Monday, 14 July 2014
Regulations and Determinations
Migration Amendment (Bridging Visas–Code of Behaviour) Regulation 2013; Disallowance
That the Migration Amendment (Bridging Visas—Code of Behaviour) Regulation 2013, as contained in Select Legislative Instrument 2013 No. 269 and made under the Migration Act 1958, be disallowed [F2013L02102].
Last day to resolve the motion or the instrument will be deemed to have been disallowed.
This list of behaviour protocols is a regulation that was flagged by Tony Abbott's coalition prior to the last election. That we have known about it for quite some time does not make it right. It does not make it okay to start segregating different groups of people by saying that some people have to abide by different laws to others. The ridiculous thing about this protocol is that it is simply listing what law-abiding citizens in this country should be doing anyway. Of course this is not about practicality; this is not about adding anything to the needs of asylum seekers or indeed about the safety of the community; this is all about vilification of asylum seekers and refugees.
This code of behaviour states that individuals must not: disobey road rules, commit sexual offences, commit any criminal activity, harass, intimidate, bully or engage in any other antisocial or disruptive behaviour. I would hope that no-one out there in the community would be participating in these types of activities. But the whole idea of needing a code of behaviour just for someone who is on a bridging visa because they arrived by boat is absolutely ludicrous. When this policy was announced by Mr Morrison, the coalition spokesperson on this issue and now the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, it was laughed at. It was not just laughed at but held up as a pathetic attempt to try and divide and to drive a divisive wedge into the Australian community.
It was no none other than Dennis Shanahan, who, as we all know, is one of Australia's most conservative commentators, said that these protocols were a load of 'nonsense'. I must say, if Mr Shanahan has a problem with this you must think it has probably gone way too far. Mr Shanahan said 'I think this is a bridge too far for the coalition. I do not think you can suggest that everybody should have a warning attached to them. What are they supposed to wear? A scarlet letter 'A' for asylum seeker?'
The precise point here is the coalition is so obsessed with hating asylum seekers and refugees, so obsessed with whipping up fear about these vulnerable people just because of the mode in which they reach Australia that they come up with a list of protocols to say to the rest of the Australian people that asylum seekers are all so bad we have to whole new set of laws just to manage their behaviour. What an outrageous slur on the thousands and thousands of people who have come to this country over generations as asylum seekers and refugees and settled in this country peacefully, cooperatively and have done so with the very real commitment of contributing to our great nation. The idea that we have to—in order to satisfy Mr Abbott's and Mr Morrison's fearmongering on asylum seekers and refugees—have a special protocol to tell people to abide by the law is beyond me. This is about vilifying a group of people because of who they are, where they have come from and how they arrived. I do not step back from saying that at all. That is all this is. It is about fearmongering by the minister of Tony Abbott's government.
The code of behaviour is one page long. You have to sign your name and agree that you will not do any of these 'antisocial activities' and that you will abide by Australian law. The ridiculous thing about this is that, if somebody breaks the law, we have an Australian criminal justice system that deals with it. It deals with most law-breakers pretty well, whether you were born here or not. The whole idea of a special set of laws is to send a message to those out in the electorate that the coalition like pushing their buttons. They are saying: 'Asylum seekers and refugees should be feared. They are bad people. They are so bad we had to come up with a whole new set of laws to manage their behaviour.' What a load of nonsense, as Dennis Shanahan so rightly put it.
There are members within the coalition's own ranks that can already see that this is an appalling abuse not just of government authority in the form of being able to put forward legislation that controls people's lives and send very dangerous messages out to people in the electorate. There are many in the coalition who are sickened by how low this government has been prepared to go when it comes to asylum seekers and refugee policy. Russell Broadbent said there should 'never be special categories of laws for different categories of people'. He said: 'The rule of law should apply to all and we should not set some people apart. This kind of vilification of asylum seekers is unacceptable in this nation.' I could not agree more with Mr Broadbent on that matter.
It is outrageous to see how low, how far down the bottom of the barrel, this government is prepared to go to peddle their fearmongering and their dog-whistling. Some people would even say this is not a dog whistle; this is a pretty loud and clear trumpeting of fearmongering by this government. It is deliberately inciting fear about asylum seekers who live in the Australian community.
