Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Stirling proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The threat to Australia posed by the Government's budget cuts to customs and border protection.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
We have just heard the Prime Minister say in this chamber that this government is going to do everything it can to help the New South Wales police and the federal agencies responsible for law and order to do something to stop drive-by shootings in Sydney and to address law and order issues and gun crime issues in particular. She then went on to say that we are doing just that. We had her minister for the portfolio stand up and laud the efforts of the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Crime Commission for what they have done in helping the New South Wales police to solve these terrible crimes or to find illegally imported firearms.
Let us contrast those platitudes—and in this place we all know that platitudes come very cheap—with the commitment that they have actually shown to these agencies since they took office in 2007. We all know that if you want to find out where people's real priorities are in parliament follow the money and look at where they prioritise scarce resources. It is where they have allocated these resources that betrays and shows what Labor really think about law and order issues and where they place these issues in their hierarchy of importance. Labor's actions when dealing with Customs and Border Protection and with all our front-line security agencies tell the Australian people everything they need to know about this government when it comes to law and order. In every Labor budget—every single one—Labor has savaged Customs and Border Protection both in its funding and its personnel. Cuts to Customs are now so dire that criminals have been given an unfair advantage by this government's failure to do one of the most fundamental tasks we ask of a federal government—that is, to protect our borders.
When we talk of Labor's border protection crisis, it is more than their inability to control who comes to Australia. They cannot control what comes into Australia, and funding and personnel cuts to our front-line customs agencies are feeding directly into the ability of criminals to breach our borders. Whether it be the 16,000 people who have been smuggled here illegally by people smugglers or whether it be the ability of bikie gangs to bring in illegal firearms or of other criminal enterprises to bring in illegal drugs and other contraband, Labor's cuts are aiding them in their criminal enterprises. It is always instructive to go back to 2007, the last time this country had a good government, and to see what the government did in contrast to the actions of its predecessor. The Howard government increased funding to Customs when it came to office from 1996 in real terms by 238 per cent. The budget was increased from $357 million to $1 billion. It also increased funding to help the AFP with smuggling and to boost our quarantine controls. Other front-line crime prevention agencies such as the Australian Federal Police received similar increases. When Labor came to office they looked at those enormous real funding increases that the Howard government had made to our law enforcement and border protection agencies and said, 'That's an overallocation of resources that we're going to do something about.' How else could you possibly explain the savageness with which they have gone about slashing our front-line law-and-order and border protection agencies?
These agencies have already been placed under enormous pressure because of Labor's border protection failures, and the cuts that have been implemented in every budget have substantially increased that pressure. I just want to go through those cuts, because they are extraordinarily savage and they are dealing a blow to these agencies' ability to do their jobs effectively.
I will start with Customs. Customs was savaged right from the first Labor budget: $58.1 million was taken from Customs' cargo-screening budget. This cut meant a reduction of 25 per cent in the number of potential sea cargo inspections and an astonishing reduction of 75 per cent in air cargo inspections. Customs' annual report revealed that only 4.3 per cent of sea cargo was X-rayed and less than one per cent of sea cargo is physically examined when it comes into Australia. With the volumes of cargo increasing in coming years, these cuts will be even more savage.
But this is not the extent of Labor's cuts to Customs. They have cut their personnel. Last budget, another 90 staff were axed from the Customs and Border Protection Service on top of the 250 that were axed in the 2010-11 budget. Customs CEO Michael Carmody has been recently forced to cut 20 per cent of his senior executive service to cope with budget cuts. That is one in five people in Customs' senior executive service that has been cut.
Labor plan to cut $4.3 million in so-called low-risk activities from the agency. Astonishingly, they have cut funding for aerial surveillance in our northern waters—the planes that detect illegal boat arrivals and protect us from illegal fishers. They have cut the budget for the agency to conduct those patrols by $20.8 million. That is a net reduction of 2,215 aerial surveillance hours, or more than 90 days of aerial surveillance. They have cut $34 million over four years for passenger facilitation at Australia's eight international airports. They have cut $17.3 million over five years for the management of illegal foreign fishers.
These cuts have meant that this agency is unable to do the job that it is tasked with, which is to protect Australia's borders. Yet we have had the Minister for Home Affairs—this minister who just stood up and was not even able to fill his 10-minute slot in defending the government's record on these areas—lauding today in a press release what the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, with the assistance of the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Federal Police, has been able to do. He was not able to say one word about the savage cuts that have occurred under the Labor Party to the agencies that he now controls. We all know that the minister before him was grossly incompetent, and of course he received the ultimate sanction by the Gillard government: when you display gross incompetence, you are promoted to cabinet! But this minister now has the ability to reverse those cuts. He cannot be an effective minister unless he is able to reverse the savage cuts that have been made to the agencies that he is apparently tasked with overseeing for the federal government.
I know that he will get up and talk about our policies, which is the only defence that he has to the incompetence that has been shown by the Labor Party since they came to office. So let me assure him—and I can give him this very firm commitment today—that not only will we not cut front-line service personnel in Customs; we will restore the funding cuts that the Labor Party has made to cargo screening. This will make sure that Customs actually has a fighting chance of stopping illegal guns before they cross our borders, helping police forces like the New South Wales Police Force and every police force around the country. We will restore that funding cut. If he were going to be an effective minister, he would stand up in his contribution in the next five minutes and say exactly the same thing. If he cannot give that guarantee, if he cannot guarantee the funding and personnel of his own agencies, then he may as well give up because he will not be an effective Minister for Home Affairs.
I have talked about the cuts to Customs, which have been savage. This is an agency which, whilst it has had its funding and personnel cut, has been asked to do so much more because of Labor's inability to stop people smuggling. But all of our national security agencies have been savaged by this government. The Australian Federal Police have been lauded by the Prime Minister and the minister in parliament today, yet they have also been savaged by Labor's budget cuts. Seventy-two staff have been cut from the Australian Federal Police in the last budget alone. The so-called efficiency dividend has been increased from 1½ per cent to four per cent, which means a $91.3 million cut from the Australian Federal Police.
They have cut the air marshals program that keeps us safe when we fly. AFP numbers in Darwin and Canberra have been cut. I wonder if the member for Canberra will have anything to say about that, if she is making a contribution today. Darwin International Airport—I know the member for Solomon is very concerned about this—will lose air marshals on all of its flights.
The Australian Crime Commission has been lauded today again for its results in the operation to deal with illegal firearms in New South Wales, yet again you have to follow the money to see what the government really thinks about this agency and really thinks about its importance. Overall, the budget for the ACC has been cut in the last budget by $7.3 million, and 23 staff were taken from that agency, one of Australia's premier crime-fighting agencies, which actually exists to deal with the sorts of threats that the opposition has been raising and highlighting in the parliament today.
