Senate debates

Thursday, 28 June 2012


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

11:27 am

Photo of Bob CarrBob Carr (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

As the Senate debates this bill, there are 43 million displaced people around the world, including more than 10 million refugees. There are nearly two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and one million more in Iraq. There are 1.5 million refugees who have fled Iraq, although I suspect that figure is higher—I remember estimates of four million refugees being forced out of Iraq, or displaced within Iraq, by the disastrous American invasion of March 2003. Some 140,000 people have fled Sri Lanka. To date, as we watch the civil war in Syria, 80,000 refugees have fled that conflict. They have gone to Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, all ill-equipped to check this refugee flow. They have gone to Turkey as well.

I am proud of Australia's record on refugees. As Premier of New South Wales, I was honoured to meet people who had come to these shores as refugees. I remember taking students from year 10 history classes, from four Western Sydney high schools, through the Australian War Memorial. I vividly remember looking at the model of Gallipoli with four students of Afghan background—two of the girls wore hijabs. They had been in Australia for just a year and a half, having come here via Christmas Island and Port Hedland. As we stood looking at the model of Gallipoli, I asked, 'Do you know what happened here?' and—I will never forget it—one of the girls said, 'Yes, they landed on April 25.' We discussed the war and the evacuation from Gallipoli. They had been in Australia less than a year and a half, they had come as refugees, they were studying Australian history in year 10 at Holroyd High School and they knew about Gallipoli.

I remember going to an International Women's Day reception at Government House. A young girl came up to me and said, 'Mr Carr, we have bird lice in the roof of our school; what can you do about it?' I said, 'The least I can do, given that you have come up to me, is visit your school.' She turned out to be from an Afghan refugee family. I met her brother and sister at the school. They were doing very well. They were studying maths for the HSC. I was struck again by the value for Australia in these refugees.

I remember visiting a school in Cabramatta, a year 3 or year 4 class with a gifted teacher who was leading the children through arguments on drugs. She said to the boys and girls, 'What do you do if a friend tells you to smoke this?' They all put their hands up and said, 'We say we don't want to smoke it.' 'What do you do if a boy or a girl says they won't be your friend unless you smoke this?' The hands all shot up and they said, 'We will say that we don't care and we won't smoke what they're giving us.' The gifted teacher conducting that lesson had arrived as a boat person and is now teaching young Vietnamese. A friend of mine working in the computer industry can recall fleeing Da Nang harbour in the middle of the night with his family. He was young and remembers that his sister had to be dressed as a boy because they were scared of pirates commandeering their vessel and taking off any teenage girls.

I have long held the view that Australia made a bad decision in the 1930s not to issue visas left, right and centre to the Jews of central and eastern Europe who wanted to flee, especially after Kristallnacht in October 1938. The energy that larger numbers of Jewish refugees would have brought to these shores and to our nation would have been extraordinary. Nonetheless, I am proud that Australia is so generous. After the United States and Canada, Australia has the largest humanitarian intake with around 14,000 this year and almost 70,000 in the last five years. We spend $405 million to support humanitarian emergency and refugee programs globally. We are acknowledged as a generous nation.

The truth is, you cannot have safer borders and you cannot have humane treatment of what we call in bureaucratic language 'irregular maritime arrivals' without having an effective disincentive to those who ply the evil people-smuggling trade. The arrangement made between the government and Malaysia is such a disincentive. I draw the attention of the house to a very thoughtful article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 June 2012 by Clive Kessler, an emeritus professor and internationally recognised expert on the Malaysian culture, society, history and politics. He said:

A set of arrangements has been negotiated by Australia with the Malaysian government. These arrangements are not perfect, neither is Malaysia. But they are workable. So why resist implementing them?

…      …   …

Having spent a scholarly life, over half a century, studying Malaysian society, culture and politics, I know those shortcomings far better than most. Even so, there is a good case to be made for the 'Malaysian solution'.

It provides the most workable, humane, long-term sustainable approach now on offer. It is a policy that stands somewhere between saying no to everybody and yes to everybody who shows up here.

The Malaysian plan would effectively recognise the international nature of a problem—of a cynical exercise in which Australia stands at the end of the line of a game of pass the 'hot potato'—and would regionalise the practicalities of its handling and management.

At the core of the amendments before us today is a simple but powerful proposition: we can break the business model of the people smugglers and we have a duty to do so. Offshore processing is an essential element to stopping the people-smuggling trade and this amendment is essential to achieve that objective. This problem is not static. If rejected by the Senate, the solution will be returned to by a future Australian government. The behaviour of people smugglers is constantly adapting. The problems that send people onto the high seas will continue to appear in the regions to our north. After the High Court decision—one of the most questionable and curious High Court decisions in memory—arrivals tripled—


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