House debates

Monday, 27 November 2023


Migration Amendment (Bridging Visa Conditions and Other Measures) Bill 2023; Second Reading

4:25 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

The immigration mess keeps getting bigger and bigger by the day. Sadly, when it comes to community safety, it's the last thing on the government's mind. As a matter of fact, the West Australian newspaper summed it up pretty well—

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Wannon will not use props during the debate.

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

as 'the subtle art of not giving a'—I won't use that unparliamentary language. It talks about the complete and utter mess the government is making of its attempts to deal with this High Court decision—so much so that now they've rushed these further amendments into the parliament when we've just found out that the High Court are going to give us the reasons for their decision tomorrow. At a minimum we should be waiting until we get those reasons to see whether these amendments go far enough.

As we know, last week, or the week before, when they introduced their amendments we said at the time, 'Too little, too late.' That's exactly what they were, and we had to strengthen them for the government. We should be sensible about how we proceed, not be told as an opposition that the government is going to introduce these amendments and there will be a meeting at eight o'clock in the morning, and we get handed the bill with the amendments which was finished at 4.17 pm last night—rushed. And they expect the parliament to just say they're the government and they should be listened to, and this is what they should do, when their track record when it comes to keeping the community safe is deplorable.

I think there is one reason and one reason only why we are here today with these amendments before us—that is, the government is using them as a distraction to take the focus off their track record. Let's have a look at the track record currently: 138 former detainees now free in the community. Four of them, we know, have not complied with the amendments which went through the House over a week ago, and one of them is AWOL; one of them can't be found and hasn't been contactable. We don't know anything about that person. The other three have been referred to the AFP. We don't know the exact status of that.

Everything that we've had from this government when it comes to this issue has shown how ham-fisted their response has been. They had nearly six months to prepare for the High Court decision, yet all we got immediately after the High Court decision was: 'Oh, it's all too hard. We're going to have to wait for the reasons. There's nothing we can do.' Well, the community said that wasn't good enough, the media said that wasn't good enough and the opposition said that wasn't good enough, and eventually the government was forced to act in a way where they led completely with their chin by introducing legislation which they said were the toughest laws that had ever been introduced.

Yet, within the space of about 12 hours, they'd actually had to bow to opposition pressure and make the laws and give them real teeth because of their inept handling of this issue.

There are still many, many more questions that need to be answered by the government when it comes to this issue. For instance, why did the government concede on 30 May it was not possible to deport NZYQ when it only approached Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and the Five Eyes nations after that date? The minister for immigration said on 30 May it was not possible to deport NZYQ. So he almost threw in the towel on 30 May. Then it seems that, after that date, the government decided: 'This could work against us. This could work against community safety.' They then tried to fix it up by approaching Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and the Five Eyes nations after that date to see whether they would take NZYQ. Why did Minister O'Neil, in complete contradiction of the minister for immigration, say last week that she had operational advice 'it was likely' the government could deport NZYQ when this case indicates the precise opposite? We saw questions along these lines asked of the government today, and they didn't want to go anywhere near answering them.

The other question we need answered is: did the minister for immigration, in making that call on 30 May, get that signed off jointly with the Minister for Home Affairs, the Attorney-General, the cabinet or the Prime Minister? Or was the Prime Minister's lack of attention to detail also exposed in this? There are so many answers that we need to hear from the government, and yet they refuse to give them to us.

Only this morning, when we had our briefing, which was then followed by another briefing because we couldn't get the answers that we wanted, we put to the government serious questions about these amendments. We still haven't got very clear-cut answers from the government on these. These are serious issues that we need answering. The Prime Minister has received a letter from the Leader of the Opposition talking about the issues that we think need addressing if we are to support this bill.

My understanding is that we are still waiting to hear clearly about the approach that the government will take. But, if the government were serious, it would enter into a proper bipartisan process with the opposition to do this properly. It would not just drop a letter on a Sunday night and then say, 'You have to be at a briefing at eight o'clock' and then—this is what the government did—not even have the head of the Australian Border Force turn up. But guess when he did turn up? They then did a press conference half an hour later, and guess who was there to answer questions on operational matters? The head of Border Force. This is the type of bipartisanship that the government is seeking.

We have to remember what this is about. This is about the No. 1 priority that any government has, which is keeping the community safe. You will remember that 10 days ago we had to remind the government that there were victims out in the Australian community of some of the people that they had released and that those victims didn't know what was happening. They didn't know what protections were going to be put in place for them.