It is not just the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Crime Commission which have felt the Labor Party's razor. All of our front-line law-and-order agencies have been savaged by this government. Eight point eight million dollars has been cut from ASIO's ability to do training and liaison, and $6.9 million was cut from the ability of ASIO to do visa checks on visa applicants, which means that, when people arrive here illegally, the chances of ASIO being able to conduct a thorough assessment are extremely limited, because of the cuts that the government has made.
AUSTRAC, the body that tracks funds coming in and out of the country to make sure that organised crime cannot move money around, has had 21 staff members cut in the previous budget. It has had $12.1 million cut over four years for so-called operational efficiencies, which will clearly impact on the ability of that agency to do its job. If you are going to cut all our front-line border protection agencies—if you are going to savage the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission and ASIO—then you have to understand that that is going to reduce their ability to do their job. You cannot subsequently march into this parliament and laud—
Madam Deputy Speaker, I apologise. Thank you for your guidance.
It is clearly going to affect the ability of those agencies to do the job they are tasked with by this parliament. You cannot reduce funding and resources and expect to get the same result. This is the problem with this government. Never listen to what they say, because platitudes come easily. You need to look at what they have done; they have undermined the ability of all of our front-line border protection agencies to do their jobs. You certainly cannot march in here and start lauding the efforts of those agencies.
These cuts are felt on the streets of every electorate. When you are dealing with street crime, you are usually dealing with drug crime. When you have a border protection agency that does not have the resources necessary to protect our borders, then you are increasing the ability of criminals to bring drugs to our streets.
Every time police forces in our states go out there to do their jobs, they can be sure that they are not receiving the support they deserve from the federal government, and that the federal government's actions—cutting the front-line agencies that are supposed to be helping them—are directly making their jobs harder. All of the state police forces are aware of the extent of these cuts and of the effects they are having on their ability to fight crime.
I understand from the media that this new minister is well regarded in the New South Wales Right of the Labor Party.
That has just been confirmed by the minister at the table. We also know that the New South Wales Right of the Labor Party is not what it used to be. When you are talking about a promising minister, it is relative to his ministerial colleagues.
The test that we need to put before the new minister is: can he reverse the cuts that have been made to the agencies that are now in his charge? We know that, if he cannot achieve that, then he cannot march in here and laud the effectiveness of the AFP, the ACC or Australian Customs and Border Protection Service when they do have a success, because the cuts made by the Labor Party are undermining the ability of those agencies to have the success that he has been lauding.
I am happy to make that commitment on behalf of the opposition. We will ensure that front-line border protection agencies and front-line law enforcement agencies will not be subject to the sorts of cuts we have seen under the Labor Party. If this minister is going to be effective, he needs to get up now and give that same commitment.
I also give the commitment that we will reverse the savage cuts the Labor Party made to the ability of Customs to screen cargo when it comes into Australia. We will reverse that $58.1 million cut and make sure that they can screen cargo when it comes into the country and help the state police forces fight crime. He should give the same commitment. (Time expired)
Today has been a very important day for Customs and Border Protection. The arrests that occurred in Sydney yesterday and the announcements by Customs and Border Protection Service CEO, Michael Carmody, and by New South Wales Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, demonstrate how effective Customs and Border Protection is. I would have hoped that today both sides would congratulate the Customs and Border Protection Service, the New South Wales Police, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission for the work they have done together. The result of all of that work is that police have seized seven firearms, ammunition, a parcel containing 140 Glock magazines, small quantities of steroids and prohibited drugs. It is a very important seizure. On top of that, some four people were arrested. It is important because it stops guns getting onto the streets of Sydney. It has happened because of the continued close cooperation of New South Wales agencies and federal agencies.
The Australian Crime Commission—as I said in the debate before the MPI—played a very important role in this. The Australian Crime Commission did trace analysis of a Glock weapon, linking it to weapons that were being distributed by a German firearms dealership. The Australian Federal Police played a very important role as well. Their international network, which is in the Hague, worked closely with the German federal police, the BKA. They also provided resources and investigation to support the warrants that were issued yesterday. Customs—which has been the subject of so much comment in parliament today—assisted the New South Wales Police by alerting them to the packages arriving from certain individuals from Germany during the package clearance process. They also provided officers, including detector dog teams, to assist with the execution of warrants.
The 20-person Customs team that was involved in this investigation included 10 investigators and search officers, two operations commanders to support the combined efforts of the agencies that were in the field, four dog handlers, three computer forensic officers and an intelligence support officer. Customs, New South Wales Police, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission working together dismantled a criminal syndicate and stopped a number of firearms and firearms parts making their way into Australia. It is a great example of what our law enforcement agencies do and what they do best.
Today should have been a day when we came in and congratulated them for their work. Mike Gallacher, the New South Wales Minister for Police and Emergency Services, and I have worked together on this issue to make it even more difficult for criminals to sell guns on the black market in Sydney or Adelaide or Perth—where the member for Stirling comes from. We have all been working to provide better intelligence to police so they can do their work
Unfortunately, it has been politicised. I think that speaks volumes for this shadow minister but also speaks volumes for the police minister in New South Wales who has taken a different approach and decided that he wants to work with the federal government, and I commend him for it. It speaks volumes about the measure of that man.
Today's announcement by Commissioner Scipione and the CEO of Customs, Michael Carmody, also demonstrates the importance of firearms tracing. The tracing analysis that the Crime Commission did of this one weapon led to all of these arrests, all of these seizures and the dismantling of a criminal network.
The member for Stirling in his contribution talked about platitudes and tests. I would put to him that the real action I have taken here is to make sure that police right across the country have the information they need to do things like they did yesterday every day. I have done that by instructing the Australian Crime Commission to conduct the same sort of analysis they did for this firearm for all firearms that have been seized across the country over the past 12 months, as well as doing analysis of all of the shootings that have occurred across the country over the last 12 months.
This is part of a national intelligence assessment that I have asked the Crime Commission to conduct. I announced that with the New South Wales government last month. It is an analysis they will do into the illegal firearms market and its links to drive-by shootings as well as to other shootings across the country over the course of the last year.
This work will provide police across the country with additional intelligence on how illicit firearms are sourced, where they have been used in different states and how better to target the people who operate this black market. The intelligence the Australian Crime Commission collected as part of the strike force that arrested four people yesterday will be now implemented and injected into this important work the Crime Commission is doing.
The preliminary results of this work, as I mentioned in the previous debate, will be presented to state attorneys-general next month, and the final report and its recommendations will be presented to state and territory police ministers in July.
To the issue of cuts—and the shadow minister made much of cuts in Customs. I can only imagine the sorts of cuts that would be needed if you had to fill a $70 billion black hole. If you are not going to cut in Customs, where would you cut? It goes to hypocrisy of the Liberal Party when it comes to this debate. Two weeks ago, as I said earlier, the shadow minister said that cutting 11 people from the senior executive service in Customs was, to use your words, 'drastic.' If 11 is drastic, then what is 12,000? Because that is what you have promised to do: sack 12,000 people.
