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  • Ministerial Statement ‘Operation Sovereign Borders – two year scorecard’

Mr Deputy Speaker, before Parliament rises for the year, I want to update Members on Operation Sovereign Borders and to reassure the Australian people that we are upholding our pledge to stop illegal boat arrivals.

September marked the second anniversary of Operation Sovereign Borders and this month marks two years since the turnback phase of OSB commencing.

Over 1,200 people drowned and in their attempts to reach our country by boat, many more we feel suffered the same fate. They suffered under five years of Labor’s appalling mismanagement of our borders. It is no coincidence that it is now two years since anybody has died in Australian waters. Five years ago we watched in horror as a boat foundered on cliffs off Christmas Island and at least 50 people – that we know of – drowned despite the heroism of our frontline border staff and many others who were present on that day.

Australian Border and Defence Force personnel spent five years under Labor pulling people from the sea rather than protecting our maritime borders. We intend never to allow those days – where such tragedies become common-place – to return.

Since commencing turnbacks, more than 20 boats carrying over 650 passengers paying people smugglers to reach Australia illegally have been returned to their country of departure.

The most important point to understand is that if the 20 boats got through, people smugglers would have marketed that as being back in business and 200 or 2,000 boats would have followed.

OSB is a tough policy – the toughest on people smugglers – but it is saving lives.

With the boats stopped, we are now addressing the legacy we inherited from Labor: 30,000 people who have arrived illegally by boat over the previous five years.

Labor opened 17 additional detention centres; we have closed 13. Around 9,000 people who arrived illegally by boat were in detention when OSB commenced; we’ve reduced this to just 900.

This Government has finalised 1,732 asylum claims, 80 per cent of which have been rejected, showing that most who paid people smugglers to come by boat were not refugees.

And most importantly, we have reduced the number of children in detention. More than 8,600 children were detained during Labor’s two terms; peaking at nearly 2,000 in July of 2013. We have reduced that number to fewer than one hundred today.

But much remains to be done to clear Labor’s backlog; tens of thousands in the legacy caseload have yet to be processed. Those who are found to be owed protection will be issued temporary protection or safe haven enterprise visas.

Some of those visa holders will follow a rigorous path to remain in Australia, under the mechanisms we legislated last December and in March this year. Many will eventually have to return to their origin countries, or resettle elsewhere.

OSB’s success has rebuilt public confidence in the integrity of our borders and is restoring faith in Australia’s migration policy. According to the highly respected Scanlon Foundation, public support for migration is at its highest level since 2007.

Our success in tackling people smuggling has also eased the pressure on Australia’s Humanitarian Programme, which means we can focus on people waiting in trying conditions overseas.

This was our compact with the Australian people: we would help those who don’t seek advantage by paying people smugglers to reach our country by boat.

The clearest dividend of OSB’s success is the Government’s generosity in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq – by resettling 12,000 additional refugees here. These places are for the most vulnerable people – persecuted women, children, and families with the least prospect of ever returning to their homes.

Having just visited Jordan and Lebanon, I understand first hand this desire to move, but we cannot succumb to the misguided altruism that led to the collapse of our borders – and to 50,000 people arriving here illegally by boat.

Mr Deputy Speaker, despite our successes, people smugglers want to believe that the way to Australia is open. They try to create opportunities to persuade people to pay for boat passage. So, countering people smugglers’ lies and misinformation, demands constant vigilance.

But we continue to stare down our adversaries: no successful people smuggling ventures in more than a year-and-a-half vindicates our policy settings.

The situation in Europe shows exactly what can happen when border controls break down – hundreds of thousands of people flowing across land and sea borders. Some are genuine refugees, others are using the disorder and chaos to self-select a new country of choice. This uncontrolled movement weakens Europe’s will and capacity to support lawful migration. The shocking terrorist attacks in Paris are the extreme consequence of this loss of control.

Australia is not immune from the terrorist threat crossing borders, however; indeed, this is as real here as it is in many countries in Europe and around the world.

The number of Australians attempting to join extremist groups has increased in recent years; more will inevitably try to join. Sympathisers and supporters of extremists here are growing in number and determination.

More than 145 Australian passports have been cancelled to prevent travel prejudicial to national security. Over 400 people are the subject of counter terrorism investigations – a doubling in the caseload since early last year – and 26 people have been charged since the National Terrorism Public Alert was raised to High in September last year.

The Government’s response to terror has been comprehensive and multi-faceted.

We have legislated in five tranches to reduce the space available to terrorists to recruit or travel. This includes the Allegiance Bill which passed the Lower House yesterday.

Funding for counter terrorism and national security has been restored to levels commensurate to the threat after Labor’s neglect – an additional $1.3 billion – and programmes to counter violent extremism in partnership with communities are being rolled out to strengthen resilience in our multicultural society.

Mr Deputy Speaker, in terms of my portfolio, the stand-up of the Australian Border Force shows the Government’s absolute resolve to protect our borders. This has resulted in the counter terrorism units – offloading 199 passengers on national security grounds – having built on the success of Operation Sovereign Borders.

Our investment in SmartGates – almost $90million – has extended biometric technology to departure as well as arrival points. Extension of advance passenger processing further pushes out the Australian border to scrutinise inbound passengers.

People smugglers, and terrorists, will continue to test our resolve; they will not succeed under this Government.

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