They were scared. They were themselves having to ring up to find out information about what the government is doing.

I say this to the government: rather than rushing these amendments through and treating us as if we have to either put up or shut up, when the real expertise lies on this side of the House when it comes to keeping the nation safe, why don't you, in the very first instance, put all your focus on finding out where that one detainee whose whereabouts they don't know is? That should be the government's No. 1 priority. The next should be making sure that the amendments we put through the week before last are fully implemented and then working with us to get through proper amendments which will keep the community safe.

4:35 pm

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

Labor is dancing to the Liberals' tune. Labor is letting the Leader of the Opposition write antirefugee legislation and then rushing it through parliament for him. This is the man who made a career out of attacking refugees and migrants and punching down, and he now gets to run the show. Labor might as well be done with it and just make Peter Dutton the Minister for Home Affairs.

Labor seems to have learnt nothing from the last week we were here, when the High Court made a significant decision. We should all have reflected on that decision soberly and worked out how to construct an immigration system in the face of a very clear finding from the High Court. The High Court said you can't just lock people up indefinitely in immigration detention and put them in a warehouse and think that's the answer, because that is illegal. In response to that, the opposition ran a fear campaign and said, 'Oh, the government's letting people out,' when in fact it was the High Court that did it. So what did the government do? Instead of saying, 'Well, let's have a discussion in this place about how we construct a proper refugee system and migration system based on the new High Court findings,' they panicked. The opposition ran a fear campaign and Labor caved in.

We, the Greens, were the only ones in this place to vote against Labor and the Liberals were doing. We said at the time, 'Don't engage in a race to the bottom with the opposition, particularly the Leader of the Opposition, because there's no low he won't sink to,' and that is exactly what has happened. Here we are back again the next week, and already the opposition is saying, 'Oh, no, it's not good enough, you've got to do more.' If you give in to this guy, he is going to keep coming back for more, Labor. So have some spine. Stand up to the Leader of the Opposition and argue for a principled approach that respects what the High Court has said and gives us the time to work out what a response to that would be and what a decent migration system that respects what the High Court has just said would look like in this country. In an effort to appease the Leader of the Opposition, Labor has rushed legislation in here, and already the opposition are saying, 'Oh, it's not good enough; we need more.' This is exactly the point that we were making: don't engage in a race to the bottom with the Leader of the Opposition, because he will just keep asking for more and sinking lower and lower and lower.

It may have escaped the attention of the government, but at the last election their vote went backwards, and we now have a situation in this country where less than a third of the country votes for the government, a bit more than one-third votes for the opposition, and a third votes for someone else and says, 'We're sick of these dirty deals that get done between Labor and Liberal when you're acting in a way that is not in the public interest and you're not bringing integrity to politics.' With a third of the country now saying that they want the magnifying glass put over what politicians do in this place, Labor, instead of listening, just caves in, comes here and says, 'You've got an hour to debate a very significant piece of legislation that's potentially about giving the High Court more powers.'

We're talking about changing the relationship between the parliament and the High Court, on what limited information we've got from Labor, and they want us to debate it in an hour—a bill that we haven't even seen for a day. Well, I say this to you, Labor: this legislation may well end up back in the High Court. You may well come here again, wanting another piece of legislation to tidy up the errors in the first piece of legislation that you did because the Liberals rushed you into it.

This is no way to run a country—to hand over the keys to the opposition. Labor are handing over the keys to Peter Dutton and then wondering why it is that they're suffering as a result. Well, no. If you want to deal with the challenges this country faces, then think about them soberly, do it in a way that puts the public interest first, that respects this place, and then you might start getting a bit more respect from the people. But you are asking us to rush through legislation that we saw for the first time this morning, dealing with one of the most significant issues in this parliament, and that is something that we will oppose.

4:41 pm

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Bridging Visa Conditions and Other Measures) Bill 2023. Let's be clear. The reason we are here, the reason we are debating this, the reason that Labor is seeking to rush through this legislation and has guillotined debate for an hour, is the woeful mismanagement of this very important area of public policy by the Albanese Labor government. There is no more important responsibility of the Australian government than keeping the Australian people safe. If it is your objective to keep the Australian people safe, that is not an objective which is achieved or advanced by throwing open the gates of detention facilities and releasing into the community what we were initially told would be some 81 people. Each day that number rose and rose and rose, and we learnt that, amongst these people who have been released, are murderers, rapists, people who have committed sexual assaults on children—in one case on a 10-year-old.