On Q&A, the shadow Treasurer said:
For a start, 12,000 public servants in Canberra will be made redundant over a two-year period immediately upon us being elected.
That is the starting point.
The Leader of the Opposition last week said how he would do this. He said that he would set up a commission of audit. Remember what happened with the last commission of audit: it did not sack 12,000 government workers; it led to 30,000 government workers being sacked. The Leader of the Opposition went further: he said where he would make these cuts. He said one of those areas was education. He said one of those areas was health and he said one of those areas was defence, which is another part of my responsibilities here as the minister. He said the audit commission would consider:
… whether we really need 7,000 officials in the Defence Materiel Organisation, when the United Kingdom, with armed forces at least four times our size, gets by with 4,000 in the equivalent body.
To start with that claim is just plain wrong. The UK body, Defence Equipment and Support, which equips the UK's armed forces for current and future operations, does not employ 4,000 people; it employs 20,000 people. Like the men and women working in the DMO, they do very important work. These people working in Defence make sure that our troops—
Mr Keenan interjecting—
You are talking front-line people and affecting front-line workers. There are no front-line workers in the Australian government more important than our troops. These people in the Defence Materiel Organisation make sure that our troops in Afghanistan, East Timor and Solomon Islands have the equipment they need to do their job.
Over the last 18 months, I have seen that happen, whether it is lighter combat armour, better uniforms for our troops, upgraded safer Bushmasters—
That statement is just plain wrong. Whether it is the counter-rocket system that we have employed at Tarin Kowt to make sure that our troops have early warning of any rocket attack or the ground-penetrating radar system that we are providing for our troops in Afghanistan to give early warning of improvised devices on the roads—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker: this MPI is specifically about Labor budget cuts to Customs and Border Protection. The minister is now talking about things in relation to Afghanistan. I ask you to return him to the substance of the MPI.
It is an MPI about cuts, but they do not like it when you ask the question: where will they cut? They have said they will cut from the Defence Materiel Organisation. Where do these people work? They do not all work in Canberra. There are 58 that work in Gippsland. There are 37 that work in west Victoria. There are 340 that work in Newcastle and 193 that work in Nowra. There are 39 that work in Cairns in the electorate of Leichhardt and 143 that work at the helicopter base at Oakey. The member for Groom would know the good work that the Defence Materiel Organisation does in his electorate. There are 161 in Edinburgh in the member for Wakefield's electorate. There are 11 in Exmouth. In Stirling and in Rockingham there are 213 DMO workers—workers that provide the equipment that our troops need to do their job. These are the sorts of workers that this opposition are planning to cut if they come to government. So whilst this shadow minister puts his hand on his heart and says that he will not make any cuts from Customs, he knows full well that there will be cuts in defence. There will be cuts to the people who provide the equipment to keep our troops safe and there will be cuts to people who work even in his own electorate. It is hypocrisy that you see evident in the work of the opposition here.
Mr Keenan interjecting—
The member for Stirling says he is concerned about Customs. He should be listening to what Customs say. This is what Customs and Border Protection Command have said about your policy to turn back the boats, released in an FOI last month—he does not like it but he should sit down and take it.
Madam Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: the minister has been given enormously wide latitude to range over all sorts of things, except the substance of the MPI about Labor's budget cuts to Customs.
It is a debate that includes the words 'border protection' in its title, so it is worth asking the question: what is their border protection policy? Their policy is to turn back the boats. They are concerned about Customs. What do Customs say about their policy? In an FOI released last month they said that it would lead to asylum seekers exhibiting non-compliant behaviour and that Australian Defence Force personnel tasked to implement this policy proposal would be exposed to additional hazards. That is what Customs and Border Protection Command—whom you are so concerned about supporting—say about your policy. They say that turning back the boats, the policy you stand for, would put Australian sailors in harm's way.
Everybody has attacked this policy, from former Chief of the Defence Force, Chris Barrie, to the Indonesian ambassador. Perhaps the most important people who have criticised this policy are the Australian men and women who would have to do the job. Why? It is because it would put their lives at risk. This is what a senior naval officer said in the Australian newspaper on 25 January: 'They will disable their boats when they see us coming.'
Mr Keenan interjecting—
Are you not concerned about this? Are you not concerned about people dying on our seas? This is what a naval officer says about your policy: 'They will burn their boats. The policy will encourage them to do so—
This is what a senior naval officer has said about the opposition's policy: 'The policy would encourage them to do so and it would place Navy lives and refugee lives at risk.' We know this is true because it happened before—whether it was on 7 September 2001, when naval personnel boarded a vessel and were threatened and forced to withdraw; on 9 September; on 11 September; a month later with SIEV5; on 31 October; or 16 December—more sabotage, more fires, more threats of self-harm and boats not able to be turned around because it would have put the lives of Australian sailors at risk. That is what the opposition's policy would threaten to do.
We have the chance here to do something good on Customs and Border Protection by implementing a policy that would reduce the risk of people losing their lives at sea—by implementing the Malaysia solution. The opposition just says no.
I am pleased to speak on this matter of public importance on border protection because it is critically important. I have listened to the contribution by the minister at the table and I have some sympathy for him. I understand Mr Clare is new to the portfolio and I understand that he has been delivered an absolute hospital pass by his predecessor. I am sure one of the first things he did when he became minister was to send a little note: 'Dear colleague, thank you for the hospital pass you sent me through your maladministration of the portfolio previously.' Maybe he saved himself time by using the proforma that the current Minister for Immigration and Citizenship used when he sent a little note to Senator Evans: 'Dear Senator Evans, thank you for the hospital pass you have given me through your maladministration of the portfolio.' I will not go too heavily on the minister at the table today because I am sure his failures are ahead of him. There will be plenty of time to deal with those in the future.
This debate is about the cuts that have been made to the Customs and Border Protection Service, which are a result of the fact that this government has lost control of our borders. It has had a budget blowout on immigration alone of $3.9 billion over the last three years. When you blow that much money, because you blow your borders so badly, these are the sorts of decisions a government is forced to take.
The minister at the table made reference to what the view of the New South Wales government was. He may not be aware of what the New South Wales Premier said in question time today. He said: 'It is time the federal government stopped burying its head in the sand about the porous nature of our borders and our customs service. It's time they stopped focusing on themselves and their factional and leadership issues and it's time they started to provide this city, this state and this nation with the effective control of our borders that people have a right to expect.'
