Monday, 22 September 2014
Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I am very pleased to speak on the Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2014. I could spend my whole time talking about the contribution from the member for Melbourne. We are in the position here today of having to put integrity back into our migration system because the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government allowed our migration system to become so dysfunctional, thanks to the way they were compromised by the Greens. It was Kevin Rudd, the then prime minister, who, with migration minister Chris Evans, pulled the successful Pacific solution off the table and, to appease the Greens, Julia Gillard allowed it to be further dismantled—it was as though, if you could get here, you would get a visa. That is why they came without any identification; all they had to do was get here. That is what the Greens in conjunction with the Labor Party did. Remember that in 2007, when the Labor Party took over, there were only four people who came by boat in detention.
When the Labor Party left, not only did we have thousands in detention, but we now have 30,000 in our community who cannot be processed because Kevin Rudd put a moratorium on processing Afghans, Iraqis and Sri Lankans for a while, but it was all too hard and so they let them go into the community. Now the Greens and Labor in the Senate will not allow us to fix that situation. There are 30,000 sitting in the community without the ability to work. They rely on the Salvation Army and other charity groups to feed them. Wouldn't they be better off as functional members of our society doing some work to support themselves, rather than relying on charities and taking the support away from Australians doing it hard? It is unconscionable that someone like that Green from Melbourne can stand in this place and say, 'What we are doing here today to fix this is wrong.'
The Labor Party feels sheepish about it too. The other day when the migration minister Scott Morrison got up and gave a report after 12 months on how many boats had arrived and the number of boats that came under Labor, the member for Corio, the opposition's spokesman on migration—instead of being gracious and saying, 'That's fantastic; thank goodness someone has come to fix this system'—said, 'Oh, yeah, I suppose it's all right, but there's a long way to go.' There is a long way to go, but there has only been one boat in that time, and we are working through the backlog at the detention centres. At the end of the day, if the Labor Party did not work with the Greens in the Senate, we could deal with the backlog of those 30,000 stuck in the Australian community who are leaching the support from charity groups. They could be working under a protection visa if they were found to be genuine refugees. Do not come in here and try to wax lyrical about how concerned you are to fix up the system—you were the wreckers, the maniacs, in charge of this system in conjunction with the Greens that put us where we are today.
The member for Melbourne talks about legal aid. I had to interject, and he had to respond to me. Let me say that my constituents struggle to get legal aid. I have people who are in real trouble—low-income earners who cannot afford a lawyer when they have a Family Court problem. I have fathers who are having to walk away from their children because they cannot get a lawyer to go to Family Court with them. Yet if these people arrived under the previous regime—and we are tidying up the process in this bill today—or under the obligations to conventions that the member for Melbourne talks about, we are obliged to provide lawyers to them so they can go to court. They go through every level of court—the Magistrate's Court, the Federal Court, the High Court and then they go to the Migration Review Tribunal—and each case requires a lawyer. Not every lawyer does it pro bono. I can tell you about the plane loads of lawyers, who were heading up to Christmas Island under the previous government, were making an absolute poultice out of the Australian taxpayers from legal aid. We are putting a stop to that.
It really does gall me to stand here and witness the crocodile tears coming from the other side. The member for Melbourne rudely and crudely says that members on this side would not know what it is like to assist those with migration issues. Let me tell you, Deputy Speaker, that one person in my office spends most of his time on migration issues. We are doing a lot better now that we are in government, because the Labor Party would not help us before—in fact it was difficult even to get the local migration office, except for a few good men and women, to help us; the office had been told not to have much to do with us. I had not been into the migration office for about four years until the other day, when I went to meet the new head in Western Australia. Thank goodness she met me and she is helping me with some issues. We spend an enormous amount of time trying to connect people who have been stranded, or who are trying to come here on spouse visas. A Mr Harati, an Iranian, came here and was granted a visa under protection because he was under threat of being killed. He had proven that under our regime—so much for the tough testing. Mr Harati is beside himself, because his daughter was stranded in Malaysia. She ended up over there, and she could not get to Australia, and her Iranian husband flew in the dead of the night and took their child back to Iran. The daughter is stranded in Malaysia, his other daughter is in Australia; and they are all enemies of the state in Iran. So—because he is the sort of father that he is—Mr Harati went back to Iran to try and rescue his daughter and her child. He has now been locked up. He is now in jail in Tehran because he was trying to do that. We are trying to help him. So I am surprised to hear the member for Melbourne say to those on this side, 'What are you doing to help people with migration issues?' We spend a massive amount of time trying to help people with migration issues, because the system is too skewed one way. The fact is that under the Labor Party regime, it was 'if you could get here, you could stay here' stuff. All those people that are stranded in refugee camps around the world are doing the right thing, and trying to support themselves—some of them have been there for tens of years; some of them have had a whole family while they have been stranded in the camp, because they cannot go home—because they would be killed. Talk about being able to prove protection! They would be killed. We have just had the case last weekend, where 70,000 people from Syria fled from ISIS across the border into Turkey. They will be in a camp for a long period of time now. There are a million people in Jordan in camps now, fleeing from ISIS. They are the people that are seeking protection. We could take every one of those under this refugee convention. But under the previous regime, if you had enough money and you could pay a people smuggler, you would get to Australia.
