Senate debates

Thursday, 4 December 2014


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

7:03 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Good. I hope that is the case.

The Australian Greens strongly recommend that this bill be rejected by the Senate. We are better than this. This is not about saving lives at sea. This may be about saving money because efficiency dividends are so important to this government. This is about politics. This is about trying to get a win in this chamber before we go home for Christmas, because this government is under pressure. It is in disarray. Even the Murdoch press has turned on it in recent weeks. It knows it has six to eight weeks before parliament comes back and it desperately needs a win. Once again, it is genuinely sad that the coalition government feels it can get a win on being more cruel to people every time it tries to introduce a new piece of legislation.

I want to finish on the concept of empathy. If you saw the documentary Go Back to Where You Came From, it was pretty hard not to feel empathy for people who were fleeing persecution. But, without that empathy, there is no understanding. And, of course, there is no compassion without empathy. If any one of us here tonight goes home, stares at the ceiling before they close their eyes and try to imagine that it would be like to be in people's shoes, we probably could not, to be honest, because we have never seen our children shot in the head. We have never seen some of the awful—

Senator O'Sullivan interjecting—

Senator O'Sullivan, these are eyewitnesses. This is what I have been told. Some of the atrocities these people are fleeing from are well documented. They are often from war zones and areas of famine or disease. All they want to do is get a better life. A young man who gets put on a bus at two in the morning by his dad and his uncle is spirited away somewhere, and before he knows it he is on more buses. Then he is on a boat. He does not know where he is going or why, but his family want a better life for him or do not want him killed. These are the kind of people we are 'safely towing back' at sea, safely spending them back into the blue yonder. Goodbye.

What are we afraid of in this country? What are we actually protecting our borders from? That is the question at the heart of this debate. Why does the coalition, going all the way back to John Howard and Tampa, see it as good politics to be cruel, dehumanise and marginalise other human beings? I am still struggling with why there are people in my country who are so fearful of desperate people arriving by boat. The only conclusion I can come to is that that fear is deeply seated for a number of reasons. I sometimes wonder whether it is just the fact that we fear for our quality of life, because we have such a good one in this country. We are so lucky. Of course there are people doing it tougher than others. There are people doing it tough here but, compared to the poor souls risking their lives for a better life, I actually think we do pretty well here, and we would do pretty well to remember how fortunate we are.

I have been very pleased to be working with a group of Tasmanians—originally it was church groups but a number of people have joined them—to look at the Tasmanian opportunity to offer an alternative to offshore processing in Tasmania using facilities that are there, using the community to resettle refugees and taking a compassionate approach that will cost a fraction of what Senator Cash's department is spending on her so-called military operation to protect this country from the world's most unfortunate people. We could do it through our communities in a positive and inclusive way. There is another way. We have to build the politics. It is our job in the Greens, and hopefully in Labor and other progressive parties, to build support for that kind of initiative in the Australian community. That is our job—to let Australians know that there is nothing to be fearful of. This is a normal part of Australia's heritage and it will have a very positive future if we can come together—

Senator O'Sullivan interjecting—

and put aside the politics of fear, Senator O'Sullivan. Have a Merry Christmas and enjoy the time with your family.


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