Monday, 4 December 2017
Resolutions of the Senate
Asylum Seekers; Consideration of Senate Message
I have received the following message from the Senate:
The Senate transmits to the House of Representatives the following resolution which was agreed to by the Senate on 29 November 2017:
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) the New Zealand Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern, has continued to pressure Australia to accept New Zealand's offer to resettle 150 refugees who are currently in offshore detention;
(ii) New Zealand will begin work to expedite processing refugees if, and when, the offer is accepted; and
(iii) Prime Minister Ardern stated 'We made the offer because we saw a great need. No matter what label you put on it there is absolute need and there is harm being done'; and
(b) calls on the Government to accept New Zealand's offer to resettle 150 refugees and negotiate conditions similar to the United States refugee resettlement agreement.
The Senate requests the concurrence of the House of Representatives in this resolution.
Ordered that the message be considered immediately.
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: "the resolution of the Senate be agreed to".
This is a very straightforward and sensible motion that has been moved by the Senate and agreed to by the Senate. It is not a motion that has been agreed by only one party; otherwise it would not have got through the Senate. This is a motion that has enjoyed widespread support across the political spectrum within the Senate because it deals with the desperate situation that is currently unfolding at Manus. It deals with what can only be described as an emergency, a humanitarian emergency, where several hundred people have been put in situations where the basic conditions of life for them are now under threat.
There were, as people would know, several hundred refugees in the camp at Manus when it was deemed to be closed on an arbitrary deadline by the government. When it was closed, the men who were there said, 'We're not prepared to be moved, because we are concerned about our safety in the place that we are going to.' And it wasn't by any means an ill-founded concern. They had this concern on the basis of what had happened to them in the months and/or years leading up to this. There have been reports of assaults. We know that people have even gone further than that, at great risk to their life and sometimes fatally. And we know that they were concerned about moving to another place where the facilities were not ready. They said that they were not going to move. When they said they were not going to move, they were met with the fiercest of responses, sanctioned by this government. I'll come back to this point, because the government wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, the government says that they're not our problem, Australia's problem, and that what happens to them is purely a matter for PNG. On the other hand, of course, we've got the government standing in the way of a potential resolution.
In any event, what happened to those people after they made the decision to say, 'We are concerned about our safety and we are not prepared to move'? What we know is that, after that, forces went in and the basic conditions of life for these men—access to water, for example—were cut off. They had jury-rigged water tanks to catch the water that was falling to make sure that they could collect it and it was then converted to a drinkable form. They had done that themselves. What happened? We have reports that water was tampered with. The barrels that they were using were tampered with in a way that meant that they couldn't even collect water any more. Electricity was turned off on them, and they were denied other basics of life, including medicine. We had many reports of people who were unable to get the medicine that they needed.
We were getting these reports in real time and, as far as possible, the Australian and international media was reporting on what had happened there. But of course, because of restricted access, including increasingly restricted access over the time that they were there, the Australian public was forced to rely, in many instances, on the firsthand reports. Not only did we have the firsthand reports; we had the United Nations staff who have been on site. The United Nations staff, when they were on site, said, 'Yes, the men's concerns have some validity; it is right that they have concerns about their health and wellbeing.'
Crucially, the United Nations also backed up, as did many other observers, that these men have a very well-founded concern about where they're meant to be moved to, because these places are simply not ready. We're not talking, as the minister has said publicly, about paving around a patio; we're talking about whether or not these new places that the minister wants to move them to are fit and safe places to live. The report suggests they're not, and the men certainly have a well-founded fear of that.
So we have this terrible, terrible situation where several hundred wretched souls are now struggling to meet the basic conditions of life, and their lives are at risk. There are many different views about how we got here. The Greens' position on that has been made crystal clear—the Greens' position about the camps, the history of these camps, how we've got here and the supervision that has led them to this point. But the reason that this resolution passed the Senate is that, whatever part of the political spectrum you sit on, people are now coming to the view that the way these men are being treated is just not right and that we need a better way of dealing with them. We need to deal with them. Whatever one wants to do about broader immigration policy, about which there are going to be fierce debates in this place and elsewhere, we need to do something about these men. I personally would prefer that they be brought here, and I know many other people in this country would prefer that. I suspect I probably wouldn't win a vote in this chamber to say they should be brought here.
But fortunately, for at least a proportion of those men, we now don't have to resolve that. The government's in a position where, if it's serious about looking after these people, it can in a sense have its cake and eat it too. We, the Greens, will continue to oppose the government's policies, but let's say the government wants to keep its policies. We now have an option on the table from New Zealand. New Zealand has said that it will resettle 150 of those refugees, and it would begin work to expedite processing those refugees if and when the offer is accepted. That offer and that proposal to resettle them in many ways has parallels with what the government has done with respect to the United States. I, and many other members of parliament, might have very strong disagreements about how the government is conducting itself, but if the government is prepared to negotiate a deal that will see some of the men move to the United States then why on earth can't there be a similar arrangement that allows these men to go to New Zealand? Why isn't the government exploring it?
