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

He is up the creek. That is exactly right, Senator Polley. Despite a government talking about a budget emergency, despite a government offering our Defence personnel an effective pay cut this year, we had a minister today who was challenged about $6,300 worth of spending on a gastronomic feast.

We had Senator Abetz trying to justify here in the Senate today why the foreign minister needs her junior minister to hold her hand overseas next week. The Prime Minister's only woman in cabinet is not even allowed to do her own job by herself without a chaperone to accompany her to make sure that she does the right thing. It looks like it is a situation of 'father knows best'. It seems that the PM thinks he is the great patriarch of the party and he is going to tie everyone down; trying to limit and contain. And in his haste, along with his chief of staff, to contain this government, what we have is a government breaking out all over the place: a government in chaos—constantly in chaos.

Amongst this chaos and this confusion, we have this bill this evening. It is one of the most significant pieces of legislation that we are probably going to have to deal with since the election of this government—it is certainly one of the major pieces. And this eleventh-hour reprieve on the final day of sitting for the year is basically serving as an omnibus catch-all bill to try to clean up all the mess of this government's failure in immigration and in the border protection space.

Labor is not opposing this just for the sake of opposing. I notice that Senator Carr has returned to the chamber. His comments earlier this evening made very, very clear that there are parts of this bill that we agree with. There are parts of this bill that are sensible. But, then, there are the other parts—an ideological fight to the bottom where the Liberals are committed to putting their policy ahead of human policy. Much of this bill just serves as a legislative response to the actions of the judiciary. This should be of great concern to us: a government interfering with that process. Some of it is understandable, but other serious parts of this legislation fly in the face of the separation of powers. The attempt to pre-empt the work of the courts is again another revelation about the attitude of this government; a government that thinks it is bigger, better, braver and bolder than anything else, even the judiciary. That is what we are seeing pushed through here this evening. And that is why Senator Muir was so right to describe this as a choice between a bad option and a worse option.

The High Court is currently dealing with a case with strangely familiar elements to what we see presented here this evening in this bill. If we delve a little deeper we can see that, sadly, this is not a coincidence, because if it were passed through this parliament, this piece of legislation would render the precedent value of that case redundant. It is a case which is fundamentally about the Maritime Powers Act, and the very outcome of that case may well have an impact on the government's ability to conduct its turn-back policy and rip the backbone out of the government's immigration standpoint. It sets a dangerous precedent for governments and their relationship with the High Court, that should a case be heard that a government of the day disagrees with, they can subvert any hearings of the court with pre-emptive legislation. That is what is underway here: pre-emptive legislation to get ahead of the courts from a government that thinks it knows best.

Our view about the question of turning back asylum vessels is simply this: we are open to any measure which saves lives at sea, and we are completely committed to doing everything we can to end the human tragedy which has unfolded on our borders. That is why we took deliberate steps, including putting the PNG arrangement in place, which has done an enormous part of the work in seeing an end to the flow of asylum seeker vessels. We absolutely understand that that needs to happen in order to end the human tragedy, and we hope that we are in a place now where have seen the last of the deaths at sea.

We do have two anxieties in relation to the question of turning back asylum seeker vessels. The first is the impact that this policy, if established through this legislation, will have on our relationship with Indonesia. It becomes clearer and clearer every day that this government, in all its relationships, including those with our international friend just to the north, Indonesia, has a lack of respect for relationships. The second area of concern with regard to safety at sea is with regard to the expertise of the Navy. We have had advice from the Navy to this parliament about the question of safety at sea. But since the election of the Abbott government, information about this part of proceedings has been—if we are honest—very difficult to ascertain. We cannot get questions answered openly in this parliament on the circumstances of the conduct that is occurring on the high seas because the government has tried to hide that too from the Australian people and from this parliament. In its opaque governing, in its determination to do deals in the darkness—dirty deals done behind doors over and over—this government continues to hide very important operational matters from the public.

In closing, I would like to return to the responsibility that weighs heavily tonight on the hearts of those who are on the crossbench this evening. They have been pushed and pushed by the government on this day. First of all, the crossbench should not be put in such an intensely uncomfortable position. The difficulty of dealing with this complex piece of legislation and its long shadow across this nation, really requires that a more transparent, more open, more informed, more effective and less hasty response be developed. We have seen our crossbenchers work with Labor. We are clearly the ballast of this parliament in making sure that we hold true to a message of fairness for the Australian people. On the test of fairness, so much legislation has been rejected. We rejected the higher education bill this week because we knew it would lead to an unfair Australia, with two types of students—two classes of students—huge debt and a Commonwealth scholarships that has no Commonwealth money in it.

This legislation that we have had before us was rejected because senators could see that they simply could not trust the government. They sent it back to the drawing board and said, 'Let's get this cleaned up and let's lock down this dodgy group of people, who consider themselves the leaders of our nation at the moment, in language that they can't run from.' We know from the promises of the Prime Minister who said, 'No cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to the pension, no cuts to the ABC, no cuts to SBS,' that when they tell you they are not going to do something it is almost as if they have concocted a recipe for doing the exact opposite.

The words from this government with promises attached should not be trusted. They have no currency of trust. Everything they promised they have gone back on. I urge senators: if it is not locked down, described, written in triplicate and photocopied several times over do not trust the government with this heavy, heavy piece of legislation. Did not trust it yesterday. My bet is that tomorrow you probably will not trust them again. Do not trust them tonight on the one day that they think they have stitched together enough votes. This is too important an issue for us to have to deal with it in this short time frame, this disrespectful time frame, which reveals through process just how little respect this government has for the fair work of the parliament.


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