This is a group of people who have been released into the community by the Albanese Labor government, putting the Australian people at risk. And it is far from clear that this government knows where those people are. It is far from clear that it has actually yet managed to execute one element of the policy approach—which was agreed at short notice, thanks to Labor's mismanagement, just over a week ago—which was that every one of these people would be required to wear an ankle bracelet so that their locations could be monitored, in the interests of public safety.

The root cause of what has happened here is that the Albanese Labor government completely failed to make contingency plans for what was, on any view, a highly foreseeable contingency—that the High Court would rule in the way it did just two and a bit weeks ago—with the consequence that it was urgent that the government have a contingency plan in place to avoid the scenario in which this group of dangerous and highly undesirable people were released into the community with no measures being taken to protect the safety of the Australian community.

What we now know is that the government has drafted further legislation which will amend provisions which were agreed by the parliament and legislated a little over a week ago. The opposition was provided with this bill at eight o'clock this morning. We have a number of questions about it. We want to be satisfied, for example, that it does not amount to a winding-back or a weakening of measures which were legislated by the parliament just a week and a bit ago.

That is what we want to be satisfied of on behalf of the Australian people. We want to know whether the measures in this bill could include the potential watering down of strict visa conditions agreed just under two weeks ago.

There are a range of other questions that we want to be satisfied on. What arrangements are in place to ensure that state and territory police are able to exercise relevant powers in relation to the cohort of released detainees? Do state and territory governments need to give their consent before powers can validly be conferred on authorised officers who are state or territory officials? Are state or territory officials empowered by this legislation and its interaction with other relevant legislation, including state legislation, to apply, remove, maintain and reapply electronic monitoring devices? So there are a range of questions that the government needs to provide satisfactory answers to. Sadly, this is a rushed and chaotic process, and the opposition certainly calls for those answers.

4:46 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Indeed, as the previous speaker has said, we are in a farcical situation where this legislation has been thrown into the parliament with the slimmest consultation whatsoever as the government is desperately playing catch-up on a situation they should have been absolutely adequately prepared for.

We know that a few weeks ago the High Court handed down a decision. That was imminent, and you never know exactly how courts are going to determine things, but you certainly make contingencies. When it comes to the safety of the people of this country, you absolutely make contingencies. If there was any chance—the slightest chance—that a court decision could have resulted in hardened criminals such as murderers, rapists and paedophiles being released into the Australian community, a responsible government would have had a plan in place to do whatever was necessary to update the Commonwealth legislation to prevent that from happening. We know that, instead, the government was caught in a state of shock about the decision and had no plan whatsoever to do anything to address that situation until the Leader of the Opposition stepped in and provided the leadership that the government should have: to insist on this parliament taking every opportunity to immediately address the circumstance that we are in.

I agree with the Leader of the Greens: the Opposition Leader is running the country on this issue, because, if it weren't for the Leader of the Opposition last sitting week and the happy coincidence of the Prime Minister also being out of the country, action to pass legislation couldn't have been taken with no Prime Minister here and the acting Prime Minister acquiescing to all of the things that we suggested needed to be done to take the necessary immediate steps that the parliament could take to try to keep Australians safe. That's what happened, and I commend the Leader of the Opposition for the leadership that he brought to the parliament that day, for the action that was taken on the initiative of the Leader of the Opposition and other shadow ministers, who governed in an absence of the actual government, which should have had all the advice and all the preparedness that we assume that they would have had to take action if that decision were made. We nonetheless were prepared to immediately step into the void left by the government and insist on this parliament doing what ultimately we did the other week.

But now we find ourselves in a farcical situation where we are being asked to pass through this parliament this other legislation that no-one really knew anything about until today. We've got a lot of concern and hesitation about this government's competence when it comes to legislating in this area. Two weeks ago, they didn't even want to legislate at all, and we shamed them into it. We said there are dangerous people out there who pose a risk to the safety of Australians—people who are out there tapdancing down the streets of the major CBDs of this country; convicted, hardened criminals who are not Australian citizens and who should not be in this country at all but particularly should not be freely walking the streets in and amongst the Australian community, at a huge risk and threat to them. At that point, the government was going to do nothing until we shamed them into it. Now we've got a situation where legislation is before us that we know hardly anything about and have hardly any understanding of its justification.

