Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


Migration Amendment (Declared Countries) Bill 2011; Second Reading

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Migration Amendment (Declared Countries) Bill (No.2) 2011 seeks to amend the Migration Act 1958 to require that any agreement to send asylum seekers to a third country is brought before both houses of parliament as a disallowable instrument.

Currently under section 198A, an 'offshore entry person' may be taken to a declared country, whereby the minister may, but is not obliged to declare in writing that the specified country:

(i) provides access, for persons seeking asylum, to effective procedures for assessing their need for protection; and

(ii) provides protection for persons seeking asylum, pending determination of their refugee status; and

(iii) provides protection to persons who are given refugee status, pending their voluntary repatriation to their country of origin or resettlement in another country; and

(iv) meets relevant human rights standards in providing that protection.

While all ministers have discretionary powers within their portfolios to make decisions without the need to put something before parliament, any decision to export our international obligations onto another country, can hardly be argued as being discretionary. The very nature of the debate around whether Australia will send asylum seekers who have arrived by boat, seeking our protection, to a third country, be it Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Manus Island or Nauru, should not be a decision left to the minister of the day.

The fact that previous declarations made for Nauru and Manus Island under the former Howard government were never made public, highlights the importance of this amendment, particularly when dealing with countries that have not signed or ratified the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, or the UN Convention Against Torture.

Any discussion around the movement of asylum seekers within our region must focus on a genuine protection framework, working towards encouraging the countries of first asylum to sign and ratify the conventions on refugees and torture. While the Greens do not support any attempt to export those who have come to Australia seeking our protection to another country, this bill will ensure that both houses of parliament have the opportunity to debate whether or not it this approach acceptable, and to debate the impacts that any declaration would have on our international and domestic obligations.

It is clear that the act as it currently stands is inadequate when dealing with such an important issue. We cannot simply allow a decision that affects the lives of some of the world's most vulnerable to be left to the minister of the day, with no parliamentary scrutiny.

From human rights activists, legal experts, and members of the community to members of parliament, the proposal for a third country removal agreement has brought with it both concern and criticism.

More than 15 Australian refugee groups recently issued a joint statement condemning federal political leaders for arguing asylum seeker policy was a choice between reopening Nauru or a new detention centre in Malaysia. These groups, like the Australian Greens, condemn that policy, arguing neither is acceptable. The groups also said: 'The question Australian and international policy makers should focus on is not how to stop the boats but how refugees in Asia-Pacific can receive effective protection.'

This amendment to the Migration Act should not be considered controversial, but rather an essential part of our parliamentary process. Signing an agreement with another country to export people who have reached our shores seeking our protection, deserves proper parliamentary scrutiny and transparency, not simply an assurance from the minister of the day that the country in question ticks all the boxes laid out by the Australian government.

Any proposal where humans are exported to another country deserves proper scrutiny, and the Greens' position on this is clear: we do not support sending people in need to a country where their rights and protection are not guaranteed. While this bill is not about preventing the government from engaging in international affairs, or overriding any attempt to negotiate a genuine regional protection framework, it is about acknowledging that any proposal of this nature is given the attention and debate it deserves.

I urge all sides of parliament to support this bill, and allow both Houses of parliament to appropriately scrutinise any proposed declaration to send asylum seekers who arrive in Australia to another country.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.