So I simply ask: what have you got, Minister, against them going to New Zealand? We're not saying, in this motion, to bring them here. The Senate's not saying that. I would disagree with the arguments, but I could understand the arguments that would flow. The government would talk about how we've got to maintain our borders, the people smugglers' business model and the like. I disagree with that argument, but I presume that's what the government would say if the question was to bring them here. But the question is not that. The question is whether we will facilitate the offer that New Zealand has made.
In that context there can be no good reason for not doing so. If the government is prepared to send people from Manus to the US, the government should also be prepared to send people from Manus to New Zealand. We know it's a bona fide offer that has been put on the table.
This motion is a motion stripped of rhetoric, and that's why it has passed the Senate. It is a motion that is stripped of messages of condemnation and so on and it's a motion that steps outside the high-level debate that we will have about what is the best immigration policy for this country and asks very simply: why can't these men go to New Zealand? I know the minister makes the point publicly when he appears on television and says, 'We're not going to be bullied or blackmailed into bringing people here.' I disagree with that point vehemently, but I reiterate that that is not what we are talking about right now. We are talking about whether or not people will be allowed to go to New Zealand and whether the government will facilitate it.
If the government says, 'This is really PNG's problem; it's not ours,' then the government should make it clear to all concerned that it is not standing in the way and that, if PNG and New Zealand want to reach an arrangement, it doesn't mind. But, if the government steps in and says, 'No; actually, we're going to stop this from happening,' then how in good conscience can that be done?
The government loves to parade the figure of how many people have previously died at sea. That figure is a contested one. What cannot be ignored is that there are now several hundred sitting in Manus and the New Zealand government has offered to take some of them. The fate of those souls is in this parliament's hands, and this House should concur with what the Senate has asked. (Time expired)
I rise to support the amendment to the motion and I applaud the member for Melbourne. This motion passed the Senate with the support of crossbenchers, the Greens and the Labor Party. On 5 November this year the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, reaffirmed New Zealand's generous offer to resettle 150 eligible refugees from across both Manus and Nauru. It's an offer that Labor believes the Turnbull government should accept, and they should, as per the motion put in the Senate, begin to negotiate on terms similar to the US refugee resettlement agreement, to ensure people smugglers do not exploit vulnerable people and people can get off Manus and Nauru.
These places were set up as regional transit processing facilities. Unfortunately, under the government they've become places of indefinite detention because of their failure to negotiate third-country resettlement options. They have negotiated one in relation to the US, and now we have an offer on the table from New Zealand. Labor's asylum policy is different from the Greens' and from the government's. It's clear we don't want the people smugglers back in business, and therefore Labor's position differs with the Greens' in terms of resettlement options concerning Australia.
We do believe in strong borders, offshore processing, regional resettlement and turn-backs when safe to do so. It's clear the government has been in office for more than four years but not in power on this issue. The government has failed to negotiate other third-country resettlement options. Labor strongly supports the US refugee resettlement agreement, which would see up to 1,250 refugees approved and sanctioned by the UNHCR from Manus and Nauru resettled in the United States.
At the time of the US agreement being announced, Paris Aristotle, known to many people in this place, an eminent person, the Chair of the Minister's Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention, told The Australian newspaper about the need for other third-country resettlement options, saying:
That is appropriate and necessary because not everyone ultimately will be picked by the US. There will be a number of cases that will not be successful …
The New Zealand Prime Minister said at the time, reaffirming New Zealand's offer:
… we want to assist as much as we are able in expediting resolution on this issue …
The motion from the Senate is about expediting third-country resettlement for eligible refugees on Manus and Nauru—something the government has failed to prioritise.
In February 2013, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard brokered a deal with then conservative New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to resettle 150 refugees annually who had arrived irregularly in Australia by boat. So the New Zealand offer being made by the New Zealand government currently is not new. At the time, New Zealand said they would work closely with Australia as part of a regional approach to irregular migration, with the arrangement to be within New Zealand's Refugee Quota Program. This original plan was for New Zealand to resettle 150 refugees annually, commencing in 2014, with allocations formalised in the New Zealand program for both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 financial year intakes.
The former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, then scrapped the plans once he was elected in 2013—a wrong decision, in our view. If the agreement with New Zealand had been allowed to proceed by the then Abbott government and continued by the Turnbull government, upwards of 600 eligible refugees would have been resettled in New Zealand as of this year. It's clear that Labor was supporting the New Zealand resettlement arrangement for a long time back in the days of Julia Gillard and has continued to under opposition leader Bill Shorten. We're offering the government support for a New Zealand resettlement offer to get these people off Manus Island and Nauru and resettled as quickly as possible. We urge the government to begin negotiating conditions similar to the US refugee resettlement arrangement.
The irony of all of this is that the government won't release the US refugee resettlement agreement. Labor's been calling on the government to do this. If the government can negotiate a US refugee resettlement arrangement without any pull factors in terms of people smugglers, surely—surely—it's within their wit and wisdom to negotiate similar terms and conditions with our friends across the Tasman. Even the Prime Minister's own backbench have called on him to accept the offer, with former Liberal immigration minister Kevin Andrews, the member for Menzies, saying:
We should give consideration to what New Zealand is offering …The reality is that we have an intractable problem at the present time.
