Senate debates

Monday, 14 July 2014

Regulations and Determinations

Migration Amendment (Bridging Visas–Code of Behaviour) Regulation 2013; Disallowance

7:43 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Sometimes in this place we circle around the truth without ever naming it. When it comes to this government's response to refugees and asylum seekers, it is important to name what is going on here. It is racism, pure and simple. There are no other words to describe it, no other words we can use to try to cover up what is going on here. This is a cynical exercise, one designed to seed fear and incitement in the Australian community. Every single message, every slogan every sound bite is designed for the simple purpose of ensuring that people understand that they are different, that refugees are not like us, that they do not share our values. That is exactly what is going on with the code of behaviour. It is a code of conduct that has been designed with one simple message in mind: to ensure that we keep reinforcing to the Australian community that, if you are a refugee or an asylum seeker, you are different—that you do not respect our laws; that you do not respect our values; that you do not respect our women. Every word in this code of conduct has been carefully crafted to ensure that people understand that, if you are a refugee, you are not like us.

It is not just the code of conduct. We have seen it with this government invoking the Defence Force—using Australian men and women who have dedicated their lives to the protection of Australia—for the most despicable political purposes: to create the impression of an invasion of hordes of refugees and asylum seekers, in what is really a naked, self-serving political exercise. Of course if you are in a war, if you are being invaded, then any amount of secrecy is justified, because in a war secrecy is not just justified—it is necessary.

We see the word 'illegal' being thrown around like confetti. They know it is not true. But if you do not respect our values, if you do not respect our laws, if you are illegal, you are not like us. You are so different from us that, when you are living your life in an offshore detention centre, lying in bed, being stripped of all hope, and thinking about putting that noose around your neck, or if you are somebody who is so desperate at the thought of being returned to a country where you face torture and perhaps worse, or if you are so desperate that you choose to cover yourself with petrol and light the match, or if you are a young child who sees no light and decides to self-harm—if you are any of those things and you choose to take your life, to harm yourself, then it is because you are morally bankrupt! It is not because you are in pain or suffering or enduring any of the normal human emotions that any of us would be feeling, facing those circumstances; it is because you are morally bankrupt; you are depraved; you are somehow of a different quality to the Australian people right here now!

It would be a mistake to suggest that this is new. It is true that we have plumbed the depths of political self-interest in the most recent debates, but this has been going on for years. It started with Prime Minister Howard's famous, 'We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.' We have heard the demonising of asylum seekers through language such as 'queue jumpers' used of people who, let us remember, are doing nothing other than making a choice that many of us would make. Faced with the threat of torture and persecution, they choose to escape those circumstances. That is absolutely morally justified, and yet we use terms like 'queue jumpers'.

All of this has been tremendously successful. When you ask people about the numbers that we are faced with, people have the numbers completely out of proportion. We have got people who think that there are more refugees and asylum seekers coming to this country than there are immigrants, when in fact the number of refugees coming to this country is only a small fraction of the total of our immigration intake. Because of this fear and anxiety that has been seeded over many years, through things like the code of conduct, we get a situation in Australia where people think that the current policies are justified. That is political success.

Some people might say that this actually says something about the Australian character—that there is a deep vein of racism that runs through the Australian people. I do not subscribe to that. What this reflects is a failure of political leadership, pure and simple. When we look at the South-East Asian refugees that were welcomed here with open arms, we see that Australians are a generous people. Instead what we have is a government that does not just blow a dog whistle. This is not a dog whistle. We have got to call it for what it is, for a dog whistle implies that this is a coded message, to be understood by only a small part of the Australian community. This is a racist foghorn—that is what this is. It is not a dog whistle; it is a racist foghorn.

