House debates

Monday, 22 February 2016


Minister for Immigration and Border Protection; Attempted Censure

3:15 pm

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion of censure against the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection for implying that Baby Asha was deliberately harmed as a means of facilitating asylum seeker access to Australia.

Leave not granted.

I move:

That so much of standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the member for Denison from moving the following motion forthwith:

That the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection be censured for implying that Baby Asha was deliberately harmed as a means of facilitating asylum seeker access to Australia.

This needs to be dealt with immediately. What the minister said during question time today I found to be one of the ugliest things that I have heard in this place in my 5½ years serving here.

For the minister to stand up and say that Baby Asha will ultimately be returned to Nauru—and, by implication, that the other 29 babies who are currently in the process of being returned to Nauru will indeed be returned to Nauru—and that that has to be done as a disincentive to asylum seekers in the future thinking that they can somehow use self-harm or harming their babies or their children as a mechanism for getting to Australia is something that I find absolutely appalling.

What people in this House seem to be losing sight of is that we are talking about some of the most vulnerable, disadvantaged, endangered people on this planet. In particular, we are talking about what this government is up to right now: the return of 267 asylum seekers to Nauru.

3:17 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the member be no longer heard.

3:22 pm

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the member be no longer heard.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (15:27): Is the motion seconded?

3:27 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. The minister has implied that babies and children are in hospital, or may end up in hospital, as part of some deliberate coordinated attempt to blackmail this government. That is a disgusting statement, and it is worthy of censure. Standing orders must be suspended because there are dozens of other babies and children in Australia right now whose situation is uncertain, and heir parents and those around them will be looking to what the minister says to know whether or not they have a chance of raising their kids in a healthy environment.

Let us recap how we got here. The minister was asked a simple question about whether baby Asha would be entitled to stay in Australia or whether she would be sent back to Nauru. He was also asked what was going to happen to the other children. What did the minister say? He said he would not preside over a situation where we have people self-harming to come to hospitals in this country because they believe that to be the route into the Australia community and to Australian citizenship. You can only draw two inferences from that. The first is that babies and children are self-harming because they believe that is how they can get to Australia—that Baby Asha's situation was not the result of an accident, was not the result of spilt boiling water, that babies and children are somehow making that decision for themselves! Secondly, the minister is implying that the families of those babies and children are harming them or encouraging them to self-harm in order to come to Australia. That is a disgusting and vile statement.

And as we always see with this government and the Liberal-Nationals, when the polls go down the vileness goes up, and it is happening yet again. As we head towards another election it is becoming another race to the bottom on refugees, another race to the bottom to see who can take the most vulnerable in our community, those who need the most help, those who are coming here seeking our help, babies and children who have committed no crime other than being born here and going to school here—how we can treat them. And what does the minister say? 'Well, there's self-harm going on, and it may be that they're doing it themselves or it may be that their parents are encouraging them to do it.'

This so-called party of family values stands up in this parliament and says it is conceivable that some parents might encourage their children to harm themselves just to get into a hospital. I have not met one parent anywhere, of any race or nationality, who would ever consider putting their child in harm's way, whatever the potential gain. And now we have the immigration minister suggesting that there might be some deliberate plot hatched to get children into Australian hospitals. What he is overlooking is the simple point that the doctors and the health staff in Brisbane made loud and clear, and it is the same point that is being made by doctors and health staff in my electorate of Melbourne, and it is the same point that is being made by state premiers, and it is the same point that is being made by thousands and thousands around the country: detention harms children. That is why they said they were not going to release them, not as part of some nefarious plot but because detention harms children, and this minister knows it.

Say what you like about the various merits of asylum seeker policy; I think everyone understands that this is a complex issue, and if you do not think it is a complex issue you have not been paying attention. But the suggestion from this government boils down to this: whatever we might be able to do in terms of a regional solution, whatever options there might be, the government is saying that somehow child abuse is a necessary component of an effective border protection and immigration policy. What rot. We do not agree with that. The Greens do not accept that our only choice is between deaths at sea and child abuse.

I notice that the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection is in the chamber, and I hope he is going to stand up. I, because if you stand up and if you are really concerned about deaths at sea then take this opportunity to assure us that on your watch, from the boat turn-backs, there have been no deaths at sea. Tell us that every boat you have turned back has not gone on to cause deaths at sea. Take this opportunity to tell us that there have not been deaths at sea somewhere else as people choose not to come to Australia but instead seek asylum elsewhere.

This is a complicated issue. Of course it is a complicated issue. But the suggestion that the only way we can solve it is by child abuse, and the implication that parents might be encouraging their children to self-harm, is vile, and the minister should be censured.

