Senate debates

Tuesday, 8 August 2017


Asylum Seekers

12:56 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion relating to deaths in Australia's offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru and the need to evacuate the people there to safety in Australia.

Leave not granted.

I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator McKim moving a motion to give precedence to a motion relating to deaths in Australia's offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru and the need to evacuate the people there to safety in Australia.

Australia's offshore detention centres in Manus Island and Nauru are a shameful chapter in the story of our country. This sorry and horrendous chapter in our nation's story, which was co-authored by the Labor Party and the Liberal Party, has to end, and it has to end by immediately closing these detention centres and bringing everyone who is there—man, woman and child—to safety here in Australia. They have to be evacuated, and they have to be evacuated now. On Manus Island, in particular, the situation is extremely dire and dangerous, and it is becoming more dire and dangerous by the hour and by the day. We have a situation in which over 850 people who have been detained by Australia on Manus Island have been denied their liberty, have been tortured, have been shot at, have been assaulted and have been murdered—and all that's just inside the camp. Outside of the camp we've seen a significant series of attacks by knife—attacks by machete—on refugees in the town of Lorengau and in the capital of Papua New Guinea, in Port Moresby.

Papua New Guinea is not a safe place for the people that Australia has detained there for four years. Neither is Nauru a safe place for the people that Australia has detained there for over four years. The overwhelming majority of people that Australia has detained on Manus Island and Nauru have been found to be genuine refugees—that is, they have a well-founded fear of persecution, which means they cannot, without being placed in danger—in some cases danger of death, arbitrary imprisonment and torture—be returned to their home countries. They can't be left in PNG and Nauru. They cannot possibly be forced back to their home countries. The only safe place for these people is to be evacuated from Manus Island and Nauru and brought here to Australia.

There are now eight people who have died on Manus Island and Nauru whilst being Australia's responsibility. They have effectively died at Australian hands. The names are as follows: Reza Barati, Sayed Ibrahim Hussein, Hamid Khazaei, Omid Masoumali, Rakib, Kamil Hussain, Faysal Ishak Ahmed, and yesterday, Hamed Shamshiripour. I now intend to stay silent for one minute in honour of all these men who have died while Australia's responsibility, and I invite the Senate to join me.

A minute's silence was observed—

Mr President, last month, a letter from hundreds of detainees was sent publicly, and I want to finish by reading it: 'Our souls are destroyed under your cruel regime of years of torture and trauma, by your contribution. Evacuate the camps now—

(Time expired)

1:02 pm

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

It is always disappointing in this place when someone rises—it doesn't matter which party they belong to—to use the death of someone merely for political purposes, and that is what we are seeing today. Unfortunately, the Australian Greens continue to believe that when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers they can take the moral high ground.

The actual facts that the Australian people understand and that they overwhelmingly elected a coalition government on in 2013—which, unfortunately, the Australian Greens need to be reminded of yet again and again—are as follows—

Honourable Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

I note a number of the Greens sitting there saying, 'Shame'. I agree with you: it is a shame that you have deliberately buried your heads in the sand, since the first boat arrived. Because of a dirty deal that you did with the then Labor government, you refuse to take any form of responsibility for what occurred as a consequence of your actions. Sometimes in life, when you come to this place, you need to grow up. You need to understand that, when you support a policy that basically opens the floodgates to tens of thousands of people getting on boats and risking their lives to come to Australia, there will be consequences.

In August of 2017 the coalition government—elected in 2013 on an incredibly strong platform of restoring integrity to our borders—is still cleaning up the mess and dealing with the consequences of the decisions made by the Australian Greens. For them to come into this place today and use the very unfortunate death of a person in Papua New Guinea as an excuse to, yet again, claim the moral high ground is, quite frankly—I would say 'disgusting', but it is way worse than disgusting; it shows the Australian people just how low the Australian Greens will go in refusing to accept responsibility for their actions.

Had the Australian Greens not made the deals they had with the then Labor government to wind back Australia's strong border protection policies, we would not be standing here today having this suspension of standing orders moved by Senator McKim. It is a fact that directly because of the consequences of the decisions made and the deals done by the Australian Greens in excess of 50,000 people came to this country illegally and in excess of 1,200 people died. Maybe Senator McKim would like to move a minute's silence for each one of them, in recognition of the consequences of the Australian Greens' decisions on policies that had, unfortunately, fatal consequences. And let's not talk about the number of children that the Australian Greens themselves are responsible—directly—for putting in detention and behind bars. It is we on this side of the chamber who got them out of detention. It is a great shame when a senator elected to this place comes into this place and uses the death of someone merely for a political purpose and nothing more.