This bill is asking you to prove your bona fides. First of all, it is asking you to prove that you have some documents. You know, most of us here have come back to Australia from overseas. What happens when I get to the airport, as an Australian citizen? I have to show them my documents. I have to show my passport. I have to fill in that part of the visa that tells me where I have been, how long I have been away, and how much money I have got. Imagine me turning up to the Australian airport, even as a member of parliament, and saying, 'Sorry, I haven't got any papers—let me in; I am Australian and, by the way, I am worried that if you send me back to the country I came from, I will be persecuted.' Some of the threshold tests—and we should lift the threshold tests on these matters—have been too weak. I have mentioned it in this place before. Two Indian gays, for example, who were allowed to stay in Australia under these former conditions, because they said that if they went back to India, they would be persecuted. Well, they got to stay here—the burden of proof obviously worked on that occasion.
Just recently I was in Malaysia, and at the time there was an article written in the Sri Lankan newspapers about the 43 people that were on a boat off Sri Lanka, and claiming that they would be persecuted if they returned to Sri Lanka. Most of them were Sinhalese, not the minority Tamils, and they eventually were taken ashore, and they were allowed to go home. And how do I know this? Because I met with the UNHCR in Kilinochchi, and I met with the IOM, the International Organization of Migration, who help resettle these people. They say that they are just the agents. They say, 'we are paid to resettle them and there are no issues'. They go back home; they have not got a lot of money—except if Australia gives them that $3,000 to $10,000 to go. But they have generally spent their money on a people smuggler.
So why wouldn't we increase the burden of proof? Why wouldn't we ask the Migration Review Tribunal to ask them to attend? That was one of the stunts, or strategies, used by people smugglers and their agents in the community—the Mr Rintouls of this world. They told them: 'Oh, just don't turn up to the MRT, because if you don't, then you just get to stay here, and if they can't find you, you can stay for quite a while.' So that was one strategy. The explanatory memorandum states that this bill would 'allow the tribunal to dismiss an application if the applicant fails to appear before the tribunal after being invited', and if the applicant fails to appear after a set period of time. How fair is that? We have asked them to appear and then, if they don't appear, we ask them to appear again, and after a set period of time they still don't appear. It also says the bill will 'make a technical amendment to put beyond doubt when a review of a decision that is that has been made is considered to be finally determined.' It has got to come to an end. You cannot have it open-ended. You have all these complications: 'oh, the child was born in Australia', or 'is the child an Australian citizen, or is the child a citizen of the country of the parents?' So these are very good arrangements that we are putting into place.
The member for Melbourne seemed to have a problem with the 50-per-cent rule. Well, 50 per cent in this life is about the average probability of proof. It was ten per cent; now we are lifting it to 50 per cent. In most legal cases and precedents, you have to have a lot better than a fifty-fifty chance of winning. I wouldn't mind that sort of chance of backing the horses: a fifty-fifty chance to get my money back; I think my wife would be very happy with me! But at the end of the day, we need to put integrity back into this process, by making sure that the obligations are met. But this bill would give the Refugee Review Tribunal the ability to bring into question and 'to draw an unfavourable inference with regard to the credibility of claims' by an applicant, and it would permit the department 'to refuse a protection visa application when an applicant refuses or fails to establish their identity, nationality or citizenship' or fails to have an explanation for doing so. And we know that. We have now got so-called refugees who have returned to their countries and who have said, 'Oh, look, we were told that once we got through Indonesia'—because, as we know, they did not have to have the proper documentation to get into Indonesia because they were Muslims, and they gave special consideration to Muslims entering Indonesia; but they had to have enough documentation to say who they were, because they were staying there while they were waiting for a boat—and 'once we got on the boat, we had to make sure our documents went over the side'. And it did not just happen on boats—everyone thinks this is all about boats. On the planes, people arrive and flush their documents down the toilet. You cannot get on a plane in any decent airport in this world unless you have travel documents, including a visa. Suddenly, people get to their destination and they do not have travel documents, passports or visas. Where have those documents gone? We know where they have gone: down the latrine. So they get to their destination and they say, ‘Look, we didn't have any documents.' It is just a strategy.
Australians do not like people who push their way to the front of the queue. See what happens if you are at the checkout at the shopping centre and somebody barges past you, knocks you out of the way after you have been lined up in a long queue and says, 'Sorry, I'm in a hurry; I want to go first.' It is not the Australian way. Yet this is what some of these people try to do.
I finish by saying that unless we get the support of the Labor Party to stop the wacky Greens from continuing their mantra and dragging the reputation of this country’s migration system down, and unless we bring integrity back into the system, we will be a laughing stock. That is what has happened to Italy, for example. As soon as they relaxed their policies, they got the problem that we have, which we are fixing.