Thursday, 25 July 2019
Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019; Third Reading
I am very proud to stand in this House in support of the medevac process, which is working. I am very proud to stand here with all of my Labor colleagues and our friends on the crossbench in defence of Australian values of humanity, of looking after people in need in our care. This is something which is absolutely extraordinary in this debate. There are 77 members of the government in this chamber. How many of them spoke? How many of them put their names to speak? How many of them had the courage to set out in this place why they think the medevac system should be repealed? There were none. Not a single member other than the minister—the minister who had to introduce this legislation—spoke. I ask members on this side and members opposite to have a look at his second reading speech and to think about how much he had to say in working through the complex and detailed arguments that go to providing medical treatment for people in need in offshore centres. His speech couldn't have lasted more than 90 seconds, and yet it remains the sum total of the government's position in dealing with this critical question. He didn't even make a contribution to the summing up on this bill.
And let us remember that this is a bill that will not, that cannot, come before the Senate until November. The government, this opposition in exile, put this legislation in the House and then had nothing to say about it—absolutely nothing to say about it! I'm concerned that there are members on the government benches who may have thoughts on the operation of this medical treatment process, who may have concerns about the government's agenda, but it is very disappointing that they did not embrace the virtues that they claim are part of the Liberal Party—the opportunity they have to speak their minds in this place, to put their values before the parliament.
Ms Butler interjecting—
It is more than disappointing, as the member for Griffith reminds me, that these people fight so hard to get here. They've been elected to this place to speak in this parliament and have chosen not to do so, either to express their support for this process, which they should do, because it is working, or to perhaps reject the mischaracterisation of this process, which they should do, because the minister has not been accurate in reflecting this process in the concerns that he has expressed—not in this place, unfortunately. He hasn't set them out into the Hansard. He has used inflammatory and divisive language entirely consistent with the tone of the government the member for Cook leads. He had the opportunity to work through any concerns he had with the process. He chose not to do so. That is perhaps the most telling indictment of the government's position on this. It is all politics.
Consistently, we on this side of the House have shown our determination to put politics aside, to make sure that sick people can get medical attention based on medical advice. It's a pretty simple proposition, isn't it?
There is at least one doctor on the other side of the House who I would have thought would have had some views on this matter. It is disappointing that we have not heard from the member for Higgins. Perhaps she was not allowed to make a contribution to this debate. I think we could all have benefited from her views on the operation of medical treatment, particularly for children. Some of the most egregious issues going to medical transfers prior to the introduction of the medevac regime related to children. I spoke in particular about a two-year-old child, who was evacuated under the previous arrangements.
Mr Dutton interjecting—
It's not a concession. It's a statement of fact. It wasn't working; the previous arrangements compromised the health of a two-year-old child. That is an absolutely shocking thing. Fifty-two transfers were affected previously before we took action with the crossbench and we took responsibility. Minister, you should have taken responsibility. Having not done so, you should do one of two things. You should either put the record straight and withdraw the extraordinary allegations and misrepresentations you have made, or put clearly the concerns you have about the detailed operation of the scheme. You haven't done so for one simple reason: it is because you cannot. For all your talk about the concerns you have about the operation of the scheme—
Mr Dutton interjecting—
The Minister for Home Affairs has not put forward his concerns because he cannot do so. There is still time for him; there is still plenty of time. There is a Senate committee process, which I'm sure his department will participate in. I am sure that that Senate committee process will make clear that this parliament, earlier this year, did the right thing. We stood up for humanity without compromising our borders. The challenge for members opposite is to do exactly that. Let us keep in place something that is working.
The fact is you can be strong on borders without being weak on humanity, and that's what this legislation is about. Why do we support this legislation? We support it because of our commitment to basic humanity. That basic commitment says that if someone is sick then you should look after them and give them care. It is a basic proposition that says that these people are our responsibility. It's a basic principle that you shouldn't just turn your back on suffering. That's why we worked, and tried to work, across the parliament—and particularly worked with the crossbenchers—to achieve this outcome last year.
The fact is that the only person undermining border security at the moment is the minister with his rhetoric. He sends a message each and every day, at every opportunity, that somehow legislation such as this undermines our national security and undermines our border security, when, in fact, he knows that this is not true. Then again, this is a minister who is an expert at inflammatory rhetoric. It's not surprising that, on other issues that are being debated in the national political arena at the moment, such as a voice to this parliament for First Nations people, the minister has stuck with the line that it's a third chamber. Even the member for New England has reversed that position but, then again, he did walk out on the national apology. We should always remember that that was his response there.
The minister knows full well that the border argument is nonsense. The legislation passed by this parliament only applies to the people who were already, at the time of the passing of the legislation, on Nauru and Manus Island. Anyone who arrives by boat, or attempts to arrive by boat, simply isn't eligible and isn't relevant for this legislation. It's as simple as that. That was a sensible proposition to ensure that—if there was any doubt about it—this legislation could not provide a pull factor. That is why this is simply not a fact from the minister.
