Thursday, 13 May 2010
Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2010
Debate resumed from 12 May, on motion by Senator Chris Evans:
That this bill be now read a second time.
While all sides of politics can agree that the people-smuggling trade appallingly exploits innocent individuals who are desperate for freedom and desperately fleeing persecution, the Greens do not believe that the Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2010 deals with those issues, as I said in my earlier remarks in this debate. Rather, we have a situation where providing humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers could be criminalised under this bill, particularly as it fails to reflect our obligations under the current international anti-people-smuggling protocol. We are a signatory to that protocol yet its definition is not used in this legislation. The protocol that we are a signatory to specifically states that it does not aim to punish individuals who assist smuggled persons purely for humanitarian reasons. That is the difference between it and this bill.
The fact that the government has failed to commit to a charter of rights, which would enshrine our commitments under international law and provide an avenue for human rights challenges in Australian courts, gives cause for concern with this legislation, particularly when it unintentionally captures innocent individuals simply because it is so poorly drafted and broad, does not include the correct definitions and, therefore, does not fulfil its aim to criminalise genuine people smuggling. The bill does not reflect the issues in relation to people that are helped on humanitarian grounds.
Given the lack of consultation with the legal profession about the impact that this legislation will have on civil liberties, as well as the failure of these proposed new measures to adhere to our commitments under international law, I move a second reading amendment on behalf of the Greens:
At the end of the motion, add:
and further consideration of the bill be an order of the day for the first sitting day after:
(a) the bill has been subjected to inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, proposed by the government as part of its new Human Rights Framework; and
(b) a statement of the bill’s compatibility with Australia’s international obligations has been produced and tabled in the Senate.
The government say that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Human Rights Subcommittee is their new measure for moving forward with any legislation that has questions around its compatibility with human rights and international law. Why not let this bill be the first one to go through this committee? If the government are honestly committed to ensuring that individuals’ human rights are not violated and that legislation is not flawed in relation to human rights and civil liberties, then they should let this legislation go through that process. The Greens will not be supporting this legislation going to the next stage until it has moved through that committee and a statement of its compatibility with our international obligations is tabled in the parliament. Why would the government, after announcing that this is their new process and that this is what they are committed to, not take the opportunity to test it out with such an important piece of legislation?
It is clear from various submissions provided to the Senate committee which looked into this legislation—the committee inquiry which was rushed and whose report is one of the poorest I have seen in my short time here in the Senate—that the new offence in the amendments to the Criminal Code Act 1995 and the Migration Act 1958 is too broad and ineffective, particularly in the ambiguous reference to material support, which I spoke about earlier. Not only is this term vague and indeterminate, with concerns about fairness and due process, but it also presents problems with our obligations under international law, including the refugee convention.
Australia is a signatory to the anti-people-smuggling protocol, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, yet all the legal evidence given to the Senate committee inquiry into this legislation raised concerns that it breaches our commitments to them. In particular, article 6 of the protocol against the smuggling of migrants requires states to criminalise specified conduct:
… when committed … in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit …
Yet that has been left out of this piece of legislation. This requirement already exists in the people-smuggling offences under the Criminal Code. Why do we need this definition of material support, which does not offer any more clarity about the types of issues and individuals which this legislation will deal with? Under this bill, the requirement for a profit motive to exist is omitted. So, if a person helped somebody to escape an awful situation where they were fleeing for their life or from persecution, this bill would say that the person helping that individual is a criminal, without even a transfer of money. It simply does not make sense in relation to what the government suggests is the intent of this legislation.
It is obvious that there is strong concern that, if this legislation is passed in its current form, it would criminalise activities of aid organisations, humanitarian workers, charity and church workers and other individuals who assist people across borders for humanitarian reasons. Why is it that the government has not included the international definition of people smuggling? If the government intends to tackle genuine people smugglers, then why is that not clearly defined in this legislation? There is really no argument for not doing so. Of course, that is why this piece of legislation should not proceed until it is further looked at. It is such a poorly drafted, poorly targeted piece of legislation. One of the witnesses, indeed, during the inquiry said that it was the worst piece of legislation she had ever seen, and this was from a quite significant person in the legal profession in Australia. Despite having previously appeared in front of the committee long before the Rudd government were running the country—that is, during the Howard years—she still made the point that this was the worst piece of legislation she had ever seen.
