Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016. From day one of the coalition government, we have made it an absolute priority to have strong border protection, ensuring that we decide as a government how people come to this country, and it is working extremely well. This bill will further strengthen that and ensure that the system continues to work well, not just now but well into the future. Every day, we need to continue to deliver on this promise to provide secure borders in this country. In fact, it is working so well that there has not been a single boat arrival in the last 830 days.
If we go back to 2013, we remember that there were a few of them rocking up every day at one stage. It was unbelievable. We went into the 2013 election with the three-word slogan that those opposite used to like to talk about: stop the boats. They said it could not be done. They said it would never be done—it was just words—but here we are and there has been not one boat arrival in 830 days.
It gets worse because, when you go back to 2007, when Labor took office, there were no boats coming then either after the 11 successful years of the Howard government. How many people were in detention then, Member for Riverina? There were four, I think, in 2007.
That is right. Do you know how many children, Mr Deputy Speaker, were in detention when I was elected in 2013? Almost 2,000. Labor have learnt nothing in the last few years after their abysmal record of six years in government. Clearly, our strong border protection policies have sent a message to people smugglers that life in Australia is not a commodity to be sold at a profit to the desperate and vulnerable. Illegal immigration, of course, is a worldwide problem. In 2016, we are seeing the worst of this in Europe, and I believe it was a big factor in the recent Brexit vote and in today's US election. Our border protection policies have been so successful that other countries, including in Europe and Great Britain, are looking to us, saying: 'What have you done? How did you implement policies that are working so well? We need to do the same here.'
However, as the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, the member for Dickson, said today, we cannot afford to become complacent. Now is not the time to send a message to the people smugglers and to the Australian people that the Australian government will go soft on this issue or that we are complacent on this issue.
The bill before the House today will amend the Migration Act to further strengthen Australia's migration border-protection arrangements. The purpose is to reinforce the government's longstanding policy that people who travel here illegally by boat will never be settled in Australia. Of course, we know that this policy position is longstanding. The coalition government have had this policy position since around 2000. Do you remember the Tampa in 2001 when the Howard government was in office? It is now almost 2017 and we have not changed. The Labor Party, on the other hand, are all over the place—the most wishy-washy government and opposition ever who caused a major disaster in their six years of government.
Ms Collins interjecting—
The member for Franklin was there as part of that government. She was one of the members who weakened TPVs and that weakened everything—for example, the Pacific solution, that Howard had in place. I would not be interjecting if I was her.
There are many differences between the coalition government and Labor. While the coalition acts in the best interests of the Australian people, Labor does not. They do not act in the best interests of the Australian people on this issue relating to illegal maritime arrivals. They are too interested in what everyone else thinks. That is why, from what the members opposite have said today, they do not want to support the bill. We need to look at their record over their time in government. Some 50,000 illegal maritime arrivals came on over 800 boats. As I said before, some 8,000 children came through detention. The Labor government reopened 17 detention centres and two offshore detention centres in Nauru and in PNG. We know that there were at least 1,200 deaths at sea and an $11 billion blowout in border protection policies.
Mr Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, talks about people smuggling and the need for resettlement as though he and Labor have no responsibility in the facts and figures that I have just read out and they have no responsibility for offshore processing and detention. But they have absolute responsibility. Let's not forget that in May 2008 the Rudd government announced that it would abolish the system of temporary protection—out of the blue—when previously former Prime Minister Rudd had said they would not do that and they were on a unity ticket with us. But in May 2008 they abolished the temporary protection system.
The TPV system was formally ended by amendments to the migration regulations on 9 August 2008 and those Labor members elected in 2007, including the current shadow minister, said nothing. They just supported it and let it go through, and we know what happened afterwards. Now it seems, after listening to the shadow minister today and other members opposite, they have learnt nothing in that time—absolutely nothing.
What are their excuses for not supporting this important amendment that will send the strongest of signals that our borders are secure? The Leader of the Opposition spoke the other day about genuine refugees and said that all the people coming by boat were genuine. Now, we now that that is not the case. There are two people in my electorate alone who are men from Iran. One is a young guy who is about 27 years of age who came by boat before 2013—so he would not be affected by this policy. He is currently on a TPV in the Australian community. He has just moved into a regional area. I spoke to Amid and said: 'Mate, what was the issue?' He said he was or was about to be persecuted in Iran because of his political beliefs. I said, 'Okay, what did you do from there?' He went to neighbouring countries—I think it was Egypt—and lived there for 12 months and then flew to Indonesia and lived there for another 12 or 18 months. Then, eventually, he paid around $10,000 to come to Australia by boat. I said to him, 'Were you being persecuted when you were in Indonesia and Egypt?' He said, 'No, I wasn't.' He is a nice young guy, but he said he was not being persecuted. I said, 'Why did you then illegally pay a people smuggler to come to Australia by boat?' He said, 'Look, I just wanted to come.'
And I cannot blame him. Of course people want to come to Australia because we have the greatest country in the world. I understand that. But I said to him: 'Amid, that is the illegal part mate. You cannot actually pay a people smuggler. It is against the law to pay a people smuggler to come to Australia by boat.' I do not blame him for wanting to come, but 1,200 of his fellow travellers drowned at sea because of Labor's changes. We must send a signal that this was—
You do not have to worry about it. You were not here at the time. I am not blaming you. I am blaming members elected in 2007, Mr Conroy.
The other thing Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, said is that he is worried that the citizens of the US and Canada may face a ban. I spoke on this yesterday in a 90 second statement. I said, 'Bill, you don't represent the people of the US or Canada. You don't represent those people. You actually represent Australians in your electorate.' He is opposition leader and obviously he wants to be Prime Minister, but he has to learn that he represents Australians and that he has to look after Australians. He is not here to look after the interests of US or Canadian citizens. He is totally mixed up. I know he could not help himself intervening in this current US election by making some of the disgraceful comments he had made in relation to the Republican candidate who, in a few hours time from now, may well be the next US President. I am sure his remarks will come back to bite him. He has to learn that he is here to represent the Australian people.
The bill will prevent unauthorised maritime arrivals who are at least 18 years of age and who were taken to a regional processing country after 19 July 2013 from making a valid application for an Australian visa. The amendments will also apply to transitionary persons who were at least 18 years of age and who were taken to a regional processing country after the date. The amendments will include ministerial discretion, where the minister will be able to permit a member of a class of people within the designated regional processing cohort to make a valid application for a visa if the minister thinks it is in the public interest to do so. This is important because there are sometimes cases that are so important that it is not possible to assess them under a standard piece of legislation.
When the shadow minister spoke on this all he could do was criticise the current minister. He just went to town on him as though that was important. Given that he was elected in 2007 and was responsible for much of the chaos, I just found it outrageous. The current minister has a strong record. He has a very strong record. I am sure that future ministers from whatever government could make the right decision when it comes to ministerial intervention in these matters.
The minister made some contributions on this bill when he presented it to the House. He said notwithstanding the success of Operation Sovereign Borders people smugglers will continue to take advantage of vulnerable people by trying to convince them to get on boats for Australia and to risk their lives at sea. This bill will further undercut the people smugglers' business model. It will communicate unequivocally to the 14,000 people currently waiting in Indonesia to board a people-smuggling boat that they will never settle in Australia. The bill will communicate to illegal maritime arrivals on regional processing countries that they will never settle permanently in Australia, no matter what advocates or others may tell them. That is an important point—to stop people languishing on offshore detention centres set up by Labor for so long because some advocates might say, 'Just wait it out. The government will change. They'll weaken their border protection policies and you will be allowed in.' This will send the strongest of messages that the Australian government is serious about protecting our borders and maintaining our sovereignty and the interests of Australian people.
I know for a fact that the majority of people in my electorate of Petrie want to see our borders protected. And I think those opposite and, perhaps, some of the crossbench senators would also know that, in their states and in their seats, support for this measure is important. In stark contrast to Labor, the federal coalition government has stopped the boats, it has closed 17 detention centres, it has moved thousands of children out of detention and it has been able, as a result, to increase our refugee intake, including recently for 12,000 additional Syrians. People are absolutely in fear of their life because of ISIL at the moment in Syria and Iraq—ISIL is slaughtering these people on a daily basis. Why? Because they are Christians or something. Unbelievable! Now, our refugee intake will enable them in instead of IMAs. This is a very important bill to make sure that the message is sent clearly.
I thank the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection for his work on this bill. The coalition will get on with the job. I commend the bill to the House.
It is fitting that we are debating the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016 on the day that it looks very likely Donald Trump will be elected President of the United States on a campaign of bigotry and on a campaign of demonising minorities and of making—
Mr Keenan interjecting—
Well, it is a statement of fact. It is a statement of fact—to be demonising minorities as a way of putting blame on a group of people in running on a campaign of populism around closing borders. So it is very symbolic that we are debating this bill on that day because this bill is based on bigotry. This bill is based on this government and the Liberal and National parties' appalling record of politicising the refugee debate in an attempt to wring electoral advantage. That is all this is. Strip away all the rhetoric from the other side and from the minister, and all the thin veneer of policy responses, and this is a naked, cynical political attempt to wrest political advantage from the human misery of those in Manus Island and Nauru at this moment.
This government has appalling form on this. The parties that form this government broke the bipartisan compact that had existed for over 20 years between the major political parties of support for genuine refugees in this country. They broke that compact in 2001 with the Tampa crisis and the kids overboard affair. Not only did they demonise asylum seekers—who were found to be genuine refugees, might I add—but they politicised the Defence Force and they lied. Let us be frank about that: they lied.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: I appreciate there is a lot of latitude given to members in debates such as this, but, really, that is unacceptable and unparliamentary. I will ask you to call the member into order.
To the point of order: as recently as only yesterday the Speaker ruled that you can label a party or a collective group of politicians as lying. I have not named an individual that is in this place and I have no intention of doing so. My response is entirely parliamentary and relevant to this debate.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It shows the sensitivity of those opposite that they do not like being reminded of their record. They lied about the children overboard affair. They lied in a petty attempt to win an election. They claimed that parents were throwing their children overboard. And they are doing it again right now. In this bill we have nothing but politics. We have an attempt by a desperate government that is struggling because of its internal divisions because they knocked off a prime minister and did not have a new agenda. They go to their old drawcard—their old well—of politicising asylum seekers to try and wring some political advantage.
That is all this bill is about. There is no policy justification for this bill.
You only have to look at comments by the conservative Prime Minister of New Zealand that go to that. John Key—no friend of Labor—has stated quite clearly that this bill makes third-party resettlement harder. This bill makes third-party resettlement harder because it entails creating two classes of citizens in the countries that will be logical resettlement places for those found to be genuine asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru. Why would the New Zealand Prime Minister, the United States President or the Canadian Prime Minister agree to the creation of two classes of citizens? The general population of New Zealand can travel here quite freely, unencumbered by restrictions, if they are coming as tourists—in fact, it is quite broad for New Zealand citizens—but there would be a second class of citizens, being people who happen to be genuine refugees and who have resettled in New Zealand. That is the policy substance of this bill, and it has been blown away by John Key with very little effort.
