Thursday, 28 June 2012
I seek leave to move that the House, in consideration of the urgent need to find a way through the irregular immigration impasse, continue to sit until private member's notice No.1 given for Thursday, 28 June 2012, by the member for Cook, Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing, Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2012, is called on immediately.
That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Denison from moving the following motion forthwith—That the House, in consideration of the urgent need to find a way through the irregular immigration impasse, continue to sit until private Members' notice No. 1 given for Thursday, 28 June 2102, by the member for Cook, Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing, Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2012, is called on immediately.
Standing orders need to be suspended and we need to continue sitting as an absolute priority of this parliament because this matter is more important than any other business that could possibly be brought before the parliament, even at this silly hour in the morning. I am appalled that this House is set to go into recess tonight for six weeks even though the people smugglers are busy filling their manifests with the names of so many desperate souls. I am appalled that the House is set to go into recess tonight for six weeks even though numerous boats are being readied right now in Indonesia and probably elsewhere for the perilous journey to Australia. I am appalled that during the next six weeks there is the very real likelihood that some of those boats will sink and some of the unfortunate souls aboard will drown.
I am appalled that the defeat of the member for Lyne's bill in the Senate yesterday is seen as being enough done for now by this parliament, even though time is of the essence and every minute saved could be the difference between life and death for some asylum seekers. I am appalled that the boat that might go down while we dither could be as large as SIEVX, the vessel that disappeared in late 2001 with 421 people on board, including 146 children and 142 women.
Yes, I do acknowledge the Prime Minister has today announced a review headed up by Angus Houston, a great Australian whose competency and impartiality are beyond question. But surely that is not enough because we must do everything possible—including Angus Houston's review, but also much more—to stop people attempting the voyage to Australia. In particular, we must look right now for any sort of stopgap measure that would stop or at least deter the people smugglers right now.
I do not agree with offshore processing, whether it be on Nauru or in Malaysia, and I do not agree with the member for Cook's solution. But his bill does provide a mechanism for this parliament to keep talking and the opportunity for this parliament to come at least to some sort of agreement, however unpalatable, which might send a shock wave through the people-smuggler network and at least stop some boats being organised. Even if we can do no more than deter a handful of asylum seekers from boarding a boat or no more than stopping just a boat or two, surely that is something worth striving for.
I second the motion to suspend standing orders to allow the member for Cook's bill to be brought on for debate. Obviously at this very late hour, at 20 to four in the morning, this has come as somewhat of a surprise to the opposition. The member for Denison and I spoke about five minutes ago and he indicated to me that he intended to seek leave to bring on this bill and then, if he was not given leave, to move a suspension of standing orders to bring on the member for Cook's bill. The opposition obviously supports the member for Cook's bill; it is our policy. We believe very strongly that any offshore processing should occur in a country that has signed the UN convention on refugees. We have had debates for the last two days in both this place and the other place on the importance of refugees being processed offshore in places that have signed the refugee convention. It is shocking to us that the government would continue to insist on its failed policy of the Malaysian people swap. We do not support the Malaysian people swap. Yesterday when I spoke in the House I made it absolutely clear that the greatest problem from my point of view with respect to the Malaysian people swap was the idea that women and children would become the gold standard for people smugglers to bring to Australia so they could then take advantage of the family reunion program to bring either their fathers or their husbands to Australia, rather than the current situation where that is not the case. Therefore, we obviously do support the suspension of standing orders to allow the member for Cook's bill to be brought on for debate.
It is also clearly obvious to me, as I have been in this place for some time, that the idea that the House would gain 76 votes for a suspension of standing orders at 20 to four on the Thursday night and Friday morning of the end of a session is very unlikely. Clearly, that will not happen. It would be very optimistic, as the Chief Government Whip says. But this is a very serious issue. While it is optimistic, I would hope that 76 votes can be gained if the government supports the member for Denison's motion. The opposition will certainly support the member for Denison's motion. With his support and the government's support, this motion could be carried, the suspension of standing orders could be carried and the member for Cook's bill could therefore be debated. And, therefore, the bill could be carried.
So, while some members are making merry with the idea that at 20 to four we could have this vote, in fact, if the government chose to support a suspension of standing orders, it would carry; the 76 votes would be gained. If the Leader of the House were in the chamber, I am sure he would support such a suspension of standing orders. I do not know where the Leader of the House is, but surely he is somewhere in the vicinity of the parliament and capable of appearing in this place and voting with the opposition.
I have spent some time with the Leader of the House tonight. We have had many good occasions over many years, the Leader of the House and I, and I would call on him to come into the House tonight and support the member for Denison's motion, because there is a very serious point to be made. The member for Denison has, in all good conscience, raised this suspension of standing orders tonight—
Madam Deputy Speaker, it is because the minister for immigration is now wearing my tie. I rise on a point of order. I ask you to remind the Manager of Opposition Business that the motion before the chair is one about the urgency of the motion, not the frivolous matters he is now going on about.