It is clear from the government’s own submissions that there has not been adequate time to consider this bill. The failure of the government to articulate why it is necessary to introduce the new measures proposed in this bill highlights why public consultation and debate are necessary. I strongly urge the Senate to support the second reading amendment put forward by the Greens that suggests that this bill should not proceed until it is further scrutinised and checked off by the new Human Rights Subcommittee so that we can really have an understanding of the impact it will have. (Time expired)
In speaking on the Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2010, I want to start by acknowledging that on budget day the 123rd arrival of a suspected illegal entry vessel occurred—that is, 123 vessels since 2008. Here we are in May and there have been 55 vessels this year. They are arriving at a rate of three per week. Anybody experienced in this area—and I was the minister in charge of border protection in 2007—knows the season has only just begun. We have had 55 boats this year and the season has only just begun. These boats are arriving at such a rate that I checked various websites to make sure one had not arrived this morning. At any given moment, I suspect Northern Command is aware of several boats on their way, spotted by Coastwatch, showing up on radar or according to advice we receive from passing merchant and commercial vessels.
This bill is one of the most shameful answers to a collapse of public policy that this parliament, in its long history, has ever seen. The mismanagement not just by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship but also by the border protection minister and by the Prime Minister is absolutely unsurpassed in Australian parliamentary history. Having deployed troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East generally and in the full knowledge of what has gone on in Sri Lanka, to now say that we will delay the processing of refugees from those places because they are now more stable is an insult not just to senators’ intelligence but also to the intelligence of every right-thinking Australian.
It was five minutes ago, metaphorically, that the government was saying this was all about push factors. This piece of legislation is the most crass political stunt that this parliament has seen in its long history. We are now saying it is not due to push factors, as those push factors have abated such that there can be a delay and treatment of these people in a different way. So the defence of this guilty party in power at the moment has changed mid-trial. That is how strong the defence was when it started out—it was weak, it was a house of cards and it has begun to collapse. The confusion, indecision and misunderstanding in responding to this problem—this public policy issue that is at the forefront of many minds in Australia, particularly in my home state of Western Australia—and the public policy catastrophe that these ministers, including the Prime Minister, have presided over are simply outrageous.
The people smugglers are now so brazen that when suspected illegal entrants arrive in our waters they have the telephone numbers of defence personnel in their mobile phones. David Cody on the ABC highlighted the fact that one of the witnesses to the SIEV 36 coronial inquest told the coroner that mobile phones are taken because some asylum seekers have found the phone numbers of ADF personnel. How does this happen? The government is utterly asleep at the wheel on these matters if suspected illegal entrants have the personal mobile phone numbers of Australian Defence Force personnel before they get here. We know they will pull up next to Christmas Island, ring 000 and say: ‘Come and get us.’ This is an organised, corrupt trade that this government has inaugurated. When we were in power, they never had the mobile phone numbers of our personnel and they never knew about ringing 000. This is an organised, planned operation from within Australia that this government has presided over and, two years down the track, it is now belatedly taking some action. What an absolute scandal!
I now go to the SIEV 36 coronial inquest. On 16 April, an explosion occurred on board the SIEV 36 in which five men perished. The coronial inquest was conducted by Mr Greg Cavanagh, a jurist in the Northern Territory—a stipendiary magistrate. I pause to give him great credit for the work that he has done on this difficult subject matter. Pursuant to the legislation, he was to make recommendations and to proceed to find out what happened. He found out that there was an organised, planned modus operandi to ignite the boat. Of course, the government refused to disclose any of this information to the public, but there was an organised conspiracy by these people on board this boat to blow it up. At the time of the detonation, there were nine Australian Defence Force personnel on board the boat. This is what the government has led us to—our own soldiers, sailors and airmen who were on board that boat were exposed to the risk of being blown up by this government’s total failure in public policy.
The coroner found that all the adult passengers on this boat had conspired to tell other than the truth to the coroner. I want to take the Senate to those matters. At paragraph 12, he said:
... a group of passengers ... believed they were to be returned to Indonesia ... Notwithstanding that all passengers now deny knowledge of most of what occurred, I conclude that at least passengers Brahimi, Ghulam Mohammadi and Salman were involved in a plan to set fire to the vessel.
