people who go through proper processes and seek asylum by the book. There is nothing compassionate or fair about incentivising people to take a dangerous journey by sea on leaky boats, letting them drown and forcing our border protection officers to pull their wet bodies from the ocean. That is not kind, that is not compassionate and that is not fair.

Operation Sovereign Borders has three components: boat turnbacks, offshore processing and temporary protection visas. Offshore processing matters because it is vital to deterring the people-smuggling trade. When people know they won't get to live freely in Australia if they don't follow the proper processes, we stop deaths at sea and we make space for the truly vulnerable—those without the dough to jump the queue.

Under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments Australia experimented with policies of the kind the Greens advocate for, and it was an unequivocal disaster. The weakening of laws concerning immigration and access to benefits like Medicare and Newstart was like manna from heaven. It was perfect advertising for the people smugglers, so the arrivals started to come. And they came and they came and they came. Twelve hundred people—men, women and children—died at the hands of people smugglers trying to get them to Australia's shores. That is 1,200 souls. It breaks my heart to think of each and every one of those needless deaths, but the coalition stopped the boats with Operation Sovereign Borders. We stopped the boats, and we have reduced the number of deaths at sea through illegal people smuggling to zero.

The Greens policies, which Labor adopted in favour of preferences in inner city seats, saw 8,000 children put into detention, and 2,000 of them remained in detention when we came to government. Let the record show today: there are no children in detention—not one. And let's not forget about the 17 detention centres that Labor and the Greens had to open to deal with the influx of people who arrived under their watch, all of which have now been closed by coalition governments since 2015. Under Operation Sovereign Borders, we have taken back control of our borders, we have ended the illegal and dangerous trade of people smuggling and we have resettled 585 people from Manus Island and Nauru in the USA, with more to come.

Offshore processing is vital to border protection. Orderly immigration, including accepting people seeking asylum, is the only fair way to manage immigration in this country. And we are generous in our humanitarian intake. Per capita, we are second in the world for the number of people to whom we open our arms. But other arrivals, not asylum seekers, but queue jumpers, illegal entrants or visa overstayers—these are the people who are cheating the system, making it harder for genuine and real asylum seekers to gain a place in Australia where they can live in peace, raise their families with quality education, health care and housing, and contribute to our country in their many and unique ways.

Australia has reached our largest offshore intake in more than 30 years. We have provided a generous humanitarian response to the ongoing crisis in Syria, agreeing to take in an additional 12,000 Syrian refugees. As I mentioned, we have resettled people through our refugee resettlement deal with the United States. Yet Labor still persist with their policy of supporting the medivac laws that were pushed through last year, which we know weaken the border protection regime that has been proven to stop people smuggling in this country. And what they describe as a pretty modest piece of legislation is akin to unlocking the door and leaving it ajar.

The medivac laws remove the minister's ability to stop people accused of serious crimes and people without identity documents from coming to Australia, and once they're here they can't be returned; they use the courts to push their case to stay. In a demonstration of the law of unintended consequences in action, the Federal Court has ruled that the two treating doctors that are only required to review a detainee's case files in order to approve a medical transfer don't even have to physically see a patient before making the call that they simply must come to Australia. Really, who didn't see this coming?

But let's not pretend that we weren't providing good medical care to those people who were in our care. Over a thousand people were brought to Australia under the previous arrangements for medical care that was not available in the relevant specialty on Manus Island or Nauru. Indeed, on Nauru, specialist and emergency health care is available around the clock. In PNG, a range of general and specialised healthcare services are available through qualified medical professionals.

It's dangerous to entertain the idea that removing the minister's ability to decide who comes to Australia is without consequences. As long as these laws are in place, the minister can only block the transfer of people who are considered dangerous if they've been subject to an adverse ASIO assessment and/or have been sentenced to more than 12 months imprisonment. We will repeal the legislation because it risks our strong and successful border protection policies.

Operation Sovereign Borders works. We've ended the illegal people smuggling trade because they now have no product to sell. No amount of hyperbole from those in the Greens political party will make a jot of difference, because we have stopped the boats, we have taken children out of detention and we have ended the senseless deaths of men, women, and children at sea. No amount of moral posturing from those in the Greens will change that fact.