They have a right to expect it because they got used to it under the previous Howard government. They got used to it. They were used to having a government that understood the importance of domestic national security matters and having strong borders—and having a commitment to strong borders—and having the resources in place and the policies in place to provide strong borders. There is a delusion on that side of the chamber about who is trusted to protect Australia's borders and ensure our domestic national security. It is the coalition that is trusted. It is not a theory; it is a fact. Our record is a fact. The government likes to talk about its theories and its failed policies. The coalition can simply refer to the fact. The fact is, the Australian people know that we got the job done, the policies we had worked, we will restore them and we will get the job done again if given the opportunity to do so in government. We need to understand why and how the failures on our borders caused by this government that have produced $3.9 billion in blowouts over the last few years have led to cuts being made in other areas that are putting other people at risk, as we mentioned in the House today. There were the government's decisions to abolish the Pacific solution and to abolish the processing centre at Nauru. There was the decision to reverse even the then Prime Minister's commitment to border protection before the election. Do you remember him—Prime Minister Rudd? At least 31 members on that side of the chamber remember him. They will remember that it was his commitment to turn back boats before the 2007 election. He walked away from that in a hurry.
Those in this House, and particularly those outside this House, will remember the asylum freeze that was announced by Senator Evans. That was a particularly good present that was left for the new minister for immigration after the election. It was something that led to an additional 1,200 Afghans being put into the system for six months to just sit there, which fuelled and fanned the dissension within the detention network. The Hawke-Williams review found that that played a key role in the build-up of pressures that led to the Christmas Island riots that happened a year ago this week, where the Christmas Island detention centre went up in flames. There was also the East Timor farce and there was the Malaysian failure. I refer to it as a failure because it did not work. Madam Deputy Speaker, I know you were not a great fan of the Malaysia policy of this government. There were many on that side of the chamber who were not fans of that policy.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. That policy was described as not working by none other than the member for Griffith, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Minister for Foreign Affairs thought he was so convincing in his demolition of the Malaysian people swap that he should become Prime Minister again. That is what we know about this government and that minister's commitment to that policy. Then of course it was crowned with the let-them-in, let-them-out policy of the Greens, which the government introduced in late November of 2011 and which was followed by the biggest summer of boat arrivals on record—2,100 people turned up on boats in the most dangerous period of the year following the government's decision to go to mainstream community release.
I received an email not that long ago from one of my constituents who was reflecting on the government's performance in border protection. She wrote that 'this government is run by muppets'. I think that is the frustration and concern that is out there in the community about the government's handling of border protection issues. They remind me, whether it is the Minister for Immigration or his predecessor or the Prime Minister herself, of the Great Gonzo, who would get up and blow his trumpet at the end of the Muppet Show theme. It would blow up in his face every single time he did it. That has been the history of border protection policy under Labor. Their immigration policy and their border protection policy would make the Great Gonzo proud. They are muppets for many other reasons. We know muppets are controlled by faceless men. That is something the government is pretty well aware of and the Prime Minister certainly knows that. There were also the two muppets who used to sit up there in the bleachers, not unlike the two older members in the chamber sitting up there in the bleachers—
As the show would end, one would turn to the other and say, 'Just when you think things could not get any worse'—just like the government's border protection policy—'something wonderful happens.' The other one would say 'What is that?', and he would get the reply, 'It ends.' That is what the Australian people want to see from this government; they want to see this farce end.
The budget blow-outs of $3.9 billion on this waste, mismanagement and incompetence on our borders have been catastrophic. There was a $208 million blow-out in the additional estimates of 2009-10; a $798 million blow-out in the budget estimates of 2010-11; a $472 million blow-out in the additional estimates of 2010-11; and a $1.528 billion blow-out in the budget estimates in 2011-12. In the most recent additional estimates, there was a blow-out of $866 million. That is how you get to $3.9 billion in blow-outs—by failed border protection policies; by being completely in denial.
Since the riots I referred to, a couple of things have happened. Those riots were a year ago this week. The heart of the problem we have with this government is they are in denial. Who is really running the show? Dr Hawke confirmed the view in evidence to the detention inquiry recently that the asylum seekers got a 'no' and they rioted. There was a build-up in the population within those centres in the detention network. There was a failure of the government to expand that network prior to the election and that led to considerable pressures in the system. At the end of the day, it was sparked off by the fact that a whole bunch of people got a 'no' and they rioted. What has happened since then? The rate of primary acceptance for refugee claims for IMAs has doubled; the number of protection visas given to people has tripled; and the number of 'no' decisions turned to 'yes' on appeal is four out of five. It would seem to me that the rioters got what they wanted.
The people smugglers have certainly had what they wanted for the last four years. They have had a government with failed border protection policies. As those policies have continued to fail, as the government has continued to ramp up the costs, it has undermined the capacity, more broadly, of our border agencies—whether it is Immigration, whether it is AQIS or whether it is Customs and Border Protection—to do the job that we trust them to do. That has resulted in guns turning up in post offices in my electorate. It has resulted in guns getting into this country, and Australians are very concerned about that. That has been exposed today and the government should be ashamed of itself. (Time expired)
I cannot believe the audacity and gall of the member for Stirling putting up this matter of public importance today, particularly after the comments that were made by the shadow Treasurer and by the opposition leader in the last week and in fact over the last six months. It is absolutely outrageous. I cannot believe his gall. He has no understanding of the public service. He has no appreciation of what public servants do. He has complete disdain for the public service. He has complete disdain for public servants and he is constantly maligning them. I cannot believe it. This MPI's title should read: 'The threat posed to Australia by the opposition's planned decimation of Canberra and services to the Australian public.' That would be more accurate, because that is what the member for Stirling, particularly his leader and the shadow Treasurer, have been saying over the last week. I remind the member for Stirling of what he has been saying, which underscores their disdain for the Public Service and for public servants in this town and throughout Australia. Their crocodile tears are extraordinary; their audacity is breathtaking. Last Monday, the member for North Sydney said on 7.30:
… a lot of people in Canberra are spending a lot of time duplicating the work of the states. For example, there's a Department of Health in Canberra with over 6,000 employees. Not one of them is a doctor or not one of them is a nurse treating a patient - not one.
That is extraordinary. What could these people be doing? They are implementing government policies. They are providing support services to the doctors and nurses on the frontline of health services. They are implementing the Gillard government's $2.2 billion mental health program. That is what they are doing. He went on to say:
Well of course; if you wanna reduce the size of the government, if you wanna get rid of the waste—
that is how the member for North Sydney views public servants; that is what he thinks of the Public Service in Canberra—
if you want to keep your commitments on track, you're gonna have to make hard decisions.
So public servants throughout the country, not just here in Canberra, are thought of as duplicative and as waste. That is the view of those opposite towards public servants and the Public Service. So for them to come in here today and cry crocodile tears about the impact of supposed budget cuts on these agencies is absolutely outrageous and incredibly audacious.