This bill is purely about politics from a political party that has an appalling record on that. I will not be lectured about the drowning deaths that occurred during the Rudd-Gillard government's time by a party that voted against the Malaysia solution. It is a party that voted against the Malaysia solution that would have closed down that trade and saved the lives of at least 600 of those poor, innocent souls. I will not be lectured by a party that lied about asylum seekers, that politicised the Defence Force, that voted against the Malaysia solution and that is now participating in this nasty politics. That is all this is about. Stopping people who are found to be genuine refugees and who might be resettled in Western countries from coming here as tourists in 40 years will not deter the people-smuggling trade. It will not do anything other than try to wedge the Labor Party. I am particularly proud of the Labor Party for standing up to this.
On the issue of permanent resettlement of those who arrive by boat in Australian waters, there is a unity ticket. Both sides are in firm agreement that those people will not be resettled in this country. That unity ticket was established in 2013, and nothing has changed. This bill does not change it. Labor's policy was confirmed at our last national conference. It was confirmed by the policy that we took to the last election. I am very confident that, if we happen to win the next election, it will continue to be the practice. That unity ticket is very important to making sure that we have a generous and open migration system in this country and a very strong humanitarian intake, but it is founded on the principle that unauthorised boat arrivals will not be resettled in this country.
This bill does not change that. All this bill does is make third-party resettlement harder. All it does is try to make two classes of citizens overseas. Why? It is because this government is desperate. This government is desperate to distract from its sordid political agenda—a political agenda that has no political support—based on $48 billion worth of tax cuts to companies while it is cutting the pensions of hundreds of thousands of Australians. This is why it is trying to do this. This is from a Prime Minister who used to like to don a leather jacket, go on Q&A and pretend to be the darling of the doctors' wives. He was the small 'l' liberal and all that. Now, in a desperate attempt to hold off the member for Warringah, he has appealed to the far right of his own political party and One Nation. You have to be worried when Pauline Hanson is accusing the Prime Minister of stealing a policy of theirs. This is exactly what we are seeing on this bill. Senator Hanson is claiming credit for this bill. What next from this political party in a vain attempt to hold onto power?
The truth is this bill does not do anything to aid resettlement and get those people out of detention on Manus and Nauru. All it does is attempt to distract the Australian people. We will see speaker after speaker on the other side try to argue something else, but the truth is they cannot. I am yet to hear a substantive case from anyone over there that this bill aids third-party resettlement or that there is any intelligence that people smugglers are arguing that there is somehow any hope of resettlement in this country for people arriving by boat.
I am particularly proud that the Labor Party is opposing this. I am proud that we are saying that this does not aid border security and that this does not encourage the prevention of people smuggling. We are saying that this is a cynical and desperate attempt to wedge the progressive forces in Australian politics. It is a cynical and desperate attempt to wedge the Labor Party, and we say, 'No more.' We say that we will not be lectured about border security from the party of the kids-overboard affair. We will stand up for strong border security. We will stand up for not only protecting our borders but also, at the same time, a much broader and a much more sophisticated policy around refugees. It is a policy that included $450 million to aid the UNHCR to deal with the 60 million displaced humans around the globe, an increase in the humanitarian intake to 28,000 people and a much broader policy that really would have not only ensured that the people smugglers stayed out of business but also demonstrated that we could do that while having a broader refugee policy and really playing our part as a global citizen. There is a global refugee crisis at the moment—60 million people, as I said—around the world, and we have to play our role in that process.
This bill does not do anything to aid that. All it is is a cynical and desperate attempt to distract from the government's troubles. I proudly oppose this bill. I am proud of the Labor Party that stood up and said, 'This bill is ridiculous, desperate and cynical, and we will not stand up for it.' I am very proud to oppose this bill.
I am delighted to be speaking on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016 after the member for Shortland, who gave us all a very good, highly moral argument. I find it extraordinary. I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt. Instead of him playing politics, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and pay him a compliment by saying he might just be suffering from an eternal lack of idea. He has a vague notion of compassion, which is completely devoid of any practicality, and, therefore, undermines not only the best interests of our country but also the best interests of those people who are most vulnerable. As he leaves the chamber today, I hope he is going straight back to his suite to take some notes on what really is an argument in support of a very worthy amendment to the legislation.
The starting point, to my mind, is the global context. Indeed, here we are on the very day of the US presidential election, and I suspect there might be more people glued to the TV looking at the Trump versus Clinton battle than at this chamber. Nevertheless everybody around the world is watching, because the world today is as globalised and integrated as it ever has been. We are indeed living in a world of heightened volatility and uncertainty right across the global political landscape. We know that politically, we know that economically and, sadly, we know that militarily. We have at least 10 major wars taking place in the world today. If you look at Syria alone, there are over 1,000 deaths on average every single week in Syria. These conflicts create such hurt—not just death but displacement. That is why we have 65 million displaced people around the world, 21 million of whom are refugees according to the UNHCR, and 10 million are stateless. This is the largest number probably since World War II. Australia has to be proud of its record in this regard. Australia is one of the few countries that have a very planned, successful resettlement program. The starting point for this debate, therefore, should be one of enormous pride in our achievements.
The principle has to be compassion, but there is a link here. This is where I think the Labor Party are again either playing politics or missing the point. There is a link between compassion and how we control our borders. The link is simply this: the stronger our borders, the more compassionate we can be as a country. We know in our liberal democracy that the Australian people have strong views on this matter and that the stronger our borders, the more compassionate we can be and the more humanitarian refugees we can allow into our country. That is a proven correlation. One is a prerequisite for the other. Strong borders equal more compassion and more immigration.
Historically, we know the problem with the Labor Party. Their Achilles heel has again been snapped with this amendment bill being put up. The Labor Party have no high moral ground on this issue. The Labor Party are the party that governed over 1,200 people dying at sea. There is no moral argument in favour of people dying at sea; 1,200 people who do not have a voice, because they tragically died at sea on leaky boats trying to get to Australia. On 800 boats, 50,000 people attempted to get here and 17 detention centres had to be opened up, and the Labor Party are prepared to again welcome such tragedy.
This is no longer an academic argument. This has been a proven piece of policy. The Labor Party inherited from the Howard government a successful migration program, and that tragedy I just outlined is what happened with Kevin Rudd undoing those policies. What have we seen since? It was only after the coalition's election victory in 2013 that we have seen that mess fixed up, that we have seen the detention centres closed and that we have seen the number of children in detention centres—8,000 children at the peak under Labor—down to zero. We saw that under a coalition government. Over 830 days have gone by now without a boat—
A silly question, but some might ask why would this be a necessary thing to do? Well, there cannot be any loopholes in this. We cannot afford weakness. If we truly believe in compassion then we need to control our borders, because the stronger they are controlled, the more we can give. That has been the mandate of the Australian people, and that is the mandate the coalition has accepted and that is why the coalition is rightly putting forward this amendment bill to ensure that there will be no loopholes.
Let me take you through a couple of the elements of the bill before I finish with some of the dangers of going down Labor's path. As we know, because the minister laid this out very well in his second reading, this bill is all about seeking to bar the designated regional processing cohort, being the illegal maritime arrivals, from ever applying for an Australian visa. This applies to those who are subject to regional processing. It applies to illegal arrivals who transferred from regional processing—so we are talking here Manus and Nauru—after 19 July 2013. This bar applies to all Australian visas. Of course, the immigration minister of the day will have the discretion, under the legislation, to lift the bar if it is considered to be in the public interest to do so.
This gets to the integrity of the system. There is a part of me that still wants to give Labor the benefit of the doubt—at least some if it. I know as a relatively new MP in this place that very few in the Labor Party have any business background. It may, therefore, be difficult for them to think from a business perspective. However, the people smugglers are running a business. As grotesque as they are, as cruel and inhumane as their business is, they are running a business. Unless we ensure that there is no loophole to this proven policy, it opens up the opportunity for them to unfairly target the most vulnerable people, who are wanting a new life. The fact that the Labor Party under Shorten promised a unity ticket on this policy, and now is against it, sends all the wrong messages to those despicable people, who are more than happy to take the money and put the most vulnerable on leaky boats.
We cannot afford that. Our conscience as a nation cannot afford that. It is not in the best interests of those people who are most vulnerable, and it is certainly not in the best interest of our country. That is why we must stand resolute. Yes, we will have the noise. We will have all the left wing of the Labor Party screaming, but they scream from the low road. You do not scream and lecture from the high moral ground when your policies governed over a period of time when over a thousand people died at sea. There is no moral platform for the Labor Party in this. There is mismanagement.
The Turnbull government, like the Abbott government, got this under control. We cannot accept for a moment the possibility that more people will die. That is why we must support this amendment. Labor's form in changing its mind and breaking bipartisanship is already causing an enormous amount of problems in this 45th parliament. The Australian people are the losers as a result. Traditionally our two parties, the Labor Party and the coalition, have been united on certain issues, particularly relating to international affairs. We thought we had a unity ticket on immigration, but clearly we now do not, because Labor wants to compromise. We have already seen in the last few months the Labor Party come out with different views on the key strategic issue in our region, the South China Sea, including a shadow defence minister calling for operational boats going through between the 12 nautical miles of the disputed islands. We have seen confusion with even the opposition leader saying that in fact he is going to get the defence forces to make such decisions. This is actually a critical breach, with the Labor Party going against traditional bipartisanship on such critical issues.
They did it again with same-sex marriage. Again they are going their own way for the sake of being an opposition. There are better ways of trying to convince the Australian public than just opposition for the sake of opposition. You certainly do not do it by travelling the low moral road on what is the single biggest bungle of public policy in my lifetime. I know of no other Australian government in history who can say that their policies led to a period of time where over a thousand people died and 50,000 people risked their lives at sea. Unfortunately, the Labor Party are now looking as though, after coming together with the unity ticket, they want to go their own way. It is not worth the risk. This is why the coalition, under the immigration minister, will continue to fight.
Let me start to wrap up. This is where there is a relationship. There is a social compact that has been created over the years between Australian governments and the Australian people. It is a very simple one. The Australian people have said to successive governments, 'The more you control our borders, the stronger the control, the more willing we are as a people to accept immigrants.' Right now we have 13,750 humanitarian immigrants as our intake and, in addition to that, 12,000 people coming out of the Syrian conflict. We know that that would not be possible unless our borders were secure. This is where the basis of our argument is in fact an argument of compassion. If we, hand on heart, truly want to help the world's most needy people, then the first thing we need to do is control our borders, because the stronger our borders are the more we can do and the more we can give. Sixty-five million displaced people, 21 million refugees, 10 million stateless people—there is no shortage of demand, but the only way we can increase supply here domestically in Australia is to keep these borders secure. Therefore I commend this amendment to the House.
