Thursday, 28 February 2013
Suspension of Standing Orders
Pursuant to contingent notice and on behalf of Senator Milne, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Milne moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to give precedence to a motion relating to the vilification of refugees and asylum seekers.
The last 24 hours have been an absolute low point for the opposition—scaremongering, dog whistling and the vilification of refugees and asylum seekers. Linking allegations of a serious sexual assault on a young woman to the Liberals' nasty, dog whistling politics of the day is simply revolting. Trying to suggest that all refugees and asylum seekers are criminals and that they should be put on a community alert list is nothing short of vilification. Fearmongering and whipping up hatred—that is what we have had from the opposition over the last 24 hours.
It is vitally important that, as members of this place, we stand up when we see this type of horrid, revolting dog whistling behaviour. It is absolutely paramount that, when there are people who are fanning hatred, fanning the flames of vilification, fearmongering and spreading nasty rumours rather than fact—which is what the opposition have continued to do over the last 24 hours—we call them on it. We have a responsibility as the lawmakers of this country to uphold the law. What the opposition's immigration spokesperson suggested yesterday was that, just because somebody is a refugee or asylum seeker, they have to abide by different laws than everybody else.
Thankfully there are some well-meaning and sensible people within the opposition who understand the rule of law. I congratulate Russell Broadbent and Mal Washer for standing up against this type of fearmongering and hatred being spread by the opposition—not just today but on a daily basis. How disgusting—to exploit an alleged serious assault on a young woman for their own political advantage. That is precisely what we saw the opposition doing yesterday and today. It is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy President: I thought this was a motion to establish urgency—to convince the Senate that there was a need to dispense with the Senate's normal program in order to deal with this. So far I have heard Senator Hanson-Young debate the substantive issue but have not heard one word about why we should be doing it today rather than at the appropriate time.
Thankfully, people like Russell Broadbent and Mal Washer are willing to speak up against this type of hatred—unlike Senator Abetz who, when he arrived this morning, suggested that, because asylum seekers might not have proper language skills or had perhaps been traumatised by their experiences in their home countries, they are so much of a risk to the community that they should be on a community alert list. Senator Abetz this morning said:
… I would have thought it'd be a good idea to say that somebody's moving next door to you that might not be able to have all the language skills that you might normally expect, or that they come from a traumatised background.
What is next? How low are the coalition prepared to go in their vilification of innocent people? Trying to tar all refugees and asylum seekers because it suits the opposition's politics of the day is simply revolting.
One of the reasons it is important that this parliament make a very clear statement that we will reject the vilification of refugees and asylum seekers is that the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, would not himself do this today. He has, yes, refused to rein Mr Morrison in. Despite the fact that Senator Abetz was right there, willing to gee him up, spread the hate and stoke the fire, Mr Abbott has not yet decided to speak out clearly against this type of hatred. It is time he did. It is important we vote on this today because it is things like this which contribute to the type of community, the type of society, we are. If we have elected representatives whipping up fear—fearmongering, spreading hate and asking people to do it with them—then shame on them. This parliament needs to make a very clear statement that we will not accept the vilification of refugees and asylum seekers. (Time expired)
The (—) (): If the Australian Greens were genuine about this they would not be coming into this place so grossly and wilfully misrepresenting that which has been said, trying to take to this issue with an egg beater to whip it up into something it is not. The suggestion about a register was not mentioned by me; it was in fact mentioned as a result of a question to me by journalists about paedophiles being put on a register. I addressed that and I then said, 'And if I might say, I wouldn't put the two'—namely, paedophiles and asylum seekers—'in the same category, necessarily.' That is what I said.
