Thursday, 16 August 2012
Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2012; In Committee
There is a fundamental difference of opinion between the government and the Greens on this matter. The discouraging of people risking their lives on boats coming to Australia sits at the heart of our motivation and to suggest that a way forward would be to create some systematic motivation for unaccompanied minors to be the ones to be put on boats is the height of irresponsibility. I understand the Greens do not agree with our approach but to assert, within the context of this current debate, an amendment that would single out a protection for unaccompanied minors in the way that you describe, Senator Hanson-Young, would singularly create the opportunity for people smugglers to exploit that and put unaccompanied minors on the boat. Is that your intention? I suspect it is not. I understand you disagree with the framework we are proposing and I accept that, but I will not stand here and allow you to exhort principles that have no validity in the context of this current debate.
I would like to work through some of the points you made. First of all, I challenge your assertion that there are no guarantees on the welfare. Several times through the course of this committee stages debate I have referred to the process by which an agreement is struck between Australia and the designated country. We have been through — and, in fact, several senators from the Greens party have read through — the provisions and measures which must be taken into account through the course of establishing those agreements. I challenge the point that there is no accountability for the government because, in fact, these agreements will need to withstand the scrutiny of parliament and, if tonight is anything to go by, that will not be short in coming.
I would also like to challenge over the fundamental point that we started discussing, that Christmas Island is not part of Australia for the purposes of the operation of the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act. That is patently false and to assert as much is misleading in the first degree. It is part of the migration zone and therefore whilst ever the children are in Australia unaccompanied minors are subject to the guardianship of the minister.
Finally, you have made some very emotive points through the course of this debate, Senator Hanson-Young, as is your right — through you, Mr Temporary Chainman — but I remind you that the minister has within his power the right to determine exemptions for unaccompanied minors and, in fact, for anyone who is deemed to be particularly vulnerable to move to a designated country once that designated country has passed the test of parliament. All of these protections and processes are in this bill for a reason. They adopt both the spirit and the letter of the Houston report's recommendations and they are designed to fit within a broader scheme that takes into account the prospect—and I think the very hopeful prospect—of a durable regional arrangement to manage the flow of migration in our region but also to break, as I have said again and again, the business of the people smugglers as to the lives that are put at risk across the sea. It concerns me that your assertions, whilst I am sure they are well intentioned and aligned with the Greens' view on these matters, would, in fact, create an absurdly dangerous situation whereby people smugglers would be motivated to seek out unaccompanied minors and place them on boats to sustain their business. That is untenable. It is at the opposite end of what we are trying to achieve and I suggest you reconsider your position.