Yes, the United States are going to take some of these people, but there's still a large number there. The current immigration minister has already agreed to terms and conditions with the United States government that he believes will prevent people smugglers using that particular agreement as part of a way of exploiting vulnerable people. We've long called on the government to release the terms and conditions of the US refugee resettlement arrangement, but, despite their refusal to release the full details, we know that the US refugee resettlement agreement is a one-off. It's up to 1,250, and there are more eligible refugees.
We thank for their cooperation the Nauruan government and the PNG government. We also thank the UNHCR for the work they're doing. But the offer is only available for those refugees on Manus and Nauru, and the government should have lifted the bar for those people from Manus and Nauru here in Australia. Conditions which would be essential, in our view, would be to ensure that there are no pull factors, and the government should negotiate that.
Last Monday, 27 November, the New Zealand Prime Minister made clear her stance on people smugglers:
We have sent a clear message to people smugglers, and that is that the full force of the law should come down on anyone who exploits people who are vulnerable by taking money, risking their lives by taking to the ocean … The argument that people smugglers will then use that as an excuse to continue to smuggle … you could … make that argument for the United States as much as you could New Zealand.
In this the New Zealand Prime Minister affirms what the member for Melbourne is saying and what I'm saying here today: those same arguments don't hold water, and the government has a false argument here.
It should be noted that, following the announcement of the US refugee resettlement agreement, the government took steps to increase Australia's border security, describing it as the largest peacetime border security mission, to ensure people smugglers wouldn't exploit vulnerable people. We applaud what the government did in that regard. If an asylum seeker gets on a boat, they should be turned around and resettled elsewhere. They're not being resettled here under a Labor government. The government has pursued, negotiated and accepted appropriate conditions on the US refugee resettlement agreement. Similar conditions can be negotiated. The government can no longer sit on its hands waiting for the US agreement to transpire, when only 54 people have gone. There could be some more to come shortly, according to the minister, but only 54 people have gone. People seem to be waiting indefinitely there.
This is a government woefully incompetent at the management of offshore processing arrangements. We know that the Manus Regional Processing Centre was ordered to close, in accordance with a decision of the Supreme Court of PNG, in April 2016. A full-year later, in April 2017, the Prime Ministers of both Australia and Papua New Guinea confirmed the RPC would close on 31 October this year. By that closure date the government hadn't made everything ready, and failed to be upfront about access to essential services and alternative accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees. The lack of assurance led to the stand-off we've seen on our TV screens and in the media. Now that all the men have moved from the old RPC to alternative accommodation, this government has a moral obligation to ensure refugees have access to essential services in the alternative accommodation—food, water, security, health and welfare services—but we also have a moral obligation, as set out recently by the PNG Supreme Court. It's time we moved forward, it's time we accepted the New Zealand offer, it's time the government released the US refugee resettlement agreement, it's time the government, in its fifth year in office, became the government in power in terms of offshore processing and regional resettlement, did their job and stopped blaming Labor for their failures.
I support the amendment from the member for Melbourne. The treatment of asylum seekers is an important issue in my electorate and is a matter of strong views. I understand the problem, I understand the need to break the business model, I understand the need to not send the wrong message to the community and I understand the importance of protecting our borders—that's really clear—but I also get the call from my electorate for compassion, for kindness and for Australians to be their best selves, and I believe these are not mutually exclusive. A meeting took place on Thursday night in the town of Beechworth in my electorate, where a gathering of 48 people signed a petition and asked me to bring a message to parliament:
This petition of certain citizens of Australia from the Victorian municipality of Indigo and adjacent municipalities and communities draws the attention of the House to:
The petition goes on, and I will make sure that the minister gets a copy, but that is my heartfelt plea to the parliament today. This offer from New Zealand, our neighbouring country, shows us they have a heart, they have feelings and they're willing to help us. The call from my constituents is, 'Please, listen to that offer of neighbourly help that they've given us.' The offer from New Zealand, to take 150 people when we have a much bigger problem, is clearly not the answer.
I totally get that the government is working with America and that the aim is to close Nauru and Manus—and we want that done as quickly as possible. In the interim, I ask the minister here, with the passion of the people in my electorate and those here today, particularly members of Rural Australians for Refugees: can we find compassion, kindness and a way of working with these asylum seekers that does not punish them? I'm grateful to New Zealand for this offer and to the Senate for considering the motion. I will be supporting it when it comes up for voting.
I've just come out of the election campaign in Queensland. If ever I've seen a red-hot issue which will turn the face of politics in Australia upside down, it is the issue of the boat people. Far be it from me to give praise to the Liberal Party—once a year I do it and it's at Christmas time—but they have done a good job here. There were thousands of boat people coming in; now there's not. They have to get the credit for it. The people on the other side get the condemnation for it. The position of the Australian people is quite clear. They don't want them here.
You can cry and howl and say, 'I'm so sorry for these people.' Well, I feel a little bit sorry for the Jewish people in Australia who are now sending their kids to school under armed guards. I asked one man, a rabbi, 'Have you ever been attacked personally?' He said, 'Yes, I was beaten up by three them.' He said, 'My family home'—they are a very prominent Jewish family in Sydney—'was firebombed.' I said, 'Well, I don't believe that,' and he said, 'I'd expect you to say that,' and held up a picture on his phone. There was a picture of them going to church—I think they call it synagogue—on Saturday or Sunday or whenever they go. This bloke of Middle Eastern appearance—I myself could claim to be of Middle Eastern or Aboriginal appearance—runs up and grabs him by the shirt and starts screaming out: 'You will pay homage to Allah. You will go down on your knees and you will get out of this country now.' Then he started face-butting this poor person who was just going to church on Saturday or Sunday or whenever it was. The man I was speaking to said, 'You can ring up the police and ask about that incident.'