On PM last Friday night, the Leader of the Opposition was speaking about his commission of audit, which is going to be absolutely wonderful. He pondered whether the federal health department really needs all of those 6,000 current staff. Then he focused on the federal education department and asked whether it needed its 5,000 current staff when the Commonwealth does not run a single school. I go back to my original point: those opposite have no understanding of what the Public Service does. They have no appreciation of the Public Service and no appreciation of public servants.
When I hear such comments, particularly those of the last week, from those opposite, I am reminded of 1996. In 1996 the Howard government got rid of 30,000 public servants. That is probably three-fifths of the population of Wagga—I think the population of Wagga is about 50,000. That is quite an extraordinary chunk of humanity that was taken out of the Public Service. The member for Cook talked about facts. The facts are that those opposite have already talked about cutting 12,000 Public Service jobs. In the last week they have talked about cutting 6,000 jobs from the department of health and another 5,000 from the education department. Just today I heard that they are looking at getting rid of the Defence Materiel Organisation. From memory, that would be about 6,500 jobs. So we are already up to 29,000 Public Service jobs that would go. That is fast approaching the 30,000 that were lost during the late nineties under the Howard government. I remind all those present today what that meant for Canberra. Canberra lost between about 15,000 and 20,000 jobs. That meant that house prices plummeted, small businesses closed down and local shops closed down. It gutted local shopping centres, which have not returned to what they were before then. It meant that Canberra went into a recession when the rest of Australia was growing. It took us years and years to recover. But the impact of those cuts was felt not just in Canberra, but in the region. If you still had a job and you could afford a holiday you might go down to the coast, where you would see that two-thirds of the houses were on the market. It had a huge ripple effect in the capital region, on Queanbeyan, Yass, Wagga, Griffith, Leeton—the whole region around here.
Mr Keenan interjecting—
You are talking about budget cuts and the impact on jobs. This is what that means. The truth hurts. This is the future that you have for Canberra. I am putting a mirror up to you about the future of Canberra if you do what you have planned for it and the Public Service.
I remind those opposite of the reality of what is happening. We are introducing a new one-off increase in the efficiency dividend. A number of small agencies are exempt from this one-off increase. Our expectation is that agencies will cut spending in non-staff areas—for example, for consultants, contractors, travel, hospitality and entertainment, media and advertising, printing and publications—and will implement more efficient and consistent delivery of training. We have also set up a working group, comprising the CPSU and senior people from government departments, which has already met. That is looking at the impact of the efficiency dividend. We already have a strong track record on identifying efficiency reforms and making responsible savings. Since coming to government we have delivered efficiency reforms of over $10 billion. Our decision to reduce agencies' departmental capital budgets is estimated to save about $710 million over three years. This measure has had no impact on public sector jobs. Our agenda is not designed to slash Public Service jobs; that is the target of those opposite. Our policy is to make the Public Service more efficient; their policy is to make the Public Service non-existent.
I also remind those opposite, and Canberrans as well, of what happened in 1996. I was one of the people who lost their job. I was posted overseas with Foreign Affairs and my position was abolished. I came back here and had to reapply for jobs. There had been 50 jobs in the area where I was working, and that was reduced to eight jobs. At the same time, Chris had resigned from his job. He came back to an economy that was in recession and he worked part time for many years as a result of what happened to us in 1996. So I speak from experience. You throw these figures around as if they are meaningless. But these are people, these are families, these are men, women and children and a community that you want to decimate as a result of your blithe disdain for the Public Service.
I want to speak about the future plans of those opposite for the Public Service. They are going to decimate and take out all the skill sets that already exist in the Public Service. What does that mean for the services we provide for the community? There will be no services—but I suppose those opposite do not actually have any policies. So far I have counted three policies. There is paid parental leave, and there is a bit of dispute about that. There is asylum seekers, and there is a bit of a dispute about that. There has also been the announcement today on Customs, and it is good to hear that they have got a policy. We have also got the $70 billion black hole that they have got to service, and that is essentially three times the budget of Defence or two or three years of community services. It means decimation for Canberra. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on today's matter of public importance: the threat to Australia posed by the government's budget cuts to Customs and Border Protection. To start with, this is a government that has been able to find money for almost every dubious cause under the sun—from Grocery Watch, to set-top boxes, to carbon tax propaganda, to the failed green loan schemes and even something called the Flannery Centre. But when it comes to something that is really important, our front-line border security, they have made cuts.
The member for Canberra gave an outstanding stand-up display on the importance of public servants. Maybe she would like to go through some of the cuts that her government has made to the Public Service. To start with, there has been a $20.8 million cut to aerial surveillance, reducing it by 2,215 hours. I thought you might like to stay and listen to these cuts that your government has imposed. Further, in 2010-11, there were 250 jobs axed from Customs, and a further 90 jobs were axed this year, for a total of 340 jobs. On top of that, we have a $9.3 million reduction in capital funding for Customs. On top of that, we have further cuts of $17.3 million over the next five years for the management of our vessels which monitor illegal fishing. Further still, in the 2009-10 budget we saw $58.1 million cut from cargo screening. Because of these cuts, we have seen an unprecedented 25 per cent cut in the number of sea cargo inspections and, remarkably, a 75 per cent cut in air cargo inspections.
But it does not stop there. There are further cuts still. We have seen funding to our National Counter-Terrorism Committee cut by $12 million, we have seen a further cut of $8.8 million from ASIO training and we have seen a further $6.9 million cut from ASIO security checks for visa applicants. We have seen all these cuts while we have had unmitigated waste in area after area.
These cuts have, of course, been great news for drug dealers, smugglers of illegal weapons, criminal gangs and terrorists. These cuts have led to the Labor government failing to protect our nation from the illegal importation of guns. In south-western Sydney, an area under siege, in the last 12 months we have had 88 drive-by shootings, including in the suburb of Panania in the electorate I represent. Just today a man appeared in the Sutherland court, a stone's throw from my electorate office, on a charge of importing 150 Glock pistols at Sylvania between August last year and yesterday, when he was charged and arrested. The comments of New South Wales Police Commissioner Scipione are quite pertinent. He said today:
I'm concerned that anyone's involved in these organised criminal groups that are in the business of trafficking guns from the other side of the world. This is a serious problem. This isn't just a border security issue, this is a national security issue. It's something that we need to understand is a major concern not only to law enforcement, it should be to every person that lives in this nation.
New South Wales Police Commissioner Scipione said it correctly: 'This is something that we need to understand is a major concern to every person that lives in our nation.' It should be a concern to every person that lives in this nation. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be a concern to members who sit on the other side of the chamber. How can any responsible government faced with this problem we have in Sydney continue to agree to slash funding to our Customs agency which results in a cut of 75 per cent to air cargo screening? The residents of south-western Sydney are currently under siege. They need something to be done by this Labor government, not cuts to border security and protection.
