Senate debates

Thursday, 16 August 2012


Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2012; In Committee

9:50 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I imagine if I was sitting in the government tonight I would be appalled listening to think that I was associated with that in any shape or form. Firstly, Senator Cash obviously has not been around this issue for a very long time. She said that the coalition had refined their policy. Yes, that is right. When they excised the territories at Christmas Island the boat count dropped because they no longer were coming to Australia. It was a smart alec technical way of recounting the boats. So excise Australian territories and the boats are not coming to Australia any more. There is a drop in the boat numbers. What a brilliant tactic that was.

Secondly, Senator Cash says that the coalition's policies saved lives. Well, Senator Sinodinos is sitting there and he knows as well as I do that when the Howard government introduced the temporary protection visas that said that people could not apply for family reunion, that the SIEVX set out and 353 people drowned, the overwhelming majority of whom were women and children. I have spent many hours with a few people who survived. They tell a very sad story of what it was like and to this day this parliament still has not had the royal commission we should have had into the SIEVX. So trying to bring back temporary protection visas, telling people they cannot bring family reunion into the question, means you will force women and children to drown. So do not sit there and suggest that under the Howard years temporary protection visas saved lives. There are 353 people who drowned on that boat. There is a memorial on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin, and I encourage you to go down there and walk around it. There are 353 poles in that memorial that remember the lives of each one of those people, the overwhelming number who were women and children. They drowned under the Howard government, under your cruel temporary protection visas.

One of the big problems with what the government is going to implement is exactly the same thing. It is going to say that the men who arrive cannot apply for family reunion under the special humanitarian category. That means it will force women and children onto boats—there is nothing surer—so it is exactly the same strategy.

Senator Cash, as to your lament about people in African camps not being able to come because of boat people, do you know why that is? It is because under the Howard government, for every single one who came on a boat and became a refugee, they took one off the category of people who could come from the permanent camps. So that is down to you, Senator Cash.

We have moved to disassociate, to decouple those things. It was in our submission to the Houston panel, and we will be very happy to make sure that you have the opportunity to vote for that, to decouple those two things so that you do not have the cruel situation that Prime Minister Howard brought in—that is, 'We will punish you by saying all of you people in camps everywhere else, every time a person comes on a boat and is found to be a refugee, we will take one off the number of people we would take from those camps.' Nobody is more responsible for that situation than the Howard government and your associates, Senator Cash. So before you stand up and make a whole lot of wild claims, go back to the history of the Howard years; go back and recognise just how appalled Australians were. Tragically, many of those cruelties are still there in the way that we treat refugees in this country.

As I have said many times in this debate, and I will say it again, we are very pleased that there is going to be an increase in the humanitarian intake. That is the best way of saving lives, to get people out of those camps and give them safe pathways here so that they are not forced into that situation where they have no hope. But do not stand up in here and try to suggest for a moment that the Howard government had any compassion when it came to refugees, that its policies worked in favour of refugees. The overwhelming majority of people who were cruelly treated on Nauru were found to be refugees and ended up here in Australia and are making their lives in Australia—as will be the case, absolutely no doubt, with a policy that is currently being pursued.

What is more, many, many people have been emotionally damaged. Who will forget people sewing their lips shut? Who will forget that? Who will forget the then Prime Minister taking away the funding from an art gallery in Wagga Wagga because it dared to have an art exhibition which showed up the policies of the Howard government with sewing lips together. No-one will forget that. There are many, many things on the record about the cruelty of the Howard years when it came to refugees, and the tragedy for Australia is that the Gillard government is now following suit and embracing a lot of those policies.

I reiterate: we should put a sunset clause on this. We should end this as quickly as possible because it is going to be shown to be incredibly cruel to refugees, to people seeking a better life in our country. When we are treating people so cruelly in this way, we should recognise at the same time that we are saying to other people, 'If you've got $2 million to $5 million, your visa will be fast-tracked.' What does that say about this country?


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