Senate debates

Thursday, 28 June 2012


Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012; Second Reading

10:55 am

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration) Share this | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. Forty-four days before the 2010 election, the Prime Minister stated to the people of Australia, in relation to countries to be used for offshore processing, 'I would rule out anywhere that is not a signatory to the refugee convention.' Given that the Prime Minster made this promise to the Australian people before the last election, the only question that needs to be answered today is whether she will now agree to honour that promise by supporting the coalition's amendment to this legislation, which will ensure that she does indeed honour that commitment. The coalition have a consistent and principled position on protecting our borders. Yesterday we offered a principled amendment to get a workable bill that could today be passed in the Senate. Instead, the Prime Minister and Labor chose a stalemate, not a solution. Labor's bill is not good legislation. It is doomed to fail, because it compromises the standards of good faith and decent people and it will not stop the boats.

Yesterday in the House of Representatives the Prime Minister, in making a statement about the most recent boat sinkings, tried to politicise the situation and take the focus away from the Labor government's failings. The Prime Minister sought to emotionally blackmail members into bringing on for debate and supporting a bill that she was fully aware would never pass the Senate. This debate should have been about highlighting the fact that the Labor Party has dismantled and abolished Liberal policy that had succeeded in stopping the boats. When Labor abolished Liberal anti-people-smuggling policy, Labor established a policy that was in fact a highly profitable business model that was readily embraced and accepted by the people smugglers. The tragedy we are now witnessing is a product of the highly profitable business model that the Labor Party established and which has been adopted by the people smugglers.

The coalition understand that people smuggling is a business, and we understand that to destroy that business you need to remove the incentives, the infrastructure and the opportunities that exist to make this business function. The coalition, with its strong border protection policies, proved when in government that people smugglers can be stopped. The coalition have been telling the Labor government for years now that its border protection policies have failed and that it is Labor policy that is creating the opportunity for people smugglers to make huge profits by putting desperate people on boats and sending them out to sea. Labor's failed people-smuggling policy is playing into the hands of the criminal people smugglers. The government have adopted the bill and introduced it into the Senate. Labor's adoption of this bill is a desperate move to artificially contrive a scheme of arrangement to pretend that it is doing something when the facts show that it has lost control of our borders. It is up to the government today to convince the Senate of the merits of this bill and so far it has failed to do so. To succeed in having this bill pass the Senate, the government has to mount a cogent case and demonstrate that it contains acceptable provisions in the bill to persuade the other parties to vote for it. If the bill is not acceptable to a majority of senators in the form in which it is introduced, the government—if it wants to end this issue today, it if wants a solution to its border protection failures—has to be prepared to accept amendments from the coalition in order to achieve a majority vote. If the government accepts amendments from the coalition, this bill will pass the Senate today. If the government refuses to accept the coalition's amendments, this bill will fail. It is no good blaming the coalition if the government cannot convince a majority of senators of the merits of this bill and the government refuses to accept amendments that would achieve a majority vote. The government will be hoisted on its own petard if it fails to compromise. The government cannot come in here and blame the coalition for its own disastrous actions if it fails to listen. The fate of this bill today rests with the government and it is the government that will, by its own decision not to accept amendments, seal the fate of this bill. It is no good government members standing in this place today and blaming others for their own failings.

In relation to the coalition's concerns about sending asylum seekers to Malaysia, the government is yet to mount a cogent case and demonstrate that it has obtained the necessary commitment from Malaysia to ensure the protection of asylum seekers. Malaysia is not a signatory to the UNHCR treaty. And I again remind senators that 44 days before the 2010 election Ms Gillard said to the people of Australia, 'I would rule out anywhere that is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention' for countries to be used for offshore processing. I also remind senators of what occurred at the Victorian state ALP conference when the Malaysia deal was first discussed. Delegates voted unanimously to urge the Labor caucus to reject the Malaysia solution. They called on their own Labor Party to act consistently with the principles established by the High Court ruling. Michele O'Neil, the National Secretary of the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia, said this about the government's Malaysia solution: 'This is a shameful moment for us as a party'. That is in addition to the emotional pleas of Labor statesman Senator John Faulkner and Left faction convener Senator Doug Cameron and Left faction member Senator Gavin Marshall, all of whom have spoken out in caucus against the Malaysia people swap solution. On 2 December 2011 Melissa Parke, the member for Fremantle, said:

Through the Malaysia agreement we are proposing to discriminate against asylum seekers in a way that fundamentally breaches their human rights.

