Senate debates

Thursday, 16 August 2012


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

9:56 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Many people will be extremely horrified to hear the vitriol of Senator Cash, and that this is justifying the Gillard government's backing of Tony Abbott's Pacific solution mark II. The coalition have never been interested in saving people's lives. Let us not forget the leaked WikiLeaks cables that showed very clearly how happy the opposition are every time a boat arrives in this country. Even the opposition leader's own senior advisers have been known to utter such statements. The coalition love people coming on boats. That is how Tony Abbott plans to win the election. That is how John Howard won the election in 2001, because he played to the basic level of fear that still lurks in some corners of this country.

Rather than appealing to people's better sense of humanity, the coalition, now followed by the Labor Party, prey on people's fear. The coalition want us to believe that we have something to fear from poor refugees who are arriving in our waters in wooden, leaky boats. Asylum seekers are not a national security issue. In fact, when the Refugee Convention was drafted, the drafters knew that countries would make this exact argument unless it was very clear in the convention that a national security issue could not be used as a get-out clause for helping vulnerable refugees. It is why it is in the convention that refugees are not a basis for national security.

Sure, let's find out who people are, make sure we know, do the health and security checks. But pretending to the Australian people that we should be fearful of the most disadvantaged people in our region, who are not lucky enough to come by plane, they have to come by boat. How deluded is the senator from a coalition to think that we are threatened by refugees who are here to seek our protection? Refugees are not breaching our borders; they are seeking the protection of our borders. That is the whole point.

Malcolm Fraser made an interesting point this week that if we were having boatloads of white farmers from Zimbabwe arriving on our shores, would the coalition and the government be ramming through this legislation tonight. I think that is a question the Australian people already know the answer to.

This disgusting, dishonest, disingenuous debate and the vitriol of hatred and fear that comes from the mouths of those opposite does nothing to save the lives of the vulnerable people who are seeking our protection. The experts who gave their submissions to the Houston panel have said for years and years and years that the best way of saving the lives of vulnerable refugees is to give them a safer option, to give them a safer pathway. Do not force them onto boats in the first place. If the coalition do not want people losing their lives at sea, do not force them onto boats.

Deterrence does not work when people are fleeing for their lives. It has been proven over history, time and time again. We were told 20 years ago that we needed mandatory detention to deter people from coming to Australia by boat and as conditions got worse in our region for refugees it did not deter people. We were told by John Howard that we needed not just mandatory detention but we needed temporary protection visas to deter people seeking protection coming here by boat. Under those temporary protection visas we stripped away their family reunion rights, their rights to access medical services, their rights to work, their rights to even volunteer. They were the restrictions under the coalition's temporary protection visas. Did that deter people from coming here by the only means possible that they had, and that was by boat? No, it did not. In fact, as my colleague Senator Milne has pointed out, it forced more women and children onto boats. That policy is responsible for the loss of life at sea.

We then heard from John Howard that it wasn't just good enough to have temporary protection visas and mandatory detention; we had to have the excision of our own territories, stripping of legal protections and the dumping of children and their families in indefinite detention on Nauru and Manus Island. We were told we needed to do that because Australia was under threat by some very poor, vulnerable refugees who were arriving in our waters on leaky wooden boats. How delusional are the coalition if they think that that is an attack on our sovereignty?

Of course, locking children and their families up on Nauru did not save people's lives either. The SIEVX sank after Nauru was opened and 353 people lost their lives. John Howard's government is responsible for that loss of life of those 353 people. Make no mistake about it. Shunting people off out of sight out of mind, dumping them on prison islands, has never saved anybody's life. But I tell you what, it has cost a lot of people's sanity, humanity, self-respect. It has broken people's spirit, it has broken families, it has broken their courage, it has ruined their mental health. It has sent people to the point of self-mutilation and destruction. It did not save anybody's life, but it sure cost many, many lives—not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money that has been wasted and paid in compensation ever since because we did the wrong thing.

So for the coalition to come on here tonight and preach about saving people's lives and standing up for humanity is just utterly disgraceful. Not one member of the coalition has ever stood in this place in this chamber in this debate tonight and actually spelt out anything that will save people's lives. They have voted down consistently amendments that will protect people and safeguard children from years of child abuse in these rotten detention centres. The saddest, saddest tragedy of all is the members of the government who sit here and let that rhetoric go in their name.

This is your legislation, and it is worse than John Howard's. I have no idea how any of you will be able to sleep straight at night when you know that the history of how these detention centres operate ruins people's lives, abuses the rights of children and sends brave, courageous, intelligent people insane and to the point of self-destruction.

Mr Chairman, I cannot commend this amendment to end this horrible process to the Senate any more strongly that I have tonight.


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