1:07 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor won't be agreeing to support the suspension of standing orders this afternoon. Primarily, it goes to reasons I have outlined when similar motions have been called on without any notice in this chamber through this term of parliament. It goes to the fact that we have had no notice of this. There has been no discussion and no forewarning about the intentions of Senator McKim and his desire to move this motion. I would say that this chamber, as senators know, relies on relationships and discussion so that we can, at times, support each other with particular positions or policies or motions that we want to see moved through the Senate. When those customs are not observed, in any way, it puts everyone in a very difficult position. We have no idea what the motion was that you wanted to move, Senator McKim. It was not circulated. It was not discussed with the Labor Party.

We note there is a desire by the Greens, particularly, to move these types of motions without notice. I do wonder whether it is more about being able to make a statement and then leave all of us here without any knowledge of what the bigger or longer and more worthwhile debate might have been had we been given notice. There are motions to be moved that our parties can use. There are senators' statements. There is private senators' time. There are a range of different parts of the Senate sitting schedule that allow for proper and orderly debate on matters of such importance, such as the management of Manus and Nauru—in this case, how people who are living there are being treated.

In the case that Senator McKim has raised about a death, of course we all extend our most sincere condolences to that individual's family, but, if we are to have a larger debate, it needs to be done with proper process and in accordance with proper standing orders. Those have not been followed in any way. I would urge Senator McKim, in particular, that if he is of a mind to move motions like this to please come and speak with me, as the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate, or other senators in this place so that at least we can have the opportunity to discuss how this debate should roll out. It is an important debate. Labor have been on the record about concerns we've had with the management of Manus and Nauru. We do want to see people who are currently being held there resettled to third countries. It is an important discussion and one that is worthy of the Senate's time but not in the manner with which it has been forced upon us this afternoon.

1:10 pm

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

I'd just like to add my support to suspending standing orders in order to deal with this matter as a matter of urgency. It is, of course, an emergency that is unfolding on Manus Island and, indeed, on Nauru. I for one am not going to sit here and be lectured to by Senator Cash about using the lives of refugees for political purposes. It is the height of hypocrisy for members of the coalition, ministers of the coalition, to pretend that treating these people appallingly, in a way that would be such a deterrent to them seeking refuge from war, torture and persecution, is somehow not political. They are trying to pretend to the Australian people that they care about the wellbeing of the men and the families on Manus Island and Nauru. No-one believes it. Everybody can see it is for sheer political purposes that this government treat these people—human beings—worse than animals.

I remember that in this place some years ago Senator Cash gave a death-defying speech about Senator Wong having blood on her hands. Remember that speech? Well, I put it to you, Mr President, that if somebody wants to talk about having blood on their hands they should think about the deaths of these people directly at the hands of the Australian government. Senator Cash has stood here and justified the treatment of these individuals as simply collateral damage. If the Australian people—the media and individuals—had the ability to see how torturous these hellholes are and to hear the cries of help from the individuals locked up, very few Australians would accept that this is a reasonable, decent policy to continue.

And we know false hope is being given to these individuals, because we heard ourselves, through the transcript of the meeting between President Trump and our own Prime Minister, that there is no chance that many of these people will have any hope of getting out of the hellhole that is Manus Island. In fact, it was a point of discussion and encouragement that our Prime Minister gave to the President—that he didn't have to help these people; he just had to pretend he was helping him. He is using these individuals as political pawns. So don't stand here and lecture other people about using refugees and these poor souls on Manus Island for political purposes. These camps are only open because the coalition and the Labor Party voted to reopen them and set them up and keep people there indefinitely.

The death of this man yesterday falls squarely at the feet of the Australian government. Doctors urged the Australian government, the minister and the department for months to get this man off the island, and those pleas for a medical evacuation were ignored. This man died in vain yesterday because of the political, torturous treatment carried out by the Australian government and by individual members of this government such as Senator Cash.

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator McKim to suspend standing orders be agreed to.