Senate debates

Thursday, 16 May 2013


Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012; In Committee

11:42 am

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

I rise today to support these amendments and to speak on behalf of children. I ask people to think about what is going on today on Manus Island, where we are punishing children because they are seeking asylum in our country. They are children, they have come here and they are asking Australia to assess their refugee status, to bring them in and to take care of them. I compare it with what we are doing now in the criminal justice system in this country, where the criminal justice system says there have to be exceptional circumstances in which you would detain a child and that detention should only be used for children who have committed serious and violent crimes. These children have committed no serious and violent crime. These children have simply asked to come and be part of our community and our society—and that is why this legislation that we are debating here today is a stain on our national character. I put to all of you: is this how you would want your family and your children to be treated if you found yourselves seeking asylum somewhere else in the world? Look at your own children, think about your own children and ask yourself: would you be prepared for your children to be locked up indefinitely on Manus Island—yes or no? Would that be okay for your own children? If it would not be okay for your own children, why is it okay to punish other children?

Earlier this week I spoke in here to give the Greens' wholehearted support to the apology to people who had been subjected to forced adoption. But it is not the first time parliaments have had to apologise. We also apologised to the stolen generations of Indigenous children who were taken away. We have also stood up and apologised to the forgotten Australians, the child migrants who came here and who were lied to, locked up, institutionalised and abused; we have apologised to them. And we have apologised for forced adoptions. And every single time we get up and say: 'Oh—if only we had known,' or 'It was the culture of the period,' or 'What a shocking thing was happening to these children, and it ought not to have happened.' And we have admitted that we created a scarred generation, in each of those cases, that has gone on for generations ever since. The difference is: not one of you who votes against this amendment, in 10 years, 15 years or 20 years, when there is a national apology to the children detained indefinitely in detention for the sole supposed crime of seeking a better life in our country because they are running away from persecution with their families—not one of you will be able to stand up and say: 'Oh, we didn't know,' or, 'It was the culture of the period,' or, 'It was the best way, we thought, of saving their lives, by locking them up in detention in places which the UNHCR has said are completely unsuitable.'

The UNHCR went to Manus Island, and their report speaks for itself. They say that it is totally inappropriate, the way that children are being detained there. But this parliament seeks to take no notice of that. This parliament seeks to perpetrate the lie—and it is a lie—that locking people up in indefinite detention is saving their lives because it is stopping them drowning. Well, that was a ridiculous proposition in the first place and it remains a ridiculous proposition.

Since you have taken these measures, the more cruel they get, the more people are arriving in our country. That is why we are here today—because you are excising the whole of the Australian mainland in order to take away people's human rights. That is what you are actually doing here today, because more and more people are arriving as you get more and more cruel. That says to me that your deterrence policy does not work, has not worked, will not work, is not working right now, and more and more and more people are risking their lives, not fewer and fewer and fewer. So you are actually deliberately choosing cruelty. You are deliberately choosing to punish children. And there is no justification for it at all—none. Look in the eyes of a child and say: 'What crime have you committed? The crime you have committed is: as a child, you have come here with your family to seek a better life.' And, as I said, if you were in the criminal justice system, no child would be detained unless they had committed a serious or violent crime.

If this parliament will not stand up for children, who will? Is it any wonder that every mental health expert in the country is saying that we are driving people into more and more desperate circumstances? These children are witnessing the mental torment of their parents. They are put in vulnerable circumstances. Not only are they in physically difficult circumstances on Manus Island, as has been shown to the country with television footage—it is hot; it is humid; it is a bad place to be keeping people in terms of the physical environment—but the mental cruelty, the torture, that is going on on an ongoing basis, every day, to those children is unacceptable. You all know about it. Many of you have your own children. You all think it is fine for somebody else's children to be punished, to be kept in indefinite detention, to suffer the mental scars for the rest of their lives—but it is okay, because your children will never be in that position.

Well, I am very glad to be standing here today on behalf of those children. I am very proud to be standing here with my Green colleagues—with Senator Sarah Hanson-Young who has just spoken so eloquently on behalf of those children and reported on the visit that she made to those children on Manus Island earlier this year. And it is not just the Greens. The UNHCR is saying it. But this parliament chooses to ignore the UNHCR.