This recent case at Sylvania illustrates how porous our borders have been and how easy it has been for criminals to import illegal firearms into Australia without being detected by Customs screening. We heard the Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice saying at the dispatch box a few minutes ago how closely he has worked with New South Wales Police Minister Mike Gallacher. Obviously the minister has not heard what the New South Wales Police Minister said today:
Police will detail ... in the coming days the full magnitude of what they have identified … and quite simply had the federal government acted earlier what could have been stopped.
Those are the comments of the New South Wales Police Minister earlier today. In the last few hours we have also had New South Wales Police confirm that one Glock pistol was seized in January and that it was only one of the 220 Glock pistols they believe were imported into Sydney and were not detected by Customs in the last three months. So let us be clear on this. According to New South Wales Police, from this one source there have been 219 Glock pistols imported into Sydney that have not been detected by Customs and are currently on the streets of Sydney. What a concern it is for every resident to know that 219 additional Glock pistols are on their streets. Despite this we have the Labor government reducing inspections of air cargo by 75 per cent.
But the cuts do not go just to illegal importation of weapons. There are also cuts to ASIO and antiterrorist funding. It is worthwhile remembering that only in December last year we had three Islamic extremists convicted of conspiring to plan a terrorist attack on Holsworthy Barracks and they were sentenced to 18 years jail. This terrorist cell had actually planned to enter the barracks armed with military style weapons and shoot 500 people before they killed themselves. This is the reality on the streets of south-western Sydney today. Only last week an ABC News article—and I think it is worth the government of the day reading and remembering this—said:
Sydney police have seized an AK-47 assault rifle from a house in the city's south-west.
A 46-year-old man was arrested at the home on Brennan Road at Yagoona during the raid by the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad yesterday afternoon.
Police say they found the rifle along with a 30-round magazine and a combat helmet.
The man has been charged with possessing a prohibited firearm and not storing a firearm safely.
The gun is to undergo ballistic examination.
That was one week ago on the streets of Sydney. This is the reality of what we face in Sydney, yet despite this we have the government slashing the resources going to Customs and frontline border security. Shame, absolute shame! The member for Stirling has made it crystal clear today that the coalition will reverse these cuts that have allowed hundreds of guns onto the streets of Sydney. We will ensure that the people of Sydney are kept safe by making sure we have adequate border protection and Customs protection.
Today the minister was given the opportunity to admit that Labor had made a terrible mistake, to admit that Labor's misguided actions and cuts had imperilled the lives of every Sydneysider. They had the opportunity here today to spell out very clearly that they would immediately reverse these cuts and give Customs the resources they need. They failed to take that opportunity. The residents of Sydney need to be very clear that there are two choices: the coalition, which supports reversing these cuts and giving our Customs officials the resources that they need to make sure this 75 per cent cut to airport screening is reversed, or the government, which plans to do nothing and stand by and watch as illegal weapons are imported into Sydney in record numbers.
I will quickly turn to a short issue. This government is also cutting $34 million from passenger processing at our airports with these cuts. This simply means there will be longer and longer queues for international passengers coming into Sydney. Every Australian who is going overseas in the next 12 months needs to know that when they come back into Sydney they are going to face queues hundreds of yards long and they will be queuing for over an hour to get through Customs—all because of this government's cuts. I would suggest that this government put up a sign at the international terminal to advise everyone standing in these queues for hours that they are simply being forced to stand in them for hours because of the reckless and wasteful spending of this government. We also need to consider what effect this will have on our tourism industry. We have overseas tourists coming in after long 20-hour flights, from New York or London, who will now be forced to stand for hours in queues—so that will be further damaging our tourism industry. (Time expired)
I have heard today contributions on this MPI from the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Cook, whose life experience and domicile are far distant from where these problems are happening. As a person who has represented for almost a quarter of a century the region where many of these events are occurring; as a person who has a staff member whose close relative moved out of their house, traumatised by a person being shot in the head in front of their house; as a person whose maiden speech in New South Wales politics was on gun laws; as a person who often congratulated a previous Prime Minister, John Howard, for his historic work on this effort; and as a person who has watched in recent years as New South Wales politics has degenerated into deals with the gun lobby because of their control of the upper house in that state, I very much resent today's contributions. They are contributions of histrionics, political opportunism of the worst order and rank hypocrisy.
We have all these 'experts' here today. Why do they know so much about this? They know so much about this because there has been effective policing in the last few days, with cooperation between state and federal police having uncovered this conspiracy. They were not here weeks ago saying to us that we had a massive national crisis, being the importation of illegal arms. I cannot recall them coming in here and asking this House to debate an MPI about these issues. When the opposition spokesman talked about the disappearance of 11 jobs in Customs, I did not hear him raise this as a serious matter. But back then I heard an ABC program talking about a very significant problem in this country, the theft of guns internally, and saying that many guns are disappearing from various rifle range clubs et cetera. So here today we have all this 'expertise' that the problems of western Sydney's gun homicides and shootings are about the importation of illegal arms—after we have watched the New South Wales opposition deliberately not politicise this matter. For months on end, people in the area where I live have watched and waited for some action by the New South Wales Police Force, but the opposition leader in our state has not been out there criticising the police minister over a task force raid last week by 101 police personnel that picked up, I think, four people. We have been patient, knowing that there must be a proper investigation of these matters. One would think from those experts over there that it was so simple. If you look at what has happened, we have an Austrian company, a gun dealer in Germany and a very sophisticated operation which broke down the arms and imported the various components separately.
To think that this is a simple matter that relates to the reduction of 11 SES positions in Customs is preposterous. It is, as I say, rank hypocrisy to come in here today worrying about these shootings in Western Sydney. We have heard nothing from the spokesman opposite or any member of the opposition in the months leading up to this. We have a situation where, as many speakers have indicated, those opposite are crying today about the disappearance of 11 jobs and, at the same time, they are talking about a $70 billion deficit. The opposition leader is making some statement today in which he is going to guarantee that this area is going to be quarantined. Are they going to make a quarantine next week for education and health? This is ridiculous. Why wasn't that quarantine made in the weeks leading up to this point if it was so important? If this matter is related to gun crime in Sydney, why didn't you make that commitment before today? It is only when you are pressed about the realities of the reduction in the workforce in the public service. In the weeks leading up to this, the opposition leader referred back to the efforts of his great and glorious leader, John Howard. We know that that model led to the reduction of 30,000 jobs in this country. And they say that somehow this matter is the end of Western civilisation.
The member for Cook made the comment, 'Our record is a fact.' The other aspect of this issue of course is border protection. What those opposite are trying to do here is connect the gun issue with the border protection issue, but they are a bit embarrassed by what has happened on that front in the last week or so. The foreign affairs spokesman for once left off the juvenile performances we have seen from her. For instance, in the Maldives a few weeks ago, people who were fighting for democracy were being bashed in the street, and she came in and related that to internal problems in the Labor Party. She has not made a comment on the situation in Syria. Now she is trying to persuade the Indonesians that the opposition leader did not really mean what he said about the coalition's immigration policies on border protection. 'Don't take any notice of what Tony Abbott says. After all, after he is elected as Prime Minister, he is going to go to Indonesia.' Let us worry about our relationship now.