The saddest thing about all of this is that those who continue to live on bridging visas in the Australian community are terrified of what will happen next. Why? Because this government continues to hold over their head the constant threat of sending them back to countries where they will face the types of inhumane brutality and torture that they have fled.
We know that a number of these individuals have been so distressed by this circumstance that they have taken their own lives. That is not something that should be taken lightly. It is something this government should be reflecting on; that their policies are pushing vulnerable individuals, who have fled some of the worst atrocities and regimes in the world to come to Australia and ask for help. And we have government policy that is pushing them to the point of self-destruction and even, sadly, suicide. We know that one man in recent weeks set himself on fire and died as a result of the horrific burns to his body. That young man was so desperate not to be returned home to Sri Lanka to what he believed were his torturers that he set himself on fire in order to not have to go home.
Rather than putting forward these ridiculous, fearmongering, insulting vilification-driven code of behaviour protocols, this government should be focussing on what is wrong with a policy that pushes an individual to the point of setting themselves on fire to take their own life so they do not have to be subjected to the awful tortures and persecution that they believe waits for them at home. It is beyond me why this government thinks it is important to continue to peddle the myths and fears around asylum seekers and refugees.
We have one of the world's best and most thorough assessment processes, if we do it properly. We determine whether someone is a refugee. We should have a review process. If they are rejected, there needs to be an appeals process. And, in all of that, you can be treating people humanely you do not have to treat them like they are animals or as if they are criminals.
There is nothing illegal in seeking asylum. I know Mr Morrison has directed all of his Public Servants to use the word 'illegal'. But that does not make it so. In fact, there is not one thing in the Migration Act, which this minister is responsible for, that says that just because you are an asylum seeker or a refugee you are somehow illegal. The word 'illegal' does not appear in the Migration Act in relation to asylum seekers and refugees. Yet this minister and the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, are determined to continue a fearmongering campaign against some of the world's most vulnerable people. Why is that? I will tell you why. It is because they are obsessed with the idea that this issue will win them cheap dirty votes. That is what this is all about.
This is the vilification of one group of people to satisfy the coalition's electoral achievements. We have seen it happen before. It is as though the coalition cannot help themselves when it comes to being given the power to manage Australia's immigration policies. We have a government who detain children on a remote island in a tented prison in the middle of a phosphate mine and they think that is acceptable. We have a government who are now detaining children on a prison ship out on the high seas and they will not even speak about it—not in this place and not outside to the Australian people. When there are cries of help and desperation from mothers detained in the Christmas Island detention centre, we have a Prime Minister who accuses them of moral blackmail. This is how low the government are prepared to go when it comes to dismissing the very genuine needs and concerns of refugees who come to this country and how low they are prepared to go to vilify that group of people.
Last week when the Prime Minister accused refugee mothers—who are struggling with the pressures of being a parent for their children, particularly young children and newborn babies, and are incarcerated in the Christmas Island detention camp—of moral blackmail. It was pretty much the lowest thing I have seen from this Prime Minister yet. I am not holding my breath. I assume that, once he is on a roll, this is where it is going to go. Of course, only a few weeks ago we had Mr Morrison, the immigration minister from the other place, stand up in question time and say the coalition had not even warmed up yet when it came to their policy on refugees and asylum seekers. God help us if this is not 'warmed up'.
What is next? We have vilification in relation to the code of behaviour rules, we have hundreds of children incarcerated indefinitely and we have a Prime Minister who accuses desperate, mentally scarred mothers of moral blackmail. It is hard to be morally blackmailed if you are morally bankrupt, and that is what is wrong with this government. They have no concept of how to run an immigration policy that looks after people and has the care, dedication and compassion that is needed. They do not care about compassion. They do not even care about proper process or the rule of law. All they care about is being able to set their agenda of fear and hate. That is what this government continue to do over and over again.
Despite all the concern in relation to this issue last year when this code of behaviour was first mooted by Mr Morrison and Mr Abbott, I am extremely disappointed that the Australian Labor Party will be voting against this disallowance motion—simply giving the tick and flick to this type of vilification. I hope I am wrong on that and I hope I have been misinformed and perhaps the Labor Party will indeed vote to rid this scourge from our statute books, but I do not hold my breath. I would be interested to see from members of the Labor Party exactly why they believe that this code of behaviour should continue. If we are going to have a code of behaviour in addition to and separate to the basic rule of law for one group of people, where to next? Who is the next group of vulnerable people that the government of the day want to start picking on? Will it be members of the Indigenous community? Maybe just Indigenous kids or single mothers or those who access the disability pension? At what point do we say, 'We're just going to have separate behaviour protocols for every group of people,' because that is the way the government want to control the law-making in this country, or do we stand up and say, 'There is the rule of law, which all of us, equally, are expected to abide by, and, if you do not abide by it, then there is a criminal justice system to deal with you'?
In the last minutes of my contribution tonight, I want to reflect on the comments made by Dennis Shanahan. They ring a very eerie truth. I would like to read them out again so that we can be clear. He said: 'I don't think you can suggest that everybody should have some warning attached to them. What are they supposed to wear? A scarlet letter A for asylum seeker?' Those comments were not made lightly; they were made in direct relation to where this type of attitude goes. It is a slippery slope to allow vilification to be rubberstamped by a chamber of parliament just because the government of the day want to continue to whip up fear and blow their dog whistle. We know that the issue of immigration is consistently used by governments of the day and, indeed, oppositions to garner electoral support. It is about kicking the people who have no opportunity to speak for themselves. This is about pushing issues and blame to a small group of people who have not done anything wrong but have no voice in order to speak up, say no and stand up for themselves.
In this place, our job as elected members of parliament is to debate issues and take on board what the government of the day would like to do, but also to stand up for the rights of people in our country to be treated fairly and equally. I do not think for one moment that it is this chamber's job to rubberstamp and tick and flick the fearmongering agenda of the government of the day or a list of behaviour protocols that do nothing more than vilify a group of people because of who they are, where they come from or how they arrived. This is playing the race card. It is appalling and this chamber should kick it out. We should kick it out tonight and not stand for this type of behaviour or this attitude from the government. This is Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott's fearmongering agenda. The Labor Party and the crossbenchers should reject it.
Proceedings suspended from 18:30 to 19:30
I too rise to contribute to the debate on the disallowance motion of the Migration Amendment (Bridging Visas–Code of Behaviour) Regulation 2013. Despite what the Australian Greens say, the code of behaviour, itself, is an educative tool. When you release into the community thousands of people who have arrived here illegally by boat from very different backgrounds, then, as a government, we should at the very least, explain to these people what is expected of them in terms of their behaviour. Examples include people from Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan, who either do not speak English or have very limited knowledge of the English language. These people might come from cultures that are fundamentally different to our own—for example, cultures where women are not equal to men and who have had little to no exposure to Australian society.
The regulations that are sought to be disallowed are necessary as they provide the framework for the government to address community concerns about the behaviour of illegal maritime arrivals, who are in Australia temporarily as the holders of bridging visas. To put the numbers into context, Labor was forced to release tens of thousands of people into the community who turned up illegally by boat, because the detention network could no longer cope with the unprecedented level of border protection failure experienced under the former government's watch.
Today, there are more than 25,000 people living in the community on bridging visas, who are part of a legacy case load in excess of 30,000 people, who arrived illegally by boat and were left behind by the previous government. To date, a total of 68 illegal maritime arrivals on bridging visa Es have had their bridging visas cancelled on the basis of criminal charges since 7 September 2013. For the benefit of all senators, these cancellations have been based on charges and convictions for offences, including theft, shoplifting, indecent assault, indecent assault of minors, domestic violence, assault with a weapon, assault occasioning bodily harm, wounding with intent, driving under the influence, stalking, people smuggling, attempting to obtain prohibited drugs, aggravated sexual assault on a person under the age of 16, rape and murder.
I remind senators that codes of behaviour are currently in force in both held and community detention. Therefore, it makes no sense at all that such codes of behaviour are not applied to those living in the community whose status has not yet been determined. Let us just remind ourselves that we already have codes of behaviour that are in place. They are in place in held detention and in community detention. Why then is it unfair to have a code of behaviour in place for another group of asylum seekers who are living in the community?