We now hear that the High Court will be handing down the reasoning for their determination tomorrow. Yet we're debating this bill right now in a conflated period of time and in an environment where, I have to say, we've got very little confidence in a government that has mucked up this issue from go to whoa.

The first job of any government is to keep the people of their country safe, and this government has failed on that spectacularly. The people of this country have not been kept safe through this whole tawdry ordeal, where hardened criminals have been released into the community. We've been talking in this parliament today, quite appropriately, about violence against women, and at the same time we've got a situation where convicted rapists are in our community, at risk of reoffending. So, we as a parliament want to do everything that's necessary to protect the people of this country. We've been taking the lead on this, and through the leadership of the opposition leader we saw legislation pass through this parliament in the last sitting period that goes some way, in the limited time we had and through the limited options we have as a legislative body, to keep Australians safe. But we don't have a government that is prioritising that. People have lost confidence in this government to do the fundamental most important thing that governments need to do, which is keep the people of this country safe.

4:51 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the last sitting week, or in fact prior to the last sitting week, on 8 November, the High Court handed down its decision in which it ruled that indefinite detention of these detainees was illegal. Those opposite, the government, said there was nothing they could do. We on this side of the House were urging them to introduce legislation to keep Australians safe, because, as everybody I think seems to recognise in this place—not just government but every member in this place and the other place—each of us has no greater responsibility than to keep Australians safe. But the government said, 'No, there's nothing we can do; we can't legislate.' They came in here the week after that, on the Monday, saying, 'Can't legislate' and on Tuesday, 'Can't legislate' and on Wednesday, 'Can't legislate.' Then—hey presto!—do you know what happened on Thursday morning? They asked to brief the leadership of the opposition and they threw a bill on the table and said: 'There you go. There's the bill. Take it or leave it.' They gagged debate. They wouldn't allow any amendments. It went up to the Senate. And for reasons that are unknown to me, the Acting Prime Minister had perhaps a moment of reason and decided: 'Well, actually, do you know what? Those amendments that the Leader of the Opposition was proposing in that meeting on the Thursday morning actually make sense. Here's a guy who has dedicated his life to keeping Australians safe, has acted as immigration minister, has acted as home affairs minister and has been a police officer. Maybe we should do this.'

So the government came from a position of, 'There's nothing we can do' to introducing legislation, but without accepting any amendments, to then accepting the amendments of the Leader of the Opposition. But what's really concerning here, what's troubling me, is that we now know that there are 141 detainees who have apparently been released into the community.

When the home affairs minister was challenged as to why the government hadn't done anything to put some contingencies in place in the ensuing period between July of this year, when they seemed to get a heads-up from the High Court as to how this was going to go, and 8 November, the home affairs minister went on Sunday Agenda with Andrew Clennell on Sky and indicated, 'We were advised that it was likely that the Commonwealth would win the case—that is, allow us to do what we wanted to do, which is keep these people in detention.

That's what she told Sky News'sSunday Agenda on 19 November. But what we now know, as a result of some good work done by Andrew Clennell, is that while she was saying those things she was in furious discussions with other countries and with the embassy in DC, trying to ensure that this individual, NZYQ, was deported from this country. It's really quite interesting. There was an email from David Gavin from Home Affairs dated 1 September 2023. He says:

The Minister for Home Affairs views this case of the utmost importance and wishes all avenues (including difficult ones) progressed. No stone should be left unturned would be an apt summary. I think a further discussion is warranted on the approach to Bangladesh, making further enquiries, and third country options for engagement.

So the Minister for Home Affairs is out there trying to get rid of this bloke, trying to get him off to another country. All the while, she's saying, 'We're not doing anything, because we think we're going to win the case.' Which is correct? The Australian people deserve answers from this home affairs minister, yet none are forthcoming.

4:56 pm

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on this issue and the Migration Amendment (Bridging Visa Conditions and Other Measures) Bill 2023. I find myself in the rather strange position where, for once, I agree with the Leader of the Greens. We've known each other for a long time, and we don't agree very much, but I do agree with his point that this is rushed. If I'm agreeing with the Leader of the Greens, then clearly the government has taken a wrong turn on this one.

Government isn't easy. The Australian people expect the government of the day to make tough decisions—not always universally popular—and to also show wisdom and foresight. We clearly have seen the minister caught napping on this issue. She was sitting back waiting for the High Court decision. Then, when it didn't go as planned, she didn't have a plan B in place, which saw the release of those very undesirable people into the general public. I understand that some of those have basically disappeared into the populace and no-one really knows where they are.

