Thursday, 4 December 2014
Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014; Second Reading
Madam Acting Deputy President, I would like to inform you that this is not my first speech. I would like to make a statement on the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014. Coming to a decision on this bill has been, without a doubt, one of the hardest decisions I have had to face—a choice between a bad option and a worse option. It is a decision that involves human beings: children, mothers, fathers. It involves the lives of people who have had to endure unthinkable hardship, people pushed to the point where they go to any lengths to seek asylum.
In its initial form, I could not vote for this bill. What the government is proposing is not ideal. There are parts of the bill that I am not comfortable with. However, to do nothing is not an option either. I fear that doing nothing will not help these people. The government has said that, if this bill does not pass, the 30,000 people currently awaiting processing will continue to be left in limbo. The government has said that, if this bill does not pass, the 1,550 people who arrived between 19 July 2013 and the election would be sent to Nauru. The minister has said that, if this bill does not pass, he would be unable to use statutory processes to assess refugee claims and would need to go through an administrative process. He has publicly stated, 'What it means for those 30,000 people is they will just wait longer and longer and longer.'
I believe that this bill has many bad aspects; however, I am forced into a corner to decide between a bad decision or a worse decision—a position which I do not wish on my worst enemies.
Ultimately, it is my desire to see the legacy case load resolved with a clear pathway to permanency for those who are found to be genuine refugees, and for those who are found not to be genuine refugees to return home. Unfortunately, due to the current government's policy, I do not have that option in front of me.
The question is: if I am to vote this bill down because it is not perfect, am I making a worse decision for the people who desperately want to be processed? There has been a lot of concern expressed about the government's new fast-track process. There have been claims that, if a protection visa applicant has their claim denied by the immigration assessment authority, then the only hope is getting that overturned by the High Court. I want to assure people that, if a genuine refugee has their claim knocked back by the case officer, the immigration assessment authority, they can have that decision reviewed by the Federal Circuit Court. Access to the courts for asylum seekers is something that this bill is not taking away.
It is important to remember that this bill is not about how we process people in the future but how we process the current case load left behind by bad policy. I fear for what may happen to people currently seeking some form of security and I believe we need to give them a chance to contribute to society and finally have a chance to get on with their lives.
This has been an extremely difficult process for me. I agree with the remarks made by my colleague Senator Xenophon, who I know has been working extremely hard on this issue. There are many parts of this bill that I am not comfortable with. Whilst I have not had the opportunity to visit detention centres to hear their stories personally, I cannot ignore a joint letter written by refugees on Christmas Island. In that letter, they state that, if a TPV was the only option this government was going to offer, to accept it, because the mental anguish and pain cannot go on. It was a plea, a loud cry for help.
Tonight I have also spoken with people who have worked closely with detainees on Christmas Island. They told me that this bill is not completely fair, but that the detainees are tired. They told me that the detainees have had enough and that they want out. They are desperate. She told me that they have watched the news and they know it is down to one vote, and that vote is mine.
While I was speaking to these people and they were informing me, they started to break down and cry as they were speaking about children who have been in detention since they were born who are two years old. They speak about the word 'out'. To them 'out' means going to church on occasion, and that is it. When they hear the word 'out', they cannot begin to associate it with freedom.
They told the people in detention that they rang the office of the man whose decision it was to decide whether they would be out of detention before Christmas. That man wasn't the minister for immigration; it was me. It should not be like this but it is. The crossbench should not have been put in this position, but it has.
I feel that amendments suggested by my colleagues in the Palmer United Party and Senator Xenophon address some real humanitarian concerns and have the potential to give an opportunity to the current case load of 30,000 refugees. It is important that the Senate look closely at the amendments and vote in a manner which I honestly believe will be in the best interests of my fellow human beings.