We have a situation where, as the foreign minister said yesterday, one of the tasks he has set himself is making sure the Australian people understand the fundamental importance of our relationship with Indonesia, the largest democracy in the Islamic world, the largest Islamic country. I was recently up there on a delegation and one of the points the Indonesians made to us was that we are a model of democracy that can be influential in the Arab world. During the Arab Spring they need models; they need examples. The Indonesians said that, 'We, unlike you in Australia, unlike the Americans and Canadians, cannot really influence how that is going.' That country is important internationally, it is a model for the Islamic world with regard to democracy—
And it is important to Australia. In the past week the opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman had to go and try to persuade the Indonesians by saying, 'It is not really going to be a situation where they are going to tow the boats back. Don't worry about it. You do not have to cop all the problem.'
'It is just for the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun that we are saying these things. We don't really mean it.' The Indonesian ambassador somehow was not fooled. People who have observed him over a period of time know of his sophisticated knowledge in this area. On the other hand, Indonesia is a democratic country. But in the last few weeks we have also seen some of the conditions in their detention centres, which are—as is the nature of Indonesia—being investigated by their police force.
The opposition says that we should not make any undertakings with Malaysia because they have not signed international conventions. But, they say, 'We will send boats full of refugee claimants back to Indonesia,' which has not signed either. This same opposition says that Malaysia is so dreadful, yet Anwar Ibrahim, a major opposition leader, can have a court case and be exonerated in their judicial system. We have seen liberalisation of their political processes recently. We cannot make a deal with them to try to reduce the number of boats coming to this country because this opposition wants more boats. Despite this rhetoric, they want more boats and they want more claimants. They want more pictures of boats every day of the week.
I have made this point before. The opposition immigration spokesman, the member for Cook, says: 'Malaysia is so dreadful. Yes, we did like sending them to Nauru when they were not signatories, but Malaysia is so dreadful.' In the past, he rushed around the place, trying to get the phone number of the Iranian ambassador to see whether he could negotiate to send them back to Iran. So it is wrong to send people to Malaysia but Iran is all right.
This border protection policy of those opposite has recently been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights. Antonio Guterres, the former President of Portugal and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, made this comment about their policies:
We have clearly opposed pushbacks in the Italian case in the Mediterranean in the recent past before the Libyan crisis, and we think that that is clearly a violation in relation to the '51 Convention.
The policy of those opposite is going nowhere except for facing the Indonesians with the crisis of accommodating large numbers of people if they actually truthfully do board boats. When the member for Cook talks about his record being a fact, part of his record is that, under their regime, of the 173 vessels they intercepted they actually managed to board 12. But the other part of the problem, which the Australian people are aware of, is that when they do board those 12 vessels the personnel involved face grave dangers. This week a constituent who was part of that was talking to me about the recognition they should get for their service. We have had a variety of military and ex-military personnel tell us, in very grave terms, of the dangers they face. The Northern Territory coroner found in 2010:
It was apparently these fears that sparked a plan to burn the vessel to prevent its return to Indonesia. A fire would also necessitate rescue of the passengers by the—
and their transfer to an Australian vessel.
That is the reality. Those opposite have a policy that is going to insult the Indonesians and break down a crucial relationship for this country. It is going to ignore a real possibility of reducing the number of boats that come to this country by negotiated agreement with a country that we respect, Malaysia. They are going to condemn many of the people they are supposedly so concerned about and crying about these days to Indonesian detention centres which are going to be overcrowded, the state of which has led to a police investigation by the Indonesians in the last week.
Why are we here today discussing this matter of public importance proposed by the member for Stirling? The matter of public importance is:
The threat to Australia posed by the Government's budget cut to customs and border protection.
There is one simple reason that we are here. We are here due to one indisputable fact. The Labor government has totally lost control of Australia's borders. It is that simple. We know that 15,900 asylum seekers have arrived on illegal boats. That has put, and is putting, incredible pressure on the resources of this nation and on budgets. Why? Because this Labor government has literally trashed the successful border protection policies of the coalition government. People smugglers are using this opportunity to charge at least $10,000 per person. At the same time, we have seen that the budget for border protection has blown out by $3.9 billion. Unfortunately, Australia's ability to protect and manage its borders under this government is not only a national disgrace but also an international joke. But the joke is on Australian taxpayers.
We know that this Labor government always finds wrong answers to the important issues, whether it is climate change with the great big tax, whether it is on animal welfare in banning live exports, whether it is fiscal stimulus with the global financial crisis, coming up with deadly pink batts and the failed cash-for-clunkers scheme, or whether it is regional education where they tell country students they are independent but make them dependent on their parents' income, which was used to slash their access to independent youth allowance. If it is border protection, the Labor government's answer is to throw open the doors to people smugglers. This is on the back of very desperate people—people who put their lives at risk in leaky boats. They have literally abandoned the principles of border protection.
We know about the cuts that Labor have imposed. We know that they do not take front-line border protection seriously. If they did, we would not have seen cuts that we have. We have seen not only illegal boats but also illicit drugs and weapons. All these things have resulted from the cuts in funds and resources to Customs. We know about the cuts to aerial surveillance by $20.8 million and the loss 2215 aerial surveillance hours. That is more than 90 days. Labor have axed a further 90 staff from Customs on top of the 250 staff cut in the 2010-11 budget. Labor have cut $9.3 million in 2014 to Customs to reduce capital spending and other low-risk organisational activities, I understand. Labor are cutting $34 million over four years for passenger facilitation at Australia's eight international airports. This is not all. There are cuts of $17.3 million over five years for the management of vessels of illegal foreign fishers. In the 2009-10 budget, Labor cut the budget of Customs for cargo screening by $58.1 million. This cut to screening reduced the number of potential sea cargo inspections by 25 per cent. We wonder why we are having this debate today. When these cuts are put together, this gives us an incapacity to manage our borders. The cuts have resulted in a 75 per cent reduction of air cargo inspections. That is why we are here today. In the recent Customs annual report it was revealed that only 4.3 per cent of sea cargo is X-rayed and only 0.6 per cent of sea cargo is physically examined. Can you imagine that in relation to sea containers? What does this mean in practical terms? With even greater volumes of cargo projected for the years ahead, that means even fewer are going to be physically inspected. We have heard today about the cuts to ASIO and the various agencies. This is what we have heard today.
The government has a really poor record of defending Australia's borders and of maintaining our border protection, quarantine and biosecurity. People frequently forget that this has broad-ranging implications for Australian manufacturers of agriculture and food producers who rely on our clean image and our clean quality produce. These industries are regarded as safe and it is essential that we maintain the reputation, but it is being put at risk by the incompetent neglect of biosecurity. Australia has a unique environment that is under threat from pest and disease incursions and needs protection.
