Senate debates

Thursday, 25 September 2014


Migration Amendment (Humanitarian Visa Intake) Bill 2014; Second Reading

12:21 pm

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

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table my explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table an explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have my second reading speech incorporated into Hansard and to continue my remarks.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

As I introduce this Bill the world is responding to an urgent humanitarian crisis in the Middle East which has led to millions of people being displaced. Men, women and children have had to flee their homes in search of safety. Neighbouring countries are doing more than their fair share to support the desperate and vulnerable. It is now time for Australia to step up its efforts to assist asylum seekers and refugees fleeing the dangers of war and terror.

It is true that the sheer scale of the world's refugee crisis can feel confronting and often distant from our shores. However despite this distance, Australia must uphold its obligations under the Refugee Convention and provide sanctuary to those in need. Australia is a rich and prosperous country with the capacity to offer greater support in the form of humanitarian aid and increase our refugee intake and resettlement.

Following the federal election the government recklessly slashed Australia's refugee intake by more than 6,000 places. This was a short-sighted move which has left Australia lagging behind comparable countries who have sought to increase their support in light of the ongoing global humanitarian crisis.

This Bill, The Migration Amendment (Humanitarian Visa Intake) Bill 2014, will amend the Migration Act to ensure that the Minister of the day must grant no fewer than 20,000 humanitarian visas per year.

The Executive is currently responsible for determining the migration programme and the total number of visas to be issued under each subclass annually. The purpose of this Bill is to increase the total number of humanitarian visas issued each year by amending The Act to prevent the Government limiting the number of visas in a particular class or subclass that can be granted at any time when fewer than 20,000 humanitarian visas have been granted. The Bill also affords greater transparency and accountability by requiring the Minister to make quarterly statements to Parliament setting out how many humanitarian visas of each class have been granted.

It is clear that now, more than ever, Australia must join likeminded countries and increase our humanitarian intake in the wake of the crises in Syria and Iraq. In the past year over 1.8 million Iraqis and 9.5 million Syrians have been displaced by the fighting, and there is no sign of this slowing. In Syria alone, more than 100,000 people register as refugees every month. Only last month the UNHCR announced that the number of registered Syrian refugees reached 3 million. That is a figure more than two times the population of my home state of South Australia.

Despite this huge need, Australia has only offered 4500 existing places to Iraqi and Syrian refugees. We can do better than this, and we must. In the past we have taken the lead and offered refuge to those who have had to flee the horrors of war. In the 1970s and 1980s, under the leadership of former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, Australia resettled thousands of Vietnamese refugees, many of whom have gone on to make an incredible contribution to our country. It is now time to do it again.

It is not beyond Australia's remit to increase our commitment to refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war, torture and persecution. Germany alone has committed a total of 20,000 places to Syrian refugees; this is over two thirds of the total resettlement places offered across the whole of Europe. Similarly, the Swedish government announced that it would be granting permanent residency to any Syrian refugee seeking asylum that has already fled to Sweden. As I introduce this Bill there are hundreds of Iraqi and Syrian refugees already in Australia that the government has locked up in detention. They too should be given refuge and protection.

Despite the Australian government committing troops and fighter jets to a new war in Iraq, they have refused to increase Australia's refugee intake. This step is irresponsible and ignores the realities of war and the desperate needs of those who are caught in the middle of the deadly conflict. The increasing humanitarian crisis in the Middle East demands a genuine and compassionate response. Australia must heed the calls from the United Nations and take urgent action by increasing Australia's humanitarian intake.

This Bill is more than a symbolic gesture, it will offer a practical response to the crisis and greatly help neighbouring countries who are providing lifesaving support to the people who are enduring these extreme circumstances.

I commend this Bill to the Senate

Debate adjourned.