So it is that we have a document so crude, so Orwellian and so shameful that it takes us into one of the lowest ebbs of this political debate. Let us look at this code of behaviour. It says: 'You must not disobey any Australian laws, including Australian road laws'—because, of course, these people just cannot wait to get out into the community, to start raping and pillaging, and to get to the nearest mosque to sign up to the nearest jihadi recruiting officer! They cannot wait for it! But look a little further: there is of course a reference to Australian road laws, because we have all been in a taxi with one of those dark-skinned drivers who didn't know how to drive or where he was taking us! And then there is point No. 2: 'You must not make sexual contact with another person without that person's consent.' So they are not just lawbreakers; they are not just terrible drivers putting our lives at risk; they just cannot wait to get their dark, grubby hands on our women! That is what this is about. That is what this says. Never mind the fact that most cases of domestic violence and abuse towards women are perpetrated within the family home; never mind the fact that, when it comes to sexual abuse and violence towards women, it is the neighbour, the uncle or the husband that you need to worry about!

The implication here is that our children are not safe either.

The list goes on: you cannot take part or get involved in any kind of criminal behaviour in Australia; and you cannot harass, intimidate or bully another person. Having a code of conduct like this designed by the coalition government would not be so laughable if it had not come from an institution whose own behaviour was so inconsistent with the values of civility and decency that we are asking of others.

Senator Cash talks about the role of women in some of these cultures that are coming to our country. What about the role of the women in the Liberal Party? If women are treated so poorly by some of our refugees and asylum seekers, the Liberal Party hardly offers us a model that we should be looking towards.

Every now and then a chink of light shines through and, when we see refugees being resettled into communities, like in my home community of Colac, we see a response from the Australian community that is warm and welcoming, that says: 'We will look after you. We will give you the protection that you need.' And they become valued members of those communities.

Every now and then you see an asylum seeker who is driven to a desperate act like the young man who set himself alight and yet decided to become an organ donor, wanting to do nothing more than make a contribution to this country.

We cannot let people see that refugees and asylum seekers are normal people, wanting nothing more than to make a contribution and become decent hard-working citizens. So we have got to set the foghorn to maximum volume and create instruments like this code of conduct. We have to go further than that: we cannot afford for Australians to meet refugees, to be exposed to these stories, to learn about the hardships that they are fleeing and hear about the sorts of contributions that they want to make. That is why we keep them locked up offshore. We keep the press away. We keep Australians away, because we cannot afford to shatter the illusion that has been being created by this government and by governments before it.

I do not pretend for a moment that this is an easy issue but I condemn those people who use the tragedy of deaths at sea to justify a policy that is implemented for no other reason—not for reasons of compassion, care or decency—than for the most base political purposes. If you cared about deaths at sea, you would not be using words like 'illegal'. You would not be calling someone who is in a state of desperation a 'moral blackmailer' and you could not be implementing a code of conduct that implies these people are criminals, that they do not share our values and cannot wait to get their hands on our women.

I would like to see a code of conduct that went something like this: no more three-word slogans; no more lies about what it means to seek asylum; and no more using the word 'illegal' when you know it is not true and that it is a fundamental right. If we do not learn from the mistakes of the past, we are condemned to repeating them. We are going to use care and compassion as guiding principles rather than simply inflaming people's fears and anxieties. We are going to use facts. We are going to reassure people that we do not need the army. We do not need our Defence personnel. We do not need the Navy, because this is a humanitarian issue.

Just as we expect you to uphold Australian law, we will uphold Australian law. We will make sure that we uphold domestic law and international law, which means that we will not forcibly deport you to countries where you are going to experience torture, persecution and possibly worse. Just as we want to ensure that you treat people with respect and do not engage in harassment, we will keep you safe and treat you with respect. We will treat you with the sort of respect that is currently being denied to you, because of your circumstances which involve being locked up in offshore prisons.

We need to name what this is: it is racism. It is not dog whistling. This is a racist foghorn, loud and clear, saying to the Australian community: 'Don't accept refugees. Don't accept asylum seekers. They are not like you and me. They don't share the same values we share. We don't want them here.'

I say to the coalition: they are ordinary people with families, children with the same hopes and dreams that all of us share and we, as a rich, decent and prosperous nation should offer them the protection they so badly need. If we do not do this, this is something that you will carry with you for the rest of your lives.


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