Senate debates

Thursday, 28 June 2012


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

12:45 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Nationals) Share this | Hansard source

We have an opportunity today to deal with the big question in the public arena at the moment: whether the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 will resolve the issues we are looking at. I am obviously not a lawyer, but many lawyers would understand the mischief rule. The question is whether this legislation will stop the mischief. I think that this bill, unamended and without complementary policies, simply will not pass that basic test. The boats will keep coming if we support this legislation. I do not think there would be a dent in the traffic. Senator Brandis ably demonstrated that earlier with the numbers, when we were discussing implementation of this very policy.

Why do these people take the risks? We need to look very carefully at the demographics. These are not just groups of people; there are 14 million people in the world today seeking refugee settlement—not migration settlement but refugee settlement. There is a spectrum of those seeking refugee settlement, and they go all the way from those people who are concerned about their status—they are concerned that people are moving against them to persecute them, so it is pre-persecution, and they would rightly be considered refugees under the refugee convention—all the way around to people who have already suffered persecution and who are hiding and in fear of death. It is a huge spectrum.

Refugees under the convention are not all entitled equally to settlement; they are all entitled equally to the rights of a refugee. Because there are so many, the UNHCR has decided that there has to be a priority, a list. There are basically three fundamental categories, and at the top of the list is what the UNHCR refers to as the priority 1 list. The priority 1 list is generally not individuals but often a demographic or a spatial area. I understand that at the moment the priority 1 list refers to those individuals who are seeking refugee settlement more broadly in the Horn of Africa, and it deals specifically with individual groups in that area. They beyond all others clearly require urgent settlement. In a perfect world we would be able to find 14 million places so that people do not have to live in persecution. But we do not live in a perfect world, and that is simply not possible. But Australia does pull its weight. Our rate of humanitarian refugee intake per head of population is amongst the best in the world.

I have described before in this place the people in camps like Kakuma in Kenya. It is difficult to conceive just how bad their lives are, with persecution and levels of safety that even in some war-torn countries would be considered very bad. The security issues around places like Kakuma are appalling, and that is why we have to deal with the situation these people are in. Australia is a very attractive nation—it is a wonderful place to live. Many people around the world would like to visit Australia and move here, and it is the same with refugees. In these circumstances we need to make a clear decision. It is my personally held view, and the view of the coalition, that our humanitarian visa demographic should be filled with 100 per cent priority 1 cases and the family reunification demographic attached to that. That is, fundamentally, why we have the convention. We have all agreed to the rules that provide assistance to those who most need it.

The other thing that makes us such a popular destination, apart from the beauty of our country and all the aspects of Australia, is that at the moment it is seen certainly by those purveyors of human misery who traffic in human lives as a rolled-gold opportunity for permanent residence. It is not hard to sell it. We have only one Ayers Rock in Australia for the tourists, and we have the only permanent residency outcome in the world for people smugglers. That is why they target this country—because we have a policy under which if you land on our shores it is highly likely, outside of some severe security issues or some other issues that will affect a very small number of people, that you will get to live in this country permanently. People pay a lot of money for that. I do not want to say 100 per cent, but close to 100 per cent of the people who come here by boat are not on the priority 1 list, the list of people most in need.

These are very complex circumstances and they need a sophisticated policy response. The legislation we are looking at today has to be part of a suite of responses. From history, we absolutely know that offshore processing works. It is not a maybe. We know that, as part of a suite of initiatives, offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island clearly helped to create a disincentive. But one measure in isolation will never achieve the desired outcome. As I have said, a complex set of circumstances requires a sophisticated suite of policies.

Any policy discussion should start with the question, 'What are we trying to do today?' We are trying to stop the deaths. Those deaths will not happen if people are not in boats. So, in effect, we have to stop the boats. Why do the people come? They come because they can achieve a permanent outcome which is not achievable in other parts of the world. So we need to change that outcome. From all that, it is quite evident that an effective suite of policies would include stopping the boats and changing the outcome of permanent residency by reintroducing temporary protection visas. We know of course that those were elements of a previous government's policy and that that policy worked.

The Howard government did not suddenly or immediately arrive at the solution of offshore processing on Manus Island and Nauru, stopping the boats and introducing temporary protection visas. As everyone does, as any government does, we floundered. There were horrific party meetings about what we should do. It took us some time to arrive at the solutions we eventually came to. As you would in any new complex environment, you have a bit of a crack at this and then, if that does not work, you have a crack at that and maybe that does not work either, so you try something else and so on. We know the suite of measures we ended up with—turning back the boats, temporary protection visas and offshore processing—worked because we tried them and found them to work. We tried lots of other stuff, but this was the suite of measures which did work.

Sadly—but it is just how politics works—today those measures are seen to be John Howard's policies and therefore they are not available. I think that is very sad because they are tried-and-true policies which have worked and they are probably, in the immediate sense, the only ones that will work. They should be part of any suite of measures we introduce.

On the subject of stopping the trade, I commend Senator Milne for some of her remarks in one particular area. She asked, 'Why do we not act before the people are in the water?' It is a very good question. Why don't we act? If we were turning back the boats, Senator Milne, at 32 nautical miles off the coast—which is where the most recent vessel was when it sent its first distress signal—we would have scrambled boats; we would have got there, 32 miles off the coast. We would have turned the boat back; and we would have ensured that no lives were lost. I do not see the policy of turning the boats back as meaning we wait until they get here and then say, 'Off you go.' A far more sophisticated operational policy approach could save lives at sea. You might ask, 'Where is the evidence for that, Senator?' There were no lives lost at sea during the period we were turning back the boats.

I turn now to the issue of Malaysia. We do not have evidence, as we do with Manus Island and Nauru, that it would work operationally. It is just another place offshore, so I am assuming that, if it did work operationally, it would have pretty much the same impact as Nauru and Manus Island. Senator Brandis indicated earlier that it does not practically work and to me that sends a signal that no single one of these initiatives is going to achieve the desired outcome on its own.

The fact that, after so many deaths and after 332 vessels have got through, the boats continue to come sends me a very clear message that, without a comprehensive suite of legislative and policy measures, things will not change and the boats will continue to arrive. The Malaysia solution simply strips away any protection of human rights and the Malaysians do not have the very best history in that regard. It is not as if we are trying to protect people against something which is unknown. That is why we cannot and will not support this legislation without a significant amendment to ensure a level of protection which, at the moment, does not apply in Malaysia.

Sadly, this legislation represents a lost opportunity for all involved in this very complex space. It is a lost opportunity for the people languishing in Kakuma, a lost opportunity to do something about the criminals making millions of dollars trafficking in human misery, a lost opportunity for those on the other side and a lost opportunity for the Australian public. It is a very complex space and I think this legislation has let us all down. We have lost a great opportunity as a parliament.

This is one of those times when I know those on the other side are being fair dinkum about what they, individually, would wish to do. As a body, however, they are still looking at this through the prism of politics. I acknowledge that that happens and that it is a difficult thing to overcome. But I implore them to swallow their pride and immediately introduce legislation to restore temporary protection visas, send orders to stop the boats and introduce legislation to allow processing in countries which are signatories to the refugee convention.


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