The bigger picture on this is that it shows up the blind spot that the Labor Party have when it comes to illegal migration. No-one understands more than me the need for migrants to come to this country. No-one understands more than me the needs of people who are at risk, who have extreme stress. We're very generous. We bring in more refugees on top of our regular migration intake, on a per capita basis, than pretty well anywhere else in the world. But there's a reason why we need to have processes around that. I know there are frustrations at times. Where I don't agree with the Leader of the Greens is basically—without wanting to put words in his mouth—believing we should be kinder and open the borders and allow more refugees to come through. We need to manage this because what we've seen is that that tide of genuine refugees is a pathway for people with serious character flaws, people of a criminal nature, to come through in the guise of refugees and then become established in Australia. That's what's happened. Those people had been identified. They were still in detention. The High Court decision meant that the government needed to react. They've been slow to react. They're basically making this up as they go along.

It was only a few hours ago these amendments were brought into the parliament, and now a decision needs to be made that is basically going to have a serious impact on the way we deal with illegal refugees, illegal comers to this country, who are not the desirable types of people that we want to have.

It's a little bit of deja vu. One of the advantages of having been around here for a long time is I can remember, in 2008, when then Prime Minister Rudd spoke about what he believed were the draconian and evil measures of the Howard government and how Australia was going to be a kinder, more welcoming nation. Within a few short years, we had 50,000 people turn up on our shores. People drowned at sea at the hands of the people-smugglers. We ended up having a huge mess to fix up. This is a classic example.

Photo of Tania LawrenceTania Lawrence (Hasluck, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

How many by air? You're happy with that?

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Someone that's been here for five minutes should maybe be quiet and get a bit of a history lesson here, because I've seen all of this before. Labor talk the talk, but they can't walk the walk. They've been caught napping on this one. They've got an issue to fix, and they're doing it on the run and using the house of the people in a very shoddy way.

5:01 pm

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank those speakers who have contributed to what is a very important bill and debate for the chamber to consider, on the Migration Amendment (Bridging Visa Conditions and Other Measures) Bill 2023. To recap, we're here today because the High Court have handed down their decision. The government had due notice of it back in June, when the first indication from the High Court was given to the government that there would potentially be an issue. The matter was ultimately decided by the High Court, and we now learn that reasons for the judgement will be handed down tomorrow.

The situation is that the government had options available to them to prevent people with serious criminal histories—people of significantly bad character, people who had committed murder, sexual offences against women and children, and other serious offences—from being released into the community. The government had the option to bring forward legislation, and in the last parliamentary week, as many will recall, there was a shambolic attempt by the home affairs minister and the immigration minister to patch something together at the eleventh hour, drafting legislation through the night. It will doubtless come as no surprise to anyone in this place that we're here today to patch up some of the deficiencies in the laws designed by the Labor Party at the eleventh hour, Labor having said for the first part of the last sitting week that it was not possible to pass legislation to address some of these concerns.

We find ourselves, as the honourable member for Parkes pointed out a minute ago, with a case of deja vu. We had advice yesterday, on Sunday evening, that there would be a briefing available to the coalition this morning. We arrived at the briefing for the coalition this morning. The two ministers were there. Again, the documents had been put together in a hasty fashion. They had not been properly considered. This is well and truly designing of a bill on the run, and on such a serious issue the government stands condemned in that regard. I've had three meetings with the Prime Minister today, and I'm grateful for his time.

The resolve of the coalition is to make sure that whatever can be done is done to take these people back into immigration detention. That's what would provide the safest outcome for the Australian public over this Christmas holiday period: for these people, and potentially hundreds more, not to be in the community but to be back in immigration detention. There should be a preventative detention regime as part of this bill, and it should be drafted with haste by the government. Obviously, once the outcome is provided tomorrow by the High Court, it can be in accordance with the advice from the High Court.

The proposition at the moment is that this is being rushed through the lower house and then it's going to sit.

So it's not going to the upper house, where advised.

We said this to the government early this morning: 'Don't rush this bill. There's no need to suspend standing orders, because you haven't properly drafted this bill. There are flaws all through it, and it has no mention of preventative detention whatsoever.' The ministers who made the grave errors of judgement and embarrassed the Prime Minister in his absence in the last sitting week have been let loose again, but the Prime Minister, to his credit, is stepping up and addressing some of the very legitimate concerns, but this should not be before the House now. Why would you rush this bill through overnight when the High Court is providing its reasons tomorrow? Originally that was to be in February of next year. But now we find out the High Court delivers its reasons for the judgement tomorrow, so why would the government seek to rush it through? Because these two ministers don't have a single clue between them! And that's the problem.

