SENATOR BIRMINGHAM: (South Australia) (15:50): I thank the Senate for the support in considering this matter of public importance: the failure during the two years of the Gillard prime ministership to honour the commitment to fix the climate change, mining tax and border protection policy disasters.
It is important to remember that this year we have noted the passing of the second anniversary of when Prime Minister Gillard stuck the knife into former Prime Minister Rudd and assumed the leadership of the parliamentary Labor Party. She and the Labor Party may not have wanted to note that anniversary but, nonetheless, it is an anniversary worth noting. It may have passed without the slightest consideration on the Labor side but, for the Australian people, it marks two years of chronic failure to address the very things that Prime Minister Gillard said she was elected to do in the first place. When asked to justify why it was necessary for her-the loyal deputy who was as likely to ever become Leader of the Labor Party as she was to play full forward for the Western Bulldogs-to backtrack on those solemn promises she apparently made to Mr Rudd, to her Labor colleagues and to the Australian people, Ms Gillard said that it was because the government had lost its way. In particular, she highlighted three areas in which she believed that the government had lost its way and it was necessary to fix its policy direction. Those three areas were the government’s climate change policies, the mining tax policy and the border protection policy disaster.
Where are we at two years later? Two years later, it is safe to say that Australia is in a deeper hole on all three fronts than it was two years ago, that all of these issues are now mired in greater public controversy, that all of these issues now see greater waste and that all of these issues see greater threat to the Australian public and, of course, to the operation of government in this country.
Let me address these three issues. I will do so in reverse. I will start with the border protection policy disaster because this of course is a matter that is the subject of a very serious debate in the other place as we speak. We have seen today yet more tragedy on the sea. We have seen today yet another instance of human life being placed at risk because of a failure of policy in this country. It is disappointing to see arguments being put now that the way to end this human tragedy at sea is somehow to risk human rights on land-because that seems to be the proposal that is being pushed and put forward by the government.
There is a hue and cry at present, because of the tragedies we are seeing, for something to be done. It is an admirable instinct that when we see tragedy, when we see cause for action, there is a cry for something to be done. But the something that should be done must always be something that will make the situation better. The something that should be done must be something that is well considered and well thought through. In this case, sadly, the something that is being embraced by those opposite and being embraced by some of the crossbenchers in the other place is the so-called Malaysia solution.
The Malaysia solution represents an amazing transition of government policy for Ms Gillard in particular. Ms Gillard was once dead set against any form of offshore processing-dead set against it. Then, as Labor leader going into the last election, she decided that she was willing to accept a form of offshore processing and was up to negotiate a regional processing arrangement that would see a centre established in East Timor but that she would never consider offshore processing in a country that was not a signatory to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. After she managed to cobble together her government, we saw the situation where the East Timor proposal fell apart. The government, of course, had failed to dot its i’s and cross its t’s or indeed to do even the scantiest bit of homework about the East Timor proposal. It fell apart, and the government went looking elsewhere. Ultimately laid on the table was this Malaysia proposal. Remarkable-a country that is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
I know that many opposite in this place and in the other place have grave concerns at the idea of Australia sending people who arrive here seeking asylum to Malaysia to be put at the back of the queue of others in Malaysia, with no guaranteed protections that Australia could reasonably be certain of to be afforded to their human rights. I know those concerns are shared by people opposite because people opposite have shared them with me. I have also heard them share them publicly. And I share those concerns.
The No. 1 reason why the Malaysia option should be rejected by this parliament is obviously the concern about the failure to be able to protect the most basic human rights of those who have come seeking asylum. It is the No. 1 difference between the proposal for Nauru and the proposal for Malaysia, because at least under the Nauru proposal the Australian government was in charge. Nauru has now become a signatory to the UN convention but nonetheless, importantly, the Australian government was in charge of the facilities. People were still processed in a manner in which their rights were not just respected but guaranteed. That is not the case with regard to Malaysia.
That is why the amendment to what is before the other place should be accepted. Then we could get something done. Then we could get a solution to this issue. Then we could actually see some progress on this very important subject, rather than the government doggedly sticking to an option that even those who really care about this issue in their own party know is an awful, awful solution.
The two other issues related to this matter of public importance, the mining tax and the climate change policies, which of course have turned into the carbon tax-the carbon tax that Ms Gillard said before the last election would never be introduced under a government she led-are equally areas of policy disaster. They are disasters on a less tragic scale when it comes to human life but certainly on a scale that is significant for the Australian economy, which will have significant ramifications for all Australians going forward. In a few days time, these taxes will take effect and have dramatic repercussions across the Australian economy. The mining tax poses great uncertainty to the budget and this week we have seen total uncertainty as to whether the mining tax will manage to raise any money at all-a remarkable situation. It is totally uncertain as to how this tax will deliver for the Australian government. However, there is no doubt the carbon tax will, in the first three years of a fixed price, raise billions and billions of dollars, a fixed price way above anything applied anywhere else in the world, with a scope and a coverage across the economy far beyond that anywhere else in the world.
Labor’s carbon tax will threaten Australian jobs in Australian industry because it is applied here and not applied in the countries who are our major competitors or our major trading partners. It will have a direct cost-of-living impact on all Australians, especially on the millions of Australian households who, as government modelling admits, will be worse off. Across these three areas what does the report card say for Ms Gillard after two years? It says she and the Labor Party have gone backwards on these policy failures.