I rise to speak on this unusual and extraordinary motion that we are being asked to consider today. I will speak more in detail to the deeply concerning circumstances of that shortly. At the outset I want to stress that, in the national interest, we will support this motion without amendment. I appreciate the opportunity that I was given yesterday afternoon to be briefed on the significance and the urgency of this matter by the department and at least one member of the minister’s office. That happened yesterday afternoon. As always, the coalition will take a responsible approach on national security matters and we will work in a bipartisan way in Australia’s interests, but that does not mean a free pass for the Labor government or its inexperienced ministers when things go wrong on their watch.
Quite frankly, I was shocked that the enabling motion linked this motion with a mechanism to limit debate on a disallowance motion on superannuation industry regulations. I mean, really? Is that the way that the government chooses to manage the very serious and very time sensitive matter that we are considering with this motion? Is that the importance that this government places on Operation Sovereign Borders and its three key pillars—to couple it with a disallowance motion it wants to guillotine? I mean, seriously? It’s quite ironic that the government actually listed those superannuation regulations back on 1 September last year, because, if the government had tabled this legislative instrument in relation to Nauru last September, we would not be having this debate today.
The fact is that Operation Sovereign Borders, the original coalition policy solution that stopped the boats, has three key pillars: turnbacks, when they are safe to do so; offshore processing; and temporary protection visas. Due to Labor’s failure, Australia currently does not have a designated regional processing country. We haven’t had one for four months. This is one of the very key pillars of Operation Sovereign Borders that Labor let lapse. Quite frankly, this has to put to bed the myth that Labor likes to spout that there have been no changes to Operation Sovereign Borders under Labor. Clearly, they have failed to protect Australia in respect of that key pillar. Let’s call it as it actually is; let’s call a spade a spade, because it’s important.
They’ve also signalled their intention to deliberately dismantle the temporary protection visa pillar. So that’s two. They’ve said that the temporary protection visas will go, and the fact that they did not renew the designation of Nauru as a regional processing centre in a timely manner has put Operation Sovereign Borders at risk. I understand why the Minister for Home Affairs would try to downplay the significance of this issue and what has been created as a result of, quite frankly, the lack of due diligence. But I put on the record again very clearly that we will support continuing the regional processing arrangements on Nauru because it is the right thing to do.
I signed a memorandum of understanding with Nauru when I was in the role of Minister for Home Affairs in September 2021 to help ensure that Australia had an enduring capability to maintain regional processing. But, of course, that MOU must have legislative backing in Australian law, and that is achieved through the Migration Act. Designating a regional processing country is the key legislative instrument under the Migration Act to allow Border Force officials to efficiently and legally deal with unauthorised boat arrivals. The fact is that the legislative instrument that allows the designation lapsed on 1 October last year. This was not a secret. The list of legislative instruments due to sunset on 1 October 2022 was tabled in parliament on the first sitting day on or after 1 April 2021, so it was a matter of public record that that particular provision, that instrument, was going to be sunsetting.
It’s also worth noting the legislative framework for regional processing, including reference to the specific section 198AB, was explained to the Minister for Home Affairs in her incoming minister brief after the 2022 federal election. Did she ask any specific questions? If she did not, why didn’t she? The role of the Minister for Home Affairs was severely reduced when Labor came into office. Prime Minister Albanese stripped key parts of the portfolio from her and moved them to a different portfolio, yet the minister still couldn’t get across the details of Operation Sovereign Borders. The minister had ample opportunity to understand the various acts and legislative instruments for which she is responsible, but she has not done so. This happened on her watch, and she has no-one to legitimately blame but herself. She could have simply asked her colleague the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, who put in place the original designation and would have understood it.
After the mess and the confusion that the Prime Minister himself created during the election campaign on offshore processing, you’d think that those opposite would pay a little more care and attention and be focused on making sure they were across the detail. Clearly, that is not the case. It’s shocking that such important legislation was allowed to lapse. Now the government is rushing motions through the House to fix its lackadaisical approach to national security. This legislative lapse raises serious questions about whether Australia has potentially been exposed to legal risk for months. Between 1 October last year and today there have been at least two boat arrivals from Indonesia. Although they were able to be turned back, what exactly would have happened if they couldn’t be turned back?
As I mentioned earlier, this failure is only compounded by Labor’s continuing plan to get rid of temporary protection visas. Labor ministers have found time since the election to tweet about how they’re working to abolish temporary protection visas. It speaks volumes about what their priorities are. They’re happy to tweet about TPVs, but the minister responsible can’t actually spend the time to make sure that the legislative instruments that are needed to protect our borders are in place.
People smugglers are very familiar with the laissez-faire attitude that Labor tends to adopt in government. They had a booming business under the last Labor government with more than 50,000 people arriving on 820 boats. People smugglers are desperate for any sign of change that would enliven their deadly trade, which is why the circumstances leading to today’s motion should never have been allowed to happen. This should have been dealt with back in the weeks we sat last year, while the original designation was still in effect. Labor saw fit to ram through their preferred legislative agenda last year, passing legislation that suited their union mates and recalling parliament at will, but they have failed on the very basics. They have failed to ensure that vital border security legislation does not lapse, and it is, quite frankly, not good enough. It can’t be fobbed off. It’s a serious oversight, and the minister needs to take responsibility for it.
The government has made a lot of claims about transparency. There’s a saying: ‘You mess up; you fess up’. Let me just share something that Prime Minister Albanese said during the election campaign, when he made one of many blunders:
Earlier today I made a mistake. I’m human. But when I make a mistake, I’ll fess up to it, and I’ll set about correcting that mistake. I won’t blame someone else, I’ll accept responsibility. That’s what leaders do.
In the interests of transparency, let us be very, very clear. Today’s motion is evidence of a serious mistake by the home affairs minister. In the national interest, we have worked with the government to ensure that the mistake is corrected as quickly as possible, and it will be. We will always act in the national interest, which is why we will always argue in favour of Operation Sovereign Borders and those three key pillars, because they are the most effective means that we have to protect our borders.
The government would be very well advised to pay attention to the basics and to do everything in their power to strengthen Operation Sovereign Borders. No government should ever take our national security for granted or make it a second-tier priority. Maintaining Australia’s system of regional processing is vital to our border security. That is why the coalition supports the swift passage of this motion while being absolutely appalled at the circumstances by which it is necessary.