So here are a family that send their kids to school under armed guard and have had their house firebombed. Their synagogue allocates $15,000 per year to clean the graffiti off the walls of the synagogue. Who was responsible for Australian people of Jewish descent being persecuted in this country? Who brought the persecutors in? I don't notice too many Sikhs coming into the country. Heaven only knows they have a claim to being refugees, with 84,000 murdered in one year. I don't notice them coming in. I don't notice Christians coming in. I don't notice the Jews coming in. So it seems quite okay for the people over here to bring in the persecutors but not to worry at all about the persecuted people in the Middle East. There's not a single person in this place, in all honesty, who could say that Christians are not being persecuted in the Middle East.
Now we have 2,000 dying at sea—well, with the policies that I ascribe to, those 2,000 people wouldn't have died. So let it be upon your conscience. The realities and practicalities of this situation are that, if they attempt to get here, many of them will die. To say they're refugees is quite fascinating to me because, if you get a globe out, you will see that the Middle East is on that side—at nine o'clock, if you like—and, on the other side of the globe, at three o'clock, is Australia. If you're a refugee, you flee across the border. There are 20 million refugees in Europe, all of them in nations surrounding either Russia or Germany. They were genuine refugees. There were 12 million refugees in Europe 20 years after the war; they were still there. But they didn't get in a boat and go right around to the other side of the world. That's not a refugee—that's not a person 'fleeing from'; that is a person 'going to'.
And you say, 'Why do they want to come here?' Well, I'm not going to put any conspiracy theories or nefarious interpretations upon why they want to come here. I just simply want to say that they are involved in fighting and upheavals over there. I think that, if I was a freedom fighter here in my country, if it was invaded, and if I then became a refugee, I wouldn't stop freedom fighting—no, not me! I'd continue freedom fighting from the country in which I lived. And if that country tried to stop me from freedom fighting, I suspect I wouldn't be too happy with the country stopping me from freedom fighting. I think there's over 200 supposedly-Australian people fighting in the Middle East at the present moment—not for this country but for some other country.
Why do they want to come here? Well, there are 72,000 reasons for that, aren't there? If you're a husband and wife with three kids then welfare, health and all the other things put together are worth about $72,000. These people are coming from countries with an average income of under $5,000. So I think it would be a very good idea to come here, and I'm not putting any nefarious or conspiracy-theory interpretations upon that.
There are two countries—and I just haven't written down one, but the big one is Saudi Arabia—that will not take Middle Eastern refugees. One is Saudi Arabia, and the other is another Middle Eastern country. Arguably the biggest country in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia—or one of the three biggest, anyway—and it won't take any refugees at all. I mean, it knows what's going on over there, and it says no. If you say no, and you force people to understand that, 'No, you will never enter the waters of Australia if you attempt to get here; we'll just keep turning you back,' then people will know not to come, and those like the 2,000 who died at sea will simply not die.
I love my fellow crossbench brother, but I think it's a little bit disingenuous when he says, 'We just want them to go to New Zealand,' because the minute they get to New Zealand, of course, they have access to Australia. So really what we're saying is, 'You can now come to Australia.'
It was with deep regret that people like me in this place did not support the ALP proposal, which was the Malaysian solution. Looking back on it—and mea culpa, mea culpa—I think I should have backed it, and I didn't look at the proposal on its merits. But that was a very acceptable proposal. They were going to a Muslim country, where, presumably, they would have been a lot more happy and content than they would have been in a fairly hostile atmosphere in Australia, as people from a different cultural milieu completely. And these people—whether you agree with their religion or not—are very, very religious people, and I don't know whether we could describe ourselves as very religious people. So the government, for once, can be totally proud of their record—that they stopped people from coming to this country and stopped 2,000 deaths at sea. And this is my final statement on the matter.
In the pub they said, 'It's all right going on in Sydney, but eventually it'll come up here.' I said, 'Listen, drongo, it's already here!' They said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'There were three people in my electorate murdered, with a bloke shouting out, "Allahu akbar!" while he was murdering them with a knife. They were backpackers, working outside Dalby, and happened to be in the Kennedy electorate.' And he used a rather vulgar expression, as my mother would describe it, and I won't repeat that expression, but he was quite astounded, as were the other blokes in the pub, that it was right here in North Queensland. I don't think it's confined to down south.
There's a terrorist incident every three months now. To whom do we attribute those deaths—the murder of those three innocents outside of Dalby? Who was responsible for that? Well, if you're in this place and you make decisions, then you are responsible for those decisions. I want to see a very close parliament in the next election. So I would urge the people on the Labor side: do not continue to pursue these politics, because you might be up against the boneless bunch over here, but they might just get a bit smart with the terror of an election around the corner! It is not a matter of politics, though I would argue that it should be; it is a matter of protecting the integrity of our nation. That is not occurring, and will not occur, when proposals like this are agreed to.
I want to say on behalf of the government that we oppose this motion, and so should the Labor Party. The Labor Party should already have learnt its lessons in relation to this area of public policy. It presided over the most significant failure in public policy in recent years, and the result of that failure of public policy was felt both in human costs and in financial costs. We know that 50,000 people arrived on 800 boats and that 1,200 people drowned at sea and that the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd failings, supported by the Greens in government, have already cost the Australian taxpayers in excess of $12 billion.
We have a lot of work to do to clean up Labor's mess. I didn't put people on Manus Island; my job is to get them off it. I intend to get them off as quickly as possible, but I need to do it in a way where we don't see new boat arrivals commencing. All of the intelligence available to me from across the region indicates that we have 14,000 people in Indonesia ready to hop on boats now. We have credible information out of other markets that says people smugglers are putting this proposition to vulnerable men, women and children to pay money: 'Ultimately, you'll stay in Manus for a couple years and then come to Australia.' The latest, of course, is, 'You can go to New Zealand, become a New Zealand citizen and then come to Australia shortly thereafter.' We are not going to allow that to happen.
The Greens can wax all they want. They can move their position around. They can offer sanctimonious advice to the government. They can offer false hope to people in Manus. But they are not going to change the will of this government to see people smugglers put out of business. The success that we've achieved in relation to this area of public policy has resulted in the largest number of offshore entrants into our country since 1983: over 20,000 people arrived under the humanitarian refugee program last year alone. Going to the member for Kennedy's proposition about those being persecuted in the Middle East at the moment, we've been able to help some 12,000 people under the Syrian and Iraqi intake, including women from the Yazidi community—one of the most persecuted minorities in the world—and we should be very proud of the success we've had in settling those people in our country. But that would not be possible if the boats were still turning up, if a thousand people per week were still being pulled off boats on Christmas Island, as was the case under the Labor government.
I was astounded by the contribution from the member for Blair during the course of this debate. It showed to me that he either doesn't have a grasp of the basics of the issue that we're dealing with or has not taken the time to properly consider what it is that we have contemplated and what it would be for him to contemplate if he were to be successful at the next election. Let me be very clear: if we send people to New Zealand today, then, based on the intelligence that I have received, including out of Manus Island in recent weeks, the boats would restart. There is no question in my mind. We have people in Manus at the moment who were on a pathway to the United States and who have said, in light of the announcement by the New Zealand government, that they are now reconsidering their option to go to the United States because they'd prefer to go to New Zealand. That is a terrible situation and one that the government is not going to allow to continue in the minds of those on Manus Island.
We have 1,250 places that are available for people to go from Nauru and Manus to the United States. The first 54 have gone. The United States has made announcements in recent days, both negative and positive hand-downs on Nauru and Manus, and we will see a further uplift of people go in the not-too-distant future. There is no push back from the United States at all, and we thank them very much for the support that they have provided to us in helping to clean up Labor's mess. As I said, I did not put people on Manus Island. I've not had a death at sea, and it's been more than 1,200 days since we've had a successful people smuggling venture; however, we are seeing efforts in this regard by the people smugglers.
We haven't ruled out the option of sending people to New Zealand at some point, but we would have to, firstly, reassure ourselves that people weren't going to use New Zealand as a backdoor entry to come into Australia. It's a fact that, of the 31 boats we've stopped and turned back in recent times, four were on their way to New Zealand. So New Zealand is marketed as a destination as well, because they have a generous welfare system, health system, education system and housing system like we do in Australia. So we haven't ruled it out, and suggestions by the Greens and others that we haven't properly contemplated that option are a complete nonsense. Frankly, that they would put it forward for their own political gain at the expense of those people on Manus Island says more about the Greens than it does about anybody else in this debate.
But the Greens are here today having this debate because they were supported by the Labor Party in the Senate and here on the floor today. In fact, the very words of the member for Blair in this debate were that he congratulated the member for Melbourne. The disaster that the Labor Party and the Greens presided over during the Rudd-Gillard years would be replicated by a Shorten government if they were to be elected at the next election. It's clear that many on the frontbench of the Labor Party, and on the backbench, would revert to the old policy—that is, they would allow people come to Australia from the regional processing centres.
We've seen Kristina Keneally out in Bennelong in recent weeks. We've seen her public utterances as far back as 2011 that people should come to Australia, which is a green light for people smugglers. If people believe that Kristina Keneally is not representative of the majority view, I think, within the Labor Party caucus—and certainly in left wing of the Labor Party—then they're kidding themselves. The fact is that Labor would bring people from regional processing centres to Australia. The fact is that they have already declared that they would reintroduce permanent protection visas. Part of our success has been the introduction of temporary protection visas. It is abundantly clear to all of us who deal with these matters each day that Labor in government would again not have the mettle to deal with turning back boats where it's safe to do so. There is no question in my mind whatsoever that Labor would return to the failed policies that saw 1,200 people drown at sea.
We have been compassionate in the numbers of refugees that we've brought to our country. We have been strong and determined in saying that we are not going to allow those deaths at sea to recommence. And yet Labor stands here today, complicit with the Greens, reminding all Australians that it has learnt nothing. To those Australians in Bennelong who I know are concerned about this issue at the moment, please be assured that Labor has learnt nothing from the past failures. The Labor Party under Bill Shorten has learnt nothing from the Rudd-Gillard years. The fact is that human lives were lost and they would be lost at sea again.