3:32 pm

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on what is a very important issue. My judgement is that the member has taken offence at that part of my question that went to the Greens being complicit with the Labor Party in the number of people, numbering 1,200, who drowned at sea under their watch. Now, I made no such suggestion as the member suggests in relation to Baby Asha. In fact, I was asked a question this morning on the Today show by Lisa Wilkinson about whether or not there is an investigation. I did confirm, because I had received advice, that there had been, or there is, an investigation being conducted by the Queensland police and that it was not a matter for me to comment on. I have not made any public comment in relation to this particular matter, and I make no further comment today. The police and the family services from Queensland have carriage of any investigation in this area and it is completely and utterly an issue for them.

So, I pass no judgement, I make no comment in relation to it. The only action we have taken in relation to Baby Asha is to provide evacuation from Nauru because the medical assistance was not able to be provided on Nauru, and that baby has been brought to Australia and provided with medical assistance at the Lady Cilento hospital in Brisbane. The advice that I received through my department was that the baby had received the medical attention and required no further medical attention. On that basis, the doctors were willing to release the baby from hospital. The next step that took place was that there was a transfer this morning from the hospital. The baby and her family will reside in community detention, as is the case for 83 others who have come from Nauru, received medical assistance or are part of a family group where one person or more has received medical assistance, and that has been the way in which we have got the numbers of children down.

I have spoken in this House before, and I know the Greens do not like this, but we got the numbers down—bearing in mind that 8,000 children were in detention when Labor and the Greens were in power in this country. The number is now less than 80, and the reason it is less than 80 is that I have allowed the children within the group of 83 out into community detention. My intention is to reduce that number from 75 down to zero, because I have said to this House before and I will repeat it today: I am not going to cop sanctimonious lectures from the Greens, who presided over people drowning at sea and record numbers of children in detention. I am going to get children out of detention and I am going to make sure that we keep the boats stopped so that we do not see a repeat of men, women and children drowning at sea.

So, this cooked up situation that the Greens are trying to present to the parliament today needs to be seen for what it is. They are embarrassed by their record. They are humiliated by their record. And I can say, in direct answer to the honourable member's question, which he put in his contribution, as to whether or not I can say that no people have drowned at sea since Operation Sovereign Borders commenced: yes, I can confirm that on the advice available to me not one death, not one injury has been incurred at sea, and that is a significant improvement. We are not going to tolerate these lectures from the Greens, because they have demonstrated time and time again that they are hypocrites, and that is why the censure motion proposed by the member should be rejected.

3:36 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

It is to state the obvious that this debate and this area of public policy is enormously complex and enormously sensitive. There is much in the way the government has handled offshore processing about which we on the opposition side would criticise. We criticise the failure to find credible third-country options in a timely way and we believe this has been one of the critical issues leading to the difficulties faced, right now, in relation to the running of both Manus and Nauru. But what matters deeply in this debate is that we be very clear and very accurate about what facts we know.

This is an almost impossible debate to have and a problem that is impossible to resolve, in circumstances where what is portrayed and what people say do not marry up with the reality of the situation. There has never been, I would suggest, a debate in this country where it has been more important to be utterly faithful and accurate to the facts as we know them. The opposition will not be supporting the honourable member's motion. This is because he suggested the minister implied something that, clearly, the minister did not say, and the Hansard record will bear that out.

I have looked very closely at the motion and spoke with the minister, briefly, to get his recollection—and I, obviously, have my own recollection of what was said in here. The motion suggests the minister said something he did not. There is a principle in all of this that matters: that we get the facts right as we seek to debate this issue, that we be absolutely and forensically and passionately and zealously accurate about it, because we as a country are not going to resolve this issue so long as we make spin a part of how we go about this. In circumstances where what the minister has said is a matter that is plainly on the record, we are not going to be voting for something that suggests something different. That does not mean the opposition does not have a whole lot of matters of difference between ourselves and the government in relation to this; we do and I made that clear in the opening to this contribution.

In relation to Baby Asha, her treatment and care needs to be handled sensitively. It needs to be handled on the basis of her treating physician's and practitioner's advice. And the decisions government makes on her fate and her family's need to be made on the basis of Australia having an ongoing obligation for the safety of all asylum seekers and refugees in direct and indirect care of the Australian government, both onshore and offshore. That is the basis on which the government should be making its decisions, in relation to Baby Asha and her family, and that is a position the opposition has made clear.

Ultimately, the position we take on the motion put before us today is based on our need and belief that the debate has to be had on the basis of accurately representing what all of us say within that debate, and this resolution simply does not do that.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The time has just about expired for the debate; we have 30 seconds.

3:40 pm

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It needs to be put on the record that sending children to Nauru is a crime. The forcible transfer—

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Denison will resume his seat! The question is that the motion be agreed to.

A division having been called and the bells having been rung—

As there are fewer than five members on the side for the ayes in this division, I declare the question negated in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

Question negatived, Mr Bandt, Ms McGowan and Mr Wilkie voting yes.