Matter of Public Importance

27 February 2024

I also rise to make a contribution on this matter of public importance that’s being put by the opposition, on keeping Australians safe. When I first read about it I wasn’t really sure whether it was a bit of a joke, because, quite frankly, the Albanese Government has done everything that anyone would have expected of a Commonwealth Government around protecting our national borders. It’s really disappointing to see that the Coalition is trying to politicise issues of national security once again. One can only think that there must be a by-election this coming weekend.

On this side of the chamber we take national security very seriously. Operation Sovereign Borders, for instance, is a very mature set of policies that the Labor Party supports and has been working with those opposite on for some time. In fact, Operation Sovereign Borders funding has increased under this government, by $470 million over the forward estimates, and we’ve invested more in this operation than any other government has previously. So we won’t be providing a running commentary on operation matters, because we know that it will simply feed information for people smugglers, and that’s the last thing we want to see happen yet again in this country.

But let me be very clear. Operation Sovereign Borders is better resourced and more supported by this government than it has ever been, and the government will continue its strong border protection measures.

More money is going into Operation Sovereign Borders than under your government. It is absurd that the coalition continue to misrepresent people and the government’s approach to our border protection policy. The Leader of the Opposition should know better, given that he is a former Home Affairs Minister and Minister for Defence. As we have heard in this place, Rear Admiral Brett Sonter, the Commander of the Joint Agency Task Force with respect to Operation Sovereign Borders, has said very clearly:

“The mission of Operation Sovereign Borders remains the same today as it was when it was established in 2013: protect Australia’s borders, combat people smuggling in our region, and importantly, prevent people from risking their lives at sea.

“Any alternate narrative will be exploited by criminal people smugglers to deceive potential irregular immigrants and convince them to risk their lives and travel to Australia by boat.”

I don’t think that quote could be any clearer. At the end of the day, we must prevent vulnerable people—those who are trying to seek asylum—from being deceived and exploited by people smugglers and risking their lives by crossing borders illegally.

The coalition, on the other hand, is determined to unravel Operation Sovereign Borders. It is worth noting recent comments by Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram in which he also dismissed suggestions of a cut to the agency’s funding and dispelled the Opposition Leader’s claim:

“Border Force funding is currently the highest it’s been since its establishment in 2015 and in the last year the ABF has received additional funding totalling hundreds of millions of dollars to support maritime and land-based operations.”

That is what the commissioner has said.

So my advice to those opposite, to the coalition, is quite simple: stop your destructive messaging to people smugglers and stop undermining our borders. The coalition are playing politics by using this Saturday’s Dunkley by-election to spread false and misleading information for political purposes. The Albanese Government remains committed to these policies that constitute Operation Sovereign Borders and will continue to facilitate the resettlement of refugees through the proper avenues.

The response of the government to unauthorised maritime arrivals is firm and robust, and we have been fairly clear about the message we are sending to people smugglers, including those who are seeking asylum. People who arrive by boat as unauthorised arrivals won’t settle here. Any unlawful entrants into Australia will be taken offshore, and the government will provide humanitarian support to people who have been resettled or returned to their home country in line with our international human obligations. The government’s policies in this space will continue to be guided by a commitment to protecting our borders and maintaining Operation Sovereign Borders.