The way that the minister told it, the moment the medevac legislation was passed, the horizon would be full of an armada of boats. Remember that?
They were all going to be here within days. Everyone on Manus and Nauru were going to be here and there'd be an armada on the horizon. We had the infamous media conference on Christmas Island. The palm trees at Cronulla Beach would've done the same job. They could have gotten some little plastic red crabs and pretended it was Christmas Island, if they wanted to do that.
Mr Snowdon interjecting—
Warren, the member for Lingiari, could have provided it, because it's in his electorate of course. But they had that extraordinary press conference in order to create fear and promote division. Of course, none of their rhetoric has matched the reality. We're now in July, some seven months after the legislation was carried, and what have we found? We've found that, of those people who have been brought to Australia to receive medical assistance, less than 10 per cent of those have been brought under this legislation. More than 90 per cent were brought without this legislation. Ninety were brought here under this legislation, but pretty close to 1,000 people had been brought here already.
The minister's own rhetoric is that the boats that have attempted to come here since this legislation was carried have been from the north. They haven't been from the north; they've been from the west. They've been from Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka had a devastating terrorist attack over Easter. In the wake of that there have been some boats arriving here. I don't know the motivation of people, because I'm not privy to that. The government, of course, is privy to that, and so are journalists briefed by the government about these national security issues for political partisan purposes. What I do know is that those asylum seekers have been returned. That's the government's policy. That's Labor's policy. That's not an issue for this legislation whatsoever.
Maybe the minister could actually have a read of his policy just to jog his memory about it. He could take up the Prime Minister's dictum of, 'How good is reading your own policy?' Maybe that would be a good thing. When you have 1,000 people brought here by the government and only 90 going through the medevac process, it's hard to see why the government is putting this position forward. Even for someone who appears to struggle with basic facts as much as this minister, the legislation is very clear. It's very straightforward. It allows for the minister himself to appoint the committee that makes the decisions about medical evacuations. Really, the minister's position on this is a vote of no confidence in himself because he appoints the committee that makes the decisions and he says that's a disaster, so the minister is calling himself a disaster in terms of his position. You would think that that had escaped his knowledge, but the legislation is working. It works as it was designed. A number of the objections have been upheld by the committee when the issues have been raised. Given that his committee has been a success, the minister shouldn't be coming here with this legislation. He should be giving himself a little pat on the back for doing so well. He could even practise his smile. Remember that? How good is the smile? Cheer up, son. It's not that bad; your legislation is working.
Opposition members interjecting—
You are. This mob over there are the most miserable winners of an election I've seen. They should cheer up. But instead of that, what we're seeing is a government acting on its only instinct. The member for Warringah's gone—replaced by a much better version, it must be said, who gave a terrific first speech in this place—but his spirit lives on, this determination to oppose things. This minister is even opposing himself now. They've gone to the next logical step of saying no to everything. Now they're saying no to this legislation, which the minister is in control of because he appoints the committee and presides over these processes.
I say to the parliament that they should reject this attempt to undermine this legislation. We should be proud of the fact that we've carried legislation in a difficult area that's making a difference, which is consistent with the government's own policies because it does nothing to undermine our borders, and it is very important that that occur.
This is all about politics. They sat around in their tactics committee and they worked out, 'What have we got for the agenda for the third term?' They've said: 'We'll just oppose the Labor Party. We'll work out where we can have a little wedge and that's what we'll advance on.' You can't do that for three years.
This legislation should be rejected. It will undermine legislation that is working, that's consistent with the framework, that doesn't provide any pull factors and that's providing health care for people in need. That is something that is just basic decency, basic humanity, and that's why the parliament should continue to support the medevac legislation.
Where I come from, we have a saying: when your neighbour starts preaching religion, look for your branding iron. On one occasion, I was preaching religion and an old cocky said, 'You know the saying: when your neighbour starts preaching religion?' I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'When your politician starts preaching religion reach for your shooting iron.' We have a basic mistrust of ideology. We find that ideology is usually at our expense when we live in a world where we have to grow something and produce something to get paid for it.
This debate has always fascinated me. I have written and published a history book by Murdoch press. Kevin Rudd was kind enough to launch it to over a thousand people in Sydney and Barrie Cassidy was kind enough to launch it to over a thousand people in Melbourne.
In that history book, I touched upon the refugee problem, particularly concerning Jewish people in Europe. There were seven million refugees at the end of the war and none of them got on boats to come to Australia. They were fleeing across the border for their lives, firstly from the Nazis and then from the communists. The poor Jewish people—our country will wear the black mark on its soul forever that we took 15,000 of those poor people and six million of them perished in the death camps. We'll have to live with that as a nation. Some will say, 'You are doing the same thing again now.' No, we're not. These people fled in terror across the border to get away. This is not fleeing across the border. They're not fleeing from. They are going to.