The Beale quarantine and biosecurity review must be a constant embarrassment to the government. It was commissioned by Labor and called for hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on AQIS and quarantine annually to provide real protection for our nation's borders. But what have we seen? We have seen nothing but cuts, as the member for Stirling has said. Instead of heeding this report, the government has failed to act and has spent nearly three years since its release stripping its assets and running it down. Australia's border security is a massive Labor failure. It is a massive cost to Australian taxpayers and, unfortunately for the Labor Party, I think that all Australians are now seeing this for what it is. No wonder the government has to keep coming back to this parliament to extend the credit limit on its credit card debt ceiling of $250 billion.
People are looking for leadership to resolve this issue, and I think the member for Stirling gave that today. Instead, the Labor Party just simply wants to pretend this is not happening, that these cuts are not real and that they are not actually impacting in a very direct sense. If our leaking borders are really not damning enough, the impact of the government's incompetence goes even further. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship is bogged down because the resources are directed to managing asylum seekers. When you look at the lack of skilled people, the impact on 457 visa holders and the impact, as the member for Stirling knows, that that has in Western Australia, that is where the resources should be directed, not into areas of failed Labor government policy.
We are projected to have a shortage of 150,000 skilled workers. This is the area where the resources of the department should be allocated as well as for Customs and Border Protection. Instead, we see the opposite. In 2001 the coalition government made it perfectly clear that Australia was not a soft touch, which is what it is seen as now. It was not a soft touch when it came to border protection. In 2001, people smugglers made 43 successful incursions into Australia. In 2002, they made only one. In the last six years of the coalition government there was an average of just three boats and 50 people per year. It can be done, if there is good leadership and if you use the appropriate policies of the coalition government.
In 2008, the newly-elected Labor government threw open Australia's borders to people smugglers and here we are today with, as a direct result of that, as I said, 15,900 people and a government that has continually raided these budgets. No wonder we are here discussing this matter of public importance today. I support the measures that the member for Stirling has outlined because they reinforce to the Australian people that the coalition once again has the answers. It has the answers on border protection and it will provide strong border protection for this nation. That is the history of the coalition in government and it is one thing—besides managing the economy effectively—that the Australian people can be sure of: the coalition will be a government that provides strong border protection and confidence for the Australian people—something that is sadly lacking under this government.
I have heard many matters of public importance but never before have I heard an MPI that has been mounted with so disjointed a case. We witnessed in question time today the build-up, which was about a successful police operation in the western suburbs of Sydney today. On closer examination, the Minister for Home Affairs indicated by way of his contribution to this debate and his contribution to the debate on the suspension of standing orders the cooperation that occurred between the Border Protection and Customs Service and the New South Wales police.
What those opposite have not done is to enter into debate in the national interest. They have entered a debate on base party-political grounds. Have a look at their contributions. I challenge people to go through the contributions of the opposition to this MPI and understand what it is that they are arguing. They argue about cuts to the budget of the Customs and Border Protection Service. They then indicate that in some mysterious way, if they were to regain the Treasury bench, they would reinstate these cuts. At the same time, the economic leadership of the coalition, if you can call it leadership, claims that they would make $70 billion more cuts. They have to get fair dinkum if they are wanting us to have a debate in the national interest. They go out there with the hidden agenda of cranking up this issue. We have honourable members talking about the 'missing guns'. It is all about 'stop the guns; stop the Glocks'—that is what they think this is about. But it is not about that. It is about explaining to people what has gone wrong.
The same member who came into this debate so authoritatively claiming that he has this number of guns missing actually related the terms of this MPI to terrorist threat. And he wants to come into this place and claim that this is a debate being conducted in the national interest. I tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, people expect a lot better standard of debate in this place. They ask that we have a debate that is genuine, that is really about the national interest, that does not grab one police operation to be used for party-political purposes and that does not thoroughly explain to the Australian public what their alternative view is.
It must be hard for a shadow minister who has responsibility for a portfolio area, who is operating in the run-up to an election at which the opposition think they will put before the Australian public their vision as an alternative government, but who cannot be sure as a shadow minister that he can really talk about making reinstatements. In an environment where there will be more cuts, how could he? We go through all the different threads that have been used in this debate. We have had guns; we have had drive-by shootings in Western Sydney. As has been said by every government member in this matter of public importance, we deplore those incidents. What we deplore even more is the use of those occurrences for base political purposes. If we are serious about these matters, the discussions that we have here should be looking for solutions. The only thing arising from the reported actions that have been taken in Sydney today is that we have seen cooperation. We have seen some effort to minimise the way in which this sophisticated form of crime has operated.
There has been little in this debate from the member for Stirling and the member for Cook about what is actually happening. Because this matter refers to border protection, we have heard that the government has lost control of the borders. If you lose control of the borders the implication is that there are arrivals that we do not know about, that in some way illegal arrivals cannot be detected—and nobody is arguing that, are they? Is anybody arguing that, in fact, our borders are porous. They are especially not arguing that through those who arrive on boats. If those opposite want to have an argument of a different nature about people that come here by air holding a visa and overstay, well that is a different matter. But, no, we do not have debates about that. We will not have debates about that because of the question of whether that is a failure of border control. That is the failure of our ability to be able to investigate, amongst a majority of worthwhile and genuine cases that seek visas to enter into Australia, those people that do not act in a genuine manner.
As I said from at outset, the thing that most disappoints me about the way in which this matter of public importance is being carried out is that there has been no attempt by the coalition, in the eyes of the Australian public, to enter into a debate that is in the national interest—to enter into a debate that says we can do things better. I am not a great champion of spending cuts as my initial reaction but I would remind those opposite that sometimes they should look at the nature of cuts as against the efficiencies that have been gained. We had an honourable member talking about queues of people coming into airports. There was no discussion about new technology, no discussion of the chipped passport, no discussion of what technology has made more efficient in our processing of visitors. But, no, that does not suit their base party political purposes.
I know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you are very attentive in the way that you control the House at these moments. I only hope for your enjoyment, when you sit there in the chair, that we might have debates that rise above the base party political attitude and actually talk in the national interest and thrash out the way in which we might approach a very friendly nation like Indonesia, not in a way that distorts our relationship and not in the way in which the Leader of the Opposition has put it in public debate that suggests the Indonesian government does not share our concern. One of the best speeches over the last four or five years that was made in this place was by President Yudhoyono when he talked about the need for regional cooperation. It is regional cooperation about border protection of every country in the region. So let us not have performances like today, questions that suggest it is all the government's fault. First we had a false suspension of standing orders when they knew they did not have a statutory majority and now we have this matter of public importance that did not raise the level of the national interest by the contributions of those opposite.