We have considered every option on the table. There is no easy option in this regard. There's no easy option that I have before me that can just allow people to come here or allow them all to go to New Zealand, and the matter will be resolved and we'll never hear from the people smugglers again. As the United Nations points out, there are 65 million people in the world today who are displaced. On top of the disaster that we've seen in the Mediterranean, we would see those pathways open up again between Jakarta and Christmas Island, and I am not going to allow it to happen.
We need to work with people to provide settlement support. We provide settlement packages, paid for by the Australian taxpayer, for people to go back to their countries if they've been found not to be refugees. We've provided support to the Papua New Guinean government—and I praise the work of the PNG government and thank them for their partnership, and also the government of Nauru. We have provided support to open three new centres. The East Lorengau centre has been open for something like three years. It can accommodate 440 people. There are 305 refugees there in there at the moment, and Labor and the Greens try to tell us that the centre is not open—that it's not finished and not completed. It's a complete and utter nonsense.
For the Labor Party, the Greens and the advocates to hold out false hope to those people on Manus, that the policy of the government will change and that some day they'll come to Australia, is a disgrace. They have for years offered false hope to people who have doubled down on their efforts to stay there, in situ, and not to remove themselves from the RPC, and say that the conditions are squalid and that they won't move, because they thought that would provide leverage and an outcome in coming to Australia. It is not going to happen. We will provide support to those people to move to the United States or to move to third countries or to move back to their country of origin if they've been determined not to be refugees. But we are not going to allow the Labor Party, in concert with the Greens again, to dismantle those policies which meant—and I'm very proud of this fact—that we got every child out of detention and closed 17 detention centres. If another boat turns up tomorrow under this government, or if the Labor Party is successful at the next election, those people are going into detention Regardless of whether they are women, children or men, they will go into detention on Nauru. That's the reality of the circumstance we face.
The people smugglers have not gone out of business. They are there and they treat people with the same disdain that they do any other commodity. They see money in moving people; they couldn't care whether they go to the bottom of the ocean or whether they end up in Australia, New Zealand, Manus Island or anywhere else. We are not going to allow those people to get back in control of the situation.
I agree with the majority view in the Senate, and I support the member for Melbourne's motion that would see those of us in this place agree with the message from the Senate. It is self-evident that the situation on Manus Island is dire. There has now been an abundance of media reports and an abundance of reports from firsthand witnesses who have seen the conditions on Manus Island. They have seen the way in which hundreds of men, many of whom who have already been found to be refugees, are living in squalid conditions. I simply do not accept the words from the minister when he says that all is well there, because the fact is there are just too many reports from people who are saying the situation is dire and hundreds of men are living in squalid conditions, many in fear of their lives. That we would allow this to continue is inhuman. That we would refuse a generous offer from the government of New Zealand to voluntarily resettle at least some of those men, that we would refuse that offer, is inhuman.
It's time for the government to swallow its pride. I simply do not accept that the resettlement of 150 men in New Zealand needs to be a fast-track pathway to this country. It need not be that way. The fact is the government needs to swallow its pride and act in accordance with the majority view of the Senate and, near on, the majority view in this place—perhaps the majority view in this place if there was to be a conscience vote on this issue. The fact is that we, as a country, need to have a legal and ethical response to people who are fleeing for their lives. Let's not forget that most people who come to this country claiming to be fleeing for their lives are found to have been fleeing for their lives. What's so hard about this country starting to act like the law-abiding, rich, fortunate and ethical country that we would like to think we are? What's so hard for us about acting ethically and legally? Why can't we start honouring the commitments we've made in any number of international agreements—agreements like the refugee convention and agreements like the Rome Statute? When we signed up to these international agreements we did so because we thought they mattered. But they don't seem to matter now because we have a government which is more inclined to pander to the xenophobia and to the racism in this community in a race to the bottom of the barrel.
While I'm very heartened and pleased that the opposition, the Labor Party, is supportive of the motion by the member for Melbourne, I also call on the opposition to lift your game too. The fact is there should be no place for mandatory detention. There should be no place for offshore processing. There should be no place for any sort of temporary visa. There should be no place for the tow back of boats to countries like Indonesia. What there should be is an intelligent, legal and ethical response so that when people come to our shore by any means—by air or by boat—and they claim to be fleeing for their lives, we should give them protection. We should hear their claim, and we should give them permanent refuge if their claim is found to be accurate. That's what we should be doing.
If there are people in this community who don't like that legal and ethical response, it's our job in this place to start acting like leaders and to explain to the broad Australian community why we need to act in accordance with international law and why we need to act like a fortunate, rich and lucky country, one with morals and scruples, because it's not good enough to pander to those people who would disagree with that in the community. It's time to be leaders.