The Burmese that have fled are in Malaysia. The people in the Second World War were in Europe. Have a look at your globe. They are on one side of the globe and Australia is on the other side of the globe. That's not fleeing from; that's going to.
Where are they going to? People say, 'You know, your mob out there—I've got at least one forebear that came from the Middle East. I come from an area where very heavily the Afghan camel drivers are most certainly huge numbers of our people—I might argue they're the greatest of our citizens. So, what's different? They came to this country because they knew there was an opportunity to provide a service, have a business, make a lot of money and improve their lot. They came here and they knew they could make a contribution and make money out of it. Now, that is a hell of a difference from people that are jumping on a boat and going to Sydney and sitting on welfare. Well, you've got your chance. You can have your say, my friend, but you're the same mob that refused to let the Jews in. And, quite frankly, our policies at the present moment are not very partial to the Sikhs, the Jews and the Christians.
If you're going to let people in from the Middle East and from Africa, surely, precedence should be given to the clearly identifiable persecuted minorities. The Sikhs, depending on who you want to listen to—4,000, or maybe 20,000, were murdered in one year in India and Pakistan. Surely the Sikhs—and I make no apologies for being their representative in this place—should be given precedence over someone who decides to get on a boat and travel right around the world to come to a nation where our welfare payments are $60,000 and they're coming from nations where their income is $5,000. Surely, the preference should be given to the Sikhs, the Jews and the Christians—identifiable persecuted minorities from this area.
I've used the example of refugees—Burma, World War II. There are two nations—I have read about in the newspapers and the media—that do not take refugees in the Middle East. Those two countries are Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. They're not going to take them. Saudi Arabia, the leading nation in the world promoting, defending and protecting the Islamic religion, will not take refugees. Why? Because there are grave dangers in taking refugees. And I can speak with authority, because the gentleman that walked out here couldn't sit and tolerate this.
There were three people stabbed to death in the Kennedy electorate—this is not in Sydney; this is in North Queensland. The gentleman yelled out proselytising comments while stabbing three people to death in Clare, a farming area. One of them came back to life. The other recent mass murder was in Sydney, where, again, that person would fit into the category of refugees. So, you bring them in but you leave others behind and say: 'No. No Sikhs can come here, no Christians can come here, no Jews can come here, but we'll take these people any time they want to climb on a boat.' You will live with the same shame and the same condemnation that those governments before the war lived with and our poor nation has to live with, because we, on racial lines and ideological lines, refused to allow those people to come to this nation.
Why would you not leave those countries? Almost every single one of them is on fire. You would desperately want to leave those countries. And why wouldn't you want to go to a country with the highest welfare payments probably in the world?
I'll make a political comment here. The ALP, according to the figures that have been provided to me, allowed 80,000 people to come in on refugee boats. So, anyone who decides they want to jump on a boat, under the ALP, can get in here, right? You've got to think about that. There are some decent people on both sides of this parliament. To the decent people in the ALP, please think about this. If you're saying that anyone can get on a boat and come any time they feel like it, think about that. Why wouldn't the whole of Egypt climb on a boat and come over here? It's arguably the poorest country on earth, and it comes across to what should be the richest country on earth. Why wouldn't all of them come here?
Now, under the LNP—and I'm no great fan of the LNP; we're about to have a big fight over industrial matters, but in this case I have to give them full marks—they have simply stopped that from happening. Before that, anyone who decided to get on a boat could come to Australia—80,000 of them. Under the LNP, no, you can't get on a boat and come here any time you feel like it. Everyone in this parliament would've seen decent people that wanted to come to Australia get knocked back. We can only take so many people, so we've got to knock some back. But you don't have to be knocked back if you come on a boat, if the ALP is in power.
I plead with the good people in the ALP to think about what I'm saying. If this medevac act is fair dinkum—and I don't know if the report is correct; I have no way of verifying it, but I'd appreciate it if the minister would verify it. According to TheSydney Morning Herald, I think,there were 332 applications, out of some 400 people on the island, the day after the medevac bill got passed or put into the parliament. Immediately they saw it as a way of getting into this country, simply as a ticket. People that could climb on a boat, knowing they could come here, came here but got caught. Now they've found there's another way of climbing on a boat and getting here. It's called medevac.
As a person who has published a history book, as an aspiring historian with a great knowledge and love of my country—as I hope everyone else here has—I would say that we have the shame of what happened before the war. Six million Jewish people were murdered. Hitler's first preference was for them to leave. He ordered them to leave, and no-one on earth would take them. We wouldn't take them. And I hate to say it, because my family are very strong people— (Time expired)