Senate debates

Wednesday, 13 February 2019


Consideration of Legislation

9:46 am

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of this suspension, because today is such an important day for the many millions of Australians who are fighting for a return to a more decent, a more compassionate, a more caring Australia, and we stand with them!

Let me make this point: indefinite detention of innocent people in offshore prisons is wrong. It is wrong. Depriving innocent people of their liberty and depriving them of hope is wrong. Denying medical treatment to innocent people in our care is wrong! The fact that we're even debating whether we should be denying innocent people access to medical care shows you how far down this dark path we have come.

This isn't a question of politics. This isn't a question of law. This is a question of basic human decency. This goes to the essence of how we treat our fellow human beings—of who we are as a nation. Right now we are engaged in the politics of fear and division. This is a taste of what is to come in this election campaign, where we see a government with nothing other than fear and division—a government with no plan to tackle climate change, no energy policy, no plan to increase wages, no plan to tackle the housing crisis—turn to the old trusted toolbox where fear and division is the pathway to winning an election. That's what this is about. That's what this government seeks to do. I fear for what the next few months have in store for the Australian community—turning people against each other, when we should be appealing to people's better nature, when we should be giving people an Australia they can believe in, an Australia that is compassionate and decent towards innocent human beings.

For too long—for months now—we have been debating in this parliament whether the people on Manus Island and Nauru can get access to the medical care that they need. The government's proposition is this: that we should harm innocent people—that we should deny them a fundamental right, which we've accepted not just here in Australia but right around the world, that anybody who is sick should get access to decent medical care. This is a basic human right. Yet we have a government saying: 'We are going to deny people this human right in an effort to send a message to someone else; we will harm the innocent to send a message to someone else.' That is a principle we don't accept in any other part of our justice system.

What we saw at the end of last year was some decency finally being injected in this debate. We saw the medical community, the AMA, the medical colleges, refugee advocates, human rights lawyers and, indeed, brave members of the crossbench joining with the Greens and then the Labor Party, to finally stand up and say: 'No more! We are not going to accept the harm that is being inflicted on innocent people.' And this basic, simple principle that we have accepted up until this point, which is that sick people get access to medical care, should be something we stand up for.

That this is even a matter of debate shows you how far we have come. I fear that this bill still is not certain to pass. We will find that out in the coming moments. But the fact that this bill is now before the Senate again is in part because we saw the Labor Party decide to make changes to a bill they supported several months ago. That's why this bill has now returned to the Senate. We played a critical role in ensuring that this bill remained integral in terms of ensuring that people get access to medical care, and we now are fully supportive of what's being put before the Senate, but the reality is this: never before have Australians seen why they need to have the Greens in the Senate—indeed, more independent voices in our parliament. It is because, when pressure comes to bear on the major parties, they listen to those people with the deepest pockets and with the biggest megaphones, rather than standing up for decency. And that's what this bill is about. It's about ensuring fundamental decency is once again returned to this policy that has inflicted so much harm on so many people.


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