Senate debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023


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

4:30 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The more things change, the more they stay the same sometimes in this place. It is beyond doubt that many people in the recent election voted for the Australian Labor Party in the hope that they would be more compassionate towards refugees. Here we are, less than a year after the election, and what are we getting? The same rubbish in a different bin. We're getting the same old lame excuses, the same old spin, the same old toxic politics that we got for year after year after year from Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton. We're getting it now from the Australian Labor Party. That speech from Senator Watt could have been given by Mr Morrison or Mr Dutton. Yes, the tone is different, but the words, the excuses and the spin are identical to what we heard for years from Mr Morrison and from Mr Dutton.

Here's a tip for Mr Morrison, Mr Dutton and Senator Watt: there are no excuses for torture. There are no excuses for torturing innocent people. There never have been and there never will be. You can roll out all the excuses you like for deliberately harming innocent people in order to send a message to other desperate people that they should not try to come to Australia to seek asylum by boat. You can roll out all the excuses you like, but that's all they will ever be: excuses for torture. You can never, ever excuse torture and you never, ever should try to excuse torture.

And it's not just the Greens that say this is torture. Amnesty International conducted a rigorous assessment of Australia's offshore detention regime and they found categorically that it is akin to torture. Let me explain why that is. On senator Watt's own account today and on the excuses given by Mr Dutton and Mr Morrison, offshore detention is designed to send a message to other people that they should not attempt to enter Australia. It is designed to coerce people into taking an action or not taking an action by the infliction of harm. That is categorically, comfortably within the definition of torture. The people who are caught up in Australia's offshore detention regime—and it's been going, let us not forget, for nearly 10 long years now—are like the corpses that used to get impaled on the walls of medieval cities to dissuade other desperate folk from attempting to enter those cities.

We have learned nothing in this country since the days of Port Arthur, where deliberate harm, including psychological harm, was inflicted on people as a punishment. In offshore detention in Australia for 10 years we've seen murder, we've seen rape, we've seen deliberate medical neglect, we've seen child abuse, we've seen child sex abuse, we've seen mass armed assault, we've seen death, we've seen disease and we've seen lives destroyed. Do you know why we've seen those things in Australia in offshore detention in the last 10 years? Because that system was deliberately designed to brutalise and dehumanise people. It was deliberately designed to make people's lives so unbearable that they would prefer to return to the dangers and persecutions that caused them to flee their homelands in the first place than to stay in the prison camps on Manus Island and Nauru. That is why those things happened. Those deaths, those murders, that brutality and that dehumanisation were not bugs of the system; they were features of the system. It was a system designed either intentionally to cause those things to happen or in the knowledge that those things would be likely to happen if the system were designed in that way. That's what offshore detention is in Australia.

Right now around 150 people are about to clock up a decade in offshore detention. What has Senator Watt been doing for the last decade? I hope he has been doing a lot of great things with his life. What have Mr Dutton and Mr Morrison been doing for the last decade? I hope they've had some good things in their lives too. I've had some great things happen in my life in the last decade, but there is a group of people who have lived a decade now in those systems are deliberately designed to dehumanise them and to brutalise them. They've lived without hope for nearly a decade—10 long years.

What did the Labor Party do when it came into government? It stitched up a $420 million contract for three years—to purportedly look after and provide services to well under 100 people on Nauru—with a company that stands accused of human rights abuses in the US prison system. That company is under investigation by the government in the US for fraud and human rights abuses. Somehow the Labor Party thinks that this is a company that is worthy of having responsibility for people who've been in the offshore detention system for nearly a decade now in Australia. It is a disgrace that the Labor Party have stitched up a deal with MTC. They are a disgrace of a company. They should not be given responsibility for even one person's life, let alone the lives of people who are about to clock up a decade in offshore prisons in Nauru.

I was on Manus Island in 2017 when the Australian government ordered that the food, drinking water, electricity and medical support be cut off from hundreds of men. I was there. I was in that prison camp inside the Lombrum Naval Base on Papua New Guinea. I saw the desperation in the eyes of those men, but I also saw their bravery. I want to contrast their bravery—the reclamation of agency that they engaged in there when they actually said, 'No, we're no longer going to do as we're told and as we're ordered to do; we're going to actually stand up and reclaim our lives,' which is exactly what they did—with the cowardice we're going to see in this chamber today when the overwhelming majority of this chamber vote for this obnoxious instrument that is currently before us. That contrast is immense and it does no favours to the majority of senators who are about to vote for this instrument.

But, no matter how bad things seem, there is always hope. I want the chamber to know that today Behrouz Boochani came into this parliament, into this building that we stand in as we debate this motion today, and made a speech—effectively, a speech to the Australian parliament. One of the things he did in that speech was urge the Labor Party to actually, finally, do something for the relatively very small number of people who are still stranded in Papua New Guinea and Nauru—fewer than 150 people who are, as I've said, about to clock up a decade in offshore detention. And he asked the Labor Party a question in his speech. He said, 'What are you scared of?' I think that's a question the Labor Party needs to answer. What is the Labor Party scared of? Any moral person who looks at the last 10 years of the lives of the fewer than 150 people still in exile in either Papua New Guinea or Nauru is going to say, 'Enough is enough.' They are going to say, 'At least bring them to Australia temporarily while you find a third country to take them.'

There is simply no benefit to them staying and there is no need for them to stay in offshore detention. For 10 years they've been there. There is no benefit to them staying there, except for the lame old excuses—the lame old spin—that get rolled out by the Labor and Liberal parties to try to justify torture. That is what we've heard in this chamber today and for the last decade, and in the other place in this parliament: excuses for torture. Well, enough is enough. There is never any excuse for torture.

The Greens have got a bill; it's been introduced today. That bill, if it's successful, would compel the government to offer a transfer to everyone still in Papua New Guinea or Nauru who was exiled there because they made the mistake of stretching out a hand to our country, asking for our help, and they arrived here by boat to claim asylum. That bill should be passed. There is no doubt that that bill should be passed.

I remind the Labor Party that they supported the Greens' medevac amendment when the Labor Party were in opposition. They supported that and they told Australia that they were supporting it because it was the right thing to do because we had a moral obligation to the people who were in offshore detention to make sure they got the medical treatment they needed. That's why the Labor Party said they supported the medevac legislation. Well, this Greens legislation is absolutely in the spirit of the medevac legislation that Labor previously supported.

So here's the test for the Labor Party. They can support our legislation and show that the reasons they gave to the Australian people for supporting the Greens medevac amendment were real and fair dinkum. But, if Labor don't support the Greens evacuate-to-safety legislation, it'll make one thing abundantly clear, and that is that their support for the medevac amendment when they were in opposition was just rank politics. It didn't owe anything to doing the right thing. It didn't owe anything to the concept of respect, the concept of human rights and the concept of human dignity. That's the test for the Labor Party. I urge them to support our bill and help us to finally write an end to one of the darkest, bloodiest and foulest chapters in Australia's story: the chapter of offshore detention.

Finally, I'll just say this: we need a royal commission in this country into immigration detention: a royal commission into offshore immigration detention and a royal commission into onshore immigration detention—into the corruption, into the human rights abuses and into a system that is the extension of the carceral state that was actually one of the founding element of European settlement in Australia. There are some things that we have just never, never learned. It's time to bring an end to this dark chapter and write a new beginning.


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