Senate debates

Thursday, 28 June 2012


Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012; Second Reading

9:36 am

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

In bringing the bill before the chamber today, can I indicate firstly that this bill, the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012, was moved by Mr Oakeshott in the House of Representatives yesterday and gained the support of that chamber and has been forwarded to the Senate for consideration for the purpose of facilitating the debate I, as Leader of the Government in the Senate, have formally moved.

I thank the Senate for its cooperation in allowing this bill to be debated today. I thank Senator Abetz, Senator Milne and all other senators for their cooperation in doing that. I think the Senate recognises that there is an expectation in the Australian public that we will deal with this matter today, that we will deal with it seriously and that we will resolve it one way or another during today's sitting. There is also a very strong public expectation that this parliament will find a way to do something about addressing the very serious occurrences to our north. There is great public concern and great concern in this parliament about the loss of life, as we have seen at least two incidents in the last few days where people have lost their lives while trying to come to Australia to seek asylum. People are shocked by the images of those horrible deaths. They are concerned that this practice continues and they want something done about it.

I think everyone in this parliament wants to see a stop to the practice of people moving unlawfully and seeking asylum in Australia by getting into rickety boats where they put their lives at risk. Everyone wants to see that stopped. The debate today is about how we best do that. I do not question anyone's motives in addressing this issue. Everyone wants to see that stopped. We know there is a people-smuggling business model that convinces people to take on that journey and that they pay little attention to the risks that are involved. The really sobering aspect of the last few days is that, despite the large amount of publicity around the deaths of 90 or so people the other day, people are continuing to get on boats. People are not heeding the message of those drownings and are continuing to undertake that journey. The drownings are not sending back a message that people ought not undertake that journey. I suspect that is a reflection of those people's desperation, their desire to seek a better life and that they are willing to continue to take those risks. But it does highlight the depth of that desperation and the reality that even such severe incidents as the one we saw at Christmas Island last year and the drownings in recent days will not stop that flow of people prepared to undertake that journey. That is what this what this parliament has to deal with.

I know this debate has always been emotional. As a former immigration minister I am only too well aware of the challenges and the problems that these issues confront us with. I know that many senators, as with many members of the House of Representatives, hold very strong personal views about these issues and have agonised over what the appropriate solution is. Everyone wants to respond in a humane and appropriate way; but, equally, people know that we have to provide a deterrence to this trade. The challenge for us is to provide a deterrence that is in keeping with Australia's principles of compassion and fairness while doing something to prevent loss of life and to undercut the business model that allows those tragedies to continue. We have to focus with clarity on that problem.

Many of the speeches in the House of Representatives yesterday were very fine, very personal and very emotional. But, to be honest, many of them lacked clarity. They lacked clear thinking about what the parliament has been asked to do, and I do not want to see the Senate repeat those contributions today. Not to disparage anyone's contribution, but we have one opportunity in this place, today, to try to do something to help prevent those deaths continuing. We have one opportunity. We have one bill, we have one debate where this Senate and this parliament more generally have to try to make a difference to what is occurring. All those other issues that surround this debate have to be put aside while we seek that clarity. If we allow ourselves to be swayed by political considerations, by the emotional considerations, by the baggage that we all bring to this debate, we will not do what the Australian people expect us to do. The Australian people expect us to take measures, to pass laws which will assist in ending the continuing loss of life. That is their expectation of us, and it is not an unreasonable expectation.

I urge those seeking to contribute to the debate today and to shaping our legislative response to focus with clarity on that challenge, to open their minds to compromise, to look at what is possible and ask what we can do as a parliament, as a Senate, to influence this terrible event, to influence the decisions of those seeking to put their lives at risk with the obvious consequences that we have seen in recent days.

Yesterday the House of Representatives did find a way through the views and the conflicting attitudes of many members of the House of Representatives to bring this bill to us. This is our one chance to get this right, to find a way through, and I think we ought to seize it. I think the Australian people expect us to seize it. So I would urge all senators to take that opportunity. It is not about the baggage you bring to it. It is not about the emotional history you have with the issue, it is not about your personal experiences, it is not about your political or philosophical views; it is about what we can do in this parliament today that might make a difference. I say to you: this bill can make a difference. This can help prevent more people getting on boats, putting their lives at risk and many of them drowning. That is why I argue for it.

There is much about this bill that challenges some of my philosophical positions, my history—my baggage, if you like. I was the one who closed Nauru. I was the one who ended temporary protection visas on behalf of this government. I find a lot of this debate very difficult. But one thing I know is that this parliament has the capacity to come together and to respond to this issue. I was here in this parliament when Kim Beazley provided the leadership inside the Labor Party to respond to John Howard's legislation. It was a very difficult time for the Labor Party, a very difficult time for me and the other members of the caucus, but we accepted that the government had the right to respond, to take a policy position that allowed them to deal with that issue, and we supported that.

We are in the position now where the government has put forward a response centred on the arrangements with Malaysia to return some people seeking asylum to Malaysia. I know it is controversial but it has been adopted by this government and supported by me personally because I actually think it will make a difference. I actually believe this will make a serious dent in the people-smuggling model and will undercut the business of the people smugglers. That is why I support it. I have had reservations about this and we worked it through in cabinet, we worked it through inside the government. I think it will work.

In order to get the parliament to support a measure such as that we have offered compromise. We have taken a step back in relation to Nauru and supported a bill that includes the reopening of Nauru. That is a big step for this government and something that has caused many of our members quite a deal of angst. But we have done it in an attempt to try and find a way through this impasse, to try and find a way through the impasse not for political posturing purposes, not for the capacity to say that we have passed a bill, but for the capacity to make a difference to boats leaving and people dying. That is what this bill is about. That is why it is important that the parliament supports this bill today and that we get a result that allows us to impact on what is occurring with people leaving Indonesia and Malaysia and Sri Lanka and putting their lives at risk.

The bill seeks to allow the government to do that and to find a way through. I congratulate Mr Oakeshott on his initiative and his commitment to try to break the deadlock that we have seen in this parliament. That is the sort of leadership we should all take very seriously. It is in all respects a compromise. It is not a perfect match to anyone's particular philosophical approach, not a perfect match to any of the parties' particular policy positions, but it does enable the government to take measures which we think will make a difference. Quite frankly, the differences between the parties on this issue are much less real than many argue. We all agree that there is a need to break the people-smuggling model. We need to stop people embarking on these dangerous journeys and we need to provide deterrence. You have to provide a deterrence to people departing. You cannot just deal with this issue at the country of end point, you have to deal with this issue at the country of source and the country of transit. The Bali process which was commenced under the previous government had that very much at its heart—the need to get all countries in the region together to deal with the issue of people smuggling, recognising that unilateral action by any one country would not provide a proper or adequate response, that we needed to deal with the issues at source, at transit and at end point and that we needed to work together to stop the flow of people through the region, stop people putting their lives at risk and find a way of allowing people's proper claims for asylum to be assessed and processed and, if found to be refugees, to find resettlement.

Australia has a very proud history of refugee resettlement. Per capita we are one of the largest, if not the largest, resettler of refugees in the world. That has continued under successive governments of both persuasions. So when people focus on the differences in the debate, they forget that the underpinning of our whole system is one that is bipartisan, which is that Australia ought to play its role in providing settlement for those people found to be refugees in the world and that we have to make that commitment as part of our commitment to peace and order and providing opportunity to people in the world. We have done that consistently. We have a very proud record.

One of the things that has come in this debate is that by changing the size of our permanent program we will somehow remove the incentive for people to seek to travel unlawfully seeking asylum. That is a nonsense. I know it is a genuinely held view, I have heard the Greens and others inside my party argue this case, but it is a nonsense. By all means argue for an increase in the size of our humanitarian program. I am a big supporter of that and I will vote for that. I have argued for it in cabinet and we increased it while I was minister. But to think that that will somehow stop people-smuggling in the region is a nonsense. It has to be part of the response. I heard Senator Milne on radio this morning talking about resettling people out of Malaysia and Indonesia. She is right: that has to be part of the response. It has been part of this government's response, seeking to resettle people out of those transit countries. That is part of the commitment we have to make if we are to seek their cooperation in helping manage these problems. We have engaged with Malaysia, Indonesia and others about it. In fact, that is what is at the heart of the Malaysian proposal, that we help them manage their flow of migrants inside their country in return for them helping us build a deterrent. That is what it is about.

I know that people want to focus on other things such as the convention and I can happily engage in that debate but time does not allow. The reality in the world is that very few countries have signed the convention. If we restrict ourselves to dealing only with those countries that have signed the convention, we will not make real progress on these matters. The key of the convention is the non-refoulement obligation. That is very much enshrined in the proposals in relation to Malaysia, it is a core part of the agreement. That is why the UNHCR and the IOM are prepared to be part of the arrangements. They accept that the central plank of the UN convention is protected in that agreement.

Those arguments are all important—they are all part of the broader debate—but today is the time for focus; today is the time for clarity. It is not a time for emotion; it is not a time for baggage; it is not a time for philosophy; it is not a time for political positioning; it is a time to say: what can this parliament do today that helps make a difference? We know that this bill will help make a difference. It is not a magic solution. It will not end the problems of people smuggling around the world. It will not end the fact that there are millions of people in the world seeking asylum, millions of people who will never find a settlement place, who will never be safe. It does not solve all those problems. But what it does do is make a serious contribution to undercutting people smuggling in our region. It makes a serious contribution to providing some deterrence to that business, some deterrence to those seeking to engage people smugglers, but at the same time it takes forward a positive framework for engaging in the region, in the longer term, broader solutions to the problems of people smuggling, asylum seeking and people movement more generally.

This is an international problem. It is not going to go away overnight. One of the great things about Australia is that we have a country where people want to come. One of the big issues of this century for us is going to be migration, lawful and unlawful, because we are one of the few places in the world that is safe, prosperous and provides opportunity. There will always be people seeking to come to Australia. In a sense, we would not want it to be any other way. If they stop wanting to come here, then things have gone bad for us. So we will always have a problem with people seeking to come to Australia. The challenge is to provide humane, compassionate and practical solutions to managing those challenges. We want more migrants, but we want them to come in an orderly way. We want to play our part in humanitarian settlement, but we want to do that in an orderly way.

We have to find a way of managing these issues better than they are being managed at the moment. That requires us to find something that undercuts the business model of the people smugglers in Malaysia and Indonesia. The government argues that the Malaysian arrangements will do that. The opposition argues that re-opening Nauru will do that. I do not believe that, because what happened with Nauru was not based on where people were sent; it was based on a message that the Howard government was able to send, which was: 'You will never be resettled in Australia.' That was the basis on which Nauru worked. Unless we are prepared to say to people who have been sent to Nauru, 'You will never be resettled in Australia,' it will not work again; it will not make a contribution.

But this government has been prepared to compromise, to try to get a bill through this parliament that allows us to make a difference in this terrible unfolding tragedy. We have compromised. We have accepted the opposition's contribution to try to get this bill through. So I urge all senators to focus on the task at hand, to meet the public's expectations that we do something serious that makes a difference, that we take up the challenge that they have provided to us and that we do not walk out of here today having failed that challenge. I urge senators to support the bill and to give the government the opportunity to help prevent the terrible tragedies that we have seen in recent weeks. I table a revised explanatory memorandum to the bill.

9:56 am

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

The tragic loss of life at sea occasioned by the behaviour of corrupt, unprincipled people smugglers has been broadcast into our living rooms in what can only be described as very confronting TV footage. It is clear that these tragedies have led to this flurry of legislative activity which has seen the coalition cooperate with the government to bring the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 on for immediate debate.

But first some history: when the coalition was confronted with an influx of illegal arrivals, we took decisive action, action that worked. Why did we take that action? Because, as a coalition, we fully support refugee intake into Australia. The figure of 13,700, as the Leader of the Government in the Senate indicated, is, by world standards, per capita a very generous figure. What is more, it is not only in the raw numbers of the intake where Australia has been generous; it has also been exceptionally generous in the services provided to assist those people to resettle.

The issue that confronted the Howard government was: to whom should we as a nation give priority? Should we give priority to those that deliberately bypass safe haven after safe haven after safe haven to get a resettlement opportunity that they want, having destroyed their papers on the way and having engaged criminals to assist them, or should we give priority to those who have languished in refugee camps for year after year, for well over a decade? You can talk especially to our black African refugee brothers and sisters who have had that experience. They have waited sometimes for 15 years or more for resettlement. The question therefore is: to whom should we give priority? Should we give priority to those who do not have the financial wherewithal, those who went to the immediate first safe haven available, or should we give priority to those who have the financial capacity to buy their way into Australia, courtesy of the assistance of criminals?

We have said we support refugee intake, but make no mistake; when illegal arrivals enter into Australia, they displace the orderly resettlement of refugees around the world. We believe that there is a better way, and it should be via the UNHCR and through the United Nations processes, to ensure that we assist those who are genuinely in need. Indeed, Australia's dealing with some of these asylum seekers has not been as it might be, as witnessed by a recent TV program indicating that somebody residing in this very city who was engaged in that activity had convinced authorities that he was a genuine refugee when in fact he had been living in Kuala Lumpur before.

Just to set it on the record: we do support a refugee intake, but we support an orderly one and one that does not give priority to those with the financial capacity to engage smugglers to assist their cause. We as a coalition were confronted with a huge influx of illegal arrivals which unsettled the refugee program. We took decisive action, action that worked, as a result of which, in the last five years of the Howard government, we reduced the boats coming to Australia to fewer than three per annum. We stopped the criminals. We stopped the people smugglers. They no longer had a commodity to sell.

Mr Rudd, as history records, came into government in 2007. Slowly but surely the numbers increased. So, whereas in the last five years of the Howard government there were less than three arrivals per annum on average—there were some two years, in fact, with zero arrivals, a great result—after the election of the Rudd government we saw the number of boats increase from five to seven to 61 to 135 and ever escalating. Mr Rudd undertook a wilful dismantling of the coalition's policy. It was deliberate and it was wilful. Whilst we warned of the consequences, we were dismissed because 'the Howard solution had not worked; it was for a whole host of other reasons that the boats stopped'. We now know that that was, regrettably, an empty promise. In fact, the dismantling of the Howard policy has led to this influx.

So great was the influx that, when Ms Gillard became Prime Minister, she said that one of the issues that the government had lost its way on and something that she needed to fix was the influx of boat people. We know what happened there. First of all, it was the East Timor solution, which did not work. Then we had the so-called Malaysian solution, where we were going to take 4,000 refugees from Malaysia in exchange for 800 illegal arrivals. Since the announcement of that so-called Malaysian solution, 8,000—10 times the original number—have already arrived in Australia. We now know that the Malaysian solution, so called, is in fact no solution.

As a result, we have now moved to the Oakeshott solution, which—if I might say so, with respect—is not a solution, because we know that, if that policy were implemented, given that the government have already said that they would not return to Malaysia women and children, the criminal people smugglers would simply change their model and ensure that women and children are sent out on the boats. We know that that would be the case, and as a result it would not work.

There has been a lot of talk in recent times that compromise is the answer. Regrettably, history is littered with example after example after example of compromise not working. Indeed, compromise often means the lowest common denominator, which then ultimately leaves a much, much larger problem to resolve. Simply, compromise per se is never and never has been a substitute for good, sound public policy.

Senator Evans has said we should put aside all our philosophical baggage et cetera. The coalition came to this debate, back when it was in government, not on the basis of necessarily some high and mighty philosophy—like, with respect, Mr Rudd seems to have had—but with a focus on a practical solution, a solution that worked, a solution that stopped the boats, a solution that allowed the orderly intake of refugees into this country, some who had waited for well over a decade for placement, for whom the indignity of a refugee camp was not an indignity but in fact a safe haven. To those, we in the coalition say that we would seek to give priority.

