House debates

Thursday, 28 October 2010


Asylum Seekers

12:55 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We just had in the House the faux concern for the Afghan asylum seekers expressed by the member for Cook and the opposition. I never thought I would see the day that I would have to rise, using this adjournment opportunity because I did not get it when the motion was discussed, to note that Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention have been cited by the opposition, to suddenly learn that the coalition are concerned about Australia contravening UN conventions after their 12 years of government, when they locked children behind barbed wire and held them in detention indefinitely. Where was Mr Morrison, the member for Cook, during the election when the coalition used fear-mongering tactics in ads with yellow arrows coming down to Australia? Where was he when they were talking about the passive invasion of boats? Where was he when, as I said, they were using the ads with the giant yellow arrows depicting hordes of people coming to our shores? And now he comes into this place and raises concerns about the Afghan people being kept in detention. Forgive me if I do not take his concern seriously. This is the party that gave us Tampa, that gave us the Pacific Solution and the inhumane detention of children.

Adding to this is the bizarre notion that the opposition leader will have a ‘boat phone’ ready to direct border security. I can just see it now. Mr Abbott gets a knock on his door from the member for Cook. ‘Holy asylum seekers, Batman. Another boat’s arrived. Get on the boat phone and turn them back!’ This clearly indicates that the member for Cook and the coalition have no understanding of the complicated nature of the asylum seeker issue.

Photo of Kelly O'DwyerKelly O'Dwyer (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You have got to take this issue seriously.

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I do take it very seriously. I was the chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration and I have an insight into our system and what these people who are being held in detention have experienced. In July this year, along with colleagues, including members of the Liberal Party, I visited the Curtin detention centre. All the detainees there were Afghans of the Hazara ethnic group. Hazaras are mostly Shia Muslim, while the main ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtun, are Sunni Muslim. Most of these Afghanis were in their 20s and 30s. We spoke to a group of detainees, who told us that Hazaras who join the Afghan army were put in the most dangerous missions on the front line, and were often treated extremely badly. They told us that Hazaras were openly discriminated against and attacked by Pashtuns and other ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Those who seek asylum have usually witnessed the most horrendous, gut-wrenching trauma that none of us in this parliament could imagine. Similarly, those who fled from Sudan, from Darfur, have witnessed genocide, rape and destruction of homes. Those in Afghanistan have fled war, violence and discrimination.

The overblown hysteria of the opposition in speaking of an ‘invasion’ of asylum seekers did nothing to strengthen our borders nor protect the dignity and rights of those people seeking a new home, nor indeed the dignity of Australians. The member for Cook’s solution is to reintroduce temporary protection visas under the guise of ‘safe haven visas’. How Orwellian is that: a ‘safe haven visa’? The visa lasts between six months and three years. There is nothing safe about being given a visa that leaves you in uncertainty for three years. A visa that gives the applicant false hope of a life free from fear and free from want is not a ‘safe haven’ visa; it is a visa that prolongs the emotional suffering of those seeking asylum. Furthermore, it is the only visa that makes you prove three years from being told you are a refugee that you are in fact a refugee. This approach in which you re-determine your refugee status contradicts article 1C of the UN Refugee Convention. While the opposition are paying lip service to the UN Refugee Convention in their motion, they want to bring back a visa that contravenes it. This is blatant political opportunism.

We know how ineffective temporary protection visas were when the coalition introduced them last time. As soon as they were introduced, the number of people arriving by boat increased, and increased in 2000-01. This is not the solution. Every person seriously involved in the asylum seeker issue knows that the central issue in all of this is what happens in Indonesia. The fact is that we have a government there in Indonesia which is democratic, the best friend Australia ever had, with an excellent president and an excellent foreign minister. The possible passage by the Indonesian parliament of legislation that would give sentences to people smugglers is the kind of serious policy we should all be looking at. Approximately 42 million people were forcibly displaced due to conflict during 2009. Developing countries host 80 per cent of the world’s refugees and Australia received 6,170 applications in 2009, which is 1.6 per cent of the total around the world. (Time expired)

Main committee adjourned at 1.01 pm