Senate debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023


Instrument of Designation of the Republic of Nauru as a Regional Processing Country

4:21 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I listened very, very carefully to the minister, and I know the minister, through his professional background, is a person who has an eye for detail and who would not have missed this point which I am about to speak to. That is—if you can believe this, and it was never discussed in the minister's comments which you just heard—that the legislative instrument which made Nauru a regional processing centre actually lapsed on 1 October 2022. I didn't hear the minister refer to that. Did you hear that? Did you hear the date had actually lapsed, and that the relevant minister had their eye off the ball? Can you believe such a thing? There are 14,000 people in the Department of Home Affairs, and they missed that. If you went into the register of legislation this morning or yesterday and looked up the instrument making Nauru a regional processing centre, it would have said 'not in effect'. Why? Because it lapsed. Why? Because the relevant minister—not his representative here in this chamber, but the relevant minister—dropped the ball.

From May 2021, the government was given the information that this instrument needed to be renewed. It would no doubt have been in the incoming minister's brief after the last election. They dropped the ball. That instrument ceased to be in effect in October 2022. And here we are now, in February 2023, and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has to come in here and do the tidy up for the minister in the other place who dropped the ball. It's absolutely appalling.

The minister could at least provide that transparency to this chamber instead of giving me the political opportunity, to be frank, to come up and surprise everyone listening with the fact that you didn't choose to tell this chamber. Someone very, very bright told me early in my business career: if you're going to eat crow, eat it fresh. But we didn't get that from the minister today. He had absolutely no reference to the fact that that instrument ceased to have effect in October 2022. The concern that raises in my mind is: what exposure did that lead to? The relevant officers, members of the department, were diligently undertaking their duties, discharging their duties under the Migration Act. Did it expose any of them to legal claims, to liability? Did they have all the protections they should have had after the instrument lapsed? It's absolutely appalling!

It's not as if we've got a hundred regional processing centres—there's Nauru. They couldn't even get their homework right in that regard. What is the minister doing? How many times was the minister reminded? How many times did the minister fail to act? If the minister is missing something this obvious, what else is the minister missing? How can we have any confidence in the minister? This is appalling. It's absolutely extraordinary. Who's advising the minister? Who picked it up? Who said: 'Minister, we've got to fix this quickly. This is expiring in October'?

Remember, Mr Acting Deputy President, the election was in May. It wasn't as if this was happening the following week. If you go to the Federal Register of Legislation in relation to this instrument it's there for everyone to see. Obviously, the minister doesn't visit the Register of Legislation and check out his own instruments and legislation. It says it's no longer in effect, and the contribution we just heard from the minister made absolutely no reference to that. Those in the gallery listening to this debate and those listening through the broadcast would have had no idea that those opposite had actually dropped the ball on this. They would have had no idea, because those opposite weren't transparent and up-front about this terrible, terrible error.

I'm a lawyer by profession. I don't really know what it means, in terms of liability and the rights and obligations of people, that we've had this gap in the law between October and today. I don't know the ramifications. What I do know is that there are going to be all sorts of people looking at this very carefully now—looking at what it means for the people they represent, their various stakeholders—and we don't know the answers. The minister didn't even refer to it. It was as if it didn't exist. Did those opposite really think they were going to get away with that, that we wouldn't pick it up? It's absolutely extraordinary, Mr Acting Deputy President.

There were elements of the minister's speech that I absolutely agree with—in terms of the need for regional processing; I absolutely support that—but it always strikes me as somewhat disingenuous when those on the other side get up and say anyone criticising their policy is engaging in rank politicisation but they never engage in rank politicisation. It's only when they're criticised that it amounts to rank politicisation. There will be senators in this chamber who get up and make contributions to this debate and speak from the heart, and I respect their views in that regard. I will not say that they're engaging in rank politicisation. They're simply saying what they believe, and they have every right to do that. But, in the context of this debate, how could you come into this place and miss out the fundamental issue, which is that this instrument has failed to be in effect since October 2022? He didn't even mention it, let alone the ramifications of it. What we've seen from the minister is absolutely extraordinary.

I realise it's not his portfolio. He has the job—and it's a very, very hard job—of representing the minister in the other place. It's a very difficult job. I wouldn't wish it on my own worst enemy. He's got the job, so I guess he has diligently fulfilled his task, but maybe he should go back to the people who wrote the speech and say: 'You know what? I would have preferred'—and I think it reflects his character, to be frank—'that we'd owned up to the mistake; that we'd been transparent, open and honest with everyone. That's the way I roll.' It's a shame that the major issue this motion is dealing with wasn't canvassed by the minister in moving it. It's a real shame. I suggest to all of my colleagues in this place that we should seriously reflect on that state of affairs. I've often in this place spoken about the importance of delegated legislation instruments and their impact on the powers and liberties of people. It's something I take incredibly seriously. If you're going to come into this place and present a motion, give us all the facts, give us all the context and let's have a reasonable debate about it. Don't even try to hide that which can't be hidden, because it's there for everyone to see on the Federal Register of Legislation.


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