Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012

Ms BIRD» (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (17:01): There are moments in time in this place when you know that a debate has shifted. I think that today we clearly face one of those moments in time. Members across the chamber have reflected on how personally their views on what has been a particularly vexed issue have brought them to this point in time in this place at this time. It is true, as others have reflected, that, sadly, how we manage the movement of displaced people in our region has not always been a vexed issue in this place, and we have had bipartisanship in the past.

We have had a vexed, difficult debate for many years now on this issue, and not just between the parties but within the parties. That is some of the conversation that we have heard. For me, December last year was a turning point. I have two young adult sons, and I have often entered this debate talking to people about how I would feel personally if my sons were under threat, under danger of their lives, and what actions I would take to get them out of that place and into a place of security and safety. It has always been a reflection in the back of my mind when I have come to these issues—and they are hard issues for everyone.

Last December, what reflected in my mind—and they are the voices I hear in this chamber today—were the 90 souls who ended up at the bottom of the ocean. We have faced the same thing this past week. They are the voices; they are the hopes for the future that will not be realised, which we carry as a responsibility as we approach this debate today. Our opportunity in terms of addressing the broader issues around the movement of people in our region and finding a framework that will manage that in the most humane way will be an ongoing debate, I have no doubt. But for me the priority has to be to stop people getting on boats that sink in the ocean.

Everyone here, I am sure, feels the goose bumps on their flesh when they listen to news reports and wait to hear the outcomes of those news reports, as we do today. I think that the government has put forward a program that is a significant compromise for many across all parts of this chamber, and I think it has a real possibility to stop us facing those news items and awaiting the outcomes of those events on another day.

It is, as many have said, a difficult position to arrive at. There are a few times in difficult debates where we do get to a point where we know we have a chance to have a shift. That time is here and now. This is the opportunity to make that shift. Please do not walk away from it. I think that the government has put forward a proposal in supporting the member for Lyne's motion that is a good and honest attempt to find that place. Please support it. Please take action now. Please do not walk away from that opportunity.

I particularly want to acknowledge in the few seconds I have left, as some others have, the work of those in our Customs and Border Protection patrol—all of those people who face this potentially on a daily basis—and pay my respect to the fact that I cannot even begin to encompass on their behalf what they face. But I do want to put on the record my great respect for the work that they do and our ongoing support for the work that they do. Let's just make that work a whole lot less.