In relation to notifying the community about immigrants, can I quickly—I do not do this often—share my own life story. I am an immigrant to this country. I could not speak one word of English when I arrived. Nor could Senator Arthur Sinodinos, for that matter. We were dropped into school so we could learn English and could undertake grade 1. Do you know why it is helpful for social harmony to tell somebody that they might be having people living next door who cannot speak the language? It is helpful for social harmony so that when somebody shouts across the fence 'G'day, mate,' and they do not answer, it is not because they are snobs but because they do not understand. Those of us who have personally lived the immigrant experience and know about it understand these things and believe that it is helpful to tell the community that they might have somebody next-door who cannot speak English. That is what the local Good Neighbour Council did way back in the 1960s when we arrived in a Hydro house in Tasmania. People then understood that we might not know what some of the salutations were.
It is about social harmony; it is about people understanding the issues. Those of us who have actually lived the experience know this. Those who seek to take up this issue for cheap political point scoring—at least we were spared the tears from Senator Hanson-Young this time—should not be telling people such as me, who have personally lived this sort of experience, that what we are saying is designed to vilify immigrants to this country. It is good to let people—the local police and health services—know that there might be somebody in the community who will need their assistance. I have raised this issue at Senate estimates in the past. It is all about social cohesion, letting people know so that they can understand—
I am not sure what Senator Ludlam interjected, but yet again when they are confronted with a genuine, real immigrant life story that does not suit them, they have to vilify it. Yet it is us who are allegedly vilifying. I simply say to Senator Hanson-Young that she now has a reputation in this country for deliberately whipping up these issues to gain attention and to get together that 10 per cent of the vote that she will need to retain her Senate seat. She is doing it on the back of deliberate social division. It is socially destructive; it is not helpful at all. Migrants appreciate it when people know they are from a migrant background and might not have all the language skills they need. People of good will in the neighbourhood—and organisations like the Good Neighbour Council—will be willing to assist and work with them. When members of the community say 'G'day mate' over the fence and get no response they will not be saying, 'Those migrants are snobs, aren't they; they don't even say g'day' because they will know those immigrants do not understand. People will be able to properly communicate and assist them.
Honourable senators interjecting—
It is amazing—I am being hectored and lectured; people who have not lived the experience are telling me what I should have experienced. That says it all about the Australian Greens—they know it better than those of us who have actually lived the experience. (Time expired)
The government does not believe precedence should be given to this motion on the vilification of refugees and asylum seekers. As much as we are concerned about the vilification of refugees and asylum seekers, within about half an hour of us establishing today the agreed program of business Senator Hanson-Young sought leave to move this motion, having given no prior notice in the chamber. We were subsequently apprised that the Greens may attempt, if leave was not granted, to suspend standing orders. If Senator Hanson-Young wants to debate this issue, there are other opportunities today. In fact, general business is a component of this afternoon's program.
The substantive motion requests the Senate to reject the vilification of refugees and asylum seekers. There was no indication of the context or the urgency of the matter. Senator Hanson-Young has subsequently raised some issues, as she did in question time as well. None of these issues are matters of sufficient urgency to disrupt the agreed program, particularly given the other opportunities in the program for these issues to be canvassed.
I stand up to support this motion. It is urgent that the parliament condemn absolutely the idea that you would vilify asylum seekers and refugees, that you would try to marginalise them, that you would give a signal to the Australian people that it is legitimate to speak in the manner that the member for Cook, Mr Morrison, has done. That is why it is urgent. We need to stop this immediately before the shock jocks around the country get what they want—that is, to be able to amplify hatred on the airwaves. That is what this is about, that is why it is urgent, and that is why we need a statement from all political parties in this country condemning that behaviour.
For Senator Abetz to stand in here and pretend that what is going on is the equivalent of the Good Neighbour Council is an affront to decency in this country. I can say, having come from Tasmania, that people have been kind to refugees in Tasmania for a very long time, including to Senator Abetz's own family. For him to turn around now and suggest, as Mr Morrison has done, that it is important that the government look at ensuring that police in particular are advised of people being released into the community in their jurisdiction so that police are at least aware—that is a watch list. That is nothing to do with anything like what the Good Neighbour Council did or with so many other charities and so many other good people in the community who have worked very hard and continue to work very hard for the wellbeing of asylum seekers and refugees. So let us just dismiss that immediately and examine how disingenuous Senator Abetz was in the remarks he made.