The hypocrisy here is extreme when it comes to many members of the Labor government because, in 2006, when John Howard tried to excise the whole country, Labor was up in arms and the Greens spoke strongly against it then and it was not proceeded with. But now Labor in government has done what the former Prime Minister John Howard was not able to do. You have gone even further. Every day you come up with more and more cruel options. Every day those options cost the Australian people huge amounts of money, in a budgetary sense, with a massive blow-out for your cruel detention centres.

But it is not the financial cost which is the greatest cost to the nation. The greatest cost to the nation is the disappointment, the heartbreak, the mental damage and the scarring, as well as the physical damage, of a whole generation, the majority of whom are going to be found to be refugees who meet the criteria under the refugee convention. What are you going to say to them when, at some point, you decide that your 'no advantage' clause is completely unacceptable? What are you going to say about having locked up these children and deprived them of media access? You know it is wrong; otherwise, you would be allowing the media in there to take pictures and to talk to people. You know it is wrong. Not only is it 'Out of sight, out of mind'; it is about, 'Lock them up, throw away the key, pull down the curtains; let's not show people what we are doing.'

The media has been able to show some images, and this parliament has been shown some drawings. You know what is going on: you are choosing cruelty to children; you are choosing punishment for innocent children. I ask, when these amendments are put, that you think very carefully as you vote, and as your name is recorded against this vote, of what you are going to say to your own children when they ask you, 'Why did you do this?' And please don't lie to your own children and say, 'I did it to save their lives,' because your policy is not saving lives by stopping anyone getting on boats and coming here by sea—there has been a quadrupling of the numbers of people coming on boats. So if that is your concern then you should abolish this policy at once, because this policy has, in your eyes, driven a greater increase.

But the fact is, whether you like it or not, that if you send an army into Iraq on a lie, if you cause the problems that have occurred subsequent to the war in Iraq, you will have refugees leaving Iraq. If you go into Afghanistan, and you witness what is going on in Afghanistan, and you say that the Taliban in Afghanistan must be defeated, and that is why we have troops there, and people are running away from the Taliban—the people we agree are cruel; the people we agree are persecuting the Hazara—don't then say, 'Yes, run away, but don't come to us, because we will lock you up and keep you there indefinitely, because we don't want you in our country.'

It is the same in Sri Lanka. You all know that the Rajapakse regime in Sri Lanka is carrying out, as we speak, persecution and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka right now. You all know that, and yet you are pretending you do not. The reason we are getting more and more Sri Lankans is that they are being persecuted by the Rajapakse. You have just had the International Commission of Jurists bring out a report talking about the impeachment of the chief justice; you have had reports of what is going on in that country, with disappearances, where academics are disappearing in white vans—you have had all of those things. And yet you choose to pretend and listen to the Rajapakse saying, 'No, everything's fine in Sri Lanka; it's not a problem.' Well, it is a problem—and that is why people are leaving, and you know it. So you all know that the reason people are leaving their countries is that they are persecuted.

I went to the Pontville detention centre not long ago, when 129 children, unaccompanied minors aged between 14 and 18—young men—were brought to that detention centre. And they talked about the persecution that they had suffered and that they had run away from. You know that is happening; you know the Hazara are being persecuted; you know they are genuine refugees—but you choose base domestic politics of fear and mean-spiritedness above decency, humanity and compassion when it comes to the treatment of children. That is what you are doing. We are standing here in this parliament to make a plea for those children: bring them home from Manus Island. Bring them home now. Bring their families home. Bring them to Australia and have them assessed against their asylum-seeking claims. Don’t do what you are doing and excise the whole country and go into the same immoral space where the former Prime Minister, John Howard, tried to take Australia and where you are now taking this nation.

It is a stain on the national character. It is a shocking day for Australia—you have got together and suspended standing orders to drive this through so that ahead of an election you can brag out in the community that you have been crueller than John Howard, that you have been even more extreme in your punishment of children. Congratulations—I hope you all feel really good about that! When you vote for this, I would ask you to explain to your own children why they should not be on Manus Island and why other people's children should be locked up, detained indefinitely, treated cruelly and subjected to mental punishment and torture. For the rest of their lives they will have to deal with what this parliament thinks is an appropriate way to treat children. I urge you to support these amendments.


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