The grant of a bridging visa to an IMA is a privilege. It is not a right. This government has a zero tolerance approach to those who violate the privilege they have been granted to live in the Australian community. The government makes no apologies for providing a strong and an enforceable reminder of the behaviour that is expected of people living in the community on a bridging visa. As I have already stated, the code of behaviour is both an educative tool in terms of what the person's expectation is and a tool to limit non-compliance as it serves to clearly communicate expectations and standards of behaviour.
Listening to the Australian Greens on this issue, you would think that the code of behaviour places unnecessary and restrictive burdens on asylum seekers in the community. But for those unfamiliar with the code, let me just address what is actually in the code. I would say, everything listed in the code of behaviour is common sense to those on this side of the chamber and to every other member of the Australian society The code, itself, contains six dot points:
• You must not disobey any Australian laws including Australian road laws; you must cooperate with all lawful instructions given to you by police and other government officials;
• You must not make sexual contact with another person without that person’s consent, regardless of their age; you must never make sexual contact with someone under the age of consent;
• You must not take part in, or get involved in any kind of criminal behaviour in Australia, including violence against any person, including your family or government officials; deliberately damage property; give false identity documents or lie to a government official;
• You must not harass, intimidate or bully any other person or group of people or engage in any anti-social or disruptive activities that are inconsiderate, disrespectful or threaten the peaceful enjoyment of other members of the community;
• You must not refuse to comply with any health undertaking provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection or direction issued by the Chief Medical Officer (Immigration) to undertake treatment for a health condition for public health purposes;
• You must co-operate with all reasonable requests from the department or its agents in regard to the resolution of your status, including requests to attend interviews or to provide or obtain identity and/or travel documents.
The code itself is particularly relevant where these people have engaged in antisocial or violent behaviour that does not result in a criminal charge. Common issues reported include intoxication, fighting between residents at accommodation, sexual harassment, threats of violence, acting aggressively towards departmental or service provider staff and refusing to cooperate with attempts by the department to solve a person's immigration status.
Again I remind senators that, if you are going to release into the community tens of thousands of people who have had little to no prior exposure as to what is expected by way of Australian community standards, who have English not as a first language and in many cases do not speak English, who have cultures fundamentally different from the culture in Australia—and again I go to the example of where women are not equal to men—I would have thought that, at the very least as a government, we would take the time to explain to those people what is expected of them by way of general community standards in Australia. It is a fact that every single week since the election an average of almost two IMAs have been charged with criminal offences.
The code of behaviour makes it clear that antisocial as well as criminal behaviour will not be tolerated. It sets out clear standards of behaviour and expectations relating to the values that are important to Australian society. It also makes clear that bridging visa holders are expected to cooperate with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection regarding the resolution of their status. The code itself provides a proper basis for bridging visas to be cancelled and to prevent people from reapplying depending on the seriousness of the breach. In cases where criminal charges are laid, visas are now cancelled by this government and the alleged offender taken back immediately into held detention until their case is determined.
The grant of a bridging visa to an IMA is a privilege; it is not a right. This government has a zero tolerance approach to those who violate the privilege they have been given by way of living in the Australian community. This government makes no apology for providing a strong and enforceable reminder of the behaviour expected of people living in the community. Again, just for the record, in relation to the 68 IMA bridging visas which have been cancelled on the basis of criminal charges since 7 September 2013, I remind the Senate of the incidents for which these visas were cancelled: theft, shoplifting, indecent assault, indecent assault of minors, domestic violence, assault with a weapon, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, wounding with intent, driving under the influence, stalking, people smuggling, attempting to obtain prohibited drugs, aggravated sexual assault on a person under the age of 16 years, rape and murder. Again I state that this government makes no apologies at all for sending a strong and enforceable reminder of the behaviour expected of people living in the community on a bridging visa.
I draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that this regulation, introduced in December 2013, extended the ability of the government to cancel a BVE for persons who had engaged in behaviour not considered acceptable by the community. It prevented a person who had a visa which was cancelled due to criminal conduct or breach of the code of behaviour from applying for a further visa. The Labor Party takes the view that it is appropriate that people seeking protection are made aware of the expected standards of behaviour and conduct. In 2012, the Labor government introduced a values statement, a precedent to this particular measure, which was made a requirement for the granting of a protection visa. Former Labor minister Chris Evans also introduced ministerial direction No. 55, which guides decision makers in the exercise of visa refusal and cancellation powers under section 501 of the Migration Act 1958.