Further, he said:
As to whether lives could have been saved—
and five people died in that explosion—
I have concluded that action taken by navy personnel was appropriate and more passengers might have died but for the action they took. Indeed, later in these findings, I refer specifically to the bravery of three members of the ADF.
He went on to say that many of the ADF members who were blown into the water by this explosion, and were injured, recovered and then assisted in the timely rescue and treatment of passengers, and probably went on to save many lives. This is a very fine day in the history of the Australian Defence Force. This group of people were intercepting a suspected illegal entry vessel and were exposed, as we now know with the benefit of hindsight, to enormous risk, and they responded magnificently. I want to commend them and I want to commend the Chief of the Australian Defence Force for what has been a remarkable response in very, very difficult circumstances.
In paragraph 18, the coroner said:
At the time of their deaths, the deceased were passengers on SIEV 36. A group of 47 asylum seekers and two Indonesian crew departed Indonesia in the middle of the night on either 10th or 11th of April 2009. Their destination was Australia. On the morning of 15th of April 2009, SIEV 36 arrived in the vicinity of Ashmore Island. At that time, the passengers were somewhat dehydrated, exhausted and seasick but none were suffering from any serious illnesses. One of the crew, Beny, had an infected tooth. A passenger, Talash, had previously had an appendectomy.
And there were a number of children on board this vessel. This is what we have: 47 desperate people on the high seas, some in various states of ill health. What happens? After being intercepted and after the Navy had gone on board and cleaned up the vessel, we then had a whole host of issues involved in towing them for the next 12 to 13 hours. As a result of some of them mistakenly believing they were to be towed back to Indonesia, a deliberate act was carried out—as the coroner has set out. That act was recorded on a video from the vessel HMAS Childers. The coroner stated:
The camera was on HMAS Childers and had been activated within minutes of—
the naval officer on the spot—
calling high threat. That video shows that about 12 minutes before the explosion, namely about 7:33am, the passenger Brahimi was squatting at the bow of the boat immediately in front of the hatch where the unleaded petrol was stored. There was still one container of petrol in that hatch. The other had been taken by one of the crew members to the cabin and it remained somewhere in the cabin or in the engine compartment thereafter. That container was recovered and Beny said a photo of it attached to his statutory declaration was the container, when he gave his oral evidence.
Naval officer Faunt saw Brahimi at the bow and two naval personnel moved to the front. A person called Salman was standing in front of the cabin and had a cigarette lighter. It was Brahimi with the lighter and it was sought to be taken from him. A very short time after that the vessel detonated. We are so lucky that no Australian personnel died in this incident. Five people who were near the explosion perished. Nine Australian Defence Force personnel suffered ear damage, extensive burns and many of them were thrown into the water.
In dealing with some of the evidence, at paragraph 68 the coroner said that one of the naval seamen on board said:
Salman was gesturing towards him and he denied that the other passenger spoke to him. He denied seeing the activities of G. Mohammadi. He denies any knowledge of how the fire started.
69. Having regard to the video evidence, and what he had said previously in his written statements, I must conclude that his denials are not to be believed. He has lied.
This is about one of the asylum seekers. The coroner goes on to say:
When asked if Brahimi was resisting—
one of the naval officers—
told me ‘Absolutely’. Bendeich who took the lighter from Brahimi said he had to prise the lighter from his hand. Brahimi not only resisted but can be seen—
on the video—
trying to throw the lighter to other passengers.
71. Brahimi also denied that the floorboards over the hatch where the petrol was stored were open at that time—
the naval officer concerned—
however said they were open. He replaced them after he had taken the lighter. The video shows them to be open. Again Brahimi has not told me the truth.
The coroner goes on to set out all of the events and at paragraph 72, he said:
I cannot be certain as to what Brahimi was attempting to do with the lighter. He did not smoke. The question is why did he have the lighter in his hand? Why was he flicking the lighter? It might have been a threat or it may have been that he intended to light a fire at the forward hatch area. He was in a very good position to gain access to the unleaded petrol, spill the petrol and then start a fire. In all events if he had intended to do so, he was stopped by the intervention of Dawe and Bendeich—
both naval personnel—
73. Other passengers were asked about this ‘lighter’ incident. Most if not all of those who were a on the front deck would have been in a position to see this incident. However, all the witnesses called denied knowledge of it. In so far as those depicted on the video were in a position to see and were in fact looking in the direction of the incident, I do not accept their denials of knowledge. They are lying.
