Senate debates

Thursday, 16 May 2013


Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012; Second Reading

10:07 am

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

believed that this was bad policy. Even Senator Barnaby Joyce knew the madness of this policy. It must be pretty bad when you have got Senator Joyce arguing for the rights of refugees and the rights of vulnerable people under basic rule-of-law provisions.

I urge all members in this place to search the back of their conscience and to think about why this is really being put forward and why there is an urgency for it to be rushed through. There is no urgency, of course, except the continued failure of the government's already harsh, inhumane and cruel no advantage rule and offshore processing, which have not worked to stem the flow of people in our region who are desperate to seek protection. The Prime Minister on this issue is always looking for somebody else to blame, and now it is that we have provisions on the mainland that uphold the rule of law—that is bad and that has got to go, according to the Prime Minister and this Labor government. And of course Tony Abbott's opposition are going to support this legislation, because it is their policy. This is the Labor government implementing John Howard's policy and Tony Abbott's policy. That is what is going on here. We do not have to wait until 14 September; we have already got the opposition's policy. The Labor government have done all the Liberal Party's dirty work when it comes to beating up on refugees, dog whistling on immigration and stripping away laws that protect the most vulnerable in our community.

This bill effectively excises the entire mainland of Australia from the ordinary operations of the migration zone so that, wherever somebody may arrive, they do not have the right to seek protection under normal circumstances. This expands the already existing two-tiered system that is in direct contravention of the refugee convention, which clearly identifies that we should not be discriminating against people and their right to protection, care and safety based on their mode of arrival. It is simply wrong. It is unacceptable under the refugee convention. Yet here we are this morning seeing exactly that happening—both the government and the opposition doing away with, violating, the letter and the spirit of the rights outlined in the refugee convention.

As I said, the Howard government had already attempted to do this. In 2001, they set up a system which treated refugees who arrived by boat differently—not to protect them, not to care for them, not to deal in a practical way with their vulnerability and needs. No, no; it was to demonise them, to whip up fear and hatred and to send a signal to the nastiest, darkest parts of our psyche, where we may think that somehow, because somebody is a refugee and had to come by boat, they are a bad person. That is precisely why John Howard changed these rules in 2001 and that is precisely what the Labor government, hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder with Tony Abbott's coalition, are doing today.

This is yet another stark and very, very disappointing example of the government locked in a race to the bottom with the coalition over immigration and refugee policy. Punishing refugees for seeking protection in Australia is the central concept of this bill. Let us not beat around the bush. This bill does nothing to save people's lives. This bill does nothing to protect and help and care for vulnerable refugees, including children. This bill does nothing to help these people and it will not save their lives. This bill is all about punishment and all about whipping up fear and hatred and demonising people because of how they arrived and where they have come from. The fact is that the majority of people who arrive here by boat—whether it is in the already excised zone or the small handful of people who find their way to the mainland—are people who could not come to Australia by plane because they never would have got a ticket without a visa, because of the countries that they come from, because of their need to flee from torture, from persecution, from war. This bill goes right to the heart of discriminating against refugees because of the places they have had to flee.

Of course, as we know, just as happened in 2006, this bill has been widely criticised by a range of legal and human rights experts. This bill went to inquiry, and it was universally condemned. The only supporting evidence to this inquiry came from the government's own department. Not one independent voice in support of this piece of legislation came forward. Not one independent voice of support exists for this legislation.

In fact, let me just go to what the United Nations and their human rights and refugee committees have said in relation to this piece of legislation. We know that the UNHCR in Australia have said that they are extremely concerned that the measures to excise large portions of the territory to set up systems which substantially reduce fundamental refugee protection rights sets a negative precedent internationally.

This is not about building a regional protection framework; this is doing the absolute opposite. This is about gross, bottom of the barrel, crass domestic politics here in Australia. This is about the Labor Party competing with Tony Abbott as to who can be the toughest, the cruellest, the meanest on refugees.


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