A character test has existed within the Migration Act for some time. It provides the minister with the power to cancel a visa which has been granted to a person if they reasonably suspect that a person does not pass the character test. The current character test relates to criminal conduct and general conduct that is not of good character. Labor believe that the values statement and the character test currently in place are an appropriate indication of the standards of behaviour that are expected by the community. While we will consult widely and monitor the application of the code over the coming months, we will not support this disallowance.
Sometimes in this place we circle around the truth without ever naming it. When it comes to this government's response to refugees and asylum seekers, it is important to name what is going on here. It is racism, pure and simple. There are no other words to describe it, no other words we can use to try to cover up what is going on here. This is a cynical exercise, one designed to seed fear and incitement in the Australian community. Every single message, every slogan every sound bite is designed for the simple purpose of ensuring that people understand that they are different, that refugees are not like us, that they do not share our values. That is exactly what is going on with the code of behaviour. It is a code of conduct that has been designed with one simple message in mind: to ensure that we keep reinforcing to the Australian community that, if you are a refugee or an asylum seeker, you are different—that you do not respect our laws; that you do not respect our values; that you do not respect our women. Every word in this code of conduct has been carefully crafted to ensure that people understand that, if you are a refugee, you are not like us.
It is not just the code of conduct. We have seen it with this government invoking the Defence Force—using Australian men and women who have dedicated their lives to the protection of Australia—for the most despicable political purposes: to create the impression of an invasion of hordes of refugees and asylum seekers, in what is really a naked, self-serving political exercise. Of course if you are in a war, if you are being invaded, then any amount of secrecy is justified, because in a war secrecy is not just justified—it is necessary.
We see the word 'illegal' being thrown around like confetti. They know it is not true. But if you do not respect our values, if you do not respect our laws, if you are illegal, you are not like us. You are so different from us that, when you are living your life in an offshore detention centre, lying in bed, being stripped of all hope, and thinking about putting that noose around your neck, or if you are somebody who is so desperate at the thought of being returned to a country where you face torture and perhaps worse, or if you are so desperate that you choose to cover yourself with petrol and light the match, or if you are a young child who sees no light and decides to self-harm—if you are any of those things and you choose to take your life, to harm yourself, then it is because you are morally bankrupt! It is not because you are in pain or suffering or enduring any of the normal human emotions that any of us would be feeling, facing those circumstances; it is because you are morally bankrupt; you are depraved; you are somehow of a different quality to the Australian people right here now!
It would be a mistake to suggest that this is new. It is true that we have plumbed the depths of political self-interest in the most recent debates, but this has been going on for years. It started with Prime Minister Howard's famous, 'We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.' We have heard the demonising of asylum seekers through language such as 'queue jumpers' used of people who, let us remember, are doing nothing other than making a choice that many of us would make. Faced with the threat of torture and persecution, they choose to escape those circumstances. That is absolutely morally justified, and yet we use terms like 'queue jumpers'.
All of this has been tremendously successful. When you ask people about the numbers that we are faced with, people have the numbers completely out of proportion. We have got people who think that there are more refugees and asylum seekers coming to this country than there are immigrants, when in fact the number of refugees coming to this country is only a small fraction of the total of our immigration intake. Because of this fear and anxiety that has been seeded over many years, through things like the code of conduct, we get a situation in Australia where people think that the current policies are justified. That is political success.
Some people might say that this actually says something about the Australian character—that there is a deep vein of racism that runs through the Australian people. I do not subscribe to that. What this reflects is a failure of political leadership, pure and simple. When we look at the South-East Asian refugees that were welcomed here with open arms, we see that Australians are a generous people. Instead what we have is a government that does not just blow a dog whistle. This is not a dog whistle. We have got to call it for what it is, for a dog whistle implies that this is a coded message, to be understood by only a small part of the Australian community. This is a racist foghorn—that is what this is. It is not a dog whistle; it is a racist foghorn.