The government would convene the House now; it would convene the Senate now; it would convene the House and Senate at five o'clock, six o'clock or seven o'clock in the morning; it would convene on Christmas Day if the parliament would pass the government's legislation. But, very clearly, given the opposition's point of view, given the opposition has decided in the Senate to obstruct the will of the government and given the opposition has indicated that it will not support this legislation, it is very clear that we need a circuit breaker.
The House of Representatives has passed a bill. The House of Representatives has done the responsible thing. The House of Representatives has given the government of the day the power to implement its policies. The other place has not. The other place has taken a different point of view. The member for Denison said, 'We may not pass anything, but this is an opportunity for talk.' Talk will not save lives. Talk will not stop people smugglers. Talk will not act to break the people smugglers' business model. Action will.
The member for Sturt said we could pass the member for Cook's bill and then implement Nauru. It has been a matter of record in this House that Nauru, a Christmas Island style detention centre further away, will not break the people smugglers' business model. The single largest, most tragic maritime tragedy this nation has faced on asylum seekers was SIEVX. It occurred when Nauru was up and operating. It occurred when Nauru was designed by the previous government to break the people smugglers' business model and was failing. It occurred when Nauru was open and just before it was too full, and then they had to open Manus Island as well. That is why the government has put forward its legislation.
Nauru at that time was not a signatory to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. This is something that the opposition says has been its consistent position for 10 years. It has not; it is a recent invention. Hence the announcement made by the Prime Minister and me yesterday to appoint two bodies: firstly, an expert panel to advise the entire parliament. The government has had the benefit of advice for many months about what is necessary to break the people smugglers' business model. We made that advice available to the opposition. We made it available to the crossbench. The crossbench, to its very great credit, listened to that advice, and I recognise the member for Denison's difficulty. He had previously opposed the legislation. It was a matter of some personal difficulty for him. He reflected on his situation and he reflected on the advice and he decided to act, and I congratulate him on that. I congratulate him on not being so small as to stick to a position when the circumstances had changed. I recognise that it was not an easy decision for him to make. He listened to the advice. Others in the House and in the Senate chose not to.
We want a formal mechanism to share the sort of advice that the government has received, so we have announced that the former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Mr Angus Houston; Mr Paris Aristotle, a deeply respected refugee counsellor and adviser; and Mr Michael L'Estrange, a former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, have been commissioned to convene that expert panel. There has been a cross-party reference group established and the Leader of the Opposition has been invited to nominate a representative. If he chooses not to do so the government will be happy to receive a self-nominated member of the opposition to sit on that cross-party reference group to help the parliament work its way through. The parliament, over the last 48 hours, has made it clear: it will not pass this legislation. The government accepts this, but we will not walk away from the need for this legislation and we will continue to make the case for it. We will continue to make the case based on that expert advice and we will share that expert advice with the House.
With all due respect to the member for Denison, he says he does not support offshore processing, and I accept that, but he said we need to do something. We do need to do something, but what we need to do is offshore processing. What we need to do is offshore processing within the regional framework. We need to do that offshore processing with proper resettlement, not the resettlement into Australia which a detention centre on Nauru would deliver.
This government stands ready to pass legislation. More talk is not the answer; action is the answer. We again call on the parliament to take action, but with proper consideration and expert advice, not the politicking and more talk that will see this debate drag on without the parliament taking heed of the expert advice. The government therefore opposes the member for Denison's motion.
I rise to support the motion to suspend standing and sessional orders, moved by the member for Denison, who of his own volition has thought this matter through in the light of what has transpired and decided that this is the best course of action to take. Obviously, opposition members support this motion, as it was originally moved by the member for Cook. The member for Denison has moved this motion because the government, which has been complaining about no action, has declined leave for the bill to be debated. I have just listened to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship speak, and he said, 'This is a time for action, not talking.' Yet the very proposal that he is putting forth is for more talking and not action.
The Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing, Protection and Other Measures) Bill 2012 has been brought forward on the initiative of the member for Denison, who, obviously, has given a lot of thought to it, because he voted in a different way previously. He has decided that at this hour of the morning it is still important and that, while this parliament is still sitting, even though it is 10 to four in the morning, the parliament is capable of ensuring that we can have an offshore processing system which will act as a deterrent, because it will impose the need for the country where the offshore processing is to take place to be a signatory to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. There are 148 countries that can be thought of. However, the point is this: when we utilised Nauru previously—
Mr Bowen interjecting—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. We listened to the minister in relative silence; I think it would be polite if he could do the same. The fact is that, when we originally utilised Nauru under John Howard, in dealing with the difficult problem we had, we in fact were able to apply Australian law and it was administered by Australian law. That was the importance of section 198 of the Migration Act; it enabled us to be in control. But the minister would like to do away with that, because the High Court ruled against him for not having effectively done his work. He was unable to convince the High Court that any of the undertakings he had got were enforceable at law and therefore were meaningless in terms of that piece of legislation. Thus, having instead the requirement that we choose a country which is a signatory to the convention means that there will be protection of the human rights of those people.