I want to come back to the matter at hand. Of course, with the member for Cook, Mr Morrison, this is not the first time this has happened. Everyone will recall February 2011, when asylum seekers were being flown to Sydney for the funerals of relatives following that terrible boat accident on Christmas Island. What he said at the time was:
The Government had the option of having these services on Christmas Island. If relatives of those who were involved wanted to go to Christmas Island, like any other Australian who wanted to attend a funeral service in another part of the country, they would have made their own arrangements to be there.
… … …
And when it comes to the question of do I think this is a reasonable cost then my honest answer is, "No I don't think it is reasonable".
He is on the record. He did not think it was reasonable that children—children!—were facilitated in going to the funerals of their relatives who died in that terrible boating tragedy.
Furthermore, let us remember that it was Mr Morrison who—at a Liberal Party meeting in December at which shadow ministers were asked to bring three ideas for issues on which the coalition should concentrate its political attack during this parliamentary term—said that they should focus on Muslim immigration, Muslims in Australia and the inability of Muslim migrants to integrate.
This person has form on trying to capitalise on the misfortune of other people and trying to legitimise the vilification of those people, and it is a disgrace. As was said this morning by one of his own colleagues, everybody should be equal under the law in Australia. Everyone should be equal under the law. You do not put certain people on police watch lists—as Mr Morrison says because he wants to beat up fear and vilification and exploit that for the coalition going into the election. We had a 2001 election fought on that basis, and I do not want to see it happen again.
That is why it is urgent that we get up today, every one of us from across all political parties, and say: vilification of asylum seekers and refugees is unacceptable. We do not want treatment of people to be determined by the prejudice and the mean-spiritedness of people who want to stand up and give the foghorn, the echo chamber, out there to the shock jocks, which will make certain people in the community think it is legitimate to go and threaten the safety of those people in the community.
Let me tell you: there are 8,700 asylum seekers, or thereabouts, living in the community. Are you saying that it is okay to vilify all of them because you choose to do so to make a political point? It is cheap politics. (Time expired)
As Senator Abetz indicated, the opposition will not be supporting a suspension of standing orders, but not because we seek to deny the opportunity for Senator Hanson-Young to have her motion put to a vote. We obviously support the right of all senators to have their motions put to a vote, but there are forms and there are processes in this place. Senator Hanson-Young gave notice this afternoon of her motion. The practice in this place is that motions are not debated on the same day that notice is given.
Without wanting to get into the substantive elements of the motion that Senator Hanson-Young seeks to move—this is a procedural debate—I note that Senator Hanson-Young's motion did not provide any context as to the reasons for the motion. The motion itself did not state who was allegedly doing the vilification. In Senator Hanson-Young's contribution, she did canvass, in the form of debate, some of those matters. Given that latitude has been given to Senator Hanson-Young in relation to those elements, I will also touch on some elements that might be more appropriately considered as debate, Mr Deputy President.
The prime concern of the opposition in relation to these matters is the welfare of people who come by boat to this nation seeking asylum, seeking the opportunity to make application for asylum. I think it is important that we go back to why we find ourselves in this situation. That is because the Labor Party and the Australian Greens together sought to systematically dismantle the arrangements that the Howard government had in place. Yes, we know that the arrangements that were put in place by the Howard government were the subject of great debate. Not everyone liked the measures that were put in place by the Howard government. But what is unarguable is that they were effective. The boats did stop. There were only a handful of people who were in detention at the time that the Howard government left office.
Our prime objective is to stop people being put in harm's way in the first place. We do not want people to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous people smugglers. We want people to not be in harm's way. We have seen a dramatic increase—month by month, year by year—since 2007 in the numbers of people who are put in harm's way. That is why we find ourselves in this situation where there are something of the order of 8,000 or 9,000 or 10,000 people on bridging visas who have been placed in the community.