What is the solution? We know that we need a three-pronged solution. We do need to have within our armoury the turning back of boats if it is safe. What we have regrettably had now is a huge condemnation of that one proposal. I simply indicate—and we have not demanded this, might I add, in this debate and in this bill—that one Ms Gillard, at a joint press conference on 3 December 2002, as the coalition government was grappling with a huge influx of illegal entrants, said: 'We think turning boats around that are seaworthy that can make the return journey and are in international waters fits in with that.' That referred to destroying the people-smuggling model. We adopt the words of Ms Gillard as being vitally important in the policy mix. Having said that, with the amendments that I have circulated on behalf of the coalition we do not insist on that being part of the mix. But we know, from Ms Gillard's own mouth in 2002, that it was part of the solution and that it did work. Somehow, a decade later, we are to believe that it no longer works. We in the coalition believe that it does work.

The second point in our armoury is temporary protection visas, which are vitally important and part of the armoury that worked so effectively. In this bill, and in the amendments moved in the other place, we are willing to forego the issue of temporary protection visas, although we believe they are vital ingredients of any workable solution. We have foregone those in our spirit of wanting something that works.

And of course the third point in our armoury is that of offshore processing, something which was so roundly condemned by those opposite and which we said was important. When they stopped the offshore processing the boats started coming, and the greater the number of boats that come the greater the number of tragedies there are. Do I blame those on the other side for the tragedies? Absolutely not. As I said at the outset, the only people to blame are the criminal people smugglers. But I think we have a duty to ensure that we put those people smugglers out of business once and for all, as we did previously.

So we do have a three-pronged approach. What is more, we have put to the government that we would agree to a sunset clause in relation to these matters. We have agreed that processing of claims should be done within 12 months. We have agreed with establishing a multiparty committee to work out how to successfully resettle an increased refugee intake, which, in the spirit of compromise, we have now said should be increased to 20,000 a year within a three-year period. We have put matters on the table: basically everything the government wants but one thing—that is, not having people put into places where the UN convention for refugees does not apply. That was such a strong point of the Australian Labor Party. That is in fact why they condemned our Pacific solution, especially Nauru. The huge difference between Nauru and Malaysia is this: Nauru now is a signatory. That aside, we accept that under us Nauru was not a signatory. But the big difference, which is so often regrettably—I will simply say regrettably; I trust it is not deliberately—overlooked, is that we actually ran the show on Nauru; therefore, the detention centre was run according to Australian standards. And, can I say, if I had a choice between Australian standards or UN standards I would always go for Australian standards. But we now have a belt and brace situation with Nauru. Not only would it be run according to Australian standards; they are now signatories to the refugee convention. Malaysia, regrettably, is not. If we were to return 800 people to Malaysia we would not be looking after them as we did in Nauru. They would be looked after under Malaysian standards.

I do not want to talk about that much more, other than to say that something which was such a core principle of the Australian Labor Party that they sought to attack us over it has now, all of a sudden, become acceptable. We believe that Australia does have a humanitarian responsibility, which is why, if we are not to process people onshore but offshore, we should deal with them in a humane manner. That was guaranteed on Manus Island and Nauru because we ran the show. Placing these people in Malaysia would not provide them with the protection of being looked after by Australians, nor would they have the protection of the convention to which I referred earlier.

In the past—and, might I add, especially under us—very inflammatory language was used by those opposite. I do not want to engage in or repeat that language against those opposite today. But I want to remind them of the extreme language that they used and the suggestion that we were somehow responsible for the deaths of people at sea—and that was back in 2002, as the Howard government was coming to a solution. Indeed, one quote that I will refer to is the one by Ms Gillard where she said that every boat arrival is another policy failure. We agreed that every boat is a policy failure and we put policies in place to ensure the boats stopped. Now, under Ms Gillard's watch, the boats have been arriving not two or three per year but two or three per week. That is the policy failure of the Labor-Greens alliance: being unable to deal with the very real humanitarian problem that we face.

Can I repeat on behalf of the coalition: we support a refugee intake. Indeed, if there is one man in this parliament who has visited more refugee centres around the world than, chances are, all of us put together it is the father of the house, Mr Phil Ruddock. He has had a compassion and a commitment to looking after refugees on the world scene, but he also knows that compassion is not the only ingredient. You also need practical solutions, and that is what he delivered in such an effective way and which Labor has now, regrettably, so deliberately dismantled.

As a result, we now have this influx of people, or as Ms Gillard said, policy failure after policy failure. It is not the responsibility of an opposition to come up with a solution, albeit that we have. It is a solution that has worked in the past—true, tried and tested—and there is no reason to believe that it would not work again in the future. Having said that, in the spirit of seeking to ensure that we put these criminals who are responsible for the deaths at sea—make no mistake: it is not even the Greens or the Labor Party who are responsible or us on this side. No Australian parliamentarian is responsible. It is the criminals who are responsible but we have the responsibility to put them out of business.

That is why we have a true, tried and tested policy solution. The government clearly cannot bring itself to adopt that solution in whole. We have therefore said that subject to some amendments—vital amendments, core amendments—we would not be able to support this legislation without those amendments. So, in short, this bill may be a compromise but it is never a solution. It is not good public policy to just go for something because it is a compromise. We support refugee resettlement to Australia but we believe in it being conducted in an orderly fashion.

10:16 am

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

I rise today to speak in opposition to the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. This bill is, unfortunately, not the solution to saving people's lives. This bill does nothing to protect the many very vulnerable people who are desperate for safety and protection for their families. Whilst I understand the motivations behind many of the reasons why people in the other place, and probably here as well, want to pass this legislation into law, the reality is that what this bill does is remove the only avenue for protection that people at extreme risk in our region face.

What this bill does goes in complete contradiction to the refugee convention that Australia so proudly signed up to and helped draft in 1951. We have had an extremely important role in our region of giving people protection when they need it. We have had an extremely proud history of showing leadership in our region. When numbers of people escaping Indochina and Vietnam needed our assistance, Australia stood tall and said to our regional neighbours, 'Let's get together and work out how we can deal with the needs of our fellow human beings.'

We do need a better way. The current situation where people have to risk their lives on a boat to seek protection should not be the only option they have. People like Hussein, who was five when the Taliban raided his village: his parents, his sister and his brother were all killed on that day in 2000. He had only one remaining adult relative, an uncle. After years of trying to hide from the Taliban, they fled to Pakistan. They could not stay there for very long, he said. He was still there with his uncle. His only other sister who had survived the raid married a fellow in order to flee the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan and move to Iran. That was her gateway to safety. When his sister got to Iran she sold everything she had. He said: 'My sister sold all of her jewellery, everything she had, to save enough money for me to get to Australia. She knew that I had to get out. I could not stay safely with my uncle.' Hussein goes on to say that it was a long trip. He had to go through China, to Thailand and then to Malaysia. None of those countries would accept him as a refugee. In Malaysia he had to hide because he was there illegally. He tried signing up with the UNHCR but they told him that it would be a very, very long wait. He would not be given safety.

He boarded a boat and came to Australia. He was one of the 500 people we detained for up to three months last year while we debated the Malaysian solution. He was terrified. He was a 15-year-old, on his own, without his family; his parents had been killed. He was an orphan, locked up for three months on Christmas Island with the threat that he would be sent back to Malaysia. Hussein, thankfully, is now living with a family here, in Australia—in Brisbane. He is going to school, he is studying English, and he is going to make one fine Australian.

These are the lives of the people we are playing with. This bill does nothing to protect Hussein or anyone in his position. This bill puts him in further danger. This bill says that, if you come to Australia seeking protection, our government will basically send you wherever it wants. We know that this government says that it will use this bill to send people back to Malaysia, where we know the awful treatment that asylum seekers face in that country. We do need a better way. We have to work with our regional neighbours to lift levels of protection. Hussein should not have had to continue to run. He should have been able to find safety at the first port of call. That is what we need to be working towards.

We need a regional solution. It does not happen overnight; I understand that. What this bill will do is undermine all efforts to implement something that is based on the principles of the law. The refugee convention was drafted because of the awful experience that the world suffered during World War II. We learnt that when people arrive on our doorstep we have an obligation to help them. Australia has a remarkable opportunity to lift the levels of safety and protection and so do more for people like Hussein when they reach Thailand, when they reach Malaysia and if they reach Indonesia.

I have heard some people talk about the fact that simply to lift our refugee intake is not enough; it will not stop boats from coming—and that is probably right. But it will go a long way to giving children like Hussein a safer option. It will go a long way to showing good faith in our region if we want Malaysia or Indonesia to do more to protect and offer safety to those people who arrive in their country. We have to be realistic: the number of people whom Malaysia manages is far greater than the number of people who finally reach Australia. We have to be working better with our neighbours on protection standards. And we also have to be working better with particularly Indonesia when it comes to stopping people in the first place from having to board the boats departing from their ports. It is clear that the cooperation between Australia and Indonesia is far poorer than the standard it needs to be if we are to save people's lives.

We need to be talking to Indonesia. Australia has to take a much stronger role in talking and working cooperatively with one of our closest neighbours. Indonesia has consistently and increasingly said for the last 12 months that it does not have the resources to deal with this issue. I call on the government today to have urgent talks with Indonesia. It is something that can be done today. This bill will not pass this parliament and it should not, because it entrenches danger; it does not promote safety. But we can be having urgent talks with Indonesia.

What does Indonesia need from us to make people safer in its ports? We need to give funding directly to the UNHCR in Indonesia and in Malaysia to help them assess people's claims faster. There are only two officers who work for the UNHCR based in Jakarta to manage all of the claims for asylum seekers. We need to give urgent funding to the UNHCR to assess people's claims, and with the commitment that we will help to negotiate resettlement. Not everyone will come to Australia but we have to show good will in taking far more people than we already do. We can pull in our other regional neighbours and our other resettlement countries.

We talk about this issue in this place as if we are isolated from the rest of the world—and we simply are not. This is not just Australia's problem, and we are not going to fix it by taking away from our law the basic principles that we believe people should be treated by. This bill deletes an entire section of our law which says that we agree with the principles of the refugee convention that we helped draft so many years ago. This bill says that, by deleting our commitments in our own law to the refugee convention, we no longer care that people should be treated in a way that gives them protection and safety as a general principle of law. How on earth are we meant to get other countries in our region to stand by the principles of treating each other and the most vulnerable, the most at risk, with humanity, if we say that we do not even want that to exist in our own laws anymore?

I have listed a number of things we could be doing immediately, such as providing funding to the UNHCR, which can be done today. We spend as little as $10 million on funding these programs and services in other countries, particularly in Indonesia, for these assessments. We can be doing far more than that. We are about to spend almost $3 billion on our detention network in Australia. Some of that money should be urgently directed to the efforts of the UNHCR in Indonesia and Malaysia.

We need urgent talks with Indonesia about intelligence and resourcing. The Indonesian government, and various minister, have continued to say that they need our help. Let us help them so that together we can actually save lives without undermining protection efforts. Australia should be bolstering protecting and not undermining it. We should be providing safer options, not creating more dangerous ones. Unfortunately, that is what this bill does.

The Greens will be moving a second reading amendment that deals with these immediate issues: increasing targeted resettlement from Indonesian and Malaysia to increase our humanitarian intake up to 20,000; increasing funding directly to the UNHCR to get through these assessments and allow the UNHCR to provide some safety net for the very vulnerable people, who are frightened and desperate, waiting in Malaysia and Indonesian; and, we need to be undertaking the most high-level diplomatic conversations with Indonesian to deal with the issues of intelligence and resourcing, so that boats are not leaving port in the first place. If they do leave port we need to make sure we respond in a timely and urgent manner to any emergency, regardless of who is on the boat or the reasons why they have departed the port.

There are no simple solutions to what is a humanitarian issue, but there are things we can be doing, and doing better. This week I have had a number of conversations with agencies and individuals who are working in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand about what this legislation would mean for their work in the long run—urgently, and in the longer term. They are very concerned that, if Australia continues to reduce its protection and reduce its ability to work with solutions that are underpinned by international law and the basic principles of treating people with dignity and humanity, they will never get to the point with our neighbouring countries, and in their nations, of being able to offer the protection that we know people need.

This all might sound very big and complex. That is because it is. We are dealing with human beings who have fled for the fear of their lives. As an asylum seeker, fleeing by its very nature is disorderly. It has never been an orderly process. In countries like Australia, we are so lucky. We are not confronted day in and day out with worries about the safety of our children, our mother, our father or our brother or sister. We can speak freely about issues without being targeted by the regime of the day. You can get an education and study things and disagree with the government, because that is the democracy we live in. People who are fleeing circumstances where they do not have the same lucky country that we live in do not take that decision lightly. It is a disorderly process. But a country like Australia, as lucky as we are, can try to offer a safer pathway. It may not always be an orderly one, but it can be a safer one, and we also can light the way for our neighbouring countries.

10:36 am

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I speak in support of the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. I have been a surf lifesaver for 27 years. I have devoted much of my life to volunteering to help keep safe the lives of others on our beaches and our waterways. The images of vulnerable people without the training, capacity and competence to handle themselves in the ocean, particularly young children, in distress in the water, flailing about, desperate to be saved in the wake of a boat sinking—with some ultimately drowning—simply breaks my heart. It breaks my heart because, like in so many of the rescues that occur in the ocean and on our beaches, the situation is avoidable. Situations like this will be avoided if this Senate today passes this legislation and provides us with an opportunity to stop vulnerable people who are seeking asylum being exploited by unscrupulous people smugglers selling the promise of a safe passage to Australia on our high seas for a very high price—a very high price indeed.

The reality is that these people are getting on unsafe and overcrowded boats. They are being cast onto the open seas in hopelessly unsafe circumstances, a recipe for disaster. And unfortunately disaster is what we often see. We all saw the harrowing images of desperate people being cast on the rocks at Christmas Island last year. Only last week this nation again had to confront images of people, including women and children, desperate to be saved as their boat sank on the open seas. And yesterday yet again we as a people and as a parliament were confronted with the reality of people smuggling in this region, a reality that will not go away unless this parliament takes action today.

Politics is the art of the possible. Today we have the possibility of removing the product that people smugglers are selling to vulnerable people and of removing the incentive to get on unsafe boats. We can make that a reality. Vulnerable people will no longer get on unseaworthy and overcrowded boats and risk drowning at sea. We can make a workable multiparty compromise solution to this a reality today by supporting this legislation. This piece of legislation can provide an effective deterrent to people smuggling and is the only piece of legislation that can do so. On the eve of this parliament going into a winter recess for six weeks, I cannot see how any of us can in good conscience can do anything other than support the legislation before the Senate today.

This bill has passed the House of Representatives. It received the support of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives last evening. The bill is a compromise. It represents parliament at its best, its members working together to solve what is a difficult public policy issue in the interests of this nation and, importantly, in the interests of the lives of those vulnerable people who are getting on boats. This bill ensures that offshore processing in countries that are part of the Bali process on people smuggling will become a reality. The Bali process is a regional forum involving 43 member nations. It is a process of negotiation involving our regional partners, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. This government have always said—and many of those opposite have always said—that if we are going to strike a reasonable and workable solution to this issue it must be done in cooperation with our regional partners. Here we have a bill that delivers that.