He goes on to find many of the witnesses lied in their evidence. At paragraph 75, he said:
I can only conclude that they have not told the truth.
And so it goes on. The coroner sets out that there has been a conspiracy to deny an intent to destroy this vessel, which contained 47 personnel plus two crew and nine Australian Defence Force personnel.
What do you think the government’s response to these people has been—these people who have lied at a coronial inquest and who apparently in the full knowledge that something terrible would happen, according to the coroner, deliberately blew up this vessel? What do you think happened to them, Madam Acting Deputy President? This government granted them visas. This government has granted these people, who were prepared to conduct the most violent act of criminality not just to themselves but to our personnel who were rescuing them, visas. It is an absolute disgrace.
We then come to this legislation, which seeks to toughen up the whole scenario. The event on SIEV 36 was caused by this government mismanaging—bungling—the whole policy of border protection. The government stands to be condemned. Five people died that day, we were very lucky that other sailors and Australian Defence Force personnel were not killed, and the government has given these people visas in the face of this damning report by the coroner.
Of course, we have had other boats—quite apart from the fact that these people have mobile phones. We know that just the other day we had to send out a P3 Orion to a boat. People were put in the water to assist a boat of some 59 Sri Lankans. Five asylum seekers perished just prior to 11 May because the boat they were in had been at sea for some 20 days and had no food, water or fuel on it. That is what this government, in its stupidity, has delivered to this public policy issue: people in leaky boats coming across a treacherous piece of water and perishing. Five people from that boat perished. Goodness only knows how many boats have set off from Sri Lanka to make the trip and have never been heard of again. This is the scandal of these people with their crazy compassion and their ‘we won’t have children behind razor wire’. There are probably dozens and dozens of men, women and children who have perished in those waters because of the stupidity of the minister for immigration and a bungling, hopeless Prime Minister who does not understand the parameters of this matter, particularly in Sri Lanka.
The government’s real attitude was on display in an article by Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun of 13 May in which he talks about former MP Peter Katsambanis, who was a member of the Refugee Review Tribunal. Mr Katsambanis told Andrew Bolt that his former colleagues on the tribunal are under pressure to accept dodgy refugee claims. The article said:
The management of the Refugee Review Tribunal has hinted very strongly that members should start approving more refugee claims … after the change of government in 2007.
There is the cat out of the bag.
It was made very clear by management that long term career prospects would not be enhanced by continuing to make decisions that were lawful and correct (ie rejections or affirmed cases where that was the correct decision to make)—
that is, to refuse entry.
One of the people deciding the next round of appointments on the RRT is John Gibson, a Melbourne lawyer who heads up the Refugee Council of Australia. He also appears in many … cases in the Federal Court appealing against decisions made by RRT members. The fact that this man is on a panel selecting or recommending RRT members offends every principle of independence of administrative decision making …
So here we have the system rigged, and it demonstrates the government’s quite misguided and stupid policy. What has the government delivered to this nation on this policy? Men, women and children travelling across a perilous piece of water, many of whom perish; Australian Defence Force personnel thrust into ever-greater risk in managing their arrivals; and a huge budget black hole of expense on Christmas Island and in motels in Queensland. Those things are what the stupid, misguided, so-called compassionate policy of these people has delivered. And we have to deal with this. We have to pick up the pieces. We have to fly the aircraft, sail the boats, man the surface assets and go out and rescue people at a massive rate.
People are losing their lives because of this crazy, crazy policy. When will this government wake up and stop playing politics like this crazy piece of legislation and delaying processing? What on earth does that say? It says, ‘We’ve lost the plot, we don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re going to look politically tough.’ I think Australians are waking up at last.
In following Senator Johnston’s comments, can I say that as I move around the country I find people are waking up. In this country where one out of three people has been born overseas, people support, and this country has always subscribed to, an Australian immigration policy that is built and depends on order and process. That has been the success of our immigration policy. It depends very much on our sovereign right to determine who comes into this country, and we decide in an orderly manner and according to a process that follows rules and regulations.