You know what? When I'm out in my community in the Denison electorate, sometimes someone will come up to me and say the most awful things about asylum seekers—call them all of sorts of things—hardly the worst of which is 'illegals', and says, 'They're all terrorists. They should all be sent back home.' I say to these people almost every time: 'Hang on, do you agree that if anyone from anywhere in the world is genuinely fleeing for their life, we should grab hold of them, protect them and look after them?' Without fail, they say: 'Of course we should!' And then I turn the conversation around a bit more and say: 'But that's what we're doing; that's all we're doing. When people come to this country, by any means, and claim to be fleeing for their life, we should give them protection and hear their claim.' If their claim is accurate—and it most often is—we should then give them permanent refuge. We shouldn't send them off to Nauru, Manus Island or anywhere else. Nauru and Manus Island have become our modern day prison hulks—like the hulks that were used in the Thames for convicts. This is a blot on our country's name and our reputation—and will be forever.
But we can start to turn it around. It is a decent and generous offer by the government of New Zealand to resettle some of these men. Why can't the government act like human beings? Swallow your pride and say yes. It is not good enough, Minister, to hide behind that old government line: 'We've got very secret information which we can't share you. You've just got to trust us.' That's what happened in 2003, when we went to war. The government then said: 'We've got very secret information. We can't share it with you. You've just got to trust us.'
When it comes to asylum seeker policy, there is no trust left. The community does not trust the government. And I'm sorry, opposition, but, despite your good efforts today, when it comes to your broad policy, the community doesn't like that either. The fact is that most people in the community want Australia to start acting like a decent, law-abiding country. They want us to give protection to people who claim to be fleeing for their life. The broad community wants us to hear their claim. Sure, if their claim is fraudulent, then send them back. I will say that again: if their claim is fraudulent, then send them back.
The fact is that most people who come to this country claiming to be fleeing for their life—or who try to get to this country claiming to be fleeing for their life—are found to be genuine refugees. Most of the people on Manus Island at the moment, rotting up there somewhere north of New Guinea, have been found to be genuine refugees. And the best plan the government can come up with is to release them into the local community or to rely on the promises of Donald Trump! Does anyone really think the United States is going to accept over a thousand asylum seekers from this country? Does anyone really think we can trust Donald Trump on this? Of course we can't. He just said what had to be said to get through a difficult moment. There is no way the United States is going to take those people. But here we have on the table a repeated invitation from the government of New Zealand to take some of them. The government should swallow its pride and accept that offer.
I make the point again that politicians in this country need to stop pandering to the racism and xenophobia that lurks in the darkest corners of our community. Stop pandering to that for votes. It's only a handful of votes. As we saw in the Queensland election, there weren't that many votes when Pauline Hanson went hard for them. There weren't that many votes. I say to the government and to the opposition: leave those votes alone and stop pandering to them. Start leading the community. Explain to the community the circumstances in source countries. Explain to the community the circumstances in countries of first asylum. Explain to the community the forces at work, the difficulties in transit countries. Explain to the community why we need to start honouring international agreements like the refugee convention, why we need to start honouring international agreements like the Rome statute and why we need to give protection to these unfortunate souls.
And we could start with the hundreds of men on Manus Island. If you won't accept New Zealand's offer to resettle some of them, then bring them here now. Most of them have been found to be asylum seekers. It is not good enough to have them rotting up there in half-finished facilities, many in fear of their life. It's not good enough to justify it by saying, as the government does, 'But we've got a secret! And you're just going to have to trust us that this is the best course of action,' because it ain't the best course of action. Remember, it is a crime against humanity to detain people indefinitely without trial. It is a crime against humanity to detain people in inhuman conditions. It is a crime against humanity to forcibly transfer someone to a third country. We in this government are guilty of those crimes against humanity. How about you start turning it around—through you, Deputy Speaker, to the minister—turn it around and accept New Zealand's generous offer? (Time expired)
I rise to support this resolution from the Senate. I do so and say to the government that this is an opportunity for it to rise to the occasion. There are many things that this resolution is not about. This resolution does not stop offshore processing. This resolution does not assist people smugglers. This resolution is consistent with getting an outcome. At the end of the day, the government is responsible for outcomes, not just rhetoric. The PNG court determined in April 2016 what the closing date of the Manus facility would be. In April 2017, the government came to an agreement with the government of Papua New Guinea that it would close. Yet the UNHCR has indicated that the alternative facilities simply weren't all ready at the time of closure.
What you also have is men who have been in detention for 4½ years with still no security as to what the future is for them. People who commit crimes, serious crimes, are often not detained for that period of time. A majority of these people have been found to be refugees—that is, they have been found under our international obligations to be deserving of Australia's care. It has been found that we have a responsibility to these people. We simply cannot have the approach of the minister, which is to say: 'This is nothing to do with me. This is something to do with the government of Papua New Guinea, nothing to do with Australia.' The fact is that you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. We on this side of the House take that approach. What we won't do is just wash our hands of the responsibilities that Australia clearly has.
The minister says that he won't consider the resettlement option in New Zealand now. But he leaves it open for the future. He indicates that's correct. If not now, when? What is to be gained, apart from politics, in leaving these people in further uncertainty when the New Zealand government—under both the conservatives, under the leadership of John Key, and now under the leadership of Jacinda Ardern—has offered to assist these individuals but also, frankly, to assist Australia. If the minister says we have no responsibility, if he doesn't think that this is impacting on Australia's standing in the world, then he is wrong, I say to him, with respect. He might disagree with that assessment—people can look at objective facts and come to different conclusions—but it is a fact, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, that this is impacting on Australia's standing in the world.
