House debates

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Bills

Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018; Consideration of Senate Message

5:51 pm

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

The Prime Minister said that this bill was superfluous and he would just simply ignore it. Today the government tells us that this bill is a constitutional crisis. The fact of the matter is: this bill is about providing treatment to sick people. I want to acknowledge to a number of members of the crossbench that the amendments that I'm moving are not everything that they wanted, but we are about getting something done. I thank the Speaker for tabling the advice and correspondence that he received from the Attorney-General.

This motion accepts the amendments from the Senate and it seeks, firstly, to enhance the security requirements, broadening them to ensure that the minister can deny a transfer not just on national security grounds but also in the case of serious criminality, removing any doubt that the minister has the power to keep criminals out of Australia. Secondly, we are extending the time frame for the government to refuse a transfer, to ensure that agencies and medical professionals have enough time to consider complex cases, to have their advice heard and to ensure that the minister has enough time to make an informed decision. Thirdly, and perhaps arguably most importantly, our amendments will ensure that this legislation only applies to a fixed number of people who are already in regional processing. It is not prospective. It currently deals only with the people currently in Australia's care.

What we are proposing replicates the conditions that the government placed on its own resettlement deal with the United States. It did not give the people smugglers a product to sell then, and what we are putting in place will do nothing to change that. In the same way, this legislation will continue the practice that, where people are transferred here for medical treatment, they will be put into held detention as a default, and it will remain the case that the only person who can approve their release into the community is the minister. This existing protection is already in place, and the legislation we're supporting keeps it in place. Fourthly, we have put beyond any doubt—we have made it explicit—that there will be no remuneration for the medical panel.

The Australian people do not send us to parliament to run and hide from debates that we don't like, to manipulate procedure and the law to try and avoid democracy. We are elected to this place to solve problems, to find common ground where we can. This legislation does that. It gets the balance right. I believe that we can keep our borders secure, we can uphold national security, but still treat people humanely. We can have strong borders while still fulfilling our duty of care to the people in our care.

In closing, I note, regarding the government's legal arguments on this medivac bill, that Practice describes different responses of the House to amendments made in the Senate—and the Solicitor General made clear in his advice that the ultimate arbiter of the operation of section 53 of the Constitution is the parliament—and on a number of occasions since 1994 the House has refrained from the determination of its constitutional rights, as we did today, in order to consider amendments from the Senate. Indeed, we refer to the precedent set by the Howard government. The government have referred, in debating why they think our proposal should be opposed, to character. In fact, this bill and our amendments are about Australia's character. It's about how we treat sick people in our care.

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