This process has the input and will continue to have the input of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The bill is consistent with the advice of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and representatives of the Australian Navy. It has been negotiated in the spirit of compromise. In that spirit, the government agreed to an amendment moved by the member for Denison to allow this policy to be looked at again in 12 months time through the provision of a sunset clause so that we can assess the effectiveness of the bill we are debating today in providing a workable and ongoing solution to the problem of people smuggling in this region.

Unfortunately, those opposite have said that they will not support this legislation. I could say that they are being obstructionist and negative. But the reality is that it is just terribly sad. Without this compromise, without this bill passing, we will go away from this place for the winter recess and people smugglers will continue to ply their trade on the open seas. Vulnerable people—including children—will continue to get on boats, risking their lives. Australians needs to ask themselves why the opposition is not compromising on this issue. Why is the opposition not allowing the executive government of this country to implement a policy that it believes will provide a workable solution to the problem of people smuggling?

Is it any wonder Australians are losing faith in our democracy? At a time when we should be putting some of the petty bickering that goes on in this place aside and rising above the politics—at a time when we should be working together—we are not. And that is simply sad, terribly sad.

When the Tampaarrived on our shores, about a decade ago, the nation was confronted with a political crisis. Our political leaders were forced to confront the issue, in similar circumstances to what has occurred in this parliament over recent days. And the government of the day, the executive of our nation at the time, the Howard government, negotiated and came up with a policy to deal with the crisis. But the difference between the circumstances that prevailed a decade ago and the circumstances of today is that the Howard government implemented that policy response with the full cooperation of the opposition and the Leader of the Opposition and the Labor Party at the time, Kim Beazley. Despite the fact that, what the Leader of the Opposition was agreeing to was inconsistent with Labor Party policy, despite the fact that there were many MPs in the Labor Party caucus who were opposed to what the Howard government was putting forward, and despite the fact that many of the rank-and-file members of the Labor Party were opposed to what was being put forward, the Leader of the Opposition at the time put the interests of the nation above politics. He put the lives of vulnerable people above politics to reach a bipartisan compromise solution to the issue. That was the way the Labor Party conducted itself in opposition on this very important public policy issue, dealing with a crisis in immigration—in stark contrast, unfortunately, to the conduct of those opposite in the present crisis. I think it is sad to see that those opposite cannot show the same spirit of bipartisanship and the same leadership that was shown by the then Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley.

We have a current crisis—there is no doubt about that. And the Gillard government, the executive of this nation, has developed a policy that will provide an effective deterrent to the product that people-smugglers are selling. It will provide a deterrent to the incentive to people to get on boats and make that unsafe journey. And that is the only way to save lives. It is unfortunate, but it is the reality—it is the Realpolitik of the situation.

Unfortunately, the Greens are also saying that they are opposed to this bill. Senator Hanson-Young has given a very passionate outline of the reasons the Greens are opposed. And I can understand their wish to maintain their purity on this issue and their policy of increasing the humanitarian intake and onshore processing. But the fact is—and this was recognised by Senator Hanson-Young—no matter how much we increase the humanitarian intake, no matter how much onshore processing occurs, it will not stop vulnerable people getting on boats and risking their lives on the high seas. It will not stop the product that the people smugglers are selling, and that was admitted by Senator Hanson-Young. Unfortunately, purity that leads to the continued risking of lives of vulnerable people on our high seas will quickly become impurity if further tragedies occur.

No matter how much you increase the humanitarian intake, and process people onshore, it will not stop the product that the people smugglers are selling; it will not stop those unsafe journeys. One child drowning is one child too many. We must provide an effective deterrent, and the executive government of this country believes that this policy will do that, that this compromise plan will do that. That is consistent with the advice that the government has received from the immigration department. It is consistent with the advice that was given by the former secretary of the immigration department to an estimates hearing, Andrew Metcalfe—a person who has been described by former immigration minister Amanda Vanstone as a 'first-class public servant'.

I do not doubt the opposition's passion on this issue. But what I do dispute is their belief that the executive government of this country should not have the support of the opposition to implement a policy that the government believes will work. That is the way the Labor Party conducted itself in opposition on this issue, and the coalition should show the same courtesy.

With respect to the opposition's adherence to Nauru, we are opposed because we believe Nauru will not provide an effective deterrent. We are opposed because the advice of the experts in this field is that circumstances have changed—90 per cent of those people who went to Nauru who were found to be genuine refugees were processed and ended up in Australia. That is not an effective deterrent to the people smugglers. Do we think that they don't know this? Do we believe that the people smugglers don't know these statistics, don't know that if someone can make passage to Australia and end up on Nauru the likelihood is that they will be granted asylum and end up living in Australia? Of course they know. That is why the opposition's policy will not provide an effective deterrent. Their policy of turning boats around on the open seas is just downright foolish and dangerous. It places the lives of Australian Defence Force personnel at risk, because circumstances have shown that asylum seekers—in particular, people smugglers—will simply seek to disable the boats if they are confronted with the prospect of the Navy attempting to turn them around. The Indonesian government knows this. That is why they do not support the process of turning boats around on our high seas. In respect of temporary protection visas, again, the overwhelming majority of people under this scheme ended up as permanent residents in Australia. That is not a defective deterrent. The people smugglers know this, and they will ply their trade accordingly.

We have an opportunity before us today to provide a workable solution. For the past 12 months there has been a stalemate in this parliament on this issue, and finally we have had a negotiation in the face of a crisis—a workable compromise reached by the House of Representatives. It is incumbent upon this Senate and us as representatives of our various states to give that serious consideration, to look at all the facts and to provide a solution to this issue. Tony Abbott is a surf lifesaver. He has made much mileage of that—we have all seen the images of him in speedos and the red and yellow cap. I think it is about time Tony Abbott and the opposition showed some of that spirit of surf lifesaving, of putting ahead the protection of people and their lives in the sea, of developing and working towards a workable compromise, of stopping the vulnerable being cast on unsafe boats onto the sea.

Today we all received a letter from the Australian Multicultural Council. It is a plea to us, as members of parliament, to work together on this issue and to attempt to come to a workable compromise. The letter says, 'Now is the time to reach out across party lines and find a comprehensive bipartisan solution.' I could not agree more. We have the opportunity before us today to agree to a workable bipartisan solution. This parliament is at its best, and the faith of the Australian people is maximised, when we work together in the face of crisis, when we negotiate and compromise on workable solutions. We have the opportunity to do that today, and in the spirit of compromise—in the spirit of negotiating a workable solution—I urge all senators to agree to this bill.

10:55 am

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. Forty-four days before the 2010 election, the Prime Minister stated to the people of Australia, in relation to countries to be used for offshore processing, 'I would rule out anywhere that is not a signatory to the refugee convention.' Given that the Prime Minster made this promise to the Australian people before the last election, the only question that needs to be answered today is whether she will now agree to honour that promise by supporting the coalition's amendment to this legislation, which will ensure that she does indeed honour that commitment. The coalition have a consistent and principled position on protecting our borders. Yesterday we offered a principled amendment to get a workable bill that could today be passed in the Senate. Instead, the Prime Minister and Labor chose a stalemate, not a solution. Labor's bill is not good legislation. It is doomed to fail, because it compromises the standards of good faith and decent people and it will not stop the boats.

Yesterday in the House of Representatives the Prime Minister, in making a statement about the most recent boat sinkings, tried to politicise the situation and take the focus away from the Labor government's failings. The Prime Minister sought to emotionally blackmail members into bringing on for debate and supporting a bill that she was fully aware would never pass the Senate. This debate should have been about highlighting the fact that the Labor Party has dismantled and abolished Liberal policy that had succeeded in stopping the boats. When Labor abolished Liberal anti-people-smuggling policy, Labor established a policy that was in fact a highly profitable business model that was readily embraced and accepted by the people smugglers. The tragedy we are now witnessing is a product of the highly profitable business model that the Labor Party established and which has been adopted by the people smugglers.

The coalition understand that people smuggling is a business, and we understand that to destroy that business you need to remove the incentives, the infrastructure and the opportunities that exist to make this business function. The coalition, with its strong border protection policies, proved when in government that people smugglers can be stopped. The coalition have been telling the Labor government for years now that its border protection policies have failed and that it is Labor policy that is creating the opportunity for people smugglers to make huge profits by putting desperate people on boats and sending them out to sea. Labor's failed people-smuggling policy is playing into the hands of the criminal people smugglers. The government have adopted the bill and introduced it into the Senate. Labor's adoption of this bill is a desperate move to artificially contrive a scheme of arrangement to pretend that it is doing something when the facts show that it has lost control of our borders. It is up to the government today to convince the Senate of the merits of this bill and so far it has failed to do so. To succeed in having this bill pass the Senate, the government has to mount a cogent case and demonstrate that it contains acceptable provisions in the bill to persuade the other parties to vote for it. If the bill is not acceptable to a majority of senators in the form in which it is introduced, the government—if it wants to end this issue today, it if wants a solution to its border protection failures—has to be prepared to accept amendments from the coalition in order to achieve a majority vote. If the government accepts amendments from the coalition, this bill will pass the Senate today. If the government refuses to accept the coalition's amendments, this bill will fail. It is no good blaming the coalition if the government cannot convince a majority of senators of the merits of this bill and the government refuses to accept amendments that would achieve a majority vote. The government will be hoisted on its own petard if it fails to compromise. The government cannot come in here and blame the coalition for its own disastrous actions if it fails to listen. The fate of this bill today rests with the government and it is the government that will, by its own decision not to accept amendments, seal the fate of this bill. It is no good government members standing in this place today and blaming others for their own failings.

In relation to the coalition's concerns about sending asylum seekers to Malaysia, the government is yet to mount a cogent case and demonstrate that it has obtained the necessary commitment from Malaysia to ensure the protection of asylum seekers. Malaysia is not a signatory to the UNHCR treaty. And I again remind senators that 44 days before the 2010 election Ms Gillard said to the people of Australia, 'I would rule out anywhere that is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention' for countries to be used for offshore processing. I also remind senators of what occurred at the Victorian state ALP conference when the Malaysia deal was first discussed. Delegates voted unanimously to urge the Labor caucus to reject the Malaysia solution. They called on their own Labor Party to act consistently with the principles established by the High Court ruling. Michele O'Neil, the National Secretary of the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia, said this about the government's Malaysia solution: 'This is a shameful moment for us as a party'. That is in addition to the emotional pleas of Labor statesman Senator John Faulkner and Left faction convener Senator Doug Cameron and Left faction member Senator Gavin Marshall, all of whom have spoken out in caucus against the Malaysia people swap solution. On 2 December 2011 Melissa Parke, the member for Fremantle, said:

Through the Malaysia agreement we are proposing to discriminate against asylum seekers in a way that fundamentally breaches their human rights.

What we are now faced with in the Senate is that—despite the overwhelming opposition from so many on the Labor side, on this side, from the Greens and from people of Australia—the Labor Party has come to this place today committed to a policy that will send to Malaysia people who have come to Australia seeking our protection. Statistics published by the Malaysian Ministry of Justice show that in the five years between 2005 and 2010 some 29,759 unlawful entrants to Malaysia were subjected to the punishment of caning—an average of 16 canings per day, every day—and this is a common penalty, provided for by the Malaysian government for asylum seekers entering that country. The Labor Party is committed to a policy that will allow them to send children who have engaged our protection obligations to a country where they will have no protections, they will not be able to attend proper schools and can be caned under Malaysian law. The Labor Party is committed to a policy whereby it will send people who have engaged our protection obligations to a country where they will share one UNHCR-funded medical clinic with 94,000 other refugees in Malaysia.

The Labor Party remains committed to the Malaysian solution, despite the fact that the federal parliament was so abhorred by this policy that the House of Representatives passed a motion condemning the Malaysian asylum swap deal. It is incumbent on the Prime Minister of Australia to explain to Australians why she would pursue this arrangement in Malaysia when there is a proven, more humane and more cost-effective solution that can be immediately introduced. It is incumbent on the Prime Minister to explain why she would send unauthorised arrivals to Malaysia, which has not signed the UN convention against torture, when Nauru has. It is incumbent on the Prime Minister of Australia to explain to the Australian people why will she send asylum seekers to a country that cannot guarantee standards and accessibility of medical care. It is incumbent on the Prime Minister of Australia to explain to the Senate today why she will send children to Malaysia who will have absolutely no protections at all.

The Left of the Labor Party should be ashamed of themselves. Going forward, they will never again be able to stand up in this place and tell the Australian people that they believe in upholding the human rights of asylum seekers. The parliament must do what it can to ensure our borders are secure and to end the evil work of the people smugglers. Too many people have made this dangerous journey and too many have lost their lives in attempting to do so. The time has come to yet again end this terrible trade—just as the coalition did when we were elected to govern under former Prime Minister Howard.

As the matters are debated in the Senate today, I want to restate to the Australian people the coalition's position, which we are committed to, which will again make our borders strong. We support offshore processing. We support temporary protection visas. We support turning back the boats when it is safe to do so. We do not support the Malaysia people swap deal, because it will not work and it fails the test of a good and decent people. That is our principled position that we will uphold in the debate before the Senate today. These policies of the coalition have worked in the past and they will work again if and when they are reintroduced.

In good faith, the coalition offered a principled compromise yesterday, consistent with our values, to ensure the passage of the legislation through the Senate today. This included increasing Australia's refugee and humanitarian intake from the current level to 20,000 a year within three years. We believe it makes sense to offer people who are prepared to try to come to Australia the right way rather than the wrong way more opportunity to do so. We offered that people who are processed at any centre would have the processing of their claims done within 12 months and that a multiparty committee would be established to work out how to successfully settle the 20,000 immigrants.

The time for talking is over. The government does not have the option of continuing to do nothing and blaming the opposition. This is not a policy; it is a convenient excuse. If we must wait until an election to end this madness, then at least take action now to mitigate the increased risk of loss of life and continued compromise of our refugee and humanitarian program as the boats keep coming.

As the coalition has made clear time and time again, we will never support bad policy. We will never engage in supporting something which we think will have bad outcomes for the Australian nation, and this policy will have bad outcomes for the Australian nation. It compromises our standards and it will not stop the boats. What, in fact, it will mean is that the people smugglers will load up the boats with women and children, because the government has already indicated that women and children may not be sent back.

If the Prime Minister wants to send a tough message to people smugglers, there is one thing and one thing alone she can do. She can accept the coalition's proposed amendments to this legislation. That will see that Labor honours its election commitment to the Australian people that it will not send people to a country that is not a signatory to the UNHCR treaty. It will see that the Labor Party allays the concerns of not only the people of Australia but the people who are members of the Labor Left. It will ensure that Labor upholds its obligations under the UNHCR treaty. But, most importantly, it will ensure that a solution to this matter is reached today.

11:11 am

Photo of Penny WrightPenny Wright (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. I indicate that I will not be supporting this bill, and I would like to go on the record as to why.

There is a great deal of angst and sadness in the Australian community, and obviously in this parliament as well, about the most recent events where there has been loss of life in the sea due to people having come on boats seeking asylum in Australia, and of course there is increasing pressure for something to be done. I think it is a matter of great pride that Australians are increasingly so concerned. It is a sign of what essentially good-hearted people we are that this is something that the public is requiring politicians to be taking action and a stand on.