It is also a fact that John Howard, a person he admires, led a government where John Howard, in spite of the rhetoric, said that the people who were on the Tampa would never settle in Australia and never settle in New Zealand—that they'd be sent home. The fact is that many of those people are today settled here in Australia as Australian citizens and many of those people settled in New Zealand. Very clearly it would be possible for these people to come to an arrangement, which New Zealand has indicated would be possible, whereby they commit—they've said they would want to if they were settled in New Zealand—to stay there because they would feel welcome there because of the actions of the New Zealand government and the New Zealand opposition.
A good friend of mine, Father Dave Smith of Holy Trinity Church in Dulwich Hill, visited Manus Island a few weeks ago. It is interesting to look at the interviews that Father Dave, as he's known, had with the people there. This is someone who travelled there out of his view of what a Christian should do. I have disagreements with him on some issues politically, it must be said, but there is no question whatsoever of his genuineness. There are so many Australians who are looking for a genuine outcome when it comes to this situation. The fact is that a genuine outcome is settlement in third countries.
If the government can say it's okay for people to settle in the United States and that that wouldn't provide a pull factor but somehow New Zealand is not okay then that is an extraordinary proposition. If the minister doesn't think that it's possible to deal with the issue of the relationship of New Zealand visas into Australia then I think he's wrong there. Quite clearly, with a little bit of leadership rather than ongoing rhetoric—and I disagree very strongly with some of the characterisations that have been made personally against the minister. I don't think that adds to the debate at all. I'm not seeking to do that here at all. What I am seeking to do is to say that these people, who have been in detention at what was intended to be a processing centre to then settle people in third countries, not in Australia, have now been there for 4½ years, and that is just too long. That is having an impact on their mental health as well as their physical health. It would for anyone.
When I was at my good old Catholic school, one of the values that I was taught was about putting yourself in other people's positions. I say to the minister: put yourself in the position of those people. The minister needs, frankly, to act with a little bit more maturity rather than the sort of knee-jerk 'Let's hold these people almost as political hostages.' That is unacceptable.
The fact is that these people need a solution. That is why we are prepared to support this resolution. We are trying to help the minister find a way out of his predicament, frankly, because, at the moment, the way isn't just to stay in a circumstance whereby he says, 'Oh well, this is all about Labor.' This is about the minister. He has a responsibility. This resolution provides a way forward.
There are two things, Mr Speaker. First of all, I will respond to the comment that was just made. While it is a procedural motion, if it goes ahead, I know it doesn't require a seconder but it is open to debate.
Mr Speaker, I put it to you that the standing order requires that you can only have the vote again if there was confusion, and there was no confusion; if there has been an error concerning the numbers, and there has been no error concerning the numbers of who was here; or if it has been miscarried through misadventure caused by a member being accidentally absent or some similar incident. The fact that a member is doing a television interview is not covered by misadventure.
In that case, I will speak to the motion. The government have already lost the numbers on the floor of the House. That's exactly what's just happened. Now they want to run off on some sort of excuse with the chaos that's here in this building and the chaos in this room, all brought on because they can't turn up to work. That's why this has happened. It's not like it's a surprise that divisions were going to be important this week. It's not like this has crept up on them without them knowing, and yet two members of parliament couldn't be bothered coming here for work. There's no misadventure. There's no reason that the government have, other than that they are incompetent—
Before we recommit the vote, I do want to address the matter of the Manager of Opposition Business's point of order, which I did dismiss. The difficulty that I have as Speaker, of course, is that the standing order provides for missing a vote through 'misadventure', which in my interpretation is pretty much everything other than deliberately not voting. That's why that word is there. The other difficulty I have is that, with members not being here, to require an explanation from them means that we couldn't proceed to the final vote. We would have just been suspended, not doing anything.
But I do think that the Manager of Opposition Business raises a reasonable point. The Senate certainly have a different approach. We can learn from them—not on everything, I hasten to say! But I do think the approach I took was reasonable, inasmuch as the Leader of the House speaks for government members; the Manager of Opposition Business speaks for members of the official opposition. But I have reflected on his point, and I do think that, now that members who missed the vote are here, they should explain to the House that they missed the vote through one of the reasons in the standing orders, notably misadventure. Unless anyone crossed sides, there are two.
I thank both members.
Members on both sides will cease interjecting. I thank both—
Mr Snowdon interjecting—
I'm going to remind the member for Lingiari, in particular, that 94(a) applies beyond question time. Both members have confirmed that they did not deliberately miss the vote. Good to see the member for Kennedy here. The question now is, again, that the amendment be agreed to.
An honourable member interjecting—
We're back to the amendment. You're entitled to be a bit confused. That's fair enough. We're now back to the member for Melbourne's amendment. Everyone clear with that? The immediate question is that the member for Melbourne's amendment be agreed to.
A division having been called and the bells being/having been rung—
Can I have people's attention. We're just going to stop the division. The Leader of the House had moved that the motion be put. That was carried. We do need to go back to the amendment, deal with that, and then deal with any final proposition, whether the bill is amended or not. But first, on this unusual procedure, we do need to actually put the question that the House do now divide again. So I'll put that question—that is, that the House divide again.