Senate debates

Thursday, 4 December 2014


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

8:11 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight with a heavy heart to speak on the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014. I would like to respond, before I make my more formal prepared remarks, to what we have just heard—that extraordinary statement for the record of this parliament from Senator Muir.

Let us be very clear about what we just heard from Senator Muir: he has a choice between a bad option and a worse option. Let us remember who has put him in that position. A man has received a phone call tonight and he has put on the record that he is the man who is going to decide the fate of these tired and desperate people. Why are we in that situation? Because the cruel and heartless government that is running this country and the disgraceful minister, who history will show is presiding over the most appalling treatment of refugees in the history of this nation, have put our crossbench—these men and women who are elected to the parliament—in a position where they have to make a choice tonight on the fate of these desperate, tired people. They are making them make that decision tonight.

'It is not ideal,' said Senator Muir, and he is uncomfortable. Tonight in his discomfort and his weariness from carrying this burden in this parliament, in this not ideal situation, the government will smugly sit over there. They will smile and, if they are successful in getting this piece of legislation through, they will count it as a political victory.

But they will have ripped away good process in this place, in the genuine care that we should be able to apply to the people who need us tonight—the people who are on the end of that phone call to Senator Muir; the people who are tired; the people who are vulnerable; the people who are nearly broken by the experiences that are being inflicted on them by this minister, who has the capacity in his own right as a minister to do the things that he is dressing up as required by this legislation.

It is a litany of deception—one layer after another like some dirty, disgusting cake that they are concocting one layer at a time. It is disgraceful. What they are attempting to do tonight—let us be very clear—is a great shame. It is a stain on this nation.

This cruel government has put to Senator Muir—in language that he expressed on multiple occasions in his comments—'If this bill does not pass, the minister will not …' He said it at least three times that I heard. This is the language of threat and intimidation. This is not the language of a government that is in control, dignified and carefully considering the legislation that it brings before this place. This is a government of bullying and intimidation that is placing the crossbenchers in this untenable position this evening. The reason it is doing it is that tonight it thinks it has got the numbers. It did not have them yesterday and it might not have them tomorrow, and that is why there is this disgraceful, unedifying haste to shove this legislation through the parliament, because tonight it thinks it might have the numbers.

I say to Senator Muir and to the other senators who may be listening to my contribution—small as it might be in this great conversation we are having here tonight—that senators have found an option C with much of the other disgraceful legislation that the government have tried to bring to this parliament, and that option C is to send back dodgy legislation to the dodgy government and make them put in writing, carefully articulated, the things that they are promising on the horizon. The senators in this place know, from their interactions with the government, that they cannot trust a word the government say. So, for the vulnerable people whose plight was well explicated by Senator Muir in his contribution, for the children who want out, I urge the senators this evening—or tomorrow, as the case may be—to do what they have done wisely with other legislation: send it back to the dodgy government. Do not trust them, because they are not worthy of our trust.

As I have said, my heart is heavy with the weight of what this parliament is being asked to do in this piece of legislation. It is a very dense piece of legislation. There are seven detailed schedules, each of which makes very significant changes to the lives and opportunities of people who will share this nation with those of us who are lucky enough to be Australian citizens. Each schedule in itself is worthy of the careful consideration of this Senate, but that will not happen. The reason it will not happen is that this government does not want it to happen. This is a government that wants to govern in darkness. It does not want the light of scrutiny to come near the dodgy legislation that it is putting before us this evening. It is pushing the legislation through as if its very life depended on it—and in a way it does, because the deal that has been done to get this matter through tonight really is not about the seven schedules and the people they will impact; it is about a chaotic, deceptive government that is desperately trying to create some pseudo-impression that it is in control.

As the government grind to a halt at the end of the parliamentary sitting year—and let us not forget they have been in for more than a year—out of the chaos that they have generated in these last few hours they think they are going to grab a little moment of glory, of control. That is what this is about. It is not about the goodwill of people. It is not about the good intent of legislation to advantage human beings. This is about a government scratching for their own survival and the creation of an impression. They are a government in chaos, a government having to toss their legislation overboard, off the barnacled Abbott canoe—chuck it overboard one day and then reach over and fish it out the next day when the winds of change have shifted and they think they might have stitched together some sort of sordid or dodgy deal for a day. This is what is happening here tonight.

Today, not yesterday and perhaps not tomorrow, the government think they have got a chance to get their legislation over the line. Today, not yesterday and perhaps not tomorrow, they think they have got a deal with enough members of the crossbench to get a vote up and bring into being law that will forever change thousands of tomorrows for people it will affect. We see this unseemly haste and determination from the government to do whatever deal they need to—the heavy-handedness of Minister Morrison, the heavy intimidation that we have seen as people have been moving around the chamber, walking up and down the corridors, in and out of offices. Why have they been doing this? Because they know that they have no trust. The reason they have to do it today is to do with the currency of trust this government have with the people who work with them here in this parliament, as well as with the Australian people, who are watching this debate and are part of what we are doing here tonight. The government's word is of so little value that it cannot be connected to the promises of yesterday and it certainly should not be connected to the promises of tomorrow. That is why this legislation should not pass the Senate tonight, or indeed tomorrow. The senators should send it back to the drawing board.

This week we saw senators in this place yet again trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the Australian people. We have seen them do it in so many areas. Today, in question time, we had questions of the Minister for Defence, a minister who is presiding over such chaos that he lost two staff this week. Last week he lost a few canoes or something. Next week we all anticipate he might lose his ministry. He is in chaos.


No comments