Matters Of Public Importance: Asylum Seekers

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (16:56): Thirteen years ago I saw true evil up close and, for the first time in my life, I understood it. The events of 2001 and 2002 left an indelible mark on me. As chief of staff to Chris Ellison, the Minister for Justice and Customs during one of our most challenging periods in government— September 11, the Bali bombings, the Tampa and SIEV X—I personally experienced the best and the worst of humanity. And the lessons I learned then, both as a human being and in government, about both national security and border protection are just as relevant today.

As I said in my first speech, it was at the Bali hospital, where Australians were lying in the morgue, that I came to truly understand that those who desire to destroy democracy do not respect our national compassion. Instead, they see it as weakness and wait for opportunities to exploit it. To the day I die, I will never forget what I saw, what I heard and what I smelt there. Through these experiences, dealing with people smugglers and terrorists, I came to understand that in government compassion has to be balanced by strength and by decisiveness. Compassion for those impacted by the most heinous of crimes must be balanced with the strength to deal with the criminals.

This very morning in this chamber I observed that senators on the other side routinely proselytise about fairness, as if somehow their own personal points of view on fairness is the singular truth and that everybody else is wrong

—or, worse, that everyone else is unfair and uncompassionate. But the truth is that nobody in this place has a mortgage on compassion. Instead, we have differing philosophical perspectives on fairness and on policy. I know from three years of personal experience that border integrity is one of the toughest areas of government policy but nonetheless one of the most important. There is no greater responsibility for any government than managing our borders and having a tough but fair managed migration program—one that is inherently safe and therefore the most compassionate.

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

Senator REYNOLDS: But responsible governments do not take the easy way; they do what is right. I can hear the interjections from Senator Hanson-Young, and I would say to her that having personally received phone calls to advise that people—women and children—were drowning on sinking boats, in the most heinous and awful circumstances, I still cannot describe today how terrible that is. When you have actually experienced that you will come to truly understand how I feel and why I feel so strongly about this.

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Order! Sorry, Senator Reynolds. I am listening intently to your contribution, and I would ask other senators to at least afford Senator Reynolds the last one minute and 57 seconds that she has left.

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I see not a single shred of compassion in any deliberate government policy that would encourage tens of thousands of people to put their lives at risk. Under Labor, with the support of the Greens, more than 1,100 human beings drowned at sea—the most horrific deaths imaginable. Where were those opposite then and how can they possibly still advocate today that this is a compassionate policy and approach? I have tried very hard over the years to understand their brand of compassion, and I just cannot get there.

The circumstances that Senator Milne and Senator Hanson-Young—I can hear her again—talked about today are a direct result of their policy failures. We learned in 2001 as a government and as a nation that the only way to preserve the integrity of our borders and to stop people putting their lives at risk was to put the people smugglers out of business—and the only effective way to do that is to ensure they cannot sell the promise of permanent residency and ultimately citizenship in Australia. Labor’s loss of control of our borders resulted in 50,000 illegal arrivals on 800 boats and cruelly denied over 14,000 others, arguably more deserving, a place under our offshore humanitarian program. What is even more mind boggling is the fact that once it was clear that this was happening and that the series of 11 policy flip-flops by Labor were not working, they still continued with these policies and people continued to die.

In conclusion, people smugglers are going out of business, people are no longer drowning at sea and our detention centres are once again emptying. To me, that is the most compassionate outcome of all. (Time expired)

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