Millions of people have come to this country and made an absolutely fantastic contribution. They do not remember the queue that they stood in. They perhaps do not remember the time they waited, but they do know that they came in through the front door. That is the message out there to the millions of Australians. That is why millions of Australians are very concerned about the breakdown of our border protection and, more broadly, the breakdown of process and order in our immigration policy. They came here, they respected order and process, they integrated into Australian society and they expect that their government respects those same principles that they were asked to abide by in coming to this country.
My colleagues have talked about the processes and humanitarian programs. Australia has been a very generous subscriber to humanitarian programs and accepting refugees—indeed, we take about 13,500 per annum. In my time, I have had the benefit of speaking to a number of people who have come to Australia after waiting overseas. They came to Australia and they have benefited from that humanitarian program. Many of them waited for years and years in camps overseas. They went through the proper processes, through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Many women—including mothers and their children—who have been abused as a consequence of war and other circumstances overseas waited in camps. As far as I am concerned—and this is the expectation in our country—they are the ones who should be given first preference. We do not know the security status of people who want to jump the queue. We do not know where they come from. We do not know who they are.
As a consequence of this government’s changes, it is not just the person who comes in—either offshore or onshore—through the back door; it is also a multiplier effect that their families also come out to this country. It is very clear that the government’s changes in July 2008 started the process. The process started when Minister Evans announced the changes. You cannot change aspects of our immigration system—and, indeed, as a consequence of answers given at estimates by Minister Evans, there have been changes to about 26 programs in the department. Some have been small. Some have been major, like abolishing temporary protection visas. But the reality is that the compound effect of these changes has said something to people overseas. These people watch what happens in Australia. This is an industry; this is not just somebody who decides they are going to dodge the system.
Before I became a senator, I worked at the office of the Australian Government Solicitor for 20 years, where I saw this industry in operation firsthand at the grassroots. Senator Johnston talked about dodgy claims. I have seen my fair share of dodgy claims through the courts. That is the reality. That is the end effect of dismantling of a proper and orderly immigration process. So it is little wonder that we are seeing a budget blow-out. It is an extra $1 billion over four years, according to figures released in this budget.
This does not only affect the offshore arrivals; it also affects onshore arrivals. Yes, this debate has been primarily about boat arrivals; but this is also about people who claim asylum onshore. What sort of message has this sent to people who arrive here with a valid visa who then suddenly decide that they are going to claim asylum status? Every one of those people who is successful in claiming asylum takes another place from those 13,500 places that have been set aside for people who have been assessed by UNHCR to be genuine refugees. This is what this debate is about. It is about order and process.
In the end, I look at what this government has done and I look at its history. Yes, under the Howard government we did have a tough but successful policy, but this has a long history. The Howard policies had their antecedents in Labor’s policies. Let us not forget that it was Labor that introduced mandatory detention in this country. Let us not forget that it was Gerry Hand who introduced temporary protection permits. And they worked. They worked in that era, they worked under the Howard era and they will continue to work in the future.
So, when I look at the practical angles and effects of this, it is critical to the sovereignty and security of this country that we know who comes in, that security is not compromised at the expense of proper processes and that the necessary checks and balances are undertaken. I conclude by saying that this whole sad and sorry episode of the dismantling of proper order and process has, regrettably, had consequences and will continue to do so unless this government changes its tack.
Over the past few years there has been a lot of discussion about illegal arrivals in Australia—indeed, in recent months the debate has been hotting up. Almost everyone has an opinion—about what their motives are, about whether Australia should accept them, about how we process them, about how we treat them once they are here and about whether there should be offshore processing on Christmas Island. These are important discussions that we need to have, and I do not think many people would disagree with that. At the outset I want to acknowledge that this a complex and divisive issue. There are more than two sides to this argument and more options than the all-or-nothing choices that we are often presented with.
I also want to acknowledge that this legislation refers to people smugglers—those who make money off the desperation of others—rather than the arrivals themselves. I agree that as a country we should be taking steps to try to deter smugglers who charge exorbitant fees and offer pie-in-the-sky promises only to put their charges lives at risk in rickety boats and rough seas. We have seen in recent days this very example: the five Sri Lankan Tamils who went missing after their boat ran out of fuel somewhere to the west of the Cocos Islands. Those five are now presumed dead and the remaining 59 people on the stricken boat had to be rescued by the crew of a Slovenian freighter. If media reports are to be believed, this happened just five days after Australian authorities first learned that the boat was out of fuel. Apparently, the missing men had left the boat to try to find help for others on board, which included women and children.
