Thursday, 16 May 2013
Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012; Second Reading
I thank all senators for their contributions to the second reading debate on the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012. Dealing with the issue of irregular maritime arrivals has probably been the most difficult public policy issue that our nation has dealt with in the last 25 years. I do not believe that anyone in this parliament believes that Australia should take an immoral or heartless approach to refugees. And certainly our history demonstrates and proves that this nation has been most welcoming of people coming from difficult circumstances, fleeing persecution, fleeing war and settling in Australia.
This government's commitment to supporting refugees coming to this country is highlighted by the fact that we have increased the humanitarian intake of refugees to 20,000—I believe the largest settlement program of any nation throughout the world. But what we cannot allow to continue to happen are events such as those that occurred on 15 December 2010, when 50 innocent women and children drowned in shocking circumstances before the eyes of this nation on the rocks at Christmas Island. We simply cannot allow, as a nation with a heart, those circumstances to occur again.
The Gillard government empanelled a team of experts, headed by Angus Houston, to develop a set of recommendations to try and take the politics out of this very difficult issue and to come up with a workable solution for the long term. That panel consulted and reported, and they came up with 22 recommendations. They made it very clear to the government and to the nation when they made those recommendations that they must be accepted as a whole, a full package—that you could not seek to pick out and implement elements of it. They made it clear that it needed to come as a full package for it to be effective.
This bill delivers on one of those recommendations. It delivers on the advice of the experts that the government consulted to attempt to take the politics out of this issue. That recommendation is recommendation No. 14. It says:
… arrival anywhere on Australia by irregular maritime means will not provide individuals with a different lawful status than those who arrive in an excised offshore place.
That is, irregular arrival by sea anywhere in Australia should make the person liable to regional processing arrangements. That is necessary to ensure the no advantage principle is adhered to. The panel's reasoning in making this recommendation was the need to reduce any incentive for people to take even greater risks with their lives by seeking to reach the Australian mainland to avoid being subject to regional processing arrangements. The report states:
The Panel considers that all possible measures should be implemented to avoid creating an incentive for IMAs taking even greater risks with their lives by seeking to reach the Australian mainland. As a complement to facilities in Nauru and PNG, the Panel recommends the Government bring forward legislative amendments to the Migration Act 1958 so that arrival on the Australian mainland by irregular maritime means does not provide individuals with a different lawful status than those who enter at an excised offshore place, such as Christmas Island.
That is making it very clear to the Prime Minister, to the executive and to the nation what they expected as an effective means for ensuring a deterrent to people-smuggling. The panel also emphasised—and the government has consistently reiterated—that this recommendation in the report is part of an integrated set of proposals. To be effective in discouraging asylum seekers from risking their lives, the incentives and disincentives the panel recommended must be pursued in a comprehensive, coordinated manner. This includes incentives to encourage greater use of regular migration pathways and international protection arrangements and disincentives to undertake irregular maritime voyages, including the application of a no advantage principle and regional processing arrangements. The legislative amendments proposed in this bill are part of that integrated approach.
The bill was referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for inquiry and report. I thank the committee for their report, tabled on 25 February 2013. I thank those who provided submissions and of course those who appeared before the committee. The bill involves complex issues, and I commend the manner in which the committee has captured and reported these complexities. The report states:
… the committee supports the intent of the Bill, subject to one important amendment.
The committee recommended that the bill be amended to require the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship to report annually to both houses of parliament in respect of matters relating to unauthorised maritime arrivals, including arrangements for assessing their refugee claims as well as the arrangements relating to accommodation, health care and education. Additionally, the committee recommended that the minister report on the number of asylum claims by unauthorised maritime arrivals that are assessed and determined to be refugees during the 12-month period. The government amendment that will be moved in the committee stage reflects this recommendation and will require the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship to cause that to be laid before each house of the parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the end of the financial year.
The government does not support the amendments that have been put forward by the Greens, as that would be contrary to the recommendations of the expert panel, which the government has accepted and is implementing. The bill marks an important further step in giving effect to the recommendations of the panel and will remove yet another incentive for asylum seekers to take greater risks with their lives to reach the Australian mainland.
In respect of the claim that this is excising the Australian mainland, let me reiterate that this bill does not purport to excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone. The definition of the migration zone is not being amended in this bill. Instead, the bill defines individuals subject to regional processing based on their status as unauthorised maritime arrivals—that is, by arriving in Australia in the migration zone, by sea, without a visa in effect. This is in contrast to the current situation, where an individual is only subject to regional processing if they enter regional Australia in an excised offshore place such as Christmas Island.
In summing up, this government is fully committed to delivering a proper and sustainable regional solution through the full implementation of the recommendations of the expert panel that was led by Angus Houston. No-one should doubt this government's commitment to implementing all 22 of the recommendations of the expert panel to break the people smugglers business model and help to stop people dying at sea. That is how responsible governments develop policy—listening to the advice of experts.
I thank all senators for their contributions to this debate and I commend the bill and the government amendments to the Senate.