Wednesday, 13 February 2019
Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018; Returned from the House of Representatives
I have received a message from the House of Representatives informing the Senate that the House has agreed to the amendments made by the Senate to the Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018 with amendments and requesting the concurrence of the Senate. I am required by the resolution just passed to propose the following motion in respect of the message:
That the Senate agrees to the amendments made by the House of Representatives to the Senate amendments to the bill.
The motion may be debated for 30 minutes.
Not only will the government not be supporting the amendments that were made yesterday in the House of Representatives to this bill, the government will not be supporting this bill, full stop. On this side of the chamber, the Liberal-National government, we understand that a federal government, the Commonwealth government of the people, has a fundamental responsibility to its nation and to its people, and, that is, of course, to maintain border security at all times. This government makes no excuses at all for the position that it takes.
What we saw last night in the House of Representatives was Bill Shorten, putting himself forward as the alternative Prime Minister of this country, and the Labor Party attempting to weaken Australia's borders from opposition. Imagine what will happen if Mr Shorten was ever elected as the Prime Minister of this country.
The Australian people have a very, very clear choice before them as we head towards a federal election. The Morrison government stands firm and makes no excuses for putting in place the border protection policies that have effectively stopped the people smugglers' trade. As the Prime Minister has stated, when it comes to border security in Australia there is no middle ground; there is only the right ground. You do not blink when it comes to border security, because to do so is to effectively capitulate to the people smugglers. You do not negotiate when it comes to border security. As Mr Howard has always said, the Australian government, the Liberal-National government, are firm believers: 'We will decide who comes to Australia and the terms upon which they come.'
We are told that this bill will effectively not really have any effect on the current situation in relation to our borders, and yet we have the Leader of the Australian Greens happily telling people about it. As has been tweeted by a journalist this morning, Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, says he thinks doctors will send several hundred refugees to Australia for assessment or treatment under the bill passed yesterday—several hundred refugees. Unlike those opposite, who voted last year for this bill without the benefit of listening to our security agencies, we will always listen to our intelligence agencies, and their advice is clear: any weakening of our current border protection policies will reopen the people smuggling trade, and we will once again see the deaths at sea that we had last time, the children in detention and the reopening of detention centres.
In relation to Senator Di Natale's boasting that doctors will be sending hundreds of refugees, this is the type of people who the minister will be forced to bring to Australia on the say-so of doctors under the Labor Party's amendments: people charged with bad conduct but not convicted of offences under foreign laws or convicted but sentenced to less than 12 months in prison. As we know, other countries do not have the stance we have in relation to certain crimes. A number of countries hand down lenient sentences for things like domestic violence—beating your wife—or paedophilia, if they hand down any sentence at all. It is very hard to convict people of things like rape in some countries because a woman's testimony is worth much less than a man's. A person charged but not sentenced to, say, murder or paedophilia on Nauru will not be caught by this exemption. There is a very important reason you stand firm on border protection, and the Morrison government will never blink.
This is the Home Affairs (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018, and it's important to get context here. It's a simple set of amendments to various pieces of legislation. The government, in its own chicanery, has caught itself out by failing to actually deal with what was a non-controversial bill, which it listed, delisted and listