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

Once removed, the numbers went up. I quoted the figures earlier. The Malaysian arrangement is a strong message to people smugglers that they cannot guarantee a future in Australia for those who are smuggled.

We saw that when we announced the Malaysian arrangement last year: the number of arrivals dropped because people smugglers waited to see if the arrangement would be implemented. It was not; and, when the government's legislative amendments were blocked, the people smugglers returned to their business with renewed vigour. And why wouldn't they? That is a clear demonstration of how effective the arrangement would be if the government has the opportunity to implement it. The arrangement would ensure one thing—that none of those transferred would be eligible for resettlement in Australia. When transferred to Malaysia, they would be processed by UNHCR and be subject to UNHCR's normal resettlement program, with no special treatment and with no guarantees about the eventual country of resettlement. That contrasts sharply with the Nauru experience, where processing for resettlement is by Australian Immigration. Where? Primarily in Australia. With Malaysia, none of those transferred would be eligible for special treatment on resettlement. With Nauru, just about all of those processed there end up in Australia. How's that as an effective policy!

I hear critics say that towing vessels back to Indonesia would work. Do they not understand that such a policy would drive people smugglers to sabotage their vessels at the time of interception to avoid being towed back? Threats to tow back endanger not only those on the vessel but also the brave Australian officials whose job it is to protect our borders. What a policy that is, to tow the boats back! It would produce a crisis in our relations with our most important near neighbour, Indonesia. It would reduce Australian-Indonesian relations to an ongoing squabble about returning boats to crowded Indonesian ports, to a single transactional issue. In a post-2014 Indonesia—that is, a post-President Yudhoyono Indonesia—it is likely to have even more of an inflammatory effect then it is likely to have now. But that is the opposition policy. The opposition policy is to tow the boats back. It is primitive. It is unworkable. It is inhumane. It is no alternative.

I hear people say that, under the arrangement, Malaysia cannot provide those transferred with appropriate protection. They should read the text of the arrangement and its associated operational guidelines, which are freely available in the public domain. They should read the article by Professor Kessler, an academic expert on Malaysia, that I quoted from earlier. He said:

These arrangements are not perfect … But they are workable. So why resist implementing them?

He also says in that article, by the way:

Abbott's reasons and strategy are clear. On immigration, as on all other matters, he wants, by a chosen strategy of finely targeted obstructionism to all government initiatives … to make the country ungovernable. That is half of his strategy. The other half is then to spend the rest of his time jeering that the government is demonstrably hopeless, that it simply cannot govern. Whose doing is that? Abbott is on a sure winner.

The commitments in the text of the arrangement are not hidden away from scrutiny; they are there for all to see and to hold the Australian and Malaysian governments to account. The arrangement makes clear that those transferred will be treated with dignity and respect, in accordance with human rights standards. They will be accommodated in the community, be allowed an opportunity to work and be provided with minimum standards of care if they cannot. Those are serious commitments entered into by a government serious about stopping this trade, and they are supported by the UNHCR. That answers the arguments of anyone who wants to question the humanity of the Malaysian arrangement: they are supported by the UNHCR, whose integrity and commitment to refugee health and wellbeing cannot be doubted or challenged. They are serious commitments. With regard to the Malaysian arrangement, UNHCR's regional representative, Rick Towle, has acknowledged:

… it has the potential to … make a significant practical contribution to what we're trying to achieve in the region.

I hear critics say that processing people offshore in Nauru is better and proven policy. But creating a new Christmas Island in a foreign country is not enough—not when the people smugglers know that anyone sent to Nauru for processing will almost certainly end up in Australia, exactly where people smugglers promised to deliver their valuable customers. What sort of disincentive is that? The amendments before the Senate today provide the only effective disincentive available to Australia. It is essential that a clear message of deterrence is sent to people smugglers, and this amendment would do it.

The Australian people want humane treatment of people fleeing their homelands on the high seas. They want humane treatment, but at the same time they want an effective border policy. They want an effective border policy, but they do not want to see any loss of life. In a world of less than entirely satisfactory answers and solutions, this is the best option. No option will work without it containing, at its core, a powerful disincentive to the businesses that are driving this flow of sad and threatened humanity.


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