We believe that there is an option available to the government to stop these people in their tracks and to stop them from committing further crimes and being able to take them back into immigration detention, and that is what we commit to working with the government on over the course of the sitting week. If we need to sit on Friday or over the weekend or next week, then we will do that, but we will make sure that the coalition holds this government to account, because, at the moment, they've released people into the community who shouldn't be there.

5:06 pm

Photo of Kate ChaneyKate Chaney (Curtin, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I take community safety very seriously, but I also take it seriously when, as a parliament, we're creating new offences on the fly, including mandatory sentencing, and creating additional punishments for a particular group of people. We let people out of jail who have served their sentence every day, and here we're creating some additional draconian conditions on a particular group of people. This legislation requires a delicate balance between community safety and human rights.

I understand that the government needed to respond to the High Court's decision in finding an appropriate balance. We've been locking people up indefinitely for so long here in Australia that it has become normalised, but it shouldn't have come as a complete surprise that the High Court might find that we can't lock people up indefinitely. I don't accept that the government should somehow defy the High Court and put people in immigration detention in direct contravention of the High Court's finding. We have a separation of our powers for a reason.

The government passed urgent legislation a few weeks ago in a process that didn't allow much time at all for consideration about the proportionality of the offences created and with some fairly draconian amendments that were agreed in the Senate. And now, today, we have an amendment. I understand that one of the things that this amendment does is to fix an omission in last week's bill, creating three new offences to correspond to these newly created and fairly draconian conditions, but I have concerns about some of the amendments that purportedly add clarity about electronic monitoring arrangements.

Some of it seems to be addressing rushed drafting, shifting powers from regulation into the legislation, but one amendment changes section 76F(2) so that personal information can be given to any person for a range of reasons. This seems very broad. Purposes listed include 'protecting the community' and 'facilitating the location of a person'. Maybe this is appropriate, but, given we first heard about it eight hours ago and my one advisor and I have been busy all day on the other work of parliament, I've not had time to make a sensible decision about whether it is reasonable. I haven't had time to consult my community, I haven't had time to consult experts and I don't think we can make decisions about laws that seriously impact people's rights in such a hurry.

The government has indicated that the legislation is likely to need to be amended after the High Court's reasons are handed down, but it refuses to include a sunset clause on these hurriedly drafted new laws. And we hear the High Court may hand down its findings as early as tomorrow, which makes it slightly ridiculous to be passing legislation today. We need to pause on this. We need to listen to the High Court's reasons for decision. We need to be very careful about removing individual rights without proper, sober consideration and debate. So, I will not be supporting this bill. It may well be proportionate. It may well be required. Once we see the High Court's reasons, it may well be consistent with those reasons.

But, without adequate time to consult, I'm not comfortable supporting any further reduction of rights or creation of new offences.

5:09 pm

Photo of Monique RyanMonique Ryan (Kooyong, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I concur with my colleague from Curtin. The first priority of this government should be the defence of its citizenry. All Australians deserve to feel safe in their communities. The debate around this unfortunate situation in the last two or three weeks has engendered many feelings of insecurity and concern in Australians in a way which is I think probably unnecessary but also extremely unfortunate.

The recent decision that the indefinite detention of the immigrants under discussion today is illegal is a decision of the High Court. The government initially prevaricated in the face of that decision. It appears to have been caught flat-footed and then to have reacted in a knee-jerk fashion in response to sustained pressure from the opposition which appears to be more political than legal in its basis. It then presented us, at the end of the last sitting week, with a hastily concocted piece of legislation which challenged the rule of law and the separation of powers in this country. After it went to the Senate, it came back with draconian amendments which meant that we in this place would be legislating criminal penalties for individuals who, for whatever reason, failed to comply with that legislation. It is the job of the courts in this country to criminalise offences, not the job of this parliament.

We're now in a situation where that poorly concocted legislation has come back to us like a speeding bullet. We were presented with this additional legislation less than eight hours ago. We've been given no opportunity to consult our communities about it, to consult our constituents about it or to consult legal experts. We've now been given one hour to debate a piece of legislation which potentially changes the relationship between the High Court and the parliament of this country.