It is really important to remember that this is one of many incidents that have occurred over a long period of time. In a sense, the suffering that we see on our TV screens when boats sink is the tip of the iceberg of a massive number of people who seek asylum, leaving situations of high conflict, persecution, violence and risk of arbitrary death. They are so desperate that they choose to leave their homelands, their families and friends to face a risky, uncertain future somewhere far away. So, while it is clearly absolutely abhorrent to see what has happened recently, we must not forget that this suffering is the precursor to those choices that people ultimately make to get on a boat and to try to seek asylum in Australia. That is why it is important that, in determining where we can go in dealing with this, we have to be really clear about the entire situation. We must not risk having just a knee-jerk reaction to deal with something that we cannot get away from at the moment because it is on our television screens. This situation is there all the time and, as a humane country, we need to recognise why we initially signed the refugee convention, what the basis of that convention requires and how we can fulfil our obligations to be humane and to offer sanctuary to those people who are far less fortunate than ourselves.

Australians desperately, genuinely want a solution, and this bill purports to offer a solution. That is why there is such pressure from many aspects of Australian society to grasp it with both hands, because it looks like it is going to solve the problem that we are facing right now. It is my view that this bill is a solution for politicians so that it looks like we are doing something decisive; like we are hearing the concerns and we are moving to act on them. I firmly believe this is not a real solution for refugees at all. Essentially this bill will not do the very thing that it purports to do, the very thing that it is supposedly designed to do, and that is to save lives and reduce suffering. It is so attractive to think that it would, because we want an answer, we want a solution—but it is my firm view that it will not do that; it will not reduce suffering and it will not save lives. If desperate people, facing potential arbitrary death or violence or rape or constant persecution to the extent that they cannot live in safety, make the choice to flee conflict and seek safety and some kind of better future, then they are making a choice between dying or living without hope and gambling on the future. They are clearly prepared to take that gamble.

Unless we have a solution that offers people hope that they can achieve asylum, offers them a chance of being processed and not languishing in refugee camps for decades—in some cases without any hope of life, any reason for living, any ability to form lasting relationships and not knowing whether they will be able to continue with those relationships and often without the ability to work or to do things meaningfully in their lives, and they do not know when the end of that will be—then they will continue to risk their lives for the chance of a better future.

It is interesting to consider what we would do in that situation ourselves. If we can have empathy with what it must be like to be in that situation, it does not take a lot of imagination to realise that many of us would make exactly the same choices. In 2010 the Red Cross conducted a survey of Australians to find out what they would do, to see whether they could understand why asylum seekers make the choices they make. The statistics were very enlightening—86 per cent of those surveyed said they would flee to a safe country if they lived in a conflict zone. If we are subject to conflict we will flee. That is what people do all over the world. If we have families, if we have children, we seek to protect them whatever it takes. That is what Australians said, and that is what asylum seekers do. Ninety-four per cent of those surveyed said they would use all their money to get to a safe country. It is suggested that these are mercenary people and that they are prepared to buy their way out of trouble, but that is something that human beings will do. If it is a choice between living in unimaginably intolerable conditions, living with the risk of death at any moment and living with the risk of seeing your family suffer, as opposed to being able to take a risk and make a new life, human beings are willing to take that risk and that is what these asylum seekers are doing.

On Saturday I joined with many other people in Adelaide to walk together in the Welcome to Australia march. As I was walking along, I spoke to a man next to me and asked him about his background. His name was Saad, and he had been a refugee from Iraq. Saad would have been in his forties. I asked him about his story and he said to me, 'It is a long story but I will cut it short. I fled Iraq as a refugee and I ended up in the Philippines. I was assessed in the Philippines as a refugee and I spent 20 years in the Philippines waiting to be resettled. I was a young man when I fled Iraq. I ultimately formed a relationship and married a Filipino woman and I had four children. But I was not allowed to work in the Philippines. I was there for 20 years, and I had to work to support my family so I worked illegally. Then I was apprehended at one point and I went to jail'. I said I had heard that sometimes people who were in those sorts of situations in those countries, who were picked up for illegal work, were treated badly in jail. He did not say very much, but he acknowledged that, yes, he had been in jail and he was beaten; they were dehumanised and they were treated very badly.

Saad waited 20 years to be resettled and then he made a choice that any of us would make if we had the opportunity—he decided to take the chance of coming to Australia for another life because of the intolerable way he was living at the time. Saad was able to fly to Australia. He did not have to take the risky boat trip. When he arrived he was placed in Villawood Detention Centre for some time. Ultimately he was allowed to stay and he moved to Adelaide. Six months ago his wife and his four children joined him. Saad is an artist and he is also an architectural engineer. He is now in the process of upgrading his qualifications so that they can be recognised in Australia.

Saad is very grateful for having been accepted in Australia, and he is absolutely delighted to have his children with him again, having been separated from them for three years. His daughter is studying art at university and his youngest son is 13. Saad will be a great Australian citizen. He has the initiative, the courage and the resourcefulness that surely we prize in people contributing to this society. Saad made choices because of the situation he was in. There is this idea that people who wait in the queue will ultimately be processed—but there is no queue. That is the point he made to me—there is no queue. How long should one wait patiently? We can see why people make the choices they make.

I will not be supporting this bill, because it is absolutely flawed. It will basically sidestep the concerns about human rights protections raised in the High Court decision that found the Malaysia solution to be invalid. This bill will allow the government to send people anywhere. People could be sent to Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria—they all signed up to the Bali process. We know the intention of the government is to send people to Malaysia and we are very aware of what people face when they go to Malaysia. The risks they face there are probably far worse than what I heard about from Saad.

I turn now to this idea that Nauru was some kind of nirvana—that those were the good old days and that things were fine there. I very clearly remember what was happening at the time. People were sent away to that island in the Pacific, to Nauru, where it was almost impossible for them to get legal advice and assistance, and where lawyers were deliberately prevented from seeing people. It was a convenient way to get this problem off our televisions screens—out of sight, out of mind.

Australia has fundamental obligations to take responsibility for the people who come here and to process them on our continent. The idea of outsourcing asylum seekers to other nations ignores the fact that we are one of the wealthiest nations in this region and that we have obligations under the refugee convention which we should be meeting—so that we are indeed protecting people's lives and well-being.

This is not about purity; this is about what, in the big picture, is needed to save people's lives. We need to seek a comprehensive solution which accepts that desperate people will always seek asylum and that it is logical for desperate people to do so. We see that in the very choices they make. They get on a boat knowing they are risking their lives, but they choose to do so anyway because the status quo—staying where they are—is unimaginable for them. We need to accept that they will choose to take those risks and we therefore need to make the alternative to those risks far better. We need to provide people with hope.

If we are really serious about saving lives, if we are really serious about wanting to protect people from the risk of drowning, why is it that we do not currently have a clear code, a clear requirement, for our maritime forces to intervene at the earliest possible opportunity to save those people's lives? The report of the Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident, which inquired into the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the SIEVX in October 2001, said:

The Committee … finds it disturbing that no review of the SIEV X episode was conducted by any agency in the aftermath of the tragedy. No such review occurred until after the Committee’s inquiry had started and public controversy developed over the Australian response to SIEV X.

While there were reasonable grounds to explain the Australian response to SIEV X, the Committee finds it extraordinary that a major human disaster could occur in the vicinity of a theatre of intensive Australian operations, and remain undetected until three days after the event, without any concern being raised within intelligence and decision making circles. The Committee considers that it is particularly unusual that neither of the interdepartmental oversight bodies, the Illegal Immigration Information Oversight Committee and Operational Coordination Committee, took action to check whether the event revealed systemic problems in the intelligence and operational relationship.

If we are really serious about saving lives, why are we not looking at these other ways to intervene and protect lives as well? Recommendation 13A of the committee report into the SIEVX incident was:

The Committee recommends that operational orders and mission tasking statements for all ADF operations, including those involving whole of government approaches, explicitly incorporate relevant international and domestic obligations.

That is something I would like to see.

I think it is absolutely important that, in dealing with this, we do not deal with it simplistically. Our approach should not just be aimed at getting it off our TV screens and placating public opinion—making them think we are doing something decisive when we are not really dealing with the problem at all. We must offer the people who are risking their lives the hope that there is an alternative. That is when they will stop risking their lives.

11:27 am

Photo of Bob CarrBob Carr (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

As the Senate debates this bill, there are 43 million displaced people around the world, including more than 10 million refugees. There are nearly two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and one million more in Iraq. There are 1.5 million refugees who have fled Iraq, although I suspect that figure is higher—I remember estimates of four million refugees being forced out of Iraq, or displaced within Iraq, by the disastrous American invasion of March 2003. Some 140,000 people have fled Sri Lanka. To date, as we watch the civil war in Syria, 80,000 refugees have fled that conflict. They have gone to Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, all ill-equipped to check this refugee flow. They have gone to Turkey as well.

I am proud of Australia's record on refugees. As Premier of New South Wales, I was honoured to meet people who had come to these shores as refugees. I remember taking students from year 10 history classes, from four Western Sydney high schools, through the Australian War Memorial. I vividly remember looking at the model of Gallipoli with four students of Afghan background—two of the girls wore hijabs. They had been in Australia for just a year and a half, having come here via Christmas Island and Port Hedland. As we stood looking at the model of Gallipoli, I asked, 'Do you know what happened here?' and—I will never forget it—one of the girls said, 'Yes, they landed on April 25.' We discussed the war and the evacuation from Gallipoli. They had been in Australia less than a year and a half, they had come as refugees, they were studying Australian history in year 10 at Holroyd High School and they knew about Gallipoli.

I remember going to an International Women's Day reception at Government House. A young girl came up to me and said, 'Mr Carr, we have bird lice in the roof of our school; what can you do about it?' I said, 'The least I can do, given that you have come up to me, is visit your school.' She turned out to be from an Afghan refugee family. I met her brother and sister at the school. They were doing very well. They were studying maths for the HSC. I was struck again by the value for Australia in these refugees.

I remember visiting a school in Cabramatta, a year 3 or year 4 class with a gifted teacher who was leading the children through arguments on drugs. She said to the boys and girls, 'What do you do if a friend tells you to smoke this?' They all put their hands up and said, 'We say we don't want to smoke it.' 'What do you do if a boy or a girl says they won't be your friend unless you smoke this?' The hands all shot up and they said, 'We will say that we don't care and we won't smoke what they're giving us.' The gifted teacher conducting that lesson had arrived as a boat person and is now teaching young Vietnamese. A friend of mine working in the computer industry can recall fleeing Da Nang harbour in the middle of the night with his family. He was young and remembers that his sister had to be dressed as a boy because they were scared of pirates commandeering their vessel and taking off any teenage girls.

I have long held the view that Australia made a bad decision in the 1930s not to issue visas left, right and centre to the Jews of central and eastern Europe who wanted to flee, especially after Kristallnacht in October 1938. The energy that larger numbers of Jewish refugees would have brought to these shores and to our nation would have been extraordinary. Nonetheless, I am proud that Australia is so generous. After the United States and Canada, Australia has the largest humanitarian intake with around 14,000 this year and almost 70,000 in the last five years. We spend $405 million to support humanitarian emergency and refugee programs globally. We are acknowledged as a generous nation.

The truth is, you cannot have safer borders and you cannot have humane treatment of what we call in bureaucratic language 'irregular maritime arrivals' without having an effective disincentive to those who ply the evil people-smuggling trade. The arrangement made between the government and Malaysia is such a disincentive. I draw the attention of the house to a very thoughtful article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 June 2012 by Clive Kessler, an emeritus professor and internationally recognised expert on the Malaysian culture, society, history and politics. He said:

A set of arrangements has been negotiated by Australia with the Malaysian government. These arrangements are not perfect, neither is Malaysia. But they are workable. So why resist implementing them?

…      …   …

Having spent a scholarly life, over half a century, studying Malaysian society, culture and politics, I know those shortcomings far better than most. Even so, there is a good case to be made for the 'Malaysian solution'.

It provides the most workable, humane, long-term sustainable approach now on offer. It is a policy that stands somewhere between saying no to everybody and yes to everybody who shows up here.

The Malaysian plan would effectively recognise the international nature of a problem—of a cynical exercise in which Australia stands at the end of the line of a game of pass the 'hot potato'—and would regionalise the practicalities of its handling and management.

At the core of the amendments before us today is a simple but powerful proposition: we can break the business model of the people smugglers and we have a duty to do so. Offshore processing is an essential element to stopping the people-smuggling trade and this amendment is essential to achieve that objective. This problem is not static. If rejected by the Senate, the solution will be returned to by a future Australian government. The behaviour of people smugglers is constantly adapting. The problems that send people onto the high seas will continue to appear in the regions to our north. After the High Court decision—one of the most questionable and curious High Court decisions in memory—arrivals tripled—

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I submit to you that the minister has gone over the line. It is not appropriate for any member of this chamber and certainly not for a senior member of the government to reflect upon a decision of the High Court.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brandis, I am advised there is no prohibition in the standing orders for reflection upon decisions.

Photo of Bob CarrBob Carr (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

After the High Court's decision, arrivals tripled from 314 in October to 895 in November. The inescapable fact that the coalition and the Greens continue to ignore is that the Malaysian solution is the only proposal we have which has any hope of cracking the people smugglers' business model. All the available information from asylum seeker communities in source countries and those who arrive in Australia confirms conclusively that the absence of a clear deterrent is seen as an open door to Australia.

The bill before the Senate is premised on Australia's interests to work in partnership with countries in the region under the Bali process. As co-chair of the Bali process, along with my Indonesian counterpart, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, I am committed to pursuing a regional solution to a regional problem. The Bali process is a regional mechanism for responding to a regional problem. Two years ago, under the leadership of Indonesia and Australia, the 43 Bali process members agreed to a regional cooperation framework. Among other things, the framework commits members to eliminate irregular movement facilitated by people smugglers. The Malaysian arrangement is the first entered into pursuant to that framework. Critics of the Malaysian arrangement have been vocal, although silent on one critical question: would it work? I said it would. The government says it would. The experts say it would. I have heard no cogent argument to the contrary. It would work because it is a powerful disincentive. Without the Malaysian arrangement, all we have is an improvised Indonesian arrangement that the Indonesians do not want; that the coalition says it would aggravate, by somehow sending boats back to crowded Indonesian ports; and that is inhumane because it encourages people to put their lives in the hands of people smugglers, paying them $10,000 for transport on the high seas. Without the Malaysian arrangement, we are left with an altogether unsatisfactory, improvised, cobbled-together Indonesian arrangement, which the Indonesians do not want and which puts people's lives at risk but which is an incentive for people in coffee shops and on street corners in Indonesian ports and elsewhere to strike deals that have people paying money to take the risk of attempting to come here. If they knew that they were going to get no further than Malaysia, where their claims would be assessed and their applications processed, and they would come no further if they could not make their case, they would not give money to the people smugglers. That is the case for the Malaysian arrangement.

By transferring irregular maritime arrivals to Malaysia, we take away from people smugglers their only selling point—that they and they alone can provide a new life in Australia for their customers. Why pay those tens of thousands of dollars to a people smuggler and endure dangerous sea voyages just to end up, in the middle of your journey, in Malaysia? No sensible people would do it; the demand would dry up. Before it was struck down by the High Court, it was acting as a disincentive—

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

No, it wasn't.

Photo of Bob CarrBob Carr (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Once removed, the numbers went up. I quoted the figures earlier. The Malaysian arrangement is a strong message to people smugglers that they cannot guarantee a future in Australia for those who are smuggled.

We saw that when we announced the Malaysian arrangement last year: the number of arrivals dropped because people smugglers waited to see if the arrangement would be implemented. It was not; and, when the government's legislative amendments were blocked, the people smugglers returned to their business with renewed vigour. And why wouldn't they? That is a clear demonstration of how effective the arrangement would be if the government has the opportunity to implement it. The arrangement would ensure one thing—that none of those transferred would be eligible for resettlement in Australia. When transferred to Malaysia, they would be processed by UNHCR and be subject to UNHCR's normal resettlement program, with no special treatment and with no guarantees about the eventual country of resettlement. That contrasts sharply with the Nauru experience, where processing for resettlement is by Australian Immigration. Where? Primarily in Australia. With Malaysia, none of those transferred would be eligible for special treatment on resettlement. With Nauru, just about all of those processed there end up in Australia. How's that as an effective policy!