Unlike my colleague on the other side, I will not be supporting the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016. Primarily, I will not be supporting this legislation as I believe it fails the principal test of good legislation: it fails the test of equality, the principle of treating everybody equally. It is poor legislation because it is discriminatory, and it seems to be hugely unfair. It is poor legislation because it is almost impossible to implement. It fails the test of being righteous legislation. It is legislation based on fear and punishment. Its focus is on creating a deterrent to and a punishment for third parties without a balance of reward, rehabilitation or any long-term humanitarian approach. Secondly, my reasons for not supporting this legislation—and they are no less of a priority—are that the overwhelming sentiment in my community and in my electorate is that I do this.
In my professional judgement, I do not believe this legislation will be of long-term benefit to the people of Australia. I have listened to my electorate. I have engaged with professionals in this area, and I would particularly like to acknowledge the advisers from the Prime Minister's office for their briefing. I have read extensively on the topic, I have consulted widely and I have turned to my conscience. In particular, I need to say to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection that I am making my own decision on this matter. I do not believe that this legislation will be of long-term benefit to the people of Australia and I say to the minister: it is not because of the Greens, it is not because of Labor; it is because the people of my electorate and I think it is bad legislation.
But, in reference to the minister, I acknowledge that our governments and previous ministers have had no easy task in addressing the flow of people seeking asylum in Australia. I acknowledge that this government and previous governments have worked hard to address this issue. I acknowledge that the boats have stopped, that the children are out of custody and that many refugees are being settled in Australia. But I also acknowledge that this has been done at great cost—in money, in trust, in relationships and in reputational damage. I believe we can do better, I believe we should do better and I believe that we as a nation are better.
Over the past two weeks, the people in my electorate have inundated my office with calls and correspondence against this particular amendment, and tonight I proudly represent their views in this place. My community tell me that they, the people of Indi, believe that Australia can do better than this, and over a hundred people have directly contacted my office with their concerns about the proposed amendment. One local Indi business owner sums up the sentiment in my electorate, concisely:
In short I find this policy appalling. We are a better society than this. I cannot believe that this policy will succeed.
The people in my electorate tell me that the ends do not justify the means. We have just heard from the member for Fairfax, and all he could do was say, 'We need to be cruel, we need to be unkind, we need to be unjust, we need to punish a third party, because that is all we can do to solve this other problem.' Basically he was telling us that the ends justify the means. There would be no person in this parliament, I do not think, who could actually stand up and say they believed that. We are a country that is clever enough to have good means to justify good ends.
The people in my electorate are saying to me, 'Cathy, remember that the standard that you walk past is the standard you accept.' The standard that we would walk past in this instance is a standard of unjust behaviour. It is cruel behaviour, it punishes a third party, and I do not believe it is going to solve the problem. If we walk past it, if we accept it by passing this legislation, that becomes the standard that we as a parliament aspire to.
Another member of my constituency said: 'Cathy, Michelle Obama—she had it right. Why don't we as a nation, when they aim low, aim high? Why as a nation can't we do that? Why can't we be our best selves in this situation? Why do we seek the bottom common denominator of punishment, of hurt, of cruelty?'
I acknowledge the comments from the government. It is true it works, but as I say: at what cost? And do the ends justify the means?
Together with the Independent member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, I will be moving an amendment to this legislation. We are calling on the government to drop its plan to ban asylum seekers from ever coming to Australia and to instead develop a sophisticated response that deals with the situation in source countries, transit countries and countries of first asylum, because I believe we can do better. I believe we as a nation are better than this. We are an innovative nation—we are creative, we are clever—and we are a just nation. But, in this amendment bill, I see no evidence of policy that is creative, innovative or just. The major parties have a dogged focus on breaking the people-smugglers business model, and this provides very little room for public discourse about the bigger picture, about a better approach.
Clearly, it is not satisfactory to have thousands of asylum seekers remain in Indonesia, desperate for an unlikely opportunity to come to Australia. As long as they stay in Indonesia, they will continue to look to Australia as their final destination, even as this government remains resolute that they shall have no chance of coming here. How are we keeping these people connected with their home countries or, at least, with the countries of their initial sanctuary, aiming to provide the opportunity for a safe return or resettlement? The minister says this policy is based not on fear but on sending a message to people smugglers. I disagree with him. All we see from the government are increasingly harsh laws that are against people seeking protection. We are getting crueller and crueller and crueller. I ask: what is the government doing to target the people smugglers directly, instead of targeting asylum seekers by proxy?
I call on the government to outline a plan for a policy of migration to this country. How can we bring more compassion into government policy without encouraging the false hope peddled by those who prey on the vulnerable and the desperate?
I am not naive about the problem. It is real and we need to act, but I do not believe this is the best solution.
Australia has a long history of accepting refugees for resettlement, and over 800,000 refugees and displaced people have settled in Australia since 1945. Many of them have come to my community. Many of them have settled happily and become prosperous people in my electorate. I think the government is so focused on the people smugglers' marketing tactics it has forgotten to talk to Australians about maintaining this country's reputation of welcoming refugees at their time of greatest need. I call on the Prime Minister to share this government's long-term plan for migration policy—a plan that I believe he has to have been thinking about, that is innovative, that is creative, that will be effective, that will be just and that will be compassionate.
The government's migration policy has to have an impact. The minister notes how it has stopped the flow of boats to Australia' since 2013, they have managed to close 17 detention centres and they have removed children from detention. This is all admirable. The minister hopes these new laws will mean the government can cut deals to empty the offshore detention centres, but the question they have not answered is: what happens next? I support the government providing no room for equivocation or doubt about our country's migration policy position. However, it is incumbent on the government to show leadership and take a stronger role in the region to find a resolution compatible with Australian values.
The global refugee crisis is both a humanitarian challenge and a border security problem. With an estimated 65 million displaced people worldwide, the problem is too large for Australia to tackle on its own, but equally we cannot ignore our international responsibilities. Any response that will require a genuine regional solution involving most, if not all, south-east Asian countries will include Australia and New Zealand. I know we are working in this area; we just need to do more. Any solution must involve the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Australia's response to asylum seekers needs to be consistent with all of our international treaty obligations, including the Refugee Convention, the Rome Statute, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
I believe we can do better. I believe we as a nation are better. My community believes we are better. I so want us to be better. In bringing my speech to a conclusion, I will quote from a famous international, Pope Francis. He said, 'Frightened citizens build walls on one side and exclude people on the other.' Pope Francis also said the best antidote to fear is mercy. He said:
Mercy and courage also are needed to respond to the huge wave of refugees, migrants and displaced people all over the globe.
Mercy and courage: I agree with him. Oh, to be in a parliament where mercy, courage and justice were the hallmarks, not punishment and fear.
I certainly welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this bill. I think we need to cast our minds back a little to when Labor came into office in 2007. There were only four illegal maritime arrivals in detention—four, and absolutely none of them were children. The Howard government had already developed policies that had stopped the boats. That was our legacy for the Rudd and Gillard governments to inherit. It did not take long for them to tear down our successful border protection policies. Within a few years, the floodgates were well and truly open.
In December 2010, Australia reeled in shock at the sight of asylum seeker boats splintering up against the unforgiving cliffs of Christmas Island. Men, women and children were screaming for help as their bodies were pummelled by the rough seas, thrown onto rocks and pounded by debris. Navy and customs crews frantically tried to rescue them, hampered by the poor weather and the huge waves as victims slipped under the water. Local residents on the cliff tops were traumatised by a feeling of complete and utter helplessness as they watched people die in front of them—as were many of those in the Navy and customs that were trying to rescue them. They are still haunted to this day by those horrible images. This happened again and again as the result of this border chaos.
By early 2013, 50,000 irregular maritime arrivals aboard more than 800 boats had swamped our shores, convinced to make the dangerous journey by the propaganda of people smugglers and the negligent policies of Labor. Over 8,000 children were put into detention with almost 2,000 still detained when we regained office in 2013. Most tragically, there were at least 1,200 deaths at sea that have been recorded, and those are just the ones that we know of. Labor had opened 17 detention centres onshore, had reopened two offshore facilities on Nauru and Manus, and had blown out the immigration budget by $11,000 million. Our humanitarian program was consumed by unauthorised arrivals and not those legitimately waiting in refugee camps around the world. We cannot go back or even contemplate this madness.
The coalition has been diligently working to clean up this mess through Operation Sovereign Borders. Again, we have fixed the problem. First, we acted to stop the boats and stop the deaths at sea. Under the coalition government there has not been a successful boat arrival for over 800 days and there have been no deaths at sea. Then we removed all the children from detention, once again, and closed 17 onshore detention centres. RAAF Scherger, for example, in my electorate, was one of the 17. While there were a very small number of people in the Weipa community that benefited for that short period while it was open and were negatively impacted when it was shut down, I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, the broader community would much rather see Scherger used for its original purpose.
We restored security in our borders and re-established public confidence in border security as well as the integrity of our immigration system. This has had a direct benefit—once again Australia has become a leading player in the global effort to assist those people who are most in need. We have been able to increase our intake of refugees—the world's third largest permanent resettlement program—by more than 35 per cent. We have also been able to take an extra 12,000 refugees from the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts. This would not have been possible without Australia's strong border management policies and confidence in our well-managed migration system.
This legislation will amend the Migration Act to prevent IMAs taken to a regional processing country from making a valid application for an Australian visa. The bill will apply to all IMAs taken to a regional processing country since 19 July 2013.This is the date, of course, that the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared:
As of today, asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.
This legislation applies to people who: are currently in a regional processing country; have left a regional processing country and are in another country; are in Australia awaiting transfer back to a regional processing country; or are taken to a regional processing country in the future.
We know that there are people in the regional processing cohort who have already sought, and in some cases been granted, Australian visas. We heard in the news recently, for example, that a potential marriage scam is being investigated at Manus Island after asylum seekers made it to Australia on spouse visas, having married, or intending to marry, centre workers. If these people travel to Australia, it could encourage others to pursue Australian visas in the hope of longer-term settlement. Further to this, if people who have voluntarily returned home or settled in a third country can then travel to Australia on a tourist visa, it undermines our investment in their resettlement. It is a backdoor way of circumventing the government's position.
This legislation is critical to support the coalition's key border protection policies—temporary protection visas, offshore processing and boat turnbacks, where it is safe to do so. The bill merely reflects the government's longstanding position that IMAs who have been sent to a regional processing country will never be settled permanently in Australia. Importantly, this will communicate to IMAs in Manus and Nauru that they will never settle permanently in Australia, no matter what advocates or others may tell them. Unfortunately, while we are trying to resettle people or get them to voluntarily return home, some are refusing to do so because they think, or they have been told, that the policy might change.
The Prime Minister has said many times that, while tough, our policy will not change. This bill is a necessary confirmation, from policy to law, to ensure there is no doubt. We have seen the tragedy unfold in Europe in recent times—bodies on beaches and a refugee crisis. Now that Europe is toughening up on its border protections, there is concern that people smugglers will again look at Australia and adjust their model. They will continue to take advantage of vulnerable people by trying to convince them to get on boats for Australia and risk their lives at sea.
This bill will further undercut the people smugglers' business model. It will communicate unequivocally to the 14,000 waiting in Indonesia to board a people-smuggling boat that they will never settle in Australia. On the face of it that may seem harsh, but what is even harsher is that people smugglers exploit vulnerable people by creating an expectation of an outcome from buying it. We know the people smugglers are smart and very social-media savvy. They will jump on any perceived chink in the government's messages, ready to exploit people's desperate circumstances. Harsh messages are what is needed to take away people's incentive to buy tickets.
As a safeguard, the bill will not apply to an IMA who was under 18 at the time they were transferred to a regional processing country. There might also be a legitimate public-interest reason for someone to come here, and in those cases ministerial intervention can occur.
We are a country of migrants; that is our strength, but we have to make sure that those who come here want to contribute to our society and will be welcome. In Leichhardt, we have benefited from refugee settlement resulting from people fleeing conflict in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. They are supported by organisations such as Centacare to settle in our region and they have made a wonderful contribution. You only need to go down to Rusty's Market on a Friday and enjoy the variety of cuisines and products on offer to see that for yourself.
The reality is that, by blocking the people smugglers, it allows us to welcome a much larger number of people out of refugee camps. We have all seen pictures of these camps—cramped, barren, under-resourced, filled with traumatised families or sole survivors, for whom hope is a luxury. History shows that people in this situation are not targeted by people smugglers because they do not have a dollar to spend to travel here, and they are very appreciative of the opportunity to come to Australia.
This is very well illustrated by the story of young Josephine Umuhoza and her brother Pascal Nshimimana. When Josephine was aged eight and Pascal six, they were separated from their father whilst fleeing war-torn Rwanda to the Congo. Their mother had already been killed a couple of years earlier when the Rwandan war broke out. Soon after being separated from their father, Josephine and Pascal were also separated. It happened when they were escaping once again from a refugee camp in the Congo, when rebels started a war against Rwandan refugees. To paint a picture of their horrific situation, photojournalist Michael Graham wrote that Rwanda at this time:
... will be forever known as the place where, in 1994, genocide consumed every hill and corner, bodies clogged the rivers, and the 'international community' turned away.
Over subsequent years, Pascal fled conflict in the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, eventually settling in Kenya and claiming refugee status. Josephine was fortunate to arrive in Australia in 2007 as a 20-year-old Rwandan refugee with her daughter Chantal, and they became Australian citizens five years later.
This timeline is important, because 2007 was the tail end of the Howard government. At that point, Australia was accepting an unprecedented number of humanitarian refugees. Josephine was one of those who benefited as a direct result of our strict border controls. In 2010, after searching for Pascal for 14 years, Josephine finally located her brother. She could not afford a migration agent so Josephine, for whom English is her fourth language, helped her brother to apply for an offshore humanitarian visa, but this was denied on a technical matter. In June 2013 Josephine approached my office for assistance, which I was happy to provide. We helped her to lodge an application for a refugee and humanitarian visa to bring Pascal to Australia.
I would like to read a few words from a letter that Josephine sent me around that time:
I am writing to you today to express my deepest and most sincere gratitude. You and Jaki—
That is Jaki Gothard, in my office—
have done so much for my brother Pascal and I. The job is still not finished and I know it won't be easy, but I know that you won't give up. I will be willing to do whatever I need to in order to see my brother alive and safe in Australia. I will provide ways for him to contribute to the sustainability of this great country as people living here have given me.
It has been a very complex and very difficult process since then, requiring assistance from then immigration minister Scott Morrison, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Australian High Commission in Nairobi and the International Organization for Migration, Canberra operations.
I would like however to make particular mention of Matthew Neuhaus. I met Matthew when I visited Zimbabwe and he was the Australian High Commissioner to Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Subsequently he was posted back in Australia and is now the Assistant Secretary of Africa Branch, DFAT. After several years of frustration and false starts with Pascal's situation, I reached out to Matthew for some help. It was his support, knowledge and contacts in Kenya that enabled Pascal to finally arrive in Australia on 24 June 2016. You can only imagine how incredibly heartwarming the reuniting of this family must have been. I want to extend a very big thank you to Matthew for finding a path through this very complex journey.
Pascal now lives in Townsville with his sister Josephine, her wonderful husband David whom she married in June 2015, their daughter Chantal and their new baby Lazarus. They certainly continue to keep in touch with my office. It is people like Josephine, Chantal and Pascal that Australia must be in a position to help.
This bill reflects our longstanding position—and, as we understood it, the bipartisan position—that IMAs who have been sent to a regional processing country will never be settled permanently in Australia. By not supporting this legislation, the Leader of the Opposition has shown that his words during the election were absolutely false. If he is serious about border protection, if he is serious about keeping children out of detention, if he is serious about not wanting to see more bodies wash up on the cliffs of Christmas Island, and if he is genuinely committed to offering a humanitarian place to more people like Josephine, Chantal and Pascal, Labor must support this bill. I commend the bill to the House.
I will not be voting for this legislation. This is legislation which has no policy basis whatsoever. Neither the contributions of those opposite nor indeed the legislation itself indicate why the government believes this legislation is necessary. The previous speaker spoke about Labor's position and what we said before the election. He should have a look at what his own government said before the election. They said that they had got the policy settings right. They said that they had stopped the boats. They said they had removed all of the incentives with regard to people smugglers. Yet now we have new legislation, which was not mentioned during the election campaign, that is all about politics and not about substance or policy. They should be better than that. This country deserves better than that. But what we have here is a government without an agenda, contriving division as a means to attack the Labor Party for political reasons. It is a government that is preoccupied with conflict when it should be looking for solutions to the challenges facing this nation. It prefers conflict to outcomes. The government's justification for this bill is that the legislation will deter people smugglers. But you can be harsh against people smugglers without being weak on humanity.
What this government should be dealing with is the challenge of settling people who are now on Nauru and Manus and have been there indefinitely. Indefinite detention causes mental anguish. All of the experts say that that is the case. If we are aware that circumstances not of those people's making are causing mental anguish then we as a parliament, as people concerned with our common humanity, have a responsibility to do something about it. What the government should be doing—and should have done well before now—is identifying those people and placing them in third countries so that those who have been recognised as genuine refugees are settled in accordance with the responsibilities that we have. Those people who are not genuine refugees should, of course, return to their country of origin. But this legislation goes much further than suggesting that people will not be settled here in Australia; it says that people will be banned for life from coming to Australia, whether it be as tourists, to visit relatives or as business representatives.
Last Saturday night I had the honour of attending the Ethnic Business Awards in Melbourne. The government was represented by the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop, the member for Curtin and Minister for Foreign Affairs. She gave quite a good speech to that event, lauding the major recipients. The recipient of the major business award was a former Iranian refugee. The recipient of the major small business award was a refugee—a boat person—who came from Vietnam. The fact is that the government, in its rhetoric, is reinforcing views in the community very deliberately that somehow anyone who seeks asylum is not legitimate, does not have a contribution to make. And the government must know that it is sending that message to the Australian community, which is perhaps why Pauline Hanson has been so supportive of this policy.
But they must know something else as well, because we on this side have been determined, in a bipartisan way, to support policies that genuinely deter people smugglers. But in question time, for answer after answer, they have been prepared to stand up here and send a message to the people smugglers that somehow there is not a bipartisan position in this parliament on deterring people smugglers—being prepared to send that message. It is consistent with a government that, when it is in trouble, reaches into the bottom drawer and brings out policies, such as this one, for which there is no mandate—policies that were never mentioned before an election that we have just been through.
They say there is a justification in terms of assisting the settlement of the people of Nauru and Manus, but we know that that is not true. How do we know that is not true? Because the conservative Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, told people it is not true when he told the people of Australia and, importantly, of his own country, New Zealand, that he would not cop a two-tiered citizenship for New Zealand citizens and that his offer to provide settlement for people on Manus and Nauru, which he has made and repeated a number of times, would be withdrawn if it was conditional upon granting a secondary citizenship status to those refugees. Therefore, it would be even more difficult to provide a solution to the major issue the government should now be dealing with, which is the settlement of those people—something they have a responsibility to do.
The fact is that the whole of this parliament has put forward a clear message, and that consensus is being breached by those opposite. How irresponsible of them: sending a message to the people smugglers that somehow this is not a bipartisan position but at the same time wanting to send a message to the Australian people that there is political gain for the government in seeking to create a political division where none should be. They are prepared to use these people as pawns whose human rights, dignity and mental health can just be taken and given away in order to secure the game of politics, which is what their plan is here.
The fact is that there is extraordinary dysfunction within this deeply divided government, led by a Prime Minister who is constantly looking over his shoulder to ensure that he is not abandoned by the hard right-wing members of his own political party. The polls are bad. Morale is down. The critics are circling. The Prime Minister needs a political circuit-breaker. The two things that they draw on is that they usually complain about unions and try to create a division and political conflict over the issue of asylum seekers. And that is what we are seeing here: no practical reason for this change. Its only purpose is to give the government an opportunity to attack the opposition.
A government that should be concerned with economic growth, should be concerned with job creation, should be concerned with future education, should be concerned with health care and should be concerned with nation building through infrastructure has, because it does not have an agenda on any of those issues, fallen back on this issue. Similarly, the inquiry announced by the cabinet to have a parliamentary committee inquiry into the conduct of the Human Rights Commission and antidiscrimination law in this country was, again, an attempt to create division and conflict in the community, to create a return to the old culture wars by putting people against each other. They cite, of course, the investigation into the cartoonist Bill Leak, claiming that 18C denies Mr Leak his freedom of speech. The truth is that in this country we do have freedom of speech. Whilst that cartoon might not be something I would have drawn, he had the right to do so. I think the complaint should be dismissed, and I have no doubt that it will not result in any consequences against Bill Leak.
I spoke to Bill Leak today, and I accept that he is someone who is going through some real anguish as a result of the complaint being made against him. I am certainly sympathetic with the view that, whether it is Bill Leak or the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo in France or cartoonists anywhere else, people have to have their right to be provocative from time to time and to be defended on that basis—not because you agree with them, but because artistic freedom is an important part of our democracy. So I do think that it is unfortunate. There is no doubt that section 18D of the act provides protection for fair comment, which is why the investigation will go nowhere. Indeed, if there is any problem at all here it is that the Human Rights Commission should have an extended power to be able to deal expeditiously with complaints that have no chance of being upheld or having any further consequences. That would of course be a positive thing, and I understand the Human Rights Commission itself has asked for that to occur.