What we are now faced with in the Senate is that—despite the overwhelming opposition from so many on the Labor side, on this side, from the Greens and from people of Australia—the Labor Party has come to this place today committed to a policy that will send to Malaysia people who have come to Australia seeking our protection. Statistics published by the Malaysian Ministry of Justice show that in the five years between 2005 and 2010 some 29,759 unlawful entrants to Malaysia were subjected to the punishment of caning—an average of 16 canings per day, every day—and this is a common penalty, provided for by the Malaysian government for asylum seekers entering that country. The Labor Party is committed to a policy that will allow them to send children who have engaged our protection obligations to a country where they will have no protections, they will not be able to attend proper schools and can be caned under Malaysian law. The Labor Party is committed to a policy whereby it will send people who have engaged our protection obligations to a country where they will share one UNHCR-funded medical clinic with 94,000 other refugees in Malaysia.

The Labor Party remains committed to the Malaysian solution, despite the fact that the federal parliament was so abhorred by this policy that the House of Representatives passed a motion condemning the Malaysian asylum swap deal. It is incumbent on the Prime Minister of Australia to explain to Australians why she would pursue this arrangement in Malaysia when there is a proven, more humane and more cost-effective solution that can be immediately introduced. It is incumbent on the Prime Minister to explain why she would send unauthorised arrivals to Malaysia, which has not signed the UN convention against torture, when Nauru has. It is incumbent on the Prime Minister of Australia to explain to the Australian people why will she send asylum seekers to a country that cannot guarantee standards and accessibility of medical care. It is incumbent on the Prime Minister of Australia to explain to the Senate today why she will send children to Malaysia who will have absolutely no protections at all.

The Left of the Labor Party should be ashamed of themselves. Going forward, they will never again be able to stand up in this place and tell the Australian people that they believe in upholding the human rights of asylum seekers. The parliament must do what it can to ensure our borders are secure and to end the evil work of the people smugglers. Too many people have made this dangerous journey and too many have lost their lives in attempting to do so. The time has come to yet again end this terrible trade—just as the coalition did when we were elected to govern under former Prime Minister Howard.

As the matters are debated in the Senate today, I want to restate to the Australian people the coalition's position, which we are committed to, which will again make our borders strong. We support offshore processing. We support temporary protection visas. We support turning back the boats when it is safe to do so. We do not support the Malaysia people swap deal, because it will not work and it fails the test of a good and decent people. That is our principled position that we will uphold in the debate before the Senate today. These policies of the coalition have worked in the past and they will work again if and when they are reintroduced.

In good faith, the coalition offered a principled compromise yesterday, consistent with our values, to ensure the passage of the legislation through the Senate today. This included increasing Australia's refugee and humanitarian intake from the current level to 20,000 a year within three years. We believe it makes sense to offer people who are prepared to try to come to Australia the right way rather than the wrong way more opportunity to do so. We offered that people who are processed at any centre would have the processing of their claims done within 12 months and that a multiparty committee would be established to work out how to successfully settle the 20,000 immigrants.

The time for talking is over. The government does not have the option of continuing to do nothing and blaming the opposition. This is not a policy; it is a convenient excuse. If we must wait until an election to end this madness, then at least take action now to mitigate the increased risk of loss of life and continued compromise of our refugee and humanitarian program as the boats keep coming.

As the coalition has made clear time and time again, we will never support bad policy. We will never engage in supporting something which we think will have bad outcomes for the Australian nation, and this policy will have bad outcomes for the Australian nation. It compromises our standards and it will not stop the boats. What, in fact, it will mean is that the people smugglers will load up the boats with women and children, because the government has already indicated that women and children may not be sent back.

If the Prime Minister wants to send a tough message to people smugglers, there is one thing and one thing alone she can do. She can accept the coalition's proposed amendments to this legislation. That will see that Labor honours its election commitment to the Australian people that it will not send people to a country that is not a signatory to the UNHCR treaty. It will see that the Labor Party allays the concerns of not only the people of Australia but the people who are members of the Labor Left. It will ensure that Labor upholds its obligations under the UNHCR treaty. But, most importantly, it will ensure that a solution to this matter is reached today.


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