Thursday, 25 June 2015
Migration Amendment (Regional Processing Arrangements) Bill 2015; First Reading
I rise to sum up the debate. I am bound to say that I did not hear most of the debate. I will reply to you in a moment, Senator Lambie. From what I heard of the contributions made by the Greens, we heard nothing more than the usual platitudes and insincere objections to a series of measures that has saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives, and it is disgraceful.
Senator Lambie, I did hear your contribution. May I answer the question that you put directly at the end of your contribution—when the High Court, some four years ago, struck down what was then called the Malaysian Solution of the previous government, why the Migration Act was not amended at that time. That, of course, Senator Lambie is a question for those who were then the government—the Labor Party. It was a Labor scheme that, at the time, was opposed by the coalition of which you speak. But, nevertheless, and to be fair, the issues in the Malaysian Solution case—and I have, of course, studied carefully the judgements in the Malaysian Solution case—were not about offshore processing. So the issues addressed in this legislation are completely unrelated to the issues that were before the High Court in the Malaysian Solution case. And, of course, Senator Lambie, it goes without saying that we respect the High Court. Nobody knows that better than I, as a person who used to practice before the High Court.
I will dealing with bill itself. The amendments provided for in the bill give the Commonwealth express statutory authority to take certain action to give effect to regional processing arrangements. The amendments apply where the Commonwealth has entered into an arrangement with another country with respect to the regional processing functions of that country. The current regional processing framework was introduced by the Labor government. It provides for the transfer of unauthorised maritime arrivals, who arrive in Australia by boat without a visa, to another country for assessment by that country of their claim to be refugees. The bill strengthens and puts beyond doubt the existing legislative authority for the Commonwealth's regional processing arrangements provided for by the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Act 2012. As I said to Senator Lambie a few moments ago, this is an act of the previous Labor government. But this government believes that that act has a sound legal foundation. The fact that we are introducing this legislation and passing it through the parliament today does not mean we do not consider that the act already has a sound legal foundation. But, as honourable senators would be aware, it is the subject of challenge in three proceedings before the High Court at the moment and is to be disposed of, as I understand it, in the second half of August.
Regional processing arrangements are important to Australia's strong border protection policies to ensure the long-term viability of regional processing. The amendments in the bill strengthened the existing legislative framework for regional processing and activities so as to put it beyond doubt. The amendments in the bill are necessary to ensure that the legislative framework for regional processing remains solid, as it is—but, as I said, to put it beyond doubt. The bill confirms the ability of Australian officials acting on behalf of the Commonwealth to take action to assist the foreign government in the regional processing country, consistent with the law of that country.
The bill ensures that there is express legislative authority for the Commonwealth to provide assistance to other countries to carry into effect arrangements for the processing and management of unauthorised maritime arrivals who have been taken to regional processing countries. It does not purport to have any effect in itself on the rights of those persons. In other words, the bill is declaratory. It does not change the law; it provides additional legislative support for the existing law. It represents neither a change of law nor a change of policy.
Regional cooperation is a key element of the government's approach to the protection of our borders, consistent with the Australian government's responsibility to maintain strong border protection policies. The bill will ensure that Australia is able to continue to provide the necessary support and assistance to regional processing countries to carry out these arrangements. It deserves the support of all parties, and I acknowledge and thank the opposition for both their support to the bill and their willingness to facilitate this passage through the parliament today. I commend the bill to the Senate.