Senate debates

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Asylum Seekers

3:29 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Bob Carr) to a question without notice asked by the Leader of the Australian Greens (Senator Milne) today relating to the treatment of asylum seekers.

The questions were about refugees and the issue of fleeing violence, war and ethnic cleansing in our region and further afield, and how refugees are treated when they reach Australia. Minister Bob Carr gave an extraordinary interview on Lateline last night, right in the teeth of the remarkable events of yesterday, which some, certainly from the crossbenches, are starting to feel are getting more than a little repetitive. Nonetheless, following the extraordinary events of yesterday, Minister Carr conducted an extraordinary and quite offensive interview with Tony Jones on Lateline, where he effectively laid out where it appears the Labor Party wanted to take the refugee issue as a political tactic, if you will—not as a humanitarian emergency but as a cheap political tactic. Mr Jones asked Minister Bob Carr what Kevin Rudd, the new Prime Minister, is likely to do to change the national conversation—as it was put. Minister Carr, looking down his nose on those of noble sentiments on the issue, wanted, I think, to redefine what we think of as a refugee in the first place.

This so-called spike—this huge number of people who are on the move not just into Australia but around the world—is a political inconvenience for the Labor Party, who have never had the backbone to stand up to the gutter tactics of the opposition and have simply followed them into the gutter. If that has become politically inconvenient enough that it looks as though it might lose them seats, then why don't we just redefine what we call a 'refugee'? Minister Carr said:

… we've reached the view that as a result of court and tribunal decisions, it's coming up wrong. We need a tougher, more hard-edged assessment.

Of the people fleeing these situations of horror and violence overseas 93-odd per cent are being found to be refugees—the courts are delivering the wrong answer. So in Minster Carr's assessment we need a tougher, more hard-edged assessment. What he means by that is that we will just change the definition. At the stroke of a pen you are not a refugee at all. You are just some kind of economic parasite using the agency of the people smuggler networks. You are no longer able to call on Australia for safe harbour, as people have been able to do since the horror of the Second World War and the aftermath of that, with the drafting of the refugee conventions. Minister Carr's assessment, whether he is trying to lead the direction a future Rudd government will take or whether he is just off on some tangent of his own, is to redefine those people as not being refugees at all. He said:

… they're not people fleeing persecution. They're coming from majority religious or ethnic groups in the countries their fleeing, they're coming here as economic migrants.

…   …   …

… there is an unsustainable spike in their numbers.

So it has become an unsustainable political inconvenience for those in the Labor Party—good people many of them—who stood with the Greens in former times against the horrors and the excesses of the way in which the Howard government conducted the gutter politics on people fleeing violence and persecution. Now, the Labor Party has joined them there.

Last night, and again in question time this afternoon in response to Senator Milne, Minister Carr raised the stakes even further. The courts are doing something inconvenient by finding these pesky refugees, in the range of 93 to 95 per cent, to be genuine refugees. This is a very small number relative to our overall population, but the numbers are larger than we have known before, because of the instability and violence in our region and what people have suffered in the last few years. If that has become politically inconvenient to the Labor Party then why not just redefine them as economic refugees. If you have 50 bucks in your pocket or you have been able to pay somebody to get you on a boat, rather than spending the rest of your life in some camp in a so-called queue that is going nowhere, you are an economic migrant according to Foreign Minister Bob Carr.

The Greens will stand against this kind of abuse—this kind of cheap political tactic at the expense of some of the most vulnerable people on earth. The Greens will insist that Australia remain a safe harbour for people fleeing wars and ethnic cleansing in our region and in other parts of the world. If the Labor Party is choosing to abandon that principle in the teeth of an election, for however long the new Prime Minister decides it should take before there is an election—and let it be sooner rather than later—we will take that issue right up through and beyond the next election so that people will have no doubt at all who is maintaining that humanitarian spirit in this parliament. I hope the Labor Party will rethink this one and that somebody draws Minister Carr back into line.

Question agreed to.