It would seem that the minister is perfectly happy for this trade in human flesh, which the government purport to be a good solution and which I will always reject as totally unacceptable, and to put people at risk of being birched or having other things done to them. All the minister can say in return is that he has received undertakings—and yet that is precisely what the High Court said was not acceptable and did not meet the requirements of the law.
Therefore, I think it is seemly that the government should vote to allow the motion to suspend standing and sessional orders to succeed. We would indeed, as the Manager of Opposition Business said, have the 76 votes required for that suspension and the bill could then be debated. Alternatively, the minister at the table could, if he decided to, grant leave and the legislation could be debated. So the government has two choices which would allow a solution—not another talkfest but a solution—to be reached this morning.
I saw the Prime Minister on the television last night, saying what a shame and what a terrible thing it was that the parliament had not come to a solution but had reached an impasse. So this is an opportunity which the member for Denison, of his own volition, has brought forward and it is one that the government should accept. We will, first, accept his motion to suspend and, second, support the bill he is bringing forth, as it was originally brought forth by the member for Cook.
So I say to the minister and to those government members present: act as you have spoken in the debate and support the motion. (Time expired)
Here is yet another set of contradictions, where we have the Manager of Opposition Business saying that children will not be sent and then we have the member for North Sydney saying that children will be sent. What this reveals is that the coalition does not have a consistent position on this matter. Some members of the coalition say children will not be sent to Malaysia; other members of the coalition say that children will be sent to Malaysia. It just shows that the coalition will do anything in its power to stop the passage of legislation which has the best possible chance to break the people-smugglers' model.
I understand that members of the coalition come into this place and they seem to be genuinely concerned, genuinely distressed about the situation, and we share that distress. But then of course they say that the correct remedy is that boats should be towed back to Indonesia. This compassion is on display from the coalition, and then when it is revealed that they actually support towing boats back to Indonesia I ask across the table to the shadow immigration minister: what happens to those children then under the coalition's bill, because the coalition's bill does not allow processing in countries of nonsignatories to the refugee convention? Indonesia is a nonsignatory to the refugee convention. We have the coalition saying that their policy is to tow boats back into Indonesian waters to a nonsignatory country and that that is somehow acceptable, and the whole basis of their alleged objection to our legislation is that Malaysia is a nonsignatory.
So I have asked the member for Cook across the chamber: what happens to the people who are towed back to Indonesia and who processes them? He just will not answer, because this is the fundamental flaw in their legislation and in their entire position. They have a so-called principled position that it is absolutely imperative that asylum seekers be processed in a country which is a signatory to the refugee convention. Yet what they are demanding is that boats be towed back to the waters of the country of a nonsignatory country. What do they expect to happen to these people—that they perish on the way back? They have said that they would only do it in circumstances where it is safe to do so, that they would take them back to Indonesia, a nonsignatory country.
Mrs Griggs interjecting—
Now we have got a member saying, 'That's right,' that it is right that they be taken back to Indonesia. It violates your own legislation. That is how much thought some people have put into this. You cannot take people back into Indonesia under your legislation because it would violate the coalition's own legislation, and I ask whether this is an indication of the lack of sincerity of the coalition in the legislation that they put forward. They believe that it is okay to take people back under their legislation to a nonsignatory country, when in fact it completely violates their own legislation.
That is the situation. We have got people of goodwill, I think, displaying compassion, but at the same time when they go back to their electorates—whether it is in the Northern Territory or whether it is the member for Macarthur—they describe the asylum seekers as 'illegals'. So here there is compassion; back in the electorate they are illegals. On so many matters they say one thing in the parliament because they want to be seen to be reasonable and compassionate, and back in the electorate there are the arrows coming down from the north-west into Australia of all of these 'illegals', with the opposition leader describing it as an 'invasion'. Here in the parliament he would not dare describe it as an invasion, yet he goes to other places to describe it as an invasion, and he goes to other places to describe asylum seekers as illegals. It is not illegal to seek asylum. They seek to denigrate asylum seekers outside the parliament, yet come into the parliament, where there is a press gallery, and then say that they are very sympathetic and concerned. There are people on the coalition side who are very sympathetic and concerned—but just drop the hypocrisy.