Even worse was the SIEV X disaster in 2001. I note that Senator Faulkner when in opposition was outspoken and courageous in pursuing that particular incident. I think it was referred to as a Certain Maritime Incident in the reports. In that horrific incident, 65 men, 142 women and 146 children died off the coast of Java on their way to Australia. We need to make it clear that this should not happen at all. We need to show that Australia values human life and that we condemn the treatment of people as ‘just another commodity’.
However, I have concerns about the possible unintended consequences of this bill. My colleague Senator Hanson-Young, on behalf of the Australian Greens, has raised valid concerns that the bill could breach Australia’s international human rights obligations and I share some of these concerns. I am concerned that this bill is simply too heavy-handed. It does have good elements in terms of an expanded role for ASIO. That is a good thing. It is important that intelligence services and exchanging of information can nip the problem in the bud and prevent the people smugglers doing their business in the first place. Whilst I have always had the view that our intelligence agencies should be subject to robust scrutiny by this parliament, it is important that we have that exchange of information.
These concerns, and Senator Hanson-Young has articulated them very well, include the broadness of the definitions included in the bill. Under this bill people acting on humanitarian grounds, or offering financial support to refugees overseas, can be charged with people-smuggling offences. This bill treats good Samaritans the same as ‘for profit’ people smugglers, which means that under this bill the nuns from The Sound of Music could be thrown into jail. That is one of the unintended consequences of this bill. That is plainly ridiculous.
I think Senator Scullion said that the nuns were a highly suspect lot anyway. I am sure he said that tongue firmly in cheek.
A few years ago when the Prime Minister was an opposition frontbencher, he wrote an article for The Monthly magazine about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the role Christianity should take in society. There was a fair amount of criticism aimed at that article and some derision of the Prime Minister when he was then in opposition, but basically I think that the Prime Minister was right, although the arguments he made could apply to anyone, not just Christians. His piece on Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a powerful piece. It was well written, well researched, and it made a point about the issue of moral imperatives in public life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and was one of the first and most outspoken opponents of Hitler and Nazism. He is famous for his writings on theology advocating moral imperatives and he assisted people out of Nazi Germany. He assisted Jews to escape Nazi Germany so that they could avoid the fate that befell six million people of the Jewish faith.
Reverend Tim Costello of World Vision—my good friend—has said that, today, Bonhoeffer would be considered a people smuggler. Interestingly, around the same time Bonhoeffer was travelling secretly around East Germany to encourage a Christian movement against Nazism, delegates from countries around the world were gathering for the Evian Conference. The conference held in July of 1938 at Evian-les-Bains in France was called to discuss the issue of growing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing from Germany. While most of the delegates expressed their sympathy for the refugees, none of the countries, except the Dominican Republic, were too keen on taking more immigrants than their ‘quota’.
One of the Australian delegates was Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas W. White, at the time Minister for Trade and Customs. His attitude on behalf of Australia was:
It will no doubt be appreciated also that as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration.
He went on to add:
I hope that the conference will find a solution to this tragic world problem.
So, in other words, Australia’s position in 1938 was ‘We are very sorry, but it is not our problem.’ We all know what happened in the events following 1938.
Last week, I received a copy of Australia’s Human Rights Framework which, according to the accompanying letter from the Attorney-General, ‘outlines action the government will take to promote and protect human rights’. Two of the measures outlined in the framework were the establishment of a parliamentary joint committee on human rights and the introduction of statements of compatibility with UN human rights treaties to accompany all new legislation. I believe the government when they say they are committed to human rights and to protecting Australia’s international reputation.
So my preference would be for the government to postpone debate on this bill until these two framework measures are established and introduced. This way, the joint parliamentary committee on human rights can then review this legislation in terms of our human rights obligations. It does not have to be a lengthy process. It is important that we deal with this, but let us put the safeguards in place. Let us not have unintended consequences.
The government can then issue a statement of compatibility on this legislation so that we can be confident in Australia’s dedication to human rights. This is an issue where there are literally lives at stake. Without the government taking these measures to ensure that we have the best possible legislation in place, the most effective legislation in place and one that is fair and without unintended consequences, I cannot support this bill in its current form.
