Monday, 23 November 2015
Migration and Maritime Powers Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2015; Second Reading
Those are very fine words from Senator O'Neill, and I think she is genuine about what she says, but for a member of a political party the words just reek of hypocrisy about the approach that the Labor Party has taken to this whole issue. I take issue, of course, with Senator O'Neill's comment that Manus and Nauru would be different if Labor were in power. She at least had the good grace to concede that the situation we are in in Manus Island and in Nauru stems directly from the Labor government of Kevin Rudd. Evidence has been given to this effect at hearing after hearing after hearing. That program was put in by Mr Rudd with undue haste because an election was coming up, and ever since then the officials who had to implement Mr Rudd's policy have conceded that, because of the haste, it was put together poorly, and some of the problems we have experienced in those nations in subsequent times stem directly from Mr Rudd's involvement in and initiation of that scheme.
I am also delighted that the Labor Party are actually supporting the Migration and Maritime Powers Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2015. Again, Senator O'Neill's fine words read well, but if you look at the history, of course, the Labor Party have always been opposed to the tough action taken by the coalition government to stem the flow of uninvited people to Australia, not just because we want to protect our own borders but because we want to protect the lives of those asylum seekers who put their lives at risk by paying people smugglers tens of thousands of dollars to get on leaky boats to come to Australia. I am pleased that the Labor Party's rhetoric is now changing and they are now saying that they have always supported that, when we know they did not. Under the years of the Labor government, of course, the borders were open. It was open slather to anyone who wanted to come to Australia, and I think over 50,000 people took advantage of the Labor Party's porous borders policy and came to Australia without the appropriate qualifications and papers. Whilst I appreciate the Labor Party's support now, we must not forget the history of the coalition government having to fight tooth and nail at every turn to try to close our borders and to bring some sanity, sense and safety to this whole issue.
Senator O'Neill also talked about a funding cameo for refugees. Could I remind Senator O'Neill that Australia punches well above its weight in all aspects of dealing with refugees. In fact, Australia has the highest per capita intake of refugees of any country in the world. We spend far more per capita on refugees than any other country in the world. And, in addition to that, Australia in many other ways—in its foreign aid program across Asia and the Pacific—does a considerable amount to help those less advantaged than itself. So it is good to see Labor now getting on board. I do not want to rub their noses in it, but I do get a bit tired of this latter-day conversion, effectively, to the programs and policies of the coalition government.
I still remember and will never forget the way the Labor spokesman, Senator Conroy, verbally and very directly insulted a senior officer of our Defence Force in charge of Operation Sovereign Borders, who was unable to defend himself. The senior Labor opposition spokesman actually insulted and attacked this senior serving officer for doing what he was instructed to do, which was to stop the boats coming and protect our borders.
I cannot have the same passion about the Greens. At least they are consistent. They are consistent with their opposition to anything that brings sense, safety and stability to our migration program. They have never changed, and in fact in this particular bill I notice they are now proposing a series of amendments. These amendments did not appear in the committee report into this bill. I might indicate that I am chairman of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, and we did look at this particular bill and made some recommendations, which I will deal with shortly. The Greens political party simply put in a report saying, 'The Australian Greens recommend that the bill be rejected by the Senate'. There was not a mention of any of these amendments, which I understand have appeared on the desk today and which now they are passionate about. Apparently, they were not so passionate about it in the committee investigation of the report, and their dissenting report makes no mention of these amendments they now find so important. In fact, the basics of the Greens' opposition to this in their report, which I think was actually written by Senator Hanson-Young on behalf of the Greens political party, is that they are concerned that schedule 4 of the bill includes provisions in breach of international law. They then go on to quote the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, people who regularly give evidence to my committee in relation to these matters. Every time those issues are raised, the experts in the field, the Commonwealth government department that spends 24-hours a day dealing with these issues, assisted by the very best legal advice available in Australia, have consistently rejected these claims. In fact, my committee's report, at paragraph 2.76, says:
Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard concerns that the Bill potentially breaches Australia's international law obligations. The department assured the committee—most vehemently in respect of Schedule 4—that the Bill does not breach, and is consistent with, those obligations.
The committee accepted this advice and recommended that the bill be passed, subject to one matter that I will deal with shortly. No matter how good the advice and no matter how much the professionals tell the Greens about this, it is still not good enough for them. It is never good enough for them.
Regrettably, we live in difficult times. There cannot be an Australian or a person in the world who is not horrified by what happened in Paris last week. And, whilst this government has been attacked time and time again, particularly by the Greens political party, about the measures it has taken to look after the safety of its citizens, the government continues to do it in spite of the opposition of the Greens political party. There are a lot of measures and laws that have been passed by this parliament in the last couple of years that in normal times—if you can ever remember when normal times were or define them—would never have been countenanced. But we live in difficult times and we are fighting an unseen enemy who does not play by the rules. What happened in Paris last week is a prime example of that.
Regrettably, the government, with the belated but very significant support of the opposition, had to do things to protect Australians, and there has been a series of tranches of bills passed by this parliament, all designed to protect Australians, as a government is obligated to do and as the government would want to do and indeed as all Australians would want their government to do. Sure, at the margins, some people are unhappy about these things. Sure, at the margins, there are some things that in the 'good old days' would not have been contemplated by this parliament. But they are measures that have been carefully thought through. They are measures based on the very best advice of our security and law enforcement agencies, and they are all done with a view to keeping Australians safe and keeping them with the democratic rights and principles that they have come to know and love. They are principles that many countries in the world do not follow. We have a wonderful set of freedoms in this country; freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom to congregate and discuss. We have human rights in this country that are second to none, but do we ever get from the Greens political party any support for these freedoms that the measures we take are meant to protect? Never. We are always attacked by the Greens political party on periphery issues which, fortuitously, most Australians do not follow.
I urge the Greens to get on board with their Labor mates and realise that we do live in serious times and that in these tough times tough measures have to be taken. I must say there are some signs of improvement under their new leader, but some of those in the Greens political party will never concede that these measures are measures that had to be taken.
I return to the committee's report. I want to thank those who did make a submission to the committee. The committee did not meet but we did consider the issues raised in all of the bills. All senators had the opportunity to enter into that consideration and put in dissenting reports. I note the Labor party did not but the Greens did and recommended that the bill be rejected full stop.
The evidence to this committee—the same evidence given to this committee on a previous occasion when a similar matter was raised—did give some cameo examples of how there could be unintended consequences so far as the rights of children were concerned where their parents had made an application on their behalf and that had been rejected at the time. I suspect it would often be because of issues relating to the parents rather than the children. The children at a later stage in life would come forward and make an application to get a visa. Under this legislation, as I read it, they would be rejected on the basis that an application made by their parents what could have been many years before had previously been rejected.
The committee, in considering this as we did when we considered much the same issue in the previous legislation that has already been passed and which related to this, were concerned that the government should be very much aware of this. The committee decided to recommend that the bill be passed, and I support that and will be supporting the bill when it is voted upon, but the committee did recommend that the explanatory memorandum to the bill be amended to clarify the operation of the retrospective provisions of the bill and the safeguards around the impact of these provisions on young people and people with cognitive impairment.
These issues were raised in the previous hearing and indirectly in this hearing. I understand that the department and therefore the government understand these concerns and the retrospective nature of these rules. As I recall the evidence to the previous committee inquiry into this, the department has assured the committee that there are ways that these issues can be addressed. I seek in the minister's final comments or in the committee stage some comment about how the department will deal with these issues should they arise if this bill is passed. I support the bill.