This is an appalling situation. This place should operate with consideration, with respect, with consultation and with thought. We shouldn't be reacting in the way that we are in response to the political pressure placed on the government by the opposition. We need our government to be better than that. We need it to set a standard that we can feel comfortable with. We need it to make us feel not only safe but also secure. I think I speak for many of my constituents in saying that it is with great disappointment that we see this piece of legislation presented to the parliament today.

5:13 pm

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This bill and what's going on here today is one of the lower points that we've seen in parliament, because what we've seen is a total fear campaign driven by an opposition bereft of policy, bereft of intelligence and bereft of an ability to actually think about the Australian community. They come in here with their bravado and their tough talk about how they're the tough cop on the beat, but what we've seen is the total opposite. All we've seen is a bunch of spineless people sitting there, striking fear into the hearts of Australians. For nine years in government, they did nothing. They sat on this and didn't do a thing, but they attack the government for trying to clean up another of their bits of mess.

Of course you shouldn't have people locked up in detention permanently if there were no crimes committed. But, if there are people who do commit crimes and people who are doing the wrong thing, then we need to make sure they're not on the streets. But what you see is hypocrisy from those opposite in the Liberal and National parties. I'm making sure I don't mention the orange collective over there—because it's a totally different kettle of fish—or the Greens. But we have seen the 'all talk, no action' of those opposite.

Let's have a look at what we've got today. We have a member of the opposition leadership team writing letters arguing for the release of a detainee—a child sex offender, no less.

While the government were arguing in court to keep people detained—the Labor Party were out there, standing up and saying, 'We don't want to release people onto the street'—the Liberal Party were actively going out and saying that we should release people onto the street. They actually supported this.

We have a letter from Senator Dean Smith, who wrote to plead the case for the child sex offender in immigration detention awaiting deportation. This individual had failed the character test and had had his refugee visa cancelled, yet we had a senior Liberal Party frontbencher arguing to have this person released into the community. This is the point we've been raising about this whole situation: it is not of our making but it's something that, as a hangover from the previous government, we've got to clean up.

While the Labor side of the House were in court arguing to keep criminals locked up, those opposite in the Liberal Party did nothing, and now we find they're actively supporting the release of people like this into our community. On 22 September this year, a senior Liberal frontbencher wrote: 'After developing a relationship with the younger girl, he was convicted in 2015 for sexual penetration of a girl over the age of 13 and under the age of 16, including on a consensual and non-consensual basis.' The letter acknowledged that the crime had had a lasting effect on the victim, yet the opposition Liberal frontbencher actively supported the release. And not just once, because that letter wasn't enough—in February 2023 he again pleaded the case to support this individual being released; in fact, he said he'd make himself available.

We hear a lot of talk from the Leader of the Opposition. The member for Dickson, Peter Dutton, the Leader of the Opposition, likes to stand up, talk tough and pretend he's the big cop on the beat, but this is the real test. When it comes to keeping criminals off our streets, the other side of the House, the Liberal Party side, are out there advocating for their release, and it is this side of the House, the government side, that wants to keep them off the streets.

Imagine if it had been a Labor MP who had written a letter like that. He'd be suspending standing orders. He'd be shutting down question time. The absolute faux outrage would be all over the place.

And you're a former copper too. You're another one. Two former coppers did nothing. You actually wanted to get people out on the street. So I say to the member for La Trobe: why would you do that? You'd do that because this is not about anything other than trying to make a political point in a political game for a leader of the opposition who, without a shadow of a doubt, fails every character test on leadership and statesmanship.

This was the opposition leader's big moment to make his tough-guy fantasy come true. But what has it done? It has blown up in his face, because publicly, while he's standing here with his faux outrage, pretending he's the tough cop on the beat, senior Liberal frontbenchers are quietly out there supporting these people to be out on the street.

5:18 pm

Photo of Kylea TinkKylea Tink (North Sydney, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by making one thing very, very clear. It is that, for 30 years, as a nation, we have practised law, and flagrantly so, in the face of international human rights law. The High Court ruling that came down on 8 October made one thing abundantly clear: it is not the place of the Australian parliament to punish individuals. At the moment, we know nothing more than that about what drove the ruling that came on 8 October, but what we do know is that the court said: 'No more.' No more will an Australian government decide that indefinite and arbitrary detention be something that can be exercised by the government. No more will Australians be asked to turn away as people languish in indefinite detention.