This is Australia and we will decide who comes into this country—not the people smugglers, as the Rudd government has been allowing and encouraging. Border protection is a fundamental concern to all Australians. Australians expect their government to keep their borders safe and stop illegal people or goods from coming into the country—and rightfully so. It is a basic requirement of any government to take care of our national security. There can be no compromise when it comes to our national security.
When it comes to border protection and stopping illegal immigrants from flooding our borders, this government is nothing short of a failure. Every day we read in the papers of another boatload of people caught trying to sneak into the country by jumping the queue, while people in refugee camps, who are waiting patiently, are forced to wait even longer because they have had their places taken by those who are coming by boat.
It is a huge issue for all Australians and something which is costing us hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money. Facilities on Christmas Island are at breaking point, with too many people flooding our shores for us to be able to detain everyone there. Now we are being forced to bring these people to the mainland, where they are practically processed in our living room. This is concerning many, many people. It is proof that the government has lost control of its handling of this issue and does not have an idea of what to do with the mess that it has created.
So what is the Rudd government doing? The Rudd government is just throwing more money at the problem, in the hope that it will fix the flood of boats coming our way. The Rudd government is spending $202 million in this budget on accommodation for asylum seekers. First we had Hotel Christmas Island and now it is Hotel Queensland. What is next—the Hyatt or Club Med? The Rudd government does not have a clue on how to handle the wave of asylum seekers flooding onto our shores—and giving them luxury accommodation is clearly not the answer. There is no way we should be detaining asylum seekers in hotels, because it just gives the people smugglers an extra selling point for their marketing.
Clearly the Rudd government is all at sea with its asylum seeker policy. The Rudd government is encouraging people to put their lives at risk by jumping onto leaky boats and taking the dangerous voyage to Australia—all because we are seen as a soft touch. We need to send a clear message to the people smugglers that Australia will no longer allow them to profit by preying on desperate and vulnerable people. The Rudd government needs to stop throwing money at the problem and start implementing a policy that will fix the problem.
I have been to Christmas Island and have spoken firsthand to people who arrived illegally by boat. The belief out there is that, as long as you pay enough money, you can simply jump on a boat and come to Australia, where you only have to wait three months and then you are given a gold pass into Australia. Why would you bother to wait five to 10 years in a refugee camp, when you can simply pay to jump the queue? That is the kind of message this government has sent to people smugglers—and it is just wrong. We have seen boat after boat stream into our waters, and you would have to have your head in a bucket of sand to say we do not have a serious people-smuggling problem.
I voted for the Rudd government’s changes to the immigration laws back in 2008 because I was against the barbaric laws which were put in place by the Howard government. But I accept that these changes have led to unintended consequences. The Rudd government need to wake up and realise that people smuggling is a real problem that is only going to get worse, and they need to be prepared to take more serious action. That is why I have put forward the idea of sending boat people to the back of the queue in overseas refugee camps—to stop people smugglers from selling Australia as an attractive destination.
Under Family First’s proposal, queuejumpers would be sent to the back of the queue at various overseas refugee camps and not given a gold pass to come into Australia. We need to send a clear message that queue jumping will not be tolerated by Australia. Every time we accept into our country a refugee who has come by boat, another refugee waiting patiently in an overseas camp somewhere is forced to wait even longer. That is not fair. For every person who comes by boat as a refugee, we take one person from the front of the queue in an overseas refugee camp. Clearly, they are jumping the queue. There are thousands of refugees patiently waiting in line in camps across the world trying to gain asylum, but boat people just push their way further and push those who have been waiting in the queue further down the queue. There is no way I think we should be rewarding people for jumping the queue and penalising those who are waiting in line.
Under this idea, Australia would take in people who have waited patiently in line in overseas refugee camps instead of rewarding queuejumpers. As I said, we need to send a clear message that queue jumping will not be tolerated by Australia. Australia is a fair and compassionate country and we should do our fair share to help refugees, but we should not encourage queuejumpers under any circumstances. As I said, every time we accept a refugee into our country by boat, a refugee waiting patiently in a camp somewhere overseas is forced to wait even longer. How is this fair on these people? There are hundreds of thousands of refugees patiently waiting in line in camps across the world trying to gain asylum, but boat people just push them further down the queue. There is no way we should be rewarding people for jumping the queue and penalising those who are waiting in line.
