Senate debates

Thursday, 25 June 2015


Migration Amendment (Regional Processing Arrangements) Bill 2015; First Reading

11:14 am

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I have long advocated the rights of refugees. I support those who seek asylum, who flee persecution, war, uncertainty. Before coming to this place, I actively worked with refugee organisations on processing claims and I continue to donate to refugee organisations. In some ways, the work that I did on behalf of refugees was easier than being in this place and having to make decisions in the best interests of our country—having to make the difficult decision to support this legislation. I take this opportunity to set out why I support this legislation and to make it very clear what I do not support.

I do not support the Abbott government's continued demonisation of refugees and asylum seekers. They began this attack in opposition and they have ramped up this attack in government. I will never forget, during the election campaign, the billboards demonising refugees which sprang up in Western Australia. With those horrendous billboards all over the city and on the backs of trucks, there was nowhere you could go in the metropolitan areas of Perth and ignore them. That a political party thought it was okay, in Australia, to make the plight of people fleeing persecution an election issue is a disgrace. That it continues this attack, almost on a daily basis in this place, on those fleeing persecution shows the depths they will go to to ensure their political survival.

My reservations about this bill go to the fact that, like many in the Australian community, I do not trust the Abbott government. It has betrayed the trust of the Australian people by breaking its election commitments—its promises. So, when the government comes to Labor for support of this bill at the eleventh hour, my suspicions are aroused. The Abbott government, if it ever had any morals, has certainly lost its way on the issue of asylum seekers and refugees. The Labor opposition opposed this bill and demanded assurances, and we demanded that they be in the second reading speech. So the government set out assurances, in the second reading speech, that the amendments in this Migration Amendment (Regional Processing Arrangements) Bill 2015 solely go to enabling payments and enabling the fact of regional processing, and that the legislation does not in any way change or expand the current situation with regional offshore processing. Labor have been given the commitment that this bill does not empower new conduct and that nothing in it is the basis for new action. That was set out in the second reading speech.

Our leader, Bill Shorten, summed up the feelings of the Labor Party on this proposal by the government in his speech on this bill. He said:

When Labor were asked to support this amendment there was some considerable recollection in my party of Labor's first regional resettlement policy that centred on the Malaysian arrangement. Because of the High Court's decision in that case, the fate of this plan was left in the hands of the parliament, just as we are being entrusted now. It was a debate that captured, for all to see, the poisonous, obstructionist negativity of the Abbott opposition. We remember that, after years of slogans and scaremongering, they suddenly sought to lecture us on the rights of refugees. We remember the then shadow minister for immigration, the member for Cook—

Mr Scott Morrison—

the man who said in 2011 that allowing relatives of asylum seekers who drowned at sea to attend the funeral of their loved ones and, for some, the funeral of their own child was not a reasonable use of money—lecturing us about being humane.

…   …   …

We will never forget that when Prime Minister Gillard wrote to Tony Abbott asking for bipartisanship, seeking cooperation to reach a solution, he wrote back saying: 'This is a problem that you have created and it is your responsibility to solve.' That was his idea of leadership: 'This is your mess, you fix it.'

We will never forget the deal that the Liberals and the Greens did in teaming up to defeat the Malaysia arrangement. We will never forget the 689 souls that were lost after that vote. My fear is that the truth is that the coalition opposed the Malaysia arrangement not because they thought it would not work but precisely because they were afraid it would work. They played their politics hard.

It is precisely because we remember that that Labor are determined to be better. When confronted with the same facts as Mr Abbott was when he was Leader of the Opposition, our leader and our Labor caucus did not draw the same conclusion that he did—that it was his mess and he needed to fix it.

The Moss review, the Human Rights Commission and the Senate select committee on Nauru have all reported on the inhumane treatment of refugees, the alleged sexual abuse of children, the alleged rape of women, and on mental illness and poor health. What is the response of the Abbott government? They bury their heads in the sand, they ignore the truth and they continue to demonise those who seek asylum.

Questions about the death of Reza Berati remain unanswered. I remember how the then minister, Scott Morrison, in his initial response, blamed asylum seekers for protesting and creating a dangerous situation—again, using the tragic death of this young man as an opportunity to demonise and blame asylum seekers. Where is the justice for Reza Berati? Where is the pressure on the Papua New Guinean government to undertake a thorough and transparent inquiry? There is no pressure being applied by the Abbott government for the truth to be told, because their agenda is about the demonisation of those who seek asylum and those who seek refuge.