What the opposition is seeking to do is to have a freeze placed on people who have arrived by boat and are on bridging visas being placed in the community, until a review can be completed. The review would look at the circumstances in which people are placed in the community, where people are placed in the community and who should most appropriately be notified of those community placements. The rationale for notification of authorities is not to have individuals on some sort of a watch list. It is so that people like the police have a greater awareness of the various elements in the community that they are responsible for policing. There is another element and that is concern for the welfare of people have been placed in the community, because people who arrive by boat and who have made application for asylum are often vulnerable and can be taken advantage of. What the opposition is proposing is intended for their welfare. That is the starting point and the end point for the opposition. We do not want people to be put in harm's way getting to this country and we may want to make sure that the community and people seeking asylum are safe. (Time expired)
I too rise to speak to this procedural motion and to indicate, as Senator Abetz and Senator Fifield did, that the opposition will not be supporting Senator Hanson-Young's motion. As the Manager of Government Business in the Senate stated, the motion merely calls on the Senate to reject the vilification of asylum seekers and refugees. The motion does not explain why it is urgent and why it has to be debated following question time today. As the Manager of Government Business correctly pointed out, there are ample opportunities for Senator Hanson-Young—if she chooses to follow due process as the rest of us on both sides of this chamber have to do—to have her motion debated. However, Senator Hanson-Young—clearly because the Greens vote is dwindling—has decided to pull a stunt in the Senate this afternoon. I am quite sure that, if she is given the opportunity to speak again, she will only highlight that.
The motion that Senator Hanson-Young wants to move calls on this Senate to stop the vilification of refugees and asylum seekers—
Or to reject the vilification. The last time I checked, the Australian government takes the vilification of anybody in this country exceptionally seriously. We have a number of laws in place that specifically prohibit this type of behaviour. Further, the head of the United Nations acknowledges that Australia has the most generous humanitarian settlement services program in the world. I, for one, am exceptionally proud of that fact. It was the former Howard government that took steps to increase the number of people who come to Australia under this program. It was the former Howard government that added additional funds to this program. To say that in any way the opposition condones the vilification of asylum seekers and refugees is clearly not borne out by the facts. It may be borne out by the histrionics of the Greens but, when you take a step back and look at the facts, it is clearly not the case.
Merely because the shadow minister for immigration raises a concern with what is an exceptionally serious incident does not mean that he and the opposition are racist. It means that, following a certain incident, we have grave concerns for the people of western Sydney who I know consistently raise these issues with members of the coalition. The Greens want to try to shut down the debate on the issue that Australia has with asylum seekers. The Greens do not like Australia having strong border protection laws. That is anathema to the Greens.
Whenever the shadow minister for immigration raises a serious concern with government policy or response to an incident in the community, it does not matter how practical his comments are. He is almost immediately vilified by the Greens. The Greens are the party who would say to the Australian people, 'We believe in freedom of speech but we find the comments of the shadow minister for immigration offensive.' That is absolutely hypocritical, to say the least. All that the shadow minister for immigration has done is highlight what is now an issue with the government's policy and the fact that it needs to be reviewed.
Just when you think this debate cannot get any lower and the opposition cannot plumb new depths, they manage to surprise you. They do it with some of the most reprehensible and appalling dog whistle politics that we have seen on this debate so far. We had Senator Abetz this morning saying that we need to be careful about people moving into our neighbourhoods who do not speak English.
My grandmother came to this country and was here for 50 years. She came as somebody who was a migrant from Italy. She was illiterate. She spent 50 years in this country and she did not speak any English. She managed to produce a family of lawyers, teachers, factory workers and doctors. She made a huge contribution to this country. What Senator Abetz said this morning was not just a slight on people seeking protection in this country under the law as they are entitled to do; it was a slight on all of those people who come to this country under difficult circumstances and facing enormous challenges—people like my family. I thought that this debate could not get any lower and yet it has.
The question now for Mr Abbott is: where does he sit on all of this? What is his view about how we should be treating people who come to this country seeking our protection? Should they be treated equally under the law, as we have a long-established principle in this country of doing, or are we going to continue with the dog whistle? What concerns me is where we have got to in this debate. How much lower can we go than we got to today? (Time expired)