Of course, the real villains here are not the asylum seekers but the notorious network of people smugglers who prey on the vulnerabilities of desperate people and put the lives of these desperate and vulnerable people at risk all for the sake of making money for themselves. People smuggling is a despicable crime, and we cannot afford to go soft on these people. We need strong laws in this country to deter people smugglers and send a message that this kind of illegal activity will not be tolerated. I have always maintained that we should throw the book at people who engage in people smuggling, because that is the only way we are going to get through to them that Australia will not put up with their criminal activities.
Family First support the measures contained in the Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2010because, when it comes to people smugglers. there can be no compromise and no leniency. This bill will expand the crime of people smuggling to include those people who provide material support or resources towards a people smuggling venture. It also contains provisions which harmonise the people-smuggling offences contained in the Criminal Code and the Migration Act, making it easier for us to prosecute people smugglers when they break our laws. People smugglers have no respect for our laws. They endanger the lives of vulnerable people and they threaten the border integrity of this country.
Family First welcomes these changes, but they are still not enough. They are simply scratching at the surface. Until the Rudd government gets serious, this problem is not going to go away. Until the Rudd government looks at Family First’s plan and takes action to discourage people from getting on the boat in the first place, this is going to remain a problem for our country and remain a concern for many, many Australians. Even the UN has revealed that people smuggling into Australia is out of control. Now it is time for the Rudd government to listen, so that we do not all end up paying for this later down the track.
I rise to end the second reading debate on the Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2010. I first thank all senators for their contributions to the debate and I note the support of the opposition for this legislation. This debate has been wide ranging and a great many things have been asserted—some of which has had something to do with the legislation that is before the chamber and some of which has not. I shall try to confine myself to those matters which are relevant to the bill before the chamber.
This is legislation which seeks to deal with people smuggling. Obviously there is broad agreement that people smuggling jeopardises the safety, wellbeing and security of those being smuggled. The government takes a hardline approach to dealing with people smugglers and the supporters and financiers of those engaged in this trade. We are determined to maintain a strong message to people smugglers that their activities will not be tolerated in Australia.
Domestic efforts to combat people smuggling have yielded strong results and since September 2008 there have been 138 arrests and 36 convictions of people smugglers in Australia. There are currently 101 people being prosecuted in Australian courts for people smuggling. The government has also implemented a strengthened offshore approach. In the same period, the Australian government cooperation with regional countries has resulted in more than 180 disruptions involving more than 4,900 people bound for Australia. Our regional partnerships have resulted in the arrest of more than 150 people smugglers overseas and this bill before the chamber complements the government’s plan to combat people smuggling by strengthening Australia’s anti-people-smuggling legislative framework.
The measures in the bill will address the often serious consequences of people-smuggling activities, including the potential for injury and loss of life on maritime ventures to Australia and the targeting of enablers and financiers of people-smuggling activities. The bill will act as a greater deterrent for people smugglers and it will enable law enforcement and national security agencies to play a greater support role in support of whole-of-government efforts to combat people smuggling.
The ability for law enforcement agencies to obtain evidence through telecommunications interception and surveillance devices is vital to combating people smuggling and the bill will make telecommunications interception available for the investigation of offences relating to people smuggling. It will ensure that law enforcement agencies can make emergency authorisation for the use of surveillance devices for the new aggravated people-smuggling offence and will ensure that law enforcement agencies are equipped with the necessary tools to effectively combat people smuggling.
The government maintains its humanitarian approach to those persons who are genuine refugees but fall prey to people smugglers while it works to improve the situation of displaced populations in the region. The bill is consistent with the approach the government is taking. For example, whilst imposing new offences and strict penalties for people smugglers, the new offence of supporting people smuggling will not target persons who pay for their own passage or the passage of family members on the same venture.
This bill has been considered by both the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. I thank both committees for their work on the bill and on the matters raised. The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs recommended the bill be passed, subject to further amendment to the definition of foreign intelligence contained in the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. The government has considered this recommendation and is confident that the proposed amendments provide the appropriate powers to achieve the intended outcome and will not be seeking further amendments to the bill.
The bill is a measured response to a growing problem and demonstrates the government’s commitment to addressing the serious nature of people-smuggling activities and to targeting criminal groups who are involved in organising and benefiting from people smuggling activities. I commend the bill to the chamber.
Original question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.