I hear critics say that towing vessels back to Indonesia would work. Do they not understand that such a policy would drive people smugglers to sabotage their vessels at the time of interception to avoid being towed back? Threats to tow back endanger not only those on the vessel but also the brave Australian officials whose job it is to protect our borders. What a policy that is, to tow the boats back! It would produce a crisis in our relations with our most important near neighbour, Indonesia. It would reduce Australian-Indonesian relations to an ongoing squabble about returning boats to crowded Indonesian ports, to a single transactional issue. In a post-2014 Indonesia—that is, a post-President Yudhoyono Indonesia—it is likely to have even more of an inflammatory effect then it is likely to have now. But that is the opposition policy. The opposition policy is to tow the boats back. It is primitive. It is unworkable. It is inhumane. It is no alternative.

I hear people say that, under the arrangement, Malaysia cannot provide those transferred with appropriate protection. They should read the text of the arrangement and its associated operational guidelines, which are freely available in the public domain. They should read the article by Professor Kessler, an academic expert on Malaysia, that I quoted from earlier. He said:

These arrangements are not perfect … But they are workable. So why resist implementing them?

He also says in that article, by the way:

Abbott's reasons and strategy are clear. On immigration, as on all other matters, he wants, by a chosen strategy of finely targeted obstructionism to all government initiatives … to make the country ungovernable. That is half of his strategy. The other half is then to spend the rest of his time jeering that the government is demonstrably hopeless, that it simply cannot govern. Whose doing is that? Abbott is on a sure winner.

The commitments in the text of the arrangement are not hidden away from scrutiny; they are there for all to see and to hold the Australian and Malaysian governments to account. The arrangement makes clear that those transferred will be treated with dignity and respect, in accordance with human rights standards. They will be accommodated in the community, be allowed an opportunity to work and be provided with minimum standards of care if they cannot. Those are serious commitments entered into by a government serious about stopping this trade, and they are supported by the UNHCR. That answers the arguments of anyone who wants to question the humanity of the Malaysian arrangement: they are supported by the UNHCR, whose integrity and commitment to refugee health and wellbeing cannot be doubted or challenged. They are serious commitments. With regard to the Malaysian arrangement, UNHCR's regional representative, Rick Towle, has acknowledged:

… it has the potential to … make a significant practical contribution to what we're trying to achieve in the region.

I hear critics say that processing people offshore in Nauru is better and proven policy. But creating a new Christmas Island in a foreign country is not enough—not when the people smugglers know that anyone sent to Nauru for processing will almost certainly end up in Australia, exactly where people smugglers promised to deliver their valuable customers. What sort of disincentive is that? The amendments before the Senate today provide the only effective disincentive available to Australia. It is essential that a clear message of deterrence is sent to people smugglers, and this amendment would do it.

The Australian people want humane treatment of people fleeing their homelands on the high seas. They want humane treatment, but at the same time they want an effective border policy. They want an effective border policy, but they do not want to see any loss of life. In a world of less than entirely satisfactory answers and solutions, this is the best option. No option will work without it containing, at its core, a powerful disincentive to the businesses that are driving this flow of sad and threatened humanity.

11:45 am

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Let us not forget as we approach this debate that, in the last several days, many lives have been lost in the waters to the north-west of Australia, and that is a human tragedy. So the decision this parliament makes about the most effective border protection policy is as important a decision as this parliament can possibly be making because human lives literally depend upon us getting the answer right.

For all the moral posturing that we have heard in this debate, including the moral posturing we heard just momentarily from Senator Bob Carr, we have one task in the end, and that is to arrive at the policy, to choose the policy, that is most likely to be effective to stop the people smugglers. I can understand the frustration of the public when they see lives being lost at sea and they see us here in Parliament House debating this measure and being unable to come to an agreement. I understand that frustration; I share it. That frustration is evident in the newspapers this morning: 'Lives, not politics'; 'Paralysis in parliament'; 'Our politicians fail again'. But if we are to be true to ourselves, if we are to approach this issue both intelligently and conscientiously, we have to contend for the policy that we believe will be most effective to stop these horrible events.

There is a call for bipartisanship and, on the ultimate issue, there is bipartisanship because everyone in this parliament wants people smuggling stopped. So, on the ultimate issue, we are not in disagreement. We are in agreement. Even the Greens are in agreement with the government and the opposition. We all want the people smuggling stopped. So the question is not whether but how. It is a question of means, not a question of ends. It seems to me that, in deciding what policy is most effective to stop the people smuggling, it is quite the wrong approach to say there should be a compromise if the compromise is between a policy that has demonstrably failed and a policy that has demonstrably succeeded. That is the choice. It grieves me to say this but I do fear that, on the part of the Prime Minister and her government, there is an element of stubborn pride in refusing to acknowledge that the Howard government's policies worked. That is empirically demonstrable.

In the six years between the implementation of the tough policies that the Howard government announced at the end of 2001 and their abandonment by this government in the name of a phony appeal to compassion in August 2008, the number of unlawful arrivals fell from several thousand a year in the years prior to the Howard government's new policies to 301 people in six years. The number of vessels fell to 16 across those six years. Since those policies were abandoned, almost 20,000 people have come in fewer than four years and, although it is difficult to calculate, more than 550 or so people have drowned. From the time the Howard government began to implement its Pacific Solution, announced at the end of 2001 but implemented from the beginning of 2002 with the opening of the Nauru detention centre, not one person drowned at sea—not one. Since those policies have been abandoned more than 500 souls have drowned. I do not say the government acted in bad faith in abandoning those policies—it did not want this to happen—but it acted foolishly. I remember Senator Evans, then the minister for immigration, standing up in this chamber and saying, 'We are going to get rid of your inhumane policies with softer policies.' Those were not his very words but that was the effect of what he said. I remember the opposition warning that, if the tough policies were replaced with softer policies, that would be a magnet for the people smugglers—and that, tragically, is what has happened. As a direct consequence of that terrible policy error, more than 500 men, women and children have perished at sea in the last 3½ years.

I said it before: our obligation as legislators is to get the policy right. There has been much talk of the Malaysia solution. The Malaysia solution has never operated. The belief, evident in the contribution that Senator Bob Carr just gave, that the Malaysia solution would work is based on a hope. To use the word that Mr Andrew Metcalfe, the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship used to me last year when he briefed the opposition, it is based on a 'conjecture'. It is the best estimate of the officials, I acknowledge that, but it is a conjecture, because the Malaysia solution has never been in operation. We do not know whether it will work or not. But this we do know: Malaysia is not a signatory to the refugee convention and in order to operationalise the Malaysia solution the government would be required to repeal from the Migration Act section 198A, inserted by the Howard government, which stipulates minimum human rights protections. It stipulates that a country to which asylum seekers are sent for processing must meet relevant human rights standards in providing protection for refugees. That is the effect of the amendment that Senator Abetz foreshadowed in his contribution on the second reading speech earlier. We will not countenance a migration and refugee policy which entirely strips all human rights protections and standards from Australian law. That is what the High Court demanded in August last year. And we will not countenance it.

Senator Carr, in asserting that the Malaysia solution would work—a hope, a piece of conjecture—said in the contribution we have just heard from him that, in the period between the announcement of the Malaysia solution on 7 May last year and the decision of the High Court on 31 August last year, the number of refugees dropped sharply. He took that as empirical evidence that the Malaysia solution would have worked. Unfortunately, what Senator Bob Carr just told the Senate was wrong. In the four months between the announcement of the Malaysia solution by Ms Gillard on 7 May 2011 and the High Court's decision in the Malaysia solution case on 31 August 2011 there were 1,092 asylum seekers who came to Australia in that four-month period when the Malaysia solution was the policy of the Australian government, before it was struck down by the High Court. In the previous four months, the equivalent period antecedent to the Prime Minister's announcement of the Malaysia solution, there were 1,172 asylum seekers who came to Australia. There was no material difference in the numbers at all—none. So if we take up Senator Bob Carr's invitation to compare the rate of passage of asylum seekers after the announcement of the Malaysia solution with the rate for an equivalent period before the Malaysia solution, there was no significant difference at all.

I said at the start of my remarks that what this is about is choosing the right policy. The right policy is a policy that is effective. It seems to me that if you are a rational decision maker and it is acknowledged, as the government by implication does acknowledge, that your policy has failed and you are looking for a new policy, a policy that will work, what you would rationally do is return to a policy that did demonstrably work. And the Howard government's policy did demonstrably work. That is not merely an assertion by me; it is an incontrovertible fact: 301 asylum seekers in six years, and no drownings, versus more than 19,000 asylum seekers since the policy change, and more than 550 drownings. Why wouldn't you, unless you were constrained from doing so by stubborn pride, go back to policies that worked?

We have heard the argument: 'Well, the Pacific solution was a product of its time. It may have worked then, but it will not work now.' We do not know for certain, just as we do not know for certain whether the Malaysia solution would work, either—although, when applying to the Malaysia solution the test that Senator Bob Carr invited, it is shown not to work. But, nevertheless, the fact is that we are in a position of choice under uncertainty. When you are a decision maker making a choice under conditions of uncertainty, it seems to me that a rational decision maker would say, 'Well, in seeking to replace the policies that have demonstrably failed, let our first port of call be to see if the policies that demonstrably succeeded will succeed again.' That is the point.

The government concedes its policies have failed. Empirically, they have demonstrably failed. We know the Howard government policies succeeded. We accept that there is an argument that maybe those policies would not work so well again. Maybe they would not. But would you not try? Wouldn't your stating point, as a rational decision maker, be to say, 'Let us see if the policies that demonstrably succeeded in the last decade will still succeed in this decade'? Why would you not do that, unless your decision making capacity was intruded upon and corrupted by stubborn pride, by the inability to concede that John Howard was right. And would not that be a preferable course than to adopt a so-called solution—the so-called Malaysia solution—about the success of which there is absolutely no certainty and that, if we were to apply the test Senator Bob Carr just told us we should apply, is likely to fail, and, unlike the Nauru solution, strips all human rights protections from refugees—every last one?

That is the coalition's approach. That is my approach. We cannot promise that a return to the successful policies of the last decade would be a success again, any more than Senator Bob Carr or any other member of the government can promise that the Malaysia solution would be a success. But we know these two things: firstly, the Nauru solution satisfies the human rights tests and the Malaysia solution does not; secondly, we know that the Nauru solution succeeded when last it was tried and there is no reason to believe—or to presume, as the government does—that it cannot succeed again. So why would you not give it a try?

We should rise above partisan politics in this debate when human lives are being lost. But rising above partisan politics means you acknowledge that, just possibly, your political opponents did get it right. It means putting your pride to one side and acknowledging the demonstrable fact that the Howard government's policies worked, that the Rudd and Gillard governments' polices have failed, and that if you really want to solve this problem the starting point for any rational, dispassionate decision maker is to see whether the policies that worked before will work again.

12:05 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. I indicate that I have changed my mind on this issue. I have done what Senator Brandis has asked me to do, which is to have a look at these issues dispassionately. I certainly have looked at it and in my view this is the best way forward in the short term.

I want to try to put my change of mind into some context. The UNHCR 2011 report on refugees shows that there were 4.3 million people newly displaced around the world. Worldwide there are 42.5 million people who are either refugees or are internally displaced. There are almost a million in the process of actively seeking asylum. Afghanistan is the biggest producer of refugees, with 2.7 million—and surely we have a responsibility in terms of the situation in Afghanistan—Iraq has 1.4 million, Somalia has 1.1 million, Sudan has half a million and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has 491,000. The countries hosting the largest number of refugees were Pakistan, with 1.7 million, the Republic of Iran, with 886,500 and the Syrian Arab Republic, with 775,400. The situation in those countries is dire. You certainly would not want to be a refugee in any of those countries. In Australia, the number of refugees and asylum seekers has remained relatively stable and small by global standards, with 23,434 refugees and 5,242 asylum seekers hosted at the end of 2011. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Hazara population is still subject to genocide.

I take the view that, with 3.7 million refugees in the Asia-Pacific area, we need to deal with this both in the short and the long term. Some of these refugees are looking for economic betterment. Some of them are looking for family reunification. Some of them are fleeing war and conflict. Some of them are fleeing religious, racial or sexual persecution. Some of them are fleeing natural disasters, climate change and food insecurity. This is not a situation that will change quickly. This is a situation that government, regardless of their political background, will face in this region for years to come.

I abhor the loss of life at sea. Children are losing their fathers and mothers. Parents are losing their children. People are losing siblings. These are human and personal tragedies of the highest order. I am troubled by the Nauru approach. I am troubled by the Malaysian approach. I have argued continually over many years my opposition to the Pacific solution. I have done that publicly and I have done that within the Labor Party. I do not see, regardless of the arguments that the coalition senators have put forward here, how Nauru could ever be contemplated as some kind of success. But as Keynes and the Nobel Prize winning economist Samuelson said, when the circumstances change we change our minds. And they asked this question: what would you do? I have changed my mind.

I met with 41 backbenchers yesterday. It was clear that those 41 backbenchers had no silver bullet to the problem that we are facing. But they all had one view and that was that we had to put in place a humanitarian approach. What we are doing today is dealing with hard choices. There are no easy solutions. The advice to the government has been that Nauru will not work and that it would not be a disincentive. You have to remember that when the Nauru processing centre was in place, on 19 October 2001 we had SIEVX, a ship that went down causing 353 people to lose their lives. This was under the Pacific Solution.

We are now being told that the boats should be turned around and we have been asked by the Leader of the Opposition to examine our consciences. I have examined my conscience and my conscience says that we should do whatever we can to stop deaths at sea. There are two issues that are coming through in the contributions being made here today. One is the hypocrisy of the coalition on the issue of humanity. The other issue that is coming through loud and clear is the policy purity of the Greens. Gough Whitlam said only the impotent are pure. The Greens are standing flatfooted but pure. You should think about the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and friends who are dying on the oceans to the north of Australia. These are human beings. They are not statistics; they are not simply refugees; they are not simply asylum seekers. These are human beings who, for one reason or another, want to make a better life for themselves within this great country.

The opposition hypocrisy is huge. Many of the speakers who are listed to speak here today or who have already spoken were silent on the cruelty of the Pacific solution—absolutely silent. Where were Senator Abetz and Senator Brandis when genuine refugees, including 12-year-old, 14-year-old and 15-year-old kids, were sewing their lips together as a desperate cry for help under the Pacific solution? Where were the coalition voices in support of humanitarianism? They were nowhere to be heard. Where was the action from the coalition on humanitarian issues? It was nowhere to be seen. The hypocrisy of the coalition is huge. Where was the member for North Sydney, Joe Hockey, during the child overboard fiasco? He was nowhere to be seen. Where were the coalition voices on that issue? They were nowhere to be heard. Where was the Leader of the Opposition when refugees were being vilified and ostracised in the Australian press day in and day out? He was nowhere to be seen? Base politics were driving the Pacific solution and the coalition's position on refugees. So I just find it a bit tough, a bit hard to take, when the coalition stand up in here and talk about humanitarian approaches to refugees, when for almost a decade their approach was the antithesis of a humanitarian approach to refugees.