But here we have the government again looking to have an issue where none should be. Proper leadership of the country is about creating unity and harmony and dealing with the issues where we have common interests. As I speak in this chamber, there is a count being conducted in the United States, which is a deeply divided country. We in Australia, particularly those of us in this parliament, have a responsibility to show leadership. But, from what we have seen from the Prime Minister—someone I know very well and I have known since before he was in parliament—he is not himself. The Malcolm Turnbull I met last century, before he was in parliament, would never have given the angry, full of vitriol answers that we have seen in question time when talking about the bill that is before us today, and we would not have had any of the hyperbole and the exaggeration that we have had from this Prime Minister. I think that is quite sad. I read an important analysis in The Australian written by Peter Van Onselen on the weekend. He wrote:
The re-emergence of the culture wars is a sure sign the current PM has lost control of the political narrative, not to mention his party's right flank and the handle he would have hoped to have on the philosophical and cultural direction of the country.
When we talk about this debate, we need to start and end with this: when we talk about asylum seekers and refugees, we are talking about real people and we should not be doing anything in this parliament to cause pain to them simply for the sake of a perceived political advantage—and that is what this legislation is about.
I too will vote against the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016. I rise to speak in opposition to this bill because this is bad policy. This is not good policy; this is policy that has been designed to divide. It has been designed for political purposes only, not for an outcome for the people who are on Nauru and on Manus and the many refugees that we deal with. I also oppose this bill because this is another example of a lazy government, trying to pander to the more divisive elements of this parliament—the conservative elements—while avoiding the very real and pressing issues in relation to offshore processing. I will also vote against this bill because this goes beyond our natural human nature of humanism. As we just heard from the member for Grayndler, we are talking about human beings. These are not just figures or numbers; these are people just like you and me. They are people who have families just like ours. This is an issue which this government, for too long—even previously when they were in opposition—has been using as a political football, and that is wrong. It is just not right.
This bill seeks to amend the Migration Act to make it impossible for any person who is found to be a genuine refugee and is subsequently resettled in a third country to ever be granted a visa to enter Australia. I think of my own state of South Australia, a very multicultural state. It is a state that has people from every corner who have settled there, including refugees; migrants—migrants from your background and my background who migrated around World War II after World War II—and people who came by boats, such as the Vietnamese migrants who came as refugees. We resettled over 100,000 Vietnamese boat arrivals and refugees in the late seventies and early eighties, and we did it in a way where the issue was not used as a political football, because both parties knew it was the right thing to do. Both parties under Fraser and under Hawke understood the importance of not making this a politically volatile issue.
As I said, this bill would prevent any such person from ever getting a visa to come to this country. In South Australia, our governor, who represents Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in South Australia, came by boat to Australia and then subsequently went on to South Australia. We have many people who have gone on to do bigger and better things and are absolutely essential to this nation today. What is to stop someone being processed and going to a third country, getting citizenship, becoming a citizen of that country, and going on to become a governor of one of the US states or Canada—and then we will say no to them. This is the sort of stuff that just does not make sense.
This would mean a lifelong ban on anyone who became a citizen of another country. It could be a spouse visa that they are applying for. It could be someone who is an Australian citizen, born here, who meets someone overseas and decides to get married and bring that partner here to this country. Will we deny them that right? That is what this policy will do. It will deny them that right.
In addition, this bill gives the minister a broad discretion to make the determination to waive these provisions in the public interest for an individual a class or a person specifically through a legislative instrument. This means that it would shift exclusive control over access to Australia by former asylum seekers to the minister himself. This is harsh. It is harsh on those people that would have a legitimate reason, under the laws that we currently have, to enter Australia and gain a visa or be given a visa to come to this country. That is a scary thought, looking at the calibre and attitudes of some of the cabinet ministers in this government.
We decided unanimously to oppose this bill. We had a discussion in caucus, and we decided to do so because it is a wrong bill. It is not the right thing to do. It is wrong. And it is a lazy policy. It is misdirected, and the government has failed to make any case for it. When we look at the different reasons they are giving for wanting to bring this policy into fruition, we hear different things. One day we hear it is about sending a message to the people smugglers, but then again we hear every day that the boats have stopped. So why are we sending them a message when this has actually stopped, when the problem they are talking about continuously and blowing their trumpets about—stopping the boats—has been solved?
On another day, they say that it is to send a message to the people currently on Manus Island and Nauru who are waiting for government policy to change. They are still here. There has been no resettlement that I have seen for them anywhere else. I think that is the real issue. We should be looking at those people who are stuck on these islands without any prospects. They have been incarcerated indefinitely. And that is wrong. It is the wrong thing for human beings to lock up another human being, without a criminal offence, indefinitely. If we think about that, what are we doing in this place?
My priority would be: let's look at the resettlement of these people as quickly as possible to ensure that we do stop doing the damage that is being done to those people psychologically and mentally, as we heard the previous speaker talk about.
On another day, they say it is to send a message to people currently living in community detention and to those who are voluntarily returned to their country-of-origin because they were deemed not to be refugees. That is fine; we expect people who have been found not to be refugees to return to where they came from. But let's say there is a change in regime in that particular country, and all of a sudden they find themselves in the position where they are from a different political party, perhaps a different cultural background, and they are being persecuted and are basically people genuinely seeking refugee status. They go through the UNHCR system and go on the list. Does that mean we will deny them refugee status? On other days, they say it is basically to send a message to the people who accept a resettlement option, including those who may perhaps go to Cambodia or Papua New Guinea. This bill does not make any sense. It makes no sense whatsoever.
As I said, the bill proposes to prohibit people coming to Australia by boat from ever being able to apply for a visa of any kind. But what about—there are other examples; elite athletes, for example. Sometimes we fast-track elite athletes so they can represent Australia at international sporting events like the Olympics. What about former refugees that wish to perhaps reunite with family or visit family to see their grandchildren or brothers or sisters.
What about business owners who want to visit Australia for business purposes, because they have settled in another country and are doing quite well? They may wish to discuss the expansion of their companies into the Australian market. If you look around the world, we have many, many successful refugees who have done well in the business world. In politics—Henry Kissinger was a refugee after World War II. He ended up in the US.
This just does not make sense. This is in no way consistent with the position that was announced by Labor in 2013. If passed, this legislation will create an entire generation of second-class citizens in third-party countries. It raises a number of issues that the government has failed to address with this particular bill. For example, we have heard about how this proposed bill will affect our current arrangements with New Zealand.
Currently, New Zealand citizens are eligible to apply for a special category visa, subclass 444, which entitles them to visit, study, work and stay in Australia. So, should New Zealand take genuine refugees from Manus or Nauru and these people become, let's say, New Zealand citizens, these new New Zealanders would not have the same rights as other New Zealanders when it comes to travel to Australia. And we heard the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, make it very clear when he said, 'We have no intention of having separate classes of New Zealand citizens.'
So any discussions that have been taking place with New Zealand —and I am unaware of any; we have not seen anything on the table—John Key will not accept for this reason. As I said, he has been quoted saying they have no intention of creating a two-tier citizen system. It has also been reported that Mr Key has ruled out an agreement where refugees granted New Zealand citizenship would be unable to travel to Australia.
He is not alone in his criticism. The UNHCR's regional representative in Canberra has raised concerns about the proposal, along with many others. Ben Saul, Challis Chair of International Law at the University of Sydney, has said that the bill may breach Australia's international law obligations.
Again, I go to the point that the purpose of this bill is to play politics. Firstly, they thought that they might be able to wedge the opposition, which was not the case; secondly, they thought that they might divert from the real issues. What are the real issues? The real issues are health, education, jobs, our pensioners—we are not discussing any of that in this place, because we have a diversion tactic taking place. A diversion tactic is what is used in many dictatorships around the world. In Third World countries, when they cannot offer their people anything, they use diversion tactics with nationalism and a whole range of other things.
This is exactly the same tactic that is being used. Let us divert away from the things that matter to the Australian public. Let us not have them talking about the 700,000 pensioners who will lose part of their pension in the coming few months because of the changes to the assets test and to deeming rates. Let us not talk about the health cuts that are being made. Let us not talk about cuts to Gonski education funding. Let us get people excited by dividing them over a particular issue.
That has worked very well in the past. We remember 'children overboard' and how divisive that was. This is no different. It is about time that, as elected members representing the Australian parliament, we got back to the job of ensuring that we are doing the right thing, that we are not using refugees as political footballs—as they have been used in this place for the last 10 years—and that we are governing for the people of Australia, who put us here.
I also have to make a point of the enormous contribution that refugees have made to this nation. If I look at my own seat, I have over 200 nationalities—people from every corner of the world. Some have arrived by boat, others have arrived as business migrants and others arrived after World War II from Greece, Italy—from Europe. They have all made a contribution. We are one of the most egalitarian places in the world, and what the government is doing today is trying to divide us and to have different tiers of people.
It is important that we get back on track and ensure that refugees are not used as political footballs. They are human beings. They are people like you and me, who have families and who are escaping dreadful circumstances. Look at Syria. It is absolutely devastating. They have no choice but to flee and leave, and we are deciding to play politics with them. That is what is happening. It is a disgrace. I am disgusted at this policy and I am very pleased that my colleagues have said that they will oppose it and vote against it.
I am speaking in opposition to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016. This is politics and humanity at its worst. There is no reason for this legislation. It does not solve a problem. It does not offer any third settlement solution for people who are lingering on Manus Island or in Nauru. It is not based on international law at all. It is simply a desperate plea from a bumbling, desperate government trying to save itself by racing to the bottom and adopting the lowest road possible to try to wedge the Labor Party on an issue that has been a very difficult issue for this nation over many years.
I want to make it clear that Labor will never ever put people smugglers back in business. Labor is committed to a policy which combines offshore processing and regional resettlement because we do not want to see people drown at sea. The government has had three years to find a durable, workable solution and a credible third-country settlement option for refugees living in the Australian-funded offshore detention centres of Manus Island and Nauru, but they have failed to announce any concrete arrangements and they are desperate to distract from that fact.
They did attempt to negotiate an arrangement. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection negotiated an arrangement with the nation of Cambodia for three refugees from Manus Island to be transferred to Cambodia at a cost of $55 million. It works out at about $18 million per refugee. I will tell you what: for that sort of money we would have been much better off bringing them to Australia, providing them all with a home and providing them and their kids with a university education. It would have been much cheaper. It cost $18 million per refugee, and I understand that two of them took off and one of them is still there, but the government pocketed the money. It is a classic example of the desperation of the government and of the bumbling, foolish nature of this immigration minister.
