Thursday, 13 May 2021
Consideration of Legislation
I rise to contribute to this debate on the suspension of standing orders to consider Senator Patrick's motion, and I indicate that the Greens will be supporting the suspension. We believe this is a matter of urgency that needs to be dealt with now. We also believe amendments need to be made to the Biosecurity Act. People may recall that earlier in the week I circulated an amendment to the biosecurity bill that was supposed to be coming to this place after being dealt with by the House of Representatives. We thought that was a way we could deal with this issue, by amending that bill, which would of course amend the act. However, that bill hasn't come on for debate, so that has not been able to occur; hence our support for the suspension of standing orders to discuss this bill.
I remind this chamber that there are 9,500 Australians and permanent residents stuck in India who wish to come home. They were devastated when the ban was put in place but even more devastated when, overnight, on a Friday night, the minister chose to put in place and announced criminal sanctions on people returning home. That was a further devastation for those people, a reminder of those 9,500, including 950 vulnerable people, 173 of whom are unaccompanied minors. I'm sure everyone in this place has heard the very tragic accounts of parents separated from their children. They need to come home. I can barely imagine being one of those parents who heard about the ban and then the criminalisation of their child's potentially coming home. That's why this is urgent. Although the Prime Minister at the moment is saying, 'Oh, yeah, we'll have three repatriation flights and maybe a few more,' there's nothing to stop him enacting this again and making it happen again. That is why this is urgent. That is why we will be supporting the suspension of standing orders, to ensure that this situation does not occur.
That takes me to the points Senator Fierravanti-Wells made yesterday, reinforcing the concerns that the Greens have had for a long time. I used to be a member of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, as Senator Rice is now. This issue has also come up, repeatedly—that is, legislation that is coming through with instruments that are not disallowable. It is an outrageous way to govern this country, when ministers—and prime ministers—can make decisions that cannot be questioned and that we cannot come into this chamber and seek to disallow. When you're getting something so momentous as banning 9,500 people from coming home, of whom 950 are vulnerable, which means they need urgent support and attention, that power should not be put in the hands of a minister. That's just one example; there are a whole lot of other instruments that are not disallowable.
Increasingly, it's the trend of government to move to putting in place instruments that are not disallowable. This is certainly one. I commend Senator Fierravanti-Wells. I don't often commend Senator Fierravanti-Wells, to be honest and open, but on this one she's right. We shouldn't be governing in this manner. In some legislation there are a few principles, but there's not much meat on the bones and everything else is through regulatory instruments, increasingly many of which are not disallowable. That's why this is urgent. It's so we make sure that the Prime Minister doesn't change his mind again to stop people, particularly those in India—citizens and permanent residents—from coming home. It is absolutely critical. The situation in India, we know, is critical. That is why this debate needs to be had, and that's why we'll be supporting this motion to suspend standing orders to bring on this bill.