I say to Senator Abetz, in response to his statement that there was a great, compassionate position adopted by Mr Ruddock, the then minister: in 2001 Mr Ruddock was calling for children to be removed from their parents in these concentration camps that the coalition had set up at Baxter and elsewhere in Australia. Take the children from their parents—that was the refrain from the coalition. What is humane about that? Absolutely nothing. Then there was a young boy in Villawood. When Mr Ruddock was asked about that young boy and his plight in Villawood, Mr Ruddock could not bring himself to describe this child as a boy, or a human being; he described the child as 'it'. That was the humanitarian approach from the coalition. So I will not be lectured by the coalition on humanitarian policies or successful policies. What is successful about describing a young child as 'it'? What is successful about taking children from parents? What is successful about putting families behind barbed wire for year after year, until they are psychologically destroyed? The hypocrisy from the coalition knows no bounds. And the impotence from the Greens almost rivals that. I say you should not have been silent on the cruelty of the Pacific solution.

I want to come to this Malaysian arrangement. As I have said, I don't like it. I have probably fought longer on these issues than many in this parliament. It has been an issue that I, as a union delegate, as a union official and as a senior union official in this country have argued on for years. But I just do not want to see any more innocent people being killed on the high seas. I do not want people losing their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their children. It is just not acceptable. The 41 backbenchers yesterday were crying out for a compromise on this issue. We were crying out for something to be done. This is not a perfect proposition that is before the parliament—in fact, it is far from perfect. But I think, for a 12-month period, as is outlined in this bill, we should give it a go—because the Malaysian approach is an approach that the UNHCR have had a look at, that the UNHCR were involved in, that the UNHCR see as a step forward to what the real solution in this region is: a proper regional approach to dealing with refugees and displaced persons.

That is the situation the UNHCR see. They and others argue that Malaysia do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of refugees. They do far more heavy lifting than us—there are about 1.2 million displaced people, I think, in Malaysia. But what the UNHCR say is that the implementation of the Malaysian guidelines contain important protections and safeguards. Those include respect for the principle of non-refoulement. Non-refoulement is simply not sending people back to where they could be tried and killed or subjected to the death penalty. They say the principle of family unity and the best interests of the child are in this agreement; that humane reception conditions, including protections against arbitrary detention are there; that the lawful status to remain in Malaysia until a durable solution is found is there; and the ability to receive education, access to health care and a right to employment are there. There will be no employment on Nauru. They will be there, with all that that barren rock provides. What is it about Nauru that is better than Malaysia? Absolutely nothing. So the UNHCR see some hope that this could lead to a more lasting solution.

I want to go back to the coalition and their hypocrisy, and quote what the Secretary-General of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, said in 2002. She said this about the coalition policy that they are arguing was so successful. She said:

It is obvious that the prolonged periods of detention, characterised by frustration and insecurity, are doing further damage to individuals who have fled grave human rights abuses. The detention policy has failed as a deterrent and succeeded only as a punishment. How much longer will children and their families be punished for seeking safety from persecution?

That was the Pacific solution. That is what the coalition is arguing we should adopt again. I will not support that, and the government will not support that. It is not what we should be doing. We should be looking at a longer-term proposition, and there are two areas that we should be looking at. One is the UNHCR's 10-point plan of action on refugee protection and mixed migration, which can guide countries in relation to refugees. The other is the core principles adopted by the fourth Bali regional ministerial conference in Indonesia. The UNHCR's plan of action boiled down to this: that the people who need protection receive it, that those who do not are assisted to return home and that all people are treated with dignity while appropriate solutions are found. That is something the Pacific solution never, ever contemplated.

The statement from the fourth Bali regional conference said that irregular movements facilitated by people smugglers should be eliminated. That is what this bill is seeking to do. It said that asylum seekers should have access to consistent assessment processes. That is what this bill is seeking to do. It said that persons found to be refugees under those assessments should be provided with a durable solution. This is the first step to a durable solution for refugees and asylum seekers. The statement also said that people found not to be in need of protection should be returned and that people-smuggling enterprises should be targeted through border security arrangements, law enforcement activities and disincentives to human trafficking and smuggling.

My view—and my view has changed—is that this is the best approach we can adopt. It is a compromise position that I think the Australian public is crying out for. It is a short-term position to allow some of the longer-term Bali and UNHCR processes to be put in place—something I would be far more comfortable about. As a union official I had to accept many short-term decisions and accommodations for my membership so that they could get better conditions in the longer term. This is a similar situation. Negotiators find themselves in this position constantly. We should not go back to a position where we try to turn boats around and put our Navy and asylum seekers in jeopardy. We should not go back to the Pacific solution, where young kids are sewing their lips up and hypocrisy abounds in the coalition. I call on the Greens to reconsider their position and to not be impotent, to actually make a contribution to this solution and help refugees. (Time expired)

12:25 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. This is a political solution; it is not a solution for asylum seekers and refugees. Today an editorial from one of the Tasmanian newspapers, the Examiner, says:

It looks very much like a knee-jerk reaction to terrible news reports and graphic images on TV, when really they've had years to find a solution. The antics in Parliament yesterday resembled bipartisan theatrics, struggling to mask the usual party politics.

Frankly, that is what has occurred. Everything has become part of the 30-second grab. Everything has been along the lines of, 'Let's just say the legislation will save lives, and not test it against any evidence base, and then say that if you don't support that legislation then in some way you don't support saving lives.'

Let me tell you what this legislation has actually done. The government tried to establish a Malaysia solution. That Malaysia solution was that they would take people from boats and send them offshore to a country that has not signed the refugee convention and where they were not going to be protected. These are vulnerable people who have done nothing wrong. They had tried to come to Australia to exercise their right to asylum. That is a perfectly legal thing to do around the world.

Australia was going to do that, and as a result it went to the High Court. The High Court struck down that legislation as being against our own law—against our own Migration Act 1958. The court said that you cannot validly declare a country to which asylum seekers are taken for processing unless that country is legally bound by international law or its own domestic law to (1) provide access for asylum seekers to effective procedures for assessing their need of protection, (2) provide protection for asylum seekers pending determination of their refugee status, (3) provide protection for persons given refugee status pending their voluntary return to their country or their resettlement in another country and (4) meet certain human rights standards in providing that protection. The court held that Malaysia is not legally bound to provide the access and protections that the Migration Act requires for a valid declaration, that Malaysia is not a party to the refugee convention or its protocol. The arrangements that the minister signed expressly said that it was not legally binding—that Malaysia was not legally bound to and does not recognise the status of refugees in domestic law. And that is why it was struck down.

So the government then tried to remove those provisions from the Migration Act so that it could proceed. That is precisely what Mr Oakeshott has done in this bill. He has removed from asylum seekers any protections. Even worse, the bill does not even specify Malaysia. People out there are thinking, 'This bill must specify Malaysia.' It does not. What it does is say that the minister here can send people to any country which is a signatory of the Bali process, and the countries that are signatories to the Bali process include Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Syria. When people go around with this 30-second grab of 'This legislation saves lives,' what they are saying is: 'This legislation takes away all of those protections of their human rights and says that an Australian minister can send those people to countries outside the refugee convention in which there is no legal protection.' Any one of those countries will and could do. That is what this legislation is doing. Anyone who deludes themselves into thinking that it provides any kind of safety for an asylum seeker is wrong.

Let's separate out the issues. Everybody is devastated by the tragedy of people losing their lives at sea. This is something which has worried me for many, many years and it goes back especially to the SIEVX. I would remind this chamber that the SIEVX, where 353 people drowned, sank after the Pacific solution was introduced by the former Prime Minister John Howard. It sank after the mean-spirited temporary protection visas were introduced. Why were there so many women and children on board the SIEVX? Because they were told that they could never get family reunion in Australia because of the TPVs and, as a result, the only way they could come here was on those boats. That is why the women and children were on the SIEVX—after temporary protection visas, after the Pacific solution, after billions of dollars was wasted in punitive action against some of the world's most vulnerable people. If those billions that were wasted on the Pacific solution had been put into supporting the implementation of United Nations refugee convention in the region, we would have had a regional solution a very long time ago.

I pushed for a royal commission into the SIEVX and, when Labor came into government, I asked for a royal commission. Where is it, because it was Labor policy? I found that in 2007 it disappeared from the Labor platform, and that was the end of any royal commission into the SIEVX. I asked why. 'Well, it just did; it was removed from the Labor platform.' The reason it is relevant here today is this. I have been to the memorial services and talked to some of the survivors. They have said that they were in the water and boats came and there were lights on them in the water. They started swimming towards those boats and they thought they were safe. Then the lights went off and the boats left and people drowned. I have always wanted to know, from that day to this, whether Australia's intelligence services—and we have many of those in Northern Australia—were tracking that boat and knew where it was. Why were people in the water and not being rescued if we knew where they were? What was going on there? No-one has ever answered those questions. That is why to me codifying the provisions of the safety of life at sea convention is absolutely critical.

In the Senate's A certain maritime incident report it was recognised that we needed to codify that, because there is a tension between a policy of deterrence—we want to send these boats back; we do not want these people; therefore we will not be rescuing them until the very last minute—and our obligations under the safety of life at sea convention. We need to codify those obligations, because all the waters around Christmas Island are international waters, but they are in Indonesia's search and rescue zone. But Indonesia has said, 'We don't have the capacity to rescue people in these waters.' They said this week that they have one boat which cannot go to sea in a swell of four metres. They cannot rescue people. But we are saying: 'We know that boat is in the water. Today is Tuesday. We have contacted the Indonesians and told them the boat is there and it has said it's in distress.' On Thursday, when people were in the water, we had aircraft overhead and we knew what was going on. It was on Thursday that we informed the Indonesians that we were taking over that rescue operation. That is when we went in and started pulling people out of the water. Why is it that, when we know a boat is in trouble, we do not proactively go and save people and not wait for them to be in the water? Why? That is why I have said very clearly that we need to codify. We need to make sure we are on track with this.

Equally, we have in Indonesia, right now, about 8,000 people in camps and many thousands more in Malaysia. We in Australia take 60 people—60 people combined between Indonesia and Malaysia. So, if you turn up now at a camp in Indonesia or Malaysia, you will have a 76-year wait to come to Australia or to be resettled. On that basis, if you are there, are you not going to be vulnerable to people who come up and say to you, 'Well, you're going to be waiting a lifetime, if ever, so what about my boat?' The way to deal with it is to increase our funding to the UNHCR in Indonesia, so that not only can it work on assessing the refugee claims faster but secondly it can start educating people in the camps about how the convention works—what the processes are, what the safe pathway is—so people have a much better understanding. That is why we need to increase our refugee intake and do that immediately. If we start taking people out of those camps into Australia right now, people are going to see that there is a safe pathway to Australia and they will see that they do not need to be so desperately taking these highly risky journeys at sea. But you would only be doing that if you actually genuinely wanted to support asylum seekers. That is why we say that that is the action to take if there is a genuine commitment across the parliament to support asylum seekers in the region.

In the last year there has been a 20 per cent increase globally in people seeking asylum—so it is not about whether Australia's policy has failed or not failed; there has been a 20 per cent increase. And let's look at the push factors. People are not leaving Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for no reason at all. They are leaving there because they are displaced, because they are being persecuted. I heard a report on the news just yesterday of people in Pakistan being pulled off buses and being shot there by the side of the road. They are the people who are trying to get away from that level of persecution. So there has been a 20 per cent increase in people seeking asylum worldwide but only a nine per cent increase in Australia. Our policies are already a deterrent, if you like, in the context of the global refugee intake. In fact, the Americans look at us and say: 'What on earth are you talking about? We deal with that virtually every weekend.'

So the issue here for us is to say to ourselves, as one of the richest countries on earth: why can't we use our leadership role in the region to genuinely lead, to uphold the refugee convention, to support the UNHCR in the region and to give leadership to those other countries to sign up to the convention, which will then enable us to work on a genuine regional solution? The situation is going to continue and will get worse this century because of climate change and extreme weather events. We are already seeing people displaced around the world because of that, and I have to say it is to my shame that Australia in the United Nations has been blocking a definition of an environmental refugee for this very reason—because we anticipate, we know, how many will be coming from the Pacific and Bangladesh and other places because of climate change into the future.

If we are serious, there are things we can do, and those things are outlined in the amendment that the Greens are going to move today. I would implore both the government and the coalition to support this amendment, because these are things that can be done today—not next week, not in three months but today. They are, firstly, to provide safe pathways for refugees to discourage people from taking life-threatening journeys; and, secondly, to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake from 13,750 to 20,000, including additional places to be immediately allocated to targeted resettlement of 1,000 people from Indonesia and 4,000 people from Malaysia. They are decisions that you could sign off today. The Prime Minister could do that without the parliament. She could actually go and sign off on that today.

Further, we could immediately increase funding to the UNHCR by $10 million to boost the capacity of refugee status determination assessments in Malaysia and Indonesia. We could then enter into urgent discussions between Australia and Indonesia to address the critical need for cooperation and effectiveness of intelligence sharing and resourcing between Australia and Indonesia in order to save lives at sea. I welcome the fact that the coalition have said today that they would be prepared to see more patrol boats go into the area so that we might anticipate some of the problems and be more prompt and able to rescue, but again it goes to this issue of whether we anticipate or whether we wait until people are in the water. We want to codify the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea obligations across all relevant government agencies.

In terms of a framework for a long-term regional solution, underpinned by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the related 1967 protocol, we should establish a multiparty committee at the highest level, convened by the Prime Minister in the context of the convention and with experts around the table in international law, in refugee matters, to make sure that we come up with something which will not be struck down by the courts, which will provide leadership in the region and which would give confidence to other countries in the region that we are genuine about our responsibilities and our willingness to play our fair-share role in this context. What we are saying at the moment is that we are a rich country and we will not take on our fair share. We expect everybody else to deal with it—out of sight, out of mind; send the people somewhere else away from us. It will turn down the political heat and it will look as if we have done something when, in fact, we have done nothing other than strip from vulnerable people arriving on boats the very basic protections of human rights. That is something that there is no way anybody who really thinks about this as a matter of conscience could ever support.

A lot of the things that I have listed in this set of actions today are things that Tony Abbott, the leader of the coalition, said yesterday that he would support. He said he would support an increase in the humanitarian intake. He said he would support additional funding going to the UNHCR. He said he would support a multiparty committee. Today, as I indicated, he said they would send more boats to the area. I have yet to have a discussion about codification, but that is another area. We want to negotiate with both the coalition and the government because that means we could leave this parliament today with a phone call to Indonesia already having taken place, with a phone call to the UNHCR already having taken place, with 1,000 people in Indonesia and 4,000 in Malaysia being told in the next 24 hours that they would be leaving the camps. They are the things that will deter people from risking their lives on boats trying to get to Australia, because they are doing that out of desperation.

If you think desperate people will not continue to take desperate actions, think again. When this Malaysia solution was on the table previously, a boat tried to bypass Australia and go to New Zealand—an even more hazardous journey. Unless you reduce the number of people in the camps and reduce the number of years they have to wait to think they are ever going to be given an opportunity for resettlement, you are not going to take the pressure off people feeling that they have to take this desperate action.