Under John Howard our notion of a fair go country was under attack. He went too far, and it was his changes to industrial relations which finally turned Australians against him. Not only was the Howard government voted out of office—he lost his seat. The Prime Minister was unseated. Now we are seeing the same attacks by the Abbott government—our fair go once more under attack. I would hope that the treatment of those who seek asylum is one of the issues which ensures that the Abbott government are voted out of office at the next election. The Abbott government is turning Australia into a small, mean, closed-border country. No longer do we see words or actions from our government that we are a global player on any issue, let alone see or hear the Abbott government acknowledge that displaced persons and refugees are a global issue. We are becoming the outlier—a country which says that refugees are anybody's problem but ours.

There is no doubt that as a Labor senator I will be criticised by refugee advocates for supporting this bill. My support for this bill in no way legitimises the inhumane way in which the Abbott government are treating refugees. There is no doubt that the situation on Nauru and Manus Island is horrendous. No matter how much the Abbott government tries to cover up, to hide the truth, to hide behind national security, to hide behind border protection, to hide behind on-water matters, the truth always comes out. I want Australia to take its responsibilities for refugees seriously. I want Australia to be a global player, to take its global responsibilities seriously. I want to see the humane treatment of refugees. I want to see timely and fair processing and giving people who seek asylum the opportunity to rebuild their lives. There is a world refugee crisis. Australia needs to be part of the solution to that crisis. In my view that does involve regional processing, but it does not in any way involve the sorts of actions and inactions that we are seeing from the Abbott government when we see what they are doing on Nauru and Manus Island.

The reality is that there are refugee camps all over the world. There are people living on the borders of Turkey; there are people fleeing into Jordan and other places. All over the world there are people seeking refuge, seeking a safe place. There are displaced people everywhere, and it needs a global solution.

What we want to see from the Abbott government is the timely and fair treatment and processing of asylum seekers—not holding people in camps for years and years and years; not picking the cheapest contractor, who does not understand that people are traumatised and need to be treated fairly and humanely. That is what I want to see from the Abbott government. But I do not believe that I will see that. I know in my heart and my head that it suits the Abbott government to continue to demonise asylum seekers, to call them illegals, to give them numbers, to deny their humanity. That is not good enough, and I am working, every day that I can, to expose the inhumane treatment of the Abbott government, the way it treats people in asylum. Any one of us, depending on where we were born, could have been faced with that situation. I know that if my family were under threat I would do everything that I could to remove them from that threat. We want to see asylum seekers, no matter where they land, being processed quickly and being treated fairly and humanely. I do not believe we will see that from the Abbott government.

This morning, before coming down here, I took a call from a refugee advocate who was in tears at the treatment of children. She told me many stories. Of course we all know those stories are there, yet they fall on the deaf ears of the Abbott government and we have no response. How many more times do reports have to come before this parliament, have to be published, that talk about the inhumane treatment of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru? How many more times do those things have to be reported before the Abbott government finally steps up to its responsibility? I fear that for the term of this government they will continue to ignore those pleas.

My take is that in detention camps, wherever they are run, people need to be processed humanely and fairly. Of course that is not what this bill is about, but those emotions become aroused when we talk about Australia's treatment of refugees. I certainly will continue to condemn, in this place and in other places, the inhumane treatment of refugees. It reflects on all of us, whether we are elected politicians in this place or members of the community. The way the Abbott government is treating refugees in our name is a reflection on all of us. And I know that this is gaining currency in the Australian community. You can only demonise asylum seekers so far. When ordinary Australians actually meet people who are fleeing persecution they can imagine themselves in exactly the same situation. Any of us in this place would do exactly the same thing—take action to protect ourselves and our families.

The legislation before us today is an opportunity for the Abbott government to step up to the plate, to start treating asylum seekers humanely, to stop calling them illegals or illegal boat arrivals, to stop using refugees as some kind of political football. But I suspect that will not happen in this place today. During the committee stage we will be questioning the government and seeking further assurances on just exactly what their intentions are. Despite the bill setting those intentions out, we have no trust in the Abbott government and what they put forward as legislation. We will be assuring once again that they are very clear about particular causes in the amendment they are seeking today. We will hold them to account on this bill and any other bills they bring before this place. I can only urge them today to look at their own actions, to look at their poor, unjust, unfair, inhumane treatment of those seeking asylum. I can only urge them to get on with the processing, to give people the opportunity to rebuild their lives, to give people their humanity back and to treat people fairly.


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