Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Bills

Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014; Second Reading

10:35 am

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

Right now there are about 30,000 asylum seekers waiting for processing in Australia. Disturbingly, there are also 559 children in detention facilities across the country. In total there are 3,084 people in detention here in Australia. To our great shame, there are 167 children locked up on Nauru and in total 1,095 people are detained on Nauru and 1,056 on Manus Island. There is no question that these people need to have their claims processed immediately and be taken out of detention, put into the community and given the opportunity to start contributing to this country and rebuilding their lives. This bill does none of that.

Astonishingly, the immigration minister is using the suffering of these children in detention as a disgusting bargaining chip. He is trying to blackmail the Senate crossbench into accepting this cruel bill by threatening to send each and every one of them to the hellhole on Nauru. How appalling to see the minister who already has so much power—the power to keep people in detention—and who is keeping these children locked up, threaten this place today by saying: 'If you do not pass the bill the way I like it, it is my way or the highway. The children will remain in jail.'

What kind of human being uses children as his pawns in a game of politics? How gross, distasteful and sickening is the minister if he is willing to do this? These are children and they are being destroyed by these policies. The immigration minister is threatening to turn the screws on them even harder. He says that until he gets his own way he will keep them locked up in appalling conditions—conditions that have been condemned by the United Nations and condemned by our own Human Rights Commission here in Australia. That is not being a leader; that is being a bully and a coward.

What the immigration minister does not want senators in this chamber to understand is that he can release all of these children today if he wants to. He has the power to keep them in detention or to release them into the community. You do not need a bill that condemns them to a life of uncertainty just to get them out of the locked gates and out from behind the barbed wire. He can have them in the community and be processing their claims as we speak. He is actually obliged to do that under the current domestic law, but in fact he is refusing to act as the law currently prescribes to process people's claims, to get on with assessing them.

If they are genuine refugees, let them stay and let them get on with their lives. If they are not, then send them home. No-one is arguing that anyone should get a free ride here. Get on and process their claims. If they are refugees, they can stay. If they are not, deport them. At the moment we have the worst of both worlds. We have a minister who is keeping children locked up, incarcerated in immigration prisons, and babies being born to asylum seeker parents being told they have no right to protection in Australia. Despite being born in Australian hospitals, they will be on the next flight to Nauru, where we know children are being abused and are witnessing abuse every single day.

The Senate inquiry into this bill heard from thousands of human rights lawyers, refugee advocates, academics and community members, all of whom object to this outright. Over 5,000 submissions were made to this Senate inquiry and every single one of them bar the immigration minister's own department said this bill was wrong, said this bill would set Australia up for failure when it comes to looking after some of the world's most vulnerable people.

The overwhelming evidence from experts and the community was that this bill cannot pass, must not pass. Who does this minister think he is to delete the refugee convention from our law books—to say that we will delete the refugee convention from our law books and it will be he who interprets our obligations? Scott Morrison, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, wants this Senate to give him the power to dictate who is a refugee and who is not—unfettered, unchecked and not able to be appealed.

Australia is obliged to provide protection to those who arrive on our shores. We are obliged to do that under international law, but we are actually required to do it as part of being a good global citizen—as a nation that stands for fairness, as a nation and that cares about the rule of law, as a nation who proudly drafted the refugee convention 60 years ago because we did not want to see vulnerable people turned away and deported back to danger. And here we have a bill that in the midst of the political heat of the refugee issue here in Australia we have the Abbott government wanting to undermine and delete those very values from our law books.

There are some ways forward in how we manage the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in this country. There are 30,000 people who need their claims assessed. Get on and assess them, find out whether they do need protection or not. If they do, we resettle them and we let them get on with our lives—we get them into the workforce, we get the students and the children into school, we allow families to rebuild here in Australia and contribute to our local communities. If they are not refugees, finish their application process and send them home. But give people who do need assistance a fair go—and that means a genuine pathway to permanency.

The SHEV visa that has been spoken about and was part of the Palmer United Party's deal on this piece of legislation is not what is before us today. There is no detail about how the safe haven enterprise visa would work. Why would that be? It is because the minister has no intention of following through on his obligations. If he did it would be in the legislation or there would be substantial amendments that would have been circulated and talked through in this place. But we see none of that from the government. This is, 'My way or the highway,' according to the immigration minister and the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

There is nothing in this piece of legislation that upholds the original deal between the Palmer United Party and Scott Morrison. In addition to that, they have stapled on six other schedules in this piece of legislation that fundamentally undermine the spirit of that arrangement in the first place: more people will be in detention, children born here in Australia sent off to the detention camps on Nauru, deleting the refugee convention, handing ultimate power to the minister to make a decision as to who he thinks deserves his tick of approval and who does not. We know the track record of this minister on these issues and he doesn't give two hoots about the humanitarian needs of those who have come to our shores. Why do we know that? Because we see that he is keeping children locked in appalling conditions every day. Every day those children remain in detention they are damaged further. Mr Morrison keeps them there locked up.

The Australian Greens agree with the majority submitters to the inquiry into this bill that this is a radical deviation from Australia's longstanding commitment to international law and human rights. If this bill passes, it will seriously endanger the lives of many thousands of asylum seekers. The Greens strongly recommend that this bill be rejected by this place today. There would need to be substantial amendments made to this bill if it were to proceed. Six of the seven schedules would need to be deleted and the remaining schedule would need to have a genuine pathway to permanency, so that if people are found to be refugees—after all this time they have spent in detention, all this time they have been left dumped in the community—they should be able to stay, work, pay their taxes and send their kids to school. It is simply asking for a fair go and for people to be treated with dignity and respect. As this bill stands none of that is in here. I strongly urge this place to vote it down at the second reading.

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