It is ridiculous to suggest that a former refugee, who, in the future, may become a citizen of another nation, be it the United States or Canada or New Zealand—even though they have said that they will not accept any of these people—should be banned for the rest of their life from entering Australia under a tourist visa in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years time. Refugees have made amazing contributions to Australia. In fact, if you look at our nation's history, the place was built on migration. The success of Australia, our economic and social success, has been based on migration. There have been many great refugees who have made an outstanding contribution to our nation. People like Frank Lowy, Gustav Nossal, Hieu Van Le and Anh Do have made Australia their home and become leaders in their field. But this bill would seek to lock those people out of Australia for the rest of their lives.
I know that the government is fond of saying that ministerial discretion could apply, but I have one two-word answer to that: Peter Dutton. That is all you have to say. Anyone who thinks that Peter Dutton, the minister for immigration—
I did—the minister for immigration. Anyone who would think that the minister for immigration is going to exercise discretion with respect to people who may make a worthwhile contribution to Australia has rocks in their head.
Examples of how this bill would prevent former refugees from visiting Australia include doctors visiting Australia to perform surgery or for a medical conference; politicians undertaking a political exchange, study tour or visiting Australian sister cities; and elite athletes competing in upcoming sporting events like the Commonwealth Games. It could even affect future Australian bids for Commonwealth Games and the Olympics, particularly given that there is now a recognised refugee Olympic team that competes in the Olympics. Further, this bill would prevent former refugees from visiting family members in Australia; those visiting the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru or other tourist spots on a tourist visa; and business owners or employees visiting Australia to discuss the expansion of companies and businesses into the Australian market. It is 'Fortress Australia'. It is going back to the dark old days of a very deep and divided Australia, a very dark and dreary place in terms of immigration policy.
Rather than playing petty politics, muddying the waters about rumoured third country deals and doing One Nation's bidding, the government should really be focused on securing credible third country resettlement options. Basically the government have dropped the ball when it comes to the treatment of people who are asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru, their processing, and finding third country resettlement options. They did this partly because they have had two incompetent immigration ministers. Also, they tried to do this to punish people and to put pressure on the crossbenchers so that they would agree to temporary protection visas and other reforms to the migration laws that were made in the last parliament. This is petty politics.
I know that Prime Minister Turnbull does not believe in this stuff. I know that he does not believe in this legislation. I certainly know that the people of Wentworth do not support what the Prime Minister and this government are doing with this bill. I know that because my electorate of Kingsford Smith borders Wentworth. A lot of people from the northern end of my electorate have written to me—in fact, most people who have written to me are from the northern end of my electorate—about this issue. They certainly do not support the government's proposed legislation. In fact, I have had many, many emails and letters from people opposing this bill, but I am yet to receive one email or letter that supports what the government is doing. This is petty politics and it is done for one reason—to try and divert attention from a bumbling, foolish, chaotic and dysfunctional government.
In terms of the details of the bill, the bill amends the Migration Act and the Migration Regulations to make any application for a visa invalid where the applicant is part of the regional processing cohort. They are people who have been designated unauthorised maritime arrivals under section 5AA(1) of the act; who, after 19 July 2013, were taken to a regional processing country at any period of time; and who are above 18 years of age on the first or only occasion after 19 July 2013 when he or she was taken to a regional processing country. The definition covers asylum seekers who were over 18 years of age when they were taken to Manus or Nauru after 19 July 2013 and are currently in a regional processing centre in Manus or Nauru; currently living in onshore detention in Australia; currently living in community detention in Australia; have voluntarily returned to their country of origin; or have accepted a resettlement option, including in Cambodia and Papua New Guinea.
The bill gives the minister a discretion to make a determination to waive these provisions in the public interest for either an individual or class of persons specified by the legislative instrument. Ministers do not have a duty to consider whether to exercise discretion in any given circumstance. Again, I point to the fact that the immigration minister is Peter Dutton, and no-one has any confidence that that minister would ever exercise discretion in favour of a former refugee, no matter what the circumstances.
The Turnbull government have been unable to articulate a consistent policy and rationale for this bill. In fact, one of their MPs was quite embarrassing today on the doors trying to explain it, trying to say that there were no holes in the policy of the current government. Why do they need this policy then? When she was asked why this policy was needed if there are no holes in the current policy and it is working, she could not answer the question and fled with her tail between her legs.
The reasons for this policy change each day and differ according to each member of the government to include, on different occasions, that it sends a message to people smugglers to stop the boats; that it sends a message to those currently on Manus and Nauru who are waiting for government policy to change; that it closes 'the back door'; that it prevents 14,000 people in Indonesia getting on boats; and that it will secure additional third country resettlement options—despite the fact that they have not named any and despite the fact that New Zealand, as a result of this legislation, has specifically ruled this out. I presume that many other nations with leaders who have any sense of international law, who have any sense of credibility in their own citizens, would never agree to a third country resettlement option based on the back of legislation such as this.
The impact of this bill is to permanently exclude any person who comes here by boat from ever entering Australia. This would include travelling to visit family, and tourism, business or study. This goes beyond the stated aim of enacted law and Labor's policy that asylum seekers who arrive by boat will not be settled in Australia. There is no credible evidence to suggest that this bill is required to secure a third country resettlement option for this regional processing cohort. In addition, there are a number of issues that the government has failed to address in statements about this bill, including how the new arrangement will interact with our current arrangements with New Zealand. New Zealand citizens are eligible to apply for a special category visa, subclass 444, which entitles them to visit, study, work and stay in Australia. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, as I mentioned earlier, has been quoted as saying, 'We've got no intention of having separate classes of New Zealand citizens.' It has been reported that Prime Minister Key has ruled out any agreement if refugees granted New Zealand citizenship would be unable to come to Australia—and for good reason.
The Australian government has a robust compliance program in place to prevent, catch and remove people who overstay visas. There has been no suggestion that this program is not equipped to manage future risks associated with issuing short-term visas to members of this cohort.
The UNHCR's regional representative in Canberra, Thomas Albrecht, has raised concerns about the proposal. Australia is a signatory to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and part 2 of article 31 states:
The Contracting States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized or they obtain admission into another country.
It would be directly flying in the face of an international covenant that Australia has signed up to, if this legislation is passed.
A host of academics, lawyers and people who work in this field have raised concerns with this bill under Australia's international law. It has holes all over it—more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. It is bad legislation. As I said in my opening remarks, it has been done for one reason: to try to dig a bumbling Prime Minister and government out of the chaos and dysfunction that they have got themselves into. It is bad policy, it is bad humanity and it is bad for Australia. It should be opposed.
In making my remarks on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016, I want to talk about weakness and about toughness. These are two heavy words that have been lightly thrown by government members, including the Prime Minister and the minister for immigration, in the course of this debate.
I want to say this to government members: there is nothing tough about Minister Dutton and his administration of this portfolio. There is nothing tough about this government's approach to this policy area. It is not weak to reject the cynical politics that are embodied in this bill. It is not weak to accept, as the Labor Party does, the challenges—legal, practical and moral—of responding to a world in which 65 million people are forcibly displaced and in which forced migration is a global problem that demands a global response and leadership from countries like Australia, not resiling and shrinking from our responsibilities in the course of petty, cynical politics. Of course it is not weak to reject the cynical politics that are in this bill. It is not weak to speak up for the voiceless. It is not weak to challenge executive government when its actions deserve to be challenged. It is not weak to stand up for decency and for those in the Australian community who demand it, rightly, of their elected representatives. It is not weak to put our compassion and our concern for vulnerable human beings who have sought our help before politics, especially when the politics here are all of distraction and division.
So I am proud to join with my Labor colleagues in opposing this bad bill and the worse politics which sit with it. It is a race to the bottom, as the member for Kingsford Smith put it—an appeal to the dark angels in the Australian community. And why? The policy rationale underpinning the bill is very difficult to discern. It is impossible to discern because—let's be frank—there is none. This bill does not rest on any secure foundations other than the political expedience of this government and its desperate cynicism. The bill before us is an answer in search of a question, as the government has demonstrated.
Only today, the member for Chisholm—as the member for Kingsford Smith pointed out—demonstrated this very eloquently. Having putting herself up to talk about gaps and loopholes that people smugglers could apparently exploit, she was asked by a journalist, 'What's the gap or loophole that there is at the moment under this government?' She said, 'There are no gaps or loopholes.' She went on to say, 'The outcome under the Turnbull government speaks for itself.' She was asked, 'I'm sorry again. Why is it necessary to have this legislation? You've just said that there are no gaps or loopholes.' She could not answer. She walked away. I do not say this to poke particular fun at the member for Chisholm. It is not her fault. She could not point out gaps and loopholes because, on her terms, on the government's terms, there are none.
In his contribution, the member for Grayndler went to the discrepancy between the government's triumphal posturing about their success in this policy area before the election and their desperate struggle to find a rationale to support the prosecution of this bill in recent days. It is a sorry chronology, starting on Sunday, 30 October—a week and a half ago—where the minister and the Prime Minister have shuffled through a variety of rationales supposedly supporting, supposedly demanding, the introduction of this bill.
We should not blame the member for Chisholm for her failure to be able to articulate a justification for the bill because, when it comes to policy terms—whether it is on the government's own principles or whether it is on any objective basis—there simply is no justification. The one thing that has been demonstrated over the last seven or eight days is that this is all about cynical politics, cynical posturing. The only point of this bill is to further a political agenda of division and distraction—distraction away from the real issues Australians, including my constituents in the Scullin electorate, are concerned about. It is about fomenting division for its own sake to distract us from the fact that this is a government without an agenda, without a story to tell the Australian people and without any sense of purpose, direction or hope.
There is weakness that has been revealed in the course of this debate. There has been weakness revealed—or rather, further demonstrated—on the part of our Prime Minister, the member for Wentworth. He is a person who really has shrunk in this role. In September of last year, when he became Prime Minister, he attempted to distinguish the way in which he would conduct himself from that of his predecessor, the member for Warringah. He spoke at that time of his concern about conditions in the offshore detention network. He went on to say that this area of policy is controversial and it is a challenging one. He talked about the need for a considered approach to making changes. Well that was then and this is now. That was the old Malcolm Turnbull, the one who thought we lived in exciting times, the one who thought there was a point to him being Prime Minister. Over the last year, that has evaporated, and he has shrunk. He has shrunk as a political figure and he has shrunk as a member of this place. The considered approach to policymaking, in this area and in other areas which he promised, has disappeared. Instead, he has shown himself to be a weathervane. What is worse is that the winds that he is blown around by are those of the dark forces in Australian politics. On this issue, he is singing to the tune of Senator Pauline Hanson and the One Nation Party. He is being pushed around by the conservative and reactionary elements within his party room and those conservative elements outside his party room. They have claimed the win in this area, and they are right to do so, because they are setting the agenda.