I have written to the Prime Minister and I am writing a letter to the leader of the coalition, Mr Abbott, as well, asking whether they would agree today to take these actions, and then we can sit down and work out something in the longer term. Let's take the actions that we can all agree on that are immediate, that go to the issue of safety of life at sea. That is critical. There has been a heartfelt outpouring from across the country, with people saying, 'Don't let any more people drown,' and I could not agree more. The best way of ensuring that is to get people to the place, to rescue them and take people out of the camps so that they do not feel the pressure to get on the boats in the first place. Senator Hanson-Young referred earlier to our joint second reading amendment, and I now move that amendment:

At the end of the motion, add:

  but the Senate:

     (a)   calls on the Government to take immediate action to:

        (i)   provide safe pathways for refugees to discourage people taking life threatening journeys;

        (ii)   increase Australia’s humanitarian intake from 13,750 to 20,000, including additional places to be immediately allocated to targeted resettlement of 1,000 people from Indonesia and 4,000 people from Malaysia;

        (iii)   immediately increase funding to United Nations High Commission for Refugees by $10 million to boost the capacity of Refugee Status Determination assessments in Malaysia and Indonesia;

        (iv)   establish a multi-party committee, charged with developing a framework for a long-term regional solution which is underpinned by the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the related 1967 Protocol;

        (v)   enter urgent discussions between Australia and Indonesia to address the critical need for cooperation and effectiveness of intelligence sharing and resourcing between Australia and Indonesia in order to save lives at sea;

        (vi)   codify Australia's Safety of Life at Sea Convention 1974 obligations across all relevant government agencies and increase Australia's rescue capacity in Australia's northern waters; and

  (b)   resolves that a message be sent to the House of Representatives immediately to acquaint it with this resolution.

12:45 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

We have an opportunity today to deal with the big question in the public arena at the moment: whether the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 will resolve the issues we are looking at. I am obviously not a lawyer, but many lawyers would understand the mischief rule. The question is whether this legislation will stop the mischief. I think that this bill, unamended and without complementary policies, simply will not pass that basic test. The boats will keep coming if we support this legislation. I do not think there would be a dent in the traffic. Senator Brandis ably demonstrated that earlier with the numbers, when we were discussing implementation of this very policy.

Why do these people take the risks? We need to look very carefully at the demographics. These are not just groups of people; there are 14 million people in the world today seeking refugee settlement—not migration settlement but refugee settlement. There is a spectrum of those seeking refugee settlement, and they go all the way from those people who are concerned about their status—they are concerned that people are moving against them to persecute them, so it is pre-persecution, and they would rightly be considered refugees under the refugee convention—all the way around to people who have already suffered persecution and who are hiding and in fear of death. It is a huge spectrum.

Refugees under the convention are not all entitled equally to settlement; they are all entitled equally to the rights of a refugee. Because there are so many, the UNHCR has decided that there has to be a priority, a list. There are basically three fundamental categories, and at the top of the list is what the UNHCR refers to as the priority 1 list. The priority 1 list is generally not individuals but often a demographic or a spatial area. I understand that at the moment the priority 1 list refers to those individuals who are seeking refugee settlement more broadly in the Horn of Africa, and it deals specifically with individual groups in that area. They beyond all others clearly require urgent settlement. In a perfect world we would be able to find 14 million places so that people do not have to live in persecution. But we do not live in a perfect world, and that is simply not possible. But Australia does pull its weight. Our rate of humanitarian refugee intake per head of population is amongst the best in the world.

I have described before in this place the people in camps like Kakuma in Kenya. It is difficult to conceive just how bad their lives are, with persecution and levels of safety that even in some war-torn countries would be considered very bad. The security issues around places like Kakuma are appalling, and that is why we have to deal with the situation these people are in. Australia is a very attractive nation—it is a wonderful place to live. Many people around the world would like to visit Australia and move here, and it is the same with refugees. In these circumstances we need to make a clear decision. It is my personally held view, and the view of the coalition, that our humanitarian visa demographic should be filled with 100 per cent priority 1 cases and the family reunification demographic attached to that. That is, fundamentally, why we have the convention. We have all agreed to the rules that provide assistance to those who most need it.

The other thing that makes us such a popular destination, apart from the beauty of our country and all the aspects of Australia, is that at the moment it is seen certainly by those purveyors of human misery who traffic in human lives as a rolled-gold opportunity for permanent residence. It is not hard to sell it. We have only one Ayers Rock in Australia for the tourists, and we have the only permanent residency outcome in the world for people smugglers. That is why they target this country—because we have a policy under which if you land on our shores it is highly likely, outside of some severe security issues or some other issues that will affect a very small number of people, that you will get to live in this country permanently. People pay a lot of money for that. I do not want to say 100 per cent, but close to 100 per cent of the people who come here by boat are not on the priority 1 list, the list of people most in need.

These are very complex circumstances and they need a sophisticated policy response. The legislation we are looking at today has to be part of a suite of responses. From history, we absolutely know that offshore processing works. It is not a maybe. We know that, as part of a suite of initiatives, offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island clearly helped to create a disincentive. But one measure in isolation will never achieve the desired outcome. As I have said, a complex set of circumstances requires a sophisticated suite of policies.

Any policy discussion should start with the question, 'What are we trying to do today?' We are trying to stop the deaths. Those deaths will not happen if people are not in boats. So, in effect, we have to stop the boats. Why do the people come? They come because they can achieve a permanent outcome which is not achievable in other parts of the world. So we need to change that outcome. From all that, it is quite evident that an effective suite of policies would include stopping the boats and changing the outcome of permanent residency by reintroducing temporary protection visas. We know of course that those were elements of a previous government's policy and that that policy worked.

The Howard government did not suddenly or immediately arrive at the solution of offshore processing on Manus Island and Nauru, stopping the boats and introducing temporary protection visas. As everyone does, as any government does, we floundered. There were horrific party meetings about what we should do. It took us some time to arrive at the solutions we eventually came to. As you would in any new complex environment, you have a bit of a crack at this and then, if that does not work, you have a crack at that and maybe that does not work either, so you try something else and so on. We know the suite of measures we ended up with—turning back the boats, temporary protection visas and offshore processing—worked because we tried them and found them to work. We tried lots of other stuff, but this was the suite of measures which did work.

Sadly—but it is just how politics works—today those measures are seen to be John Howard's policies and therefore they are not available. I think that is very sad because they are tried-and-true policies which have worked and they are probably, in the immediate sense, the only ones that will work. They should be part of any suite of measures we introduce.

On the subject of stopping the trade, I commend Senator Milne for some of her remarks in one particular area. She asked, 'Why do we not act before the people are in the water?' It is a very good question. Why don't we act? If we were turning back the boats, Senator Milne, at 32 nautical miles off the coast—which is where the most recent vessel was when it sent its first distress signal—we would have scrambled boats; we would have got there, 32 miles off the coast. We would have turned the boat back; and we would have ensured that no lives were lost. I do not see the policy of turning the boats back as meaning we wait until they get here and then say, 'Off you go.' A far more sophisticated operational policy approach could save lives at sea. You might ask, 'Where is the evidence for that, Senator?' There were no lives lost at sea during the period we were turning back the boats.

I turn now to the issue of Malaysia. We do not have evidence, as we do with Manus Island and Nauru, that it would work operationally. It is just another place offshore, so I am assuming that, if it did work operationally, it would have pretty much the same impact as Nauru and Manus Island. Senator Brandis indicated earlier that it does not practically work and to me that sends a signal that no single one of these initiatives is going to achieve the desired outcome on its own.

The fact that, after so many deaths and after 332 vessels have got through, the boats continue to come sends me a very clear message that, without a comprehensive suite of legislative and policy measures, things will not change and the boats will continue to arrive. The Malaysia solution simply strips away any protection of human rights and the Malaysians do not have the very best history in that regard. It is not as if we are trying to protect people against something which is unknown. That is why we cannot and will not support this legislation without a significant amendment to ensure a level of protection which, at the moment, does not apply in Malaysia.

Sadly, this legislation represents a lost opportunity for all involved in this very complex space. It is a lost opportunity for the people languishing in Kakuma, a lost opportunity to do something about the criminals making millions of dollars trafficking in human misery, a lost opportunity for those on the other side and a lost opportunity for the Australian public. It is a very complex space and I think this legislation has let us all down. We have lost a great opportunity as a parliament.

This is one of those times when I know those on the other side are being fair dinkum about what they, individually, would wish to do. As a body, however, they are still looking at this through the prism of politics. I acknowledge that that happens and that it is a difficult thing to overcome. But I implore them to swallow their pride and immediately introduce legislation to restore temporary protection visas, send orders to stop the boats and introduce legislation to allow processing in countries which are signatories to the refugee convention.

12:58 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

As it is for many people in this place, this is an issue I feel very deeply about. Both my mother and father came here in boats—not under the threat of death or torture but in the hope of a better life. I understand better than most the courage required for the sacrifice involved and the sadness that comes with turning your back on your culture, your language and your traditions because you have lost hope. It is this legacy I bring to this debate. First and foremost, let us never forget that this is not a debate about boats; it is a debate about people who have fled their home countries because they fear death or persecution—mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. At the heart of this dilemma lies a central question: should we punish people who seek refuge in the hope that we prevent further suffering or should we protect them and provide them with the refuge they seek? I know there are many good people in this place who believe punishment is necessary because it acts as a deterrent to others and in doing so it might prevent further deaths. I also know there are others in this place who believe that punishment is necessary because they have never believed that refugees have a right to enter Australia by boat and that doing so somehow represents a violation of our borders. 'We decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come,' best reflects that sentiment. I am not going to spend any time on this argument except to say that many decades ago, in response to unimaginable cruelty, nations across the world gathered together to ensure that all people have a right to seek refuge. We are not just obliged to do it under international law; it is the moral thing to do, it is the right thing to do, it is the just thing to do. Rather than focus on that, I want to focus on safety at sea and deterrence because, like many good people in this place, I have been greatly disturbed by the recent deaths.

If our primary concern is the welfare of people making this perilous trip, we are not confronted with a simple choice between stopping deaths at sea and relative safety. It is much more complex than that. It is not a simple choice for the individuals involved and it is not a simple choice for those of us charged with deciding how to respond. The first question to answer is: does deterrence work? If the risk of death at sea is not a sufficient deterrent, it is hard to imagine that anything the government does will make a substantial difference. Just today I have heard from NGO workers in Indonesian who tell us that asylum seekers are aware of policies in Australia but that the threat to send people to Malaysia will not stop them. Only today we heard from Senator Milne who said there are many thousands of people in camps in Indonesia and Malaysia, yet despite those many thousands we have settled but a few.

I do not think anyone would argue that refugee movements for the large part are a reflection of broader international trends. And the fact that we are a wealthy, safe and democratic nation makes Australia a desirable location for people who seek our protection. I know that the coalition argue that their policy stopped the boats, despite the fact that, as Senator Milne said earlier, the sinking of the SIEVX, with over 350 people on board, occurred several years after the introduction of TPVs and months after the introduction of the Pacific solution. It is true that fluctuations in refugee numbers have occurred after changes in government policy but this is a case of correlation rather than causation. Just because something happened during your time in government does not mean you are responsible for it. I do however accept that these facts are contested. I also accept that, if this was a decision that carried no other consequences, there might even be an argument to test it. I understand the Australian community are desperately sad at what they have seen and they are reaching out for a solution—so too am I. That is why this is not simply an argument about deterrence and whether it works; there is much more to this debate than that.

If we do accept that government action plays some role in deterring people from embarking on a dangerous boat journey—and I do not accept that that is necessarily the case—there is still a much larger question to answer: should the government turn away people who are seeking our protection? Turning people away—even if it is for the right reasons—who have a genuine right to asylum and sending them back to countries which have not signed on to the refugee convention also has terrible costs. It means committing people who have already endured untold suffering to further suffering. Some people say, 'They have their lives,' but many refugees will say that such a life, a life without hope, is not a life worth living. They may not lose their lives at sea, they may not make the six o'clock news, but many die or suffer in silence. Some will take their own lives, young children are damaged and the suffering endures behind locked doors. It might not have the impact of a death at sea but their suffering is no less important.

I will never forget the great harm inflicted on the thousands of people who legitimately sought protection but were sent offshore to suffer away from the gaze of the Australian public—the suicides, the self harm, the kids who screamed in their sleep. That is the consequence of the bill we are being asked to consider today. There is also another great injustice at the heart of this bill—that we would punish one group of traumatised and vulnerable people who are legitimately seeking refuge and protection here on our shores, as is their right, simply to send a message to an entirely different group of people. We do not accept that for Australian citizens. We never have and we should never accept it for people from other nations who seek our protection. There has been a lot of talk over the past few days about policies that work, policies that are effective, policies that have made a difference. But the real reason we are here today is that we cannot agree on how we actually define a successful policy. What is a policy that works? We know that some people are going to argue that stopping the boats is all that matters and that is the only thing that is important. But I cannot ignore the fact that offering refuge to people in need of protection, not inflicting further suffering on an already traumatised group, is just as important. I have always believed that a wealthy country like Australia, a country with so much to give, should offer that protection because it is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Ultimately, though, I take my guidance from those people whose welfare we purport to protect, those fleeing torture and persecution in their home country, like the 14-year-old Pashtun kid living on the Pakistan border who watches his father and older brothers taken out of a bus and shot at point-blank range. He leaves his home country, fleeing the very real prospect of torture or death; he arrives in a transit country on our doorstep where he faces the threat of imprisonment, where he will never get a job or an education; and he makes the decision to come to Australia. From the perspective of a refugee like him, the decision to board a boat to come to Australia is an entirely logical one. Return to your home country or stay in a transit country and risk death or imprisonment, a life without any meaning or hope, or take that risk, knowing what it means, in the hope of a better life. For some this is simply the lesser of two evils.

I am not here in a show of party unity. That is not why I am here. I have wrestled with my conscience on this issue. I have looked for compromise, and I do understand that in politics, just as in life, compromise is important—it is essential. But I have always believed that real leadership means knowing when not to compromise, because compromise can soon become betrayal—betrayal of the refugees on board when the SIEVX sank and instructions were issued to prevent any of them reaching Australia via boat, and it was the Greens who stood up for them; betrayal of the values that I hold dear; and, above all, betrayal of people seeking our protection.

We are at a stage in this debate where we have reached at least some agreement. I believe there is consensus on action. It seems now that all of us in this place agree that we must increase our humanitarian intake, and I think that is progress. We all agree that we need to work with our neighbours, both Malaysia and Indonesia, to improve the way we process and care for asylum seekers. We agree that they need to have legal safeguards so that people are safe while they wait. In short, we all agree on the need for a regional solution. It seems we are also reaching agreement on the fact that we must adequately resource the UNHCR. There are such small numbers of people charged with the responsibility of processing the many thousands of men, women and children lingering in camps near our shores. As Senator Milne said earlier, with such limited capacity and such great need, it is no wonder that so many people are taking risks to come to Australia. We can do something about this problem today: we can adequately resource the UNHCR so that we process more people and provide a safe pathway for these people who have every right to seek refuge and our protection.

I would also say that in some ways this is a watershed debate. I know it might be a forlorn hope, but I do believe that many of us in this place are here with the best of intentions. The suggestion that we should have a multiparty committee to try and make progress on this issue is a good one. Why not meet behind closed doors, away from the glare of the media spotlight, and do our best to depoliticise this issue? Let us not pour any more fuel onto this fire. We also need to think about uncoupling the zero-sum game that comes from pitting onshore and offshore refugees against each other, by establishing quotas that work independently of each other. We heard from Senator Milne about the critical need to take concrete and practical steps to improve safety at sea for all people who seek to make this dangerous journey.