So it is that we have a document so crude, so Orwellian and so shameful that it takes us into one of the lowest ebbs of this political debate. Let us look at this code of behaviour. It says: 'You must not disobey any Australian laws, including Australian road laws'—because, of course, these people just cannot wait to get out into the community, to start raping and pillaging, and to get to the nearest mosque to sign up to the nearest jihadi recruiting officer! They cannot wait for it! But look a little further: there is of course a reference to Australian road laws, because we have all been in a taxi with one of those dark-skinned drivers who didn't know how to drive or where he was taking us! And then there is point No. 2: 'You must not make sexual contact with another person without that person's consent.' So they are not just lawbreakers; they are not just terrible drivers putting our lives at risk; they just cannot wait to get their dark, grubby hands on our women! That is what this is about. That is what this says. Never mind the fact that most cases of domestic violence and abuse towards women are perpetrated within the family home; never mind the fact that, when it comes to sexual abuse and violence towards women, it is the neighbour, the uncle or the husband that you need to worry about!
The implication here is that our children are not safe either.
The list goes on: you cannot take part or get involved in any kind of criminal behaviour in Australia; and you cannot harass, intimidate or bully another person. Having a code of conduct like this designed by the coalition government would not be so laughable if it had not come from an institution whose own behaviour was so inconsistent with the values of civility and decency that we are asking of others.
Senator Cash talks about the role of women in some of these cultures that are coming to our country. What about the role of the women in the Liberal Party? If women are treated so poorly by some of our refugees and asylum seekers, the Liberal Party hardly offers us a model that we should be looking towards.
Every now and then a chink of light shines through and, when we see refugees being resettled into communities, like in my home community of Colac, we see a response from the Australian community that is warm and welcoming, that says: 'We will look after you. We will give you the protection that you need.' And they become valued members of those communities.
Every now and then you see an asylum seeker who is driven to a desperate act like the young man who set himself alight and yet decided to become an organ donor, wanting to do nothing more than make a contribution to this country.
We cannot let people see that refugees and asylum seekers are normal people, wanting nothing more than to make a contribution and become decent hard-working citizens. So we have got to set the foghorn to maximum volume and create instruments like this code of conduct. We have to go further than that: we cannot afford for Australians to meet refugees, to be exposed to these stories, to learn about the hardships that they are fleeing and hear about the sorts of contributions that they want to make. That is why we keep them locked up offshore. We keep the press away. We keep Australians away, because we cannot afford to shatter the illusion that has been being created by this government and by governments before it.
I do not pretend for a moment that this is an easy issue but I condemn those people who use the tragedy of deaths at sea to justify a policy that is implemented for no other reason—not for reasons of compassion, care or decency—than for the most base political purposes. If you cared about deaths at sea, you would not be using words like 'illegal'. You would not be calling someone who is in a state of desperation a 'moral blackmailer' and you could not be implementing a code of conduct that implies these people are criminals, that they do not share our values and cannot wait to get their hands on our women.
I would like to see a code of conduct that went something like this: no more three-word slogans; no more lies about what it means to seek asylum; and no more using the word 'illegal' when you know it is not true and that it is a fundamental right. If we do not learn from the mistakes of the past, we are condemned to repeating them. We are going to use care and compassion as guiding principles rather than simply inflaming people's fears and anxieties. We are going to use facts. We are going to reassure people that we do not need the army. We do not need our Defence personnel. We do not need the Navy, because this is a humanitarian issue.
Just as we expect you to uphold Australian law, we will uphold Australian law. We will make sure that we uphold domestic law and international law, which means that we will not forcibly deport you to countries where you are going to experience torture, persecution and possibly worse. Just as we want to ensure that you treat people with respect and do not engage in harassment, we will keep you safe and treat you with respect. We will treat you with the sort of respect that is currently being denied to you, because of your circumstances which involve being locked up in offshore prisons.
We need to name what this is: it is racism. It is not dog whistling. This is a racist foghorn, loud and clear, saying to the Australian community: 'Don't accept refugees. Don't accept asylum seekers. They are not like you and me. They don't share the same values we share. We don't want them here.'
I say to the coalition: they are ordinary people with families, children with the same hopes and dreams that all of us share and we, as a rich, decent and prosperous nation should offer them the protection they so badly need. If we do not do this, this is something that you will carry with you for the rest of your lives.