Today of all days—perhaps just about now—it is a time for all of us to care about representative democracy and care about our role as members of parliament to conduct civil debates that are about enlarging our civil society, enlarging our nation and our Commonwealth and playing a positive role in world affairs. We should think about how we do politics. We should think about the practice of politics. Because we are seeing in the United States a triumph of the most coarse, the basest, approach to politics—the race to the bottom.
I note the contribution of the member for Kennedy. What I am talking about is the need for all of us in this place to be respectful of all citizens—something which is missing in the approach of this government to this bill, in particular, on many other occasions and also in the manner in which they conduct themselves in this place.
Shouting down others, shouting down voices which are different, is possibly the point you are trying to make, member for Kennedy, but I do not think that you are doing it in the most effective way. I think all of us in this place do need to be mindful of the lessons of what has just taken place in America. There is a need to engage with all voices, but also a need to raise the tone of our political conversations, not lower it, and to include all voices in our national conversation and to recognise that many do feel that they do not have a say.
At a time in Australia where we are at record inequality since the Great Depression, we are seeing Australian society, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison, on a trajectory towards the United States. We are reaching levels of inequality not far off the United States when it comes to inequality. The government does not have a story to tell on jobs. We are seeing the social compact and the social wage consistently under attack. These are the conditions which mean that people are ripe for exploitation and they are ripe to hear the voices of fear. We must counter those voices with voices of hope. We must not allow those who are vulnerable in our society and also those who are seeking our help to be made victims at the altar of the failures of this government's poor leadership and its paucity of vision for Australia.
The real target of this bill is not the people smugglers, of which government members have occasionally spoken about in their limited contributions to this bill. Let us be clear about this: the real targets of this bill are the Australian Labor Party and the Australian community at large. This bill is simply an attempt to wedge the Australian Labor Party, and we say, no, we are not playing that game. We are not interested in engaging in a race to bottom. We draw a line here. We are interested in having a serious debate about this challenging and controversial policy area, in the terms the Prime Minister used a year ago. A year is a long time in politics. We are interested in the policy challenges, not playing cheap politics. We are interested in conducting a debate about these issues in a way that is respectful and honest. The honest bit is pretty important, because one of the most egregious aspects of the Prime Minister's contributions in question time this week is his desperate and demeaning attempt to link his government's policy architecture in this area with multiculturalism. What makes this particularly despicable is that he is doing this at the same time as he is licensing changes which would water down vital protections against racial hatred speech. If the Prime Minister were serious about standing up for multicultural communities, including those comprising the many waves of refugees who have made such an enormous and important contribution to Australia, he would be standing up for those critical protections and he would be joining with the Labor Party in saying, 'We do not need to licence hate speech'. We do not.
Other speakers have touched on the lack of conformity this bill has with international law, and they have done so effectively. I took the time to look through the explanatory memorandum to the bill, and I am sure that government members have done so too. When it considers the statement of compatibility with human rights, we see some really desperate reasoning, because it is completely evident that this bill does not meet our international law obligations. The member for Kingsford Smith talked about the very strongly expressed views of Professor Ben Saul. I do not think there is a single person with any expertise in this area who agrees that this is a bill that stands up with our international law obligations; it certainly does not meet our moral ones, because the proposition it presents is a complete absurdity. There is no rationale for it.
This was very effectively set out by Madeline Gleeson of the Kaldor Centre at the University of New South Wales when she was discussing the import of the bill last Monday on ABC Radio on The World Today. She said there were really two options for the bill: either it could either be a gross breach of the promises we have made under international law or it could be a move that just binds the system up in more red tape. Actually, now we have seen the bill, they have the double. They have done both. It is a gross breach of international law. When we hear the minister squirm about how he can use his discretion, we see that all it really does is impose additional red tape as well—additional regulation. It is funny, because I see all these offices—that of the member for Canning is near mine—which proudly boast of their rejection of red tape; but when it comes to the Migration Act this government cannot let a sitting week go by without a purposeless amendment—an amendment that is purposeless save in one respect: to continue their divisive approach to the politics of this issue, an issue which they should rise above, where they should show some concern for the human beings at the core of these questions.
Resettlement—it has been over three years now and we do not see any meaningful effort. The cynical way in which the government have dropped out hints that this legislation may somehow be linked to helping desperate people get to safer places is shameful. It shows their neglect of their real responsibilities of looking, as Labor has done, to work with the UNHCR and with regional partners to find safe pathways and a genuine approach to resettlement. They are not interested in that. This bill demonstrates that this government is weak. It is not a tough government. A tough government would look squarely at the moral challenges that the forced movement of people places upon us. It is forced movement, including in our region, that will be increased by climate change. A tough government would look hard at itself and come up with solutions. It would find ways forward that do not demonise people, but deal with these difficult challenges in the manner that they demand, a manner that puts people first and cynical politics out the door. (Time expired)
I am the first speaker that has stood up under an America led by Donald Trump. The last speaker started throwing vituperative comments at Donald Trump. I do not follow American politics, but I watched the first republican debate. Whilst all of them did the usual political thing—'You've told lies'—'You believe the Mexicans should go back'—'You believe the Mexicans should not go back'—and all accused each other of the usual political things, he did not make any mention of the other people. What he said—and the honourable member for Gorton at the dispatch box for the opposition would relate to this—was, 'When there is a hiccup in the world economies the Chinese pull their currency down and we give them a lecture. When I become president, we won't be giving them any lecture—we will be giving them a lesson.'
I thought, if I were in America I would be voting for this bloke. This is the tectonic plate movement. This is the end of marketism—the mad free-market system which would deliver control of the economies of the world to people like the Chinese and destroy the Europeans and the Americans. I am not apologising for anyone, because I claim to have a bit of Murri in the family tree and I proudly identify that way, whether I have or not. I have a bit of everything in the family tree, but I am very proud of some of my English forebears—it might not have been their idea to come out here, but they ended up here with a free passage. But I am proud of them for standing up and saying we have had enough of this free-market enlightenment where we will be in a world government with Europe. They said, 'Turn to the valley—we are standing up and looking after the English people.' The Americans have stood up and said, 'We are sick and tired of this business. We've sent all the jobs over to China under this rubbish; we have our people working for nothing because there are millions of people flowing across the border working for nothing. We have had enough of this.'
The American people have stood up. We Australians have to stand up. Unfortunately for you major parties, you are hooked into the other side of the equation. You are the architects of the free market system. To give you some idea of how badly out of step this country is, you great heroes of free marketism: in the world a farmer gets 41 per cent of his income from the government. If you are a farmer anywhere in the world you get 41 per cent of your income from the government—except if you are a farmer in Australia, where you only get 5.6 per cent of your income from the government. That is the wonder of the free market.
We were once a great trading nation. Our biggest export item was wool. Mr Keating started free marketism in this country. No, he did not, actually—Whitlam did. All tariffs were cut by 25 per cent. Thank you, Mr Whitlam! No textile, footwear and clothing industry. No manufacturing. 150,000 Australian workers that had voted for him lost their jobs. Then Mr Keating came in. Of course he was the great architect and founder of free marketism. He no sooner got in then he deregulated the wool industry. What a wonderful achievement! The biggest export item this country had in 1990 was wool. It was bigger than coal. He single-handedly completely destroyed the industry. Within three years we had lost two thirds of our income. Now our country has lost three quarters of its wool production. Thank you, Mr Keating—you are a genius! He proceeded to remove all tariffs. Goodbye, manufacturing industry! Mr Latham, of course, was a rabid Keating supporter. God bless my brothers in the CFMEU for getting rid of both of them—the Labor movement of Australia is well free of that pair.
Of course, the only regret of the Liberals, particularly the Costello Liberals—I would not say the Howard Liberals—is that they could not sell all of the nation's assets that Australians built. They could not sell them all. In our state it was the Labor Party, to their eternal shame, that sold the railways and corporatised—sold, if you like—the electricity industry. It was the Labor Party. And they suffered the worst defeat in the history of Queensland. A party that had had three members 12 years before, the Liberal Party, became the governing party in Queensland. But the Liberals were so stupid that they went to the next election on a policy of selling assets. There is stupid, and there is a really stupid. The Labor Party no longer holds the record for the worst defeat in Queensland history. The Liberal National Party now hold the record for the worst defeat, because they said they were going to sell the assets, the same thing the Labor Party had been thrown out for.
But, in this place here, we have never stopped any sale of Australia's assets. They are not your assets, Mr Crown; they do not belong to you. Those railways were built by the Australian people. That electricity industry was built by the Australian people. It was not built by the Crown, the government or this parliament. It belongs to the Australian people.
I return to bringing people in from overseas. When you walk through those doors of the chamber, you will see two magnificent paintings. One of them is of Charlie McDonald, the first member for Kennedy. I think Charlie gave six of his first seven speeches in this place railing and ranting against migration to Australia. Here we are, 100 years later, and the member for Kennedy is in this place ranting and railing against it. The only people in this country that have stood on their hind legs and fought against what is going on are the CFMEU, and that is why I am proud to be associated with them. They are the only group in this country that have fought against it. The Labor Party and the Liberal Party are bringing 620,000 people a year into this country. Into an economy that is generating just 200,000 jobs, they are bringing 620,000 people. All of those on a student visa can work when they get it—and section 457 visa holders, because they come here to work.
We have fought and literally died for the labour movement. Three of the 12 on the state executive of the AWU, which was just about the only union we had in Queensland in those days, were shot. The entire executive was sentenced to three years hard labour for having a strike. We eventually won the long-fought-for benefits. I say 'benefits', but you could hardly call not having to go down a mine and be blown to pieces a benefit. As I have said constantly in this place, I represent Mount Mulligan. There were 72 human beings blown to death in one hour at Mount Mulligan, and 23 blown to death at Mount Leyshon in Charters Towers, in the Kennedy electorate. Is it any wonder that Charlie McDonald, whose picture is out there, was out there ranting and raving against bringing in people? When we won these conditions, the mining companies said, 'Ha-ha, we'll see about that,' and they brought the coolies in to work the mines, undermining our pay and conditions and taking our jobs off us.
To the shame of the Labor Party in this place, it is them who started the section 457 visas. There were 50,000-odd coming in under the Liberals—I think that figure is correct—and then suddenly there were 200,000 coming in under Labor. Charlie McDonald and the great fathers of the labour movement would turn in their graves if they saw what the Labor Party had become. So Labor instituted the section 457 visa workers.