The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as a good crime, and we as a parliament must absolutely make sure that we do everything we can to keep our community safe. The truth of the matter is that we do not have the death penalty in Australia, and we do not have that because we do not support or believe in it. But arbitrary indefinite detention may as well be the death penalty, because these people have no way out. They have no way of knowing where they're going to be and they have nowhere to go.

As a normal Australian, I have been incredibly frustrated by the colour of the debate in this place in the last 10 days.

We have a government that has been handed a High Court ruling, and it is right and just that the government should listen to that High Court ruling and modify the behaviour and the legislation of this place based on that High Court ruling. It is inappropriate to have an opposition come out and make some sort of claim that it's within this parliament's power to ignore that ruling and simply legislate to lock people up. I would say in this place to all Australians: it is a very slippery slope when your government can make laws to lock you up with no recourse to the judicial system. Regardless of who this decision is impacting at the moment, every single Australian should be prepared to fight for the right which sees a separation between the judicial system and our parliamentary system. To muddy it in this way, to use this as a dog-whistling exercise to rally people around something which is inappropriate for our nation, is simply not becoming of this place and this parliamentary context.

I call on all of us here, then, to move forward as a parliament in a calm fashion, debating what is appropriate for our society and deciding what's in the best interests of all Australians, for I fear that, the faster we rush this sort of legislative reform, the more mistakes we will make. We cannot simply legislate our way by applying layer upon layer of mismanagement. It's what got us here in the first place, and both major parties have contributed to that. The High Court ruling gives us an opportunity to hit control alt delete on our detention system in this country, and that's exactly what we should do.

5:21 pm

Photo of Tania LawrenceTania Lawrence (Hasluck, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak about my concern about the tactics and the words that are being used by those opposite to try to undermine the significant legislation, the Migration Amendment (Bridging Visa Conditions and Other Measures) Bill 2023, that we are endeavouring to introduce to ensure that Australians are safe from those who present a safety risk within our community. It is quite extraordinary that we have a Leader of the Opposition who is prepared to argue the merits of ignoring the High Court and having complete and utter disregard for the separation of powers, which exists for good reason, within our system.

While the government has been getting on and working to make sensible and restrained legislation that's fit for purpose to deal with the risk at hand, we have had members of the opposition leadership team writing letters to the government asking for the release of a detainee, a child sex offender. Using the approach that the Leader of the Opposition would use, detailing the extraordinary gory details, this is a person who failed the character test. He had his refugee visa cancelled. He developed a relationship with a younger person. He was convicted in 2015. It was both consensual and non-consensual sex—that was the verdict. A person from the Liberal frontbench wrote that he knew that, in the time passed, it still had a lasting effect on the victim and yet he still suggested that this person had demonstrated significant remorse and repentance. He didn't just write once; he wrote twice. He wrote again in February 2023, pleading the case again. This was Senator Dean Smith from the opposition. So, whilst we hear a lot of this tough talk, on the other hand we have a senator, a member of the opposition leadership team, advocating for the release of a detainee, a child sex offender, in immigration detention, awaiting deportation. Senator Smith was arguing that that person should be released into the community.

This is not a government that is trying to have it both ways. This is a government that is trying to be sensible, cautious and do what is necessary in order to be able to take actions to protect our community. This is not a government that is ignoring the High Court's decision. This is not a government that is ignoring the importance of the separation of powers.

Instead, what we have to deal with and confront on a far-too-frequent basis is the Leader of the Opposition—a man with a heart of stone and a desperation for power—trying to absolutely use this opportunity to politically pointscore and create division and fear within our community at a time when we need to be thinking in a completely alternative way about social cohesion, building, caring and being careful with our words.

The Leader of the Opposition has a lot to answer for, and the people that stand behind him and around him are answerable for that too.

When discussing measures of this nature that literally change the course of the way in which we run this country, it's important that we apply the appropriate diligence and that we do it in a way that is proportionate to the need to ensure that our community is safe, without the politicisation, the weaponisation, of something that is so deeply important to get right. We just ask that those opposite and the Leader of the Opposition start to demonstrate merit and absolute care in their choice of words instead of being fixated on trying to shore up his position as the stone-hearted man that is negative and determined to create division within our society.

5:25 pm

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Community Safety, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

All I can say is that this a shocking position the government has put the Australian community in. The minister should have been prepared for this. She should have been well and truly aware of the High Court decision and have had legislation ready to go.

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! In accordance with the resolution moved earlier, the time allotted for this debate has concluded.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill be read a second time.