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

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. This is crass domestic politics that is based on the Labor Party competing, in a race to the bottom, as to who can be the cruellest, the nastiest, the meanest, the harshest on refugees. A race to the bottom with Mr Abbott's coalition—that is what this piece of legislation is about.

The UNHCR goes on to say that, if each one of the 148 other countries around the world that have signed on to the refugee convention took this attitude and changed their laws in this way, it would undermine the entire convention. This legislation is out of step with not just the letter but absolutely the spirit of the convention. We know that the Refugee Council has said that they are extremely concerned about this as well—that it violates our obligations. It strips away people's rights, and it will likely cause serious harm to people fleeing from persecution and torture. It will cause more harm, more damage, to people who are already fleeing some pretty unsafe and harmful circumstances. That is what the experts are saying.

We know that many of the church groups around the country are extremely concerned about this as well, from a moral perspective as well as a legal one. We have seen Elenie Poulos, the National Director of UnitingJustice, attached to the Uniting Church, say that this is a shameful piece of legislation that undercuts our moral responsibilities as a nation towards vulnerable and oppressed asylum seekers.

This is a bad piece of legislation and is only designed to hurt people and not care for them. There is nothing in this legislation that will save people's lives—in fact, unfortunately, all to the contrary. People's lives are going to be at more risk. People are going to suffer more. Children will not have rights. Despite the need for protection, they will not now have access to lawyers. They will not have any legal assistance at all. They cannot even make a claim for refugee protection under this legislation. They can be sent, of course, offshore to one of the cruel camps—whether that is Manus Island or Nauru or wherever else this government or the coalition decide they want to start dumping vulnerable refugees. This bill exposes vulnerable people to indefinite detention in inhumane and cruel camps.

As to those who may be lucky enough to be put on a bridging visa after suffering in detention, they will have no work rights. They will have no access to proper education or medical services. They will have no way of being able to rebuild their lives and protect their children. In fact, children and families under this legislation will be pushed into poverty even further.

This legislation exposes more people in immigration detention to inadequate legal assistance and legal oversight—in fact, not just 'inadequate'; they have no rights at all. Whether you are the vulnerable family of someone who has been fighting for democracy in Iran or a Hazara family from Afghanistan, you have no rights for proper protection under this piece of legislation.

What is the urgency for us to have to rush this piece of legislation through? It is not going to stop people coming here by boat; we know that. We know that being harsh to people, deterrence policies, do not stop people taking those dangerous journeys when that is the only option they have. We have seen that proven over the last six months.

Back in August last year, we saw this again—the Labor Party implementing the coalition's policies on offshore detention, on stripping out protection and on the no-advantage rule. We were told that was going to slow the boats. It has not slowed the boats at all: we have four times the number of people fleeing to Australia than we did last year. It has not stopped people taking those journeys. It has not saved people's lives.

In fact, the unfortunate thing about all of this is that no-one is safer—no-one is being kept safer or treated better; no-one's rights are being upheld. In fact, the exact opposite is happening: we are now subjecting children to institutionalised child abuse in the detention camps of cruelty on Manus Island. That is the reality of the policies that are coming from this government, backed up by Mr Abbott's coalition. These policies are not saving people's lives; they are not caring for people. These policies and this legislation are subjecting people to further harm and torture.

I will be moving three amendments to this legislation. The first amendment is in relation to allowing for media access to these detention camps that Australians are paying billions and billions of dollars for. We saw the budget come out on Tuesday night and we know that offshore processing is costing Australian taxpayers more than $7½ billion. In fact, if you include this year and the forward estimates, it is costing $10 billion to detain children and their families on Manus Island, in inhumane conditions, damaging them for the rest of their lives—$10 billion. There is of course no media access to these detention centres, because the government do not want the Australian people to see how badly we are treating our fellow human beings. They do not want the Australian conscience to be pricked by the truth of what is going on in these camps. The amendment that I will be moving in relation to that is to allow media access to our detention centres, particularly those offshore on Manus Island and Nauru.

The second amendment is about allowing the Australian Human Rights Commission to enter those camps and be able to inspect them—because we cannot trust either this government or any government run by the coalition to treat vulnerable refugees and their families properly. We know that every time we actually get a glimpse into what is going on in these awful places, we see that people are not being treated right, that it is inhumane, that children are suffering. We should be allowing the Australian Human Rights Commission to go inside and inspect. I ask you, Mr Acting Deputy President: if there is nothing to hide, why not let them in?

The third amendment is a very important one, in relation to removing children and their families from Manus Island. It is a horrible place. It is a cruel place. It is an inhumane place. Even adults should not be there. Vulnerable refugees do not deserve to be treated like animals, as we have seen from the footage that was leaked through the Four Cornersreport only some weeks ago. Children are suffering on Manus Island, and it is time they were brought to the Australian mainland and cared for properly. This amendment will ban any government from being able to detain children, remove children to those awful places of abuse and cruelty—they are inhumane. Those children must be brought to the Australian mainland and cared for.

As a mother I have a responsibility to stand in this place and argue for the rights of those children. I call on every senator in this place to stand up for those children's rights as well, and do what you would want if they were your children.


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