Under those visa arrangements, there are 300,000; there are 200,000 under the other visa; and there are 200,000 migrants coming into the country. So we are bringing 620,000 into an economy with only 200,000 jobs. And there are over 200,000 school leavers each year in Australia. I asked the Treasurer, 'What financial arrangements are you making for the explosion in welfare in this country as a result of your migration policies?' I expected him to say, 'Oh, they go home,' to which of course I was going to shout out, 'No, they don't.' Tell that to the Americans about the Mexicans coming across the border! They all go home, do they? Of course they do not go home.
When Tony Abbott, a week or two weeks after I asked that question, decided to do identification checks, again, to the shame of the Labor Party, they were screaming and screeching and yelling, 'You can't do that!' Well, if you cannot do that, then all 620,000 are going to be staying in this country each year—which of course we know they are.
It was no surprise that, five days after I asked that question, the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter—a very sensible and intelligent person, the deputy leader in Western Australia—said that the welfare budget will blow out from a quarter of the entire budget to half of it over the next 10 years. But we are still bringing them in. If there is one good thing that the Liberals have done, that is stop the boats.
I heard the previous speaker get up in this place and talk about 'these poor people, these poor refugees'. A refugee is not a person that looks at a globe of the world and picks a country on the other side of the globe and says, 'I'm going to flee to there.' A refugee is a person that flees for his life across the border. There were 12 million to 15 million refugees after the Second World War; they were all from neighbouring countries. The refugees fleeing Burma, or whatever it calls itself now, fled to Malaysia. You flee across the border. You do not pick a spot on the other side of the globe to go to. That is not fleeing; you are going somewhere that you want to go to.
Why do they want to come here? These people are coming from countries where they are on $5,000-a-year incomes. On welfare here, if you have a couple of kids, you are entitled to $60,000 a year. Why wouldn't they come here? Two and a half thousand of them have died trying to get here. The previous speaker said, 'You are putting these people at risk.' I tell you what is putting them at risk. It is you saying, 'Yes, you can come in.' If we elect the Labor Party here, there will be an open-door policy, as there was previously, for boat people.
There are two countries on earth that will not take these refugees. One is Saudi Arabia and the other one is Dubai. After the last attempt at mass killing, which was on the edge of the Kennedy electorate—some of the people working there were actually from the Kennedy electorate and the town is two kilometres outside the Kennedy electorate—I said, 'Well, that is it for me. There are no more people coming in from the Middle East. We are going to move legislation so that there are no more people coming in from the area between Greece and India—no more people.' I am sorry but it is too risky bringing in new people from North Africa and from the Middle East into this country.
We accept, of course, the persecuted minority groups who are obviously persecuted there—the Sikhs, the Jews, and the Christians. We do not include them in the ban. You say that is anti-Muslim. No, it is not. I did not mention the biggest Muslim country on earth, which is Indonesia. I did not say anything about Indonesia. They do not have any terrorists in Albania; I did not say anything about Albania, and it is a Muslim country. It is not against Muslims. It is against countries that have a culture and a continuous history of extreme violence.
Are you telling me that the Prime Minister—I am going to criticise the Liberals—who has gone out there and make a big man of himself on the international stage saying, 'I'm going to bring 18,000 refugees in and there are going to be no terrorists amongst them. They're going to come from Middle Eastern countries, and they are not going to be Christian or Jewish or Sikhs, but there are going to be no terrorists amongst them.' Is there anyone in this country who seriously believes that proposition?
I warn the major parties that we other parties got 25 per cent in the last election, and we will get much more in the next election. When we hit 30 per cent your day is finished, and you deserve it to be finished. You have destroyed every manufacturing industry in this country— (Time expired)
Lyndon B. Johnson said that a President's hardest task is not to do what is right but to know what is right. That is our Prime Minister's challenge too. Most people who would fall within the cohort covered by this bill, people who have come by boat seeking asylum since June 2013, will have been conferred with refugee status—
Each of them is a person who has asked for our help, and how we go about helping them will have an impact on people beyond that cohort. It will affect those people who are in transit countries, the places they have got to so far, the places they are now contemplating leaving in search of a place that is a signatory to the refugee convention. It will affect them because of expectations about whether the maritime route to Australia is open; it will affect whether or not they take the risk of getting on a boat, assuming they know the extent of the risk in the first place, which is not a safe assumption. How we treat the people who are on Nauru or Manus will also affect another cohort of people: the Australian people. It will affect how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. Our broader humanitarian settings will affect others as well. Those settings will affect which of the 60 million or so displaced people in the world will be welcomed into Australia through our Humanitarian Program.
I do not pretend there are easy answers when assessing the right thing to do. It is precisely because there are no easy answers that we need a Prime Minister with a strong moral compass and we need a Prime Minister who can meet the challenge of knowing what is right. I suspect this Prime Minister does not have that moral compass. If he thinks that having the immigration minister announce, on a Sunday, without any consultation, that this government wants to legislate to stop a certain cohort of refugees and others who have sought our help from ever coming to Australia, if he thinks that was the right thing to do he is incapable of determining what is right. If he thinks the lack of hope facing refugees on Manus Island and Nauru is something he should leverage for votes here at home he is incapable of determining what is right. That is a very great shame because right now it could not be more critical that we have a Prime Minister who can tell right from wrong.
Maybe I am wrong. Maybe he can tell right from wrong. Maybe he knows what he is doing with this bill is wrong. Maybe he knows it is wrong to continue the great polarisation of our country that has occurred over the past two decades. Maybe he knows it was wrong to drop this out in a press conference on a Sunday morning and then demand we vote for it. Maybe he knows it is wrong to cynically treat the suffering—the previous suffering through persecution or the risk of it and the current suffering, of very different kind, that comes about through a lack of hope—as a way of winning votes in an election. If so, I am not sure whether that is even worse because that speaks to a lack of coverage. That speaks to knowing what is right but not even having the fortitude to do it.
In either case, this bill is really speaking to a lot about what is wrong with politics in this country. It is a bill that is calculated to say to people that it is okay to not want to help people who are in trouble. It is a bill that is a calculated repudiation of 'love thy neighbour'. It is a bill that is a calculated repudiation of the idea that if people are fleeing persecution it is absolutely fine to not want to help them. That is what this bill does.
Like almost all Australians, I have been appalled by what has been happening on Nauru and Manus Island. I have been appalled by the reports that I have read about what has happened. I am not going to stand here and pretend that there is a simple answer, as I have said. There is not. With so many people in the world needing help, with so many people in the world seeking help, with the importance of strong borders, with the importance of making sure that we provide the best help that we can, of course there are not simple answers. But it is no answer to leave people in a situation of being in limbo, of hopelessness and of suffering. It is no answer to fail to provide adequate accommodation facilities. It is no answer to scrap Labor's policy of 90-day processing times. It is no answer to drag your feet in finding places for people to live. It is no answer to come into this parliament, which designed to uphold and create the laws in the best interests of the Australian people, and say, 'Here is what is in the best interest of the Australian people,' when it is to take the references to the Refugee Convention out of our domestic law. And that is what this government has done.
None of those things is an answer to the complex set of policy circumstances that we face when it comes to refugees. This government is contributing to the polarisation of our community; and it is contributing to the idea that it is okay to turn your back. Boats were turned away and refugees were turned away after the Holocaust. Turning away refugees is something that has been a source of great shame to people for many, many years—for more than seven decades. No-one, of course, is saying that any one nation is capable of providing a comprehensive response to the global people movement crisis that we face, but we must all as nations work together to do that. That means strengthening our support and respect for international law, not turning our backs upon it.
It also means not giving into extremism. I quoted LBJ when I started speaking. Another thing that LBJ said was that a president cannot give into extremism, a president must govern in moderation. But this bill is about extremism. This bill has echoes of the campaign style of former prime minister, when, as opposition leader, he drove around this country with billboards with pictures of boats on them. He was not saying to people, 'It is terrible that people have drowned, and that is a policy problem that we must respond to.' He was saying to people, 'Too many refugees are asking for help, and it is okay for you to resent that.' That is what that campaign was about; that is what this bill is about—the despicable conduct in making it okay for people to fail to recognise the humanity in others.
I mentioned 'love thy neighbour' before. I am not a practising Christian; I am a secular humanist. In any language 'love thy neighbour' is an important principle for humanity. The secular humanist approach might be: the fact that I acknowledge my own humanity and acknowledge yours means that I owe to you an obligation to try to help you when you are in need. To put it another way, the fact that we have free will obliges us to exercise moral decision making in the choices we make. We have those obligations and we have those duties. The question is: whether we discharge them and, if so, how?
There has probably never been a more important time in the past seven decades than now to reflect on these questions, because we need to bring people together. It is not okay to keep dividing people up into ever smaller slices of the population and pitch to them about their specific fears. It is not okay to continue along this path, taking people who are in genuine need and diverting their attention from what can be done to respond to that need by engendering fear of others who are also in genuine need. There is enough of that in this world to go around, but it takes courage and it takes political will.
I count myself very fortunate right now to be an Australian citizen. I count myself as fortunate because I have seen what has been happening in the UK and in the USA is a direct consequence of the policies of Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s and of the approaches that have been taken in those countries ever since: the hollowing out of the middle class; the growth in extreme inequality; the situation where real incomes have actually fallen for people in the middle class; the situation where you can work full-time and still live in poverty; the situation where you are unable to have access to life-saving medical treatment and surgery in the absence of charity because you do not have that right. People are in genuine need. The idea that you can just have industries disappear, that you can just have jobs disappear, that you can have middle-class incomes going backward, that you can have working poor, and that the way to deal with those things is massive cuts in taxation for corporations and the very rich.
That idea is the reduction of the progressivity of the income tax rate and the reduction of corporate tax rates—and if not the actual rates, the collection of corporate taxes, which has the same effect. It is the idea that you can have policies that promote the payment of dividends to shareholders rather than reinvest capital in businesses to make them more productive, thus generating economic growth and giving people the benefits of that economic growth. It is the idea that you should break apart the collectivism of the working classes, to take away their power, so that you can pay them less and avoid the sort of red tape the conservatives talk about, which is code for safety laws. It is the idea that you can do all of those things to break the power of the people at their expense and for the benefit of a small handful of very wealthy people, which is really the effect that those Reagan and Thatcherist policies have had.
It is an idea that has led to the disenfranchisement and anger that you saw expressed in Brexit and you have seen expressed today. As I said, it makes me grateful to be an Australian, because at the time they had Thatcher and Reagan we had Hawke and Keating. We had the Prices and Incomes Accord; we had the idea that it was not just tolerable for people to be collective, but an important social institution to be part of a collective that works. We had the establishment of Medicare; we had the establishment of universal superannuation; we had governments that said no to the neo-liberal agenda of cutting taxes for the very rich, cutting corporate taxes, hollowing out public services, shrinking the size of governments, leaving people to fend for themselves. That is why today we do not have the prospect of an extremist becoming the prime minister of this country, but I am worried about the tendency for those who are in power may start to exhibit some signs of extremism. As I said, this bill—