I know that not everyone will agree with our position. I know that. I have heard from some of them. I have spoken with some of them. I know some of them are angry. I know many of them understand. But it is a position taken in good conscience, knowing that there is no single right answer to this terrible, terrible dilemma. I say to those people who criticise our position that they are not just criticising us. They are criticising Amnesty International and the many other human rights groups we have spoken to and sought guidance from, the UNHCR, and the many thousands of NGO workers currently in camps, doing the work of processing refugees and trying to provide them with a pathway to a better life. I do understand that despite our best efforts and regardless of what we do here today some people will continue to take risks to come to Australia. I understand the courage and sacrifice that is necessary to take those risks. I also understand the deep sadness associated with that decision. But it has always been my belief and always will be my belief that we as a rich, prosperous, generous, compassionate nation have an obligation never to turn away people who seek our help and our protection and who seek to make their lives a little bit better.

1:15 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. Today we need to come here in a spirit of cooperation, not of conflict. The extraordinary debate that occurred yesterday in the other place and the debate that is occurring today in this place demonstrate that we cannot continue to sit by while men, women, children, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters die at sea pursuing the life that we enjoy in this free country. Today we need to pass legislation that stops the continuing tragic loss of life at sea. It is at this moment, in this place, that we will be judged by the Australian people. It is at this moment, in this place, that the Australian people will point and say, 'This the moment that you had to act.' Please do not let them have to add: 'Why didn't you?'

This bill was put forward by Mr Oakeshott, as we know. It is a bill that shows what can occur in the other place through compromise and negotiation. It is an example of what should occur in this place. Our goal, in this place, should not be to advance the interests of our respective parties but to advance the interests of the Australian people and to help those who seek our protection—it is their legal right to seek our protection, to seek asylum. After all, that is what we are here for. This is not the time to apportion blame. This is not the time for vitriolic shouting across the chamber. Quite frankly, the Australian people do not give a hoot about that.

This bill is supported by the government. It might not be the ideal solution to the problem, but it is a solution. As my dad used to tell me: 'If you want to get anything done, you have to make a start.' Today, Senators, we have to make a start. It would be easy to come into this place and say, 'It doesn't do what I want, so I won't support it.' It would be easy to walk into this place holding our pure, untarnished virtues. And it would be easy for you to walk out of this place, having voted against this bill, patting yourself on the back knowing that your pure virtues were still intact. You could stand up to the Australian people and proudly tell them: 'I didn't compromise! I didn't negotiate!' And people will continue to die at sea in the most horrific circumstances. Mothers will watch their children slip from their fingers, and you will continue to sit in this place with your shiny virtues intact. Fathers will try to save the ones they love, and be unable to, no matter how much they strive and struggle, and you will still hold onto your pure virtues. Aren't you lucky! Aren't you wonderful! But the Australian people will judge you and I believe they will judge you harshly.

As I said earlier, this bill is a compromise. The bill that went through the House of Representatives yesterday combines a key element of the government's policy, the arrangement with Malaysia, with a key element of the opposition's policy, a detention centre on Nauru. This is the only possible bill that we can pass in the Senate today. If we walk out of this place today having failed to pass this bill we will have failed the Australian people and those risking their lives at sea. More accurately, each of you who votes in opposition to this bill will have failed the Australian people and those seeking refuge.

Labor has agreed to a key element of the opposition's proposal—processing on Nauru. It is now time for the opposition and the Greens to move a little. The government has been advised very clearly that our arrangement with Malaysia will be an effective deterrent. We have been very clearly advised by the same experts who advised the opposition when they were in government. But we have seen that, despite the risks of travelling at sea, people are still willing to take the risk. We must stop this. We must stop people putting their lives at the kind of unnecessary risk that has resulted in loss of life such as that we have seen in the last few days. We have to stop people being exploited by criminally negligent people smugglers who do not care about the people whose lives they put at unnecessary risk. We need to say to the people smugglers: 'You can no longer pretend to asylum seekers who get on your boats that they will end up in Australia.' They will not end up in Australia. Under our arrangement with Malaysia they will end up in Malaysia. Of course, because we have adopted part of the opposition's plan there will be a detention centre on Nauru.

We are all concerned with ensuring that those people are treated properly. We have negotiated human rights protections with Malaysia. Under the arrangement, transferees would be treated with dignity and respect and in accordance with human rights standards. They would have access to self-reliance opportunities, including employment, and to an appropriate level of essential health care, and school-age children would also have access to education, which is, of course, critically important. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNHCR, was closely consulted and involved in negotiations with both governments in the lead-up to the signing of the arrangement. The UNHCR's comments shaped the final text of the arrangement. Its involvement was crucial to both Australia and Malaysia. Those opposite cannot logically argue that people should only be sent to countries which are signatories to the refugee convention while at the same time arguing that they should be sent to a country which is not a signatory to the refugee convention. I would like to remind those opposite that Nauru was not a signatory to the UNHCR convention when they implemented the Pacific solution. Despite their concerns today, the opposition did not hold the same concerns when they were in government.

The key thrust of this bill is to introduce membership of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime as the basis for eligibility as an offshore processing country. The bill is premised on Australia's interest in working in partnership with regional countries under the Bali process and the Regional Cooperation Framework. The government secured the agreement of the Bali process to establish the Regional Cooperation Framework with the objective of securing a long-term and sustainable approach. The Bali process is a key regional forum involving 43 member countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. It is a forum which enables key countries to be involved in a regional solution to this challenge. It is only by acting regionally that we can make a difference, and so we must act with the help of our regional friends and allies.

I take a moment to speak to one part of the opposition's policies. Their idea of threatening to turn the boats around is dangerous and ineffective. When in the past people smugglers faced the threat of having their boats turned back, they simply sabotaged their own boats, putting the lives of the people on board at risk. This will not reduce the number of deaths at sea. Reports have revealed documents from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service from 2010 that analyse the coalition's 'turning back the boats' policy of 2001. I quote:

There were very few benign or compliant boardings under the policy, and a pattern of objectionable and belligerent behaviour quickly became evident … PIIs [potential irregular immigrants] frequently became hostile and occasionally inflicted self-harm …

Or another quote:

Even if there was consent to the vessel being turned back, Border Protection Command notes that when it boards these vessels, nearly all of the vessels are found in a poor condition and poorly maintained. It is therefore difficult in many situations to properly determine that the vessel would be seaworthy enough to allow the vessel to continue on without the loss of life.

It is a policy that the United Nations refugee chief said breaches the refugee convention, a policy that was recently found to be illegal in the European Court of Human Rights. It will put the lives of refugees and the Australian Navy and rescue personnel at risk as well. It has done so in the past and it will do so in the future—and this is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to the people of Australia and it should be unacceptable to this place. The opposition's policy, despite their claims, does not work as a deterrent for stopping people hopping on boats and travelling to Australia.

I want to speak for a minute about temporary protection visas, because I think I heard Senator Scullion mention them. Temporary protection visas did not work in Australia. With the overwhelming majority of people on them ending up as permanent Australian residents, they are hardly a deterrent. If the coalition are so sure of TPVs, why did they reject an independent inquiry into their effectiveness? We know that more than 95 per cent of TPV holders were irregular maritime arrivals and that they went on to get permanent visas to live in Australia. The harsh TPV conditions preventing family reunions also forced more women and children to risk their lives by jumping into leaky boats. Temporary protection visas did not stop boats arriving. These human beings deserve to be treated with respect. This parliament can no longer not act to ensure that they are treated with that respect; it must go to saving lives.

As a former member of the migration committee, I visited some detention centres. I heard the horrific stories about the places that these people were fleeing from. They are real horror stories. I have also read the Anh Do book, The happiest refugee. If I can suggest anything to anybody in this place it is that they read this book if they have not read it. They will find it hard to put down. There are some parts of it that are quite humorous, of course. He is a comedian. The book is about his true journey in a boat from Vietnam to Australia. Part of his journey involves pirates boarding the boat and other things that were happening on the boat, including them having to be down in the engine rooms and things like that. This part literally made me want to throw up; it was an awful, awful part of the book. However, it was a great book all in all, and I highly recommend it. So I would suggest that people read it. It is a true and honest account of just one person's trip to Australia, and it is well worth people investing a couple of hours of their time to look at it.

Today we have a chance to resolve this issue. We have a chance to leave this parliament before the winter break with legislation in place to prevent the loss of life that we have seen. The House of Representatives reached an extraordinary compromise yesterday. It showed the best of parliamentary process, when individuals with vastly different political opinions came together in the spirit of compromise. Today, let's not show the people of Australia the worst of parliamentary process. Instead, let's show them that we can come together in this place and pass legislation which will prevent further tragedy from occurring. I believe it is what a large majority of the people want. Ultimately, this bill is about saving lives. The government believes that the best way to prevent people from hopping onto boats and risking their lives on dangerous journeys is through offshore processing as part of a proper regional framework, because it removes the product that people smugglers are selling: permanent resettlement to Australia.

I cannot stress how important this bill is. Senator Di Natale asked, 'What is a policy that works?' and it is a legitimate question. To me the answer is that if the policy saves one life it is a policy that works. If a policy saves more than one life, then obviously it is a policy that works. If this bill passes today it will save lives. That is how important it is.

I would like to reiterate some of the issues of concern I have. One, in particular, concerns the temporary protection visas. Ninety-five per cent of people on temporary protection visas ended up being resettled in Australia. They had some fairly harsh conditions attached to them, one of which was preventing family reunions. So in actual fact I think TPVs added to the number of people seeking asylum, because women and children wanted to be with their husbands and fathers—however their family might be made up. So they would jump on the boats and risk their lives to be together. If we were to put ourselves in the position of these people, under the same circumstances we would resort to this sort of action. It is unfortunate they have to resort to this sort of action, but I am pretty sure it is one I would resort to. I would do anything to save my children's lives or get away from the horrific activities taking place in the countries from which these people are fleeing.

The government has been advised very clearly that the arrangement with Malaysia will be an effective deterrent. We have been very clearly advised by the same people who advised the opposition when they were in government, so I am not quite sure why that advice is not acceptable to the opposition now. If we walk out of here today without having passed this bill I think we will still see people put their lives at risk, because they have no other options. I call on senators to think about this. I understand that it is a very emotive debate for a lot of people—probably for everyone. It is not something we were planning on negotiating this week; I understand that as well. But a good policy to me is one that will save a life. This will save a lot more than one life. I commend the bill to the Senate.

1:33 pm

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to make a contribution to this very important debate on the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. I would like to begin by saying that my thoughts, and I am sure the thoughts of all of my colleagues, are with those personnel from Customs and the Royal Australian Navy who have in recent days faced a harrowing task on the high seas rescuing those who are in the water and retrieving the corpses of the dead from the embrace of the sea. I am sure that all of us are thinking of them, and of the stresses they face, and are mindful of the fact that while we are here in this place debating this issue they are serving us and their country in that very difficult role.

The Senate today faces a simple choice. It is a choice between on the one hand sticking to fixed ideological positions and refusing to face up to our responsibilities, which of course in my judgment would be a betrayal of our duty as parliamentarians, and on the other hand passing a bill that is not perfect, one that does not meet all of the requirements of any of the parties but offers some prospects of dealing with the very serious problems we face.

There are, for all intents and purposes, three parties in the Senate: the government, the coalition and the Greens. We have differing positions on what to do about this problem, but this Senate can never pass any legislation unless at least two of those three parties join together to pass it. On this issue the parliament will remain impotent and the problem will continue to fester unless two of the three parties here face up to their responsibilities and pass a bill that addresses the problem of unauthorised boat arrivals. That bill inevitably will be a compromise. It will not meet all of the requirements of any party. That is the nature of compromise. But since no one party has a majority here we in fact have a duty to compromise.

The government has put forward a bill that embodies a compromise between our position and that of the coalition. It has not been an easy thing for us to do. Many of us are unhappy about it but we accept that it is our duty as the government party to take that initiative. Oppositions also have duties, although in recent years that fact seems to have been lost in this Senate. It is true, as Lord Randolph Churchill said, that the first duty of an opposition is to oppose. But it is not the only duty an opposition has. Sometimes the duty of an opposition is to put the national interest first and come to a compromise with other parties. That is what Kim Beazley did in 2001, in the wake of the Tampa affair. I well remember the storm of criticism that Kim Beazley endured from both Labor Party MPs and supporters for supporting in many respects what John Howard did in response to the Tampa incident. And of course the main beneficiary of that storm was the Greens party, who benefited from the large number of Labor voters who were offended by the stand Kim Beazley took at that time. But it was a price that Kim Beazley was willing to pay because he was a patriot who saw that the national interest had to come ahead of party interest.

In his remarks to this Senate, Senator Scullion talked about the need for a sophisticated policy response. I entirely agree with him. But alas we have not seen a sophisticated policy response from those opposite. Rather, we have seen a slogan, 'Stop the boats'—a slogan empty of the sophistication that Senator Scullion called upon this Senate to employ. Senator Scullion accused the government of being fixated on the prism of politics when alas it is the prism of politics that has fascinated and trapped those opposite. We have an opposition that puts party interest ahead of the national interest. It is the empty slogan of 'Stop the boats' that has handcuffed the opposition from playing its proper role here today.

The damage that will be done if the coalition parties reject this legislation will be immediate. There will be damage in the form of more people risking their lives at sea and, tragically, it will inevitably result in more people losing their lives at sea. There will be damage in the form of the diversion of our defence assets from their tasks of defending Australia to the task of border protection. Our defence personnel perform this difficult and dangerous work without complaint. But it is not what they enlisted to do and it is not what the Australian taxpayer is paying our Defence Force to do. That is the responsibility that the opposition will incur if they reject this legislation today. That is the odium that they will bear. That is their choice.

It might be said that the Greens will bear a share of that odium, because they are also intending to oppose this legislation. I agree that it is unfortunate that the Greens are continuing to oppose this legislation. But the Greens at least enjoy the virtue of being consistent. They have always been opposed to offshore processing of unauthorised boat arrivals. That is their position and they are sticking to it. The Greens have always preferred to vote for 100 per cent of nothing rather than 80 per cent of something. That is, tragically, the conduct of a protest movement that has senators in this place.

But the coalition parties have no such excuse, because they have always been in favour of offshore processing. They were perfectly happy to send unauthorised boat arrivals to Nauru and Manus. The coalition are not opposing this bill because they are opposed to the principle of offshore processing. So why indeed is the coalition opposing this legislation? They say that they want offshore processing and we are offering offshore processing. They say that they want to send unauthorised boat arrivals to Nauru and we are agreeing to make that possible, despite the fact that many on our side in this chamber are opposed to it. They say that they want to bring back temporary protection visas, and we have agreed to a bipartisan and independent examination of that possibility—again against our better judgment and against the strong convictions of many on this side. We have shown our willingness to compromise all along the line and the coalition has shown none.

Why is that? Is it because the coalition is in fact interested in policy outcomes? Not at all. The coalition is interested only in political victory. This is the prism of politics that Senator Scullion spoke of. Physician, heal thyself. The coalition are concerned only with blocking any initiative that comes from this Labor government or, for that matter, from the Independent members in the other place. Senator Scullion also called upon the government to swallow its pride. Our pride has been swallowed. This is a bill that was moved by an Independent member of the House of Representatives. We saw that as an appropriate mechanism for ending the political stalemate that has so bedevilled this issue. As the Prime Minister said, no-one wins, no-one loses and we get something done. The opposition are determined to render this parliament impotent and unworkable to further their demands for an early election. This opposition is concerned solely with politics, with opinion polls and with short-term advantage.

1:41 pm

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the debate be now adjourned.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on a point of order, Acting Deputy President. Is there any opportunity to speak on this motion?

Photo of Trish CrossinTrish Crossin (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a procedural motion. There is no opportunity to do that.

1:42 pm

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—In order to facilitate the future business for today, the motion that we dealt with at commencement was limited to the period before question time. I will seek leave to move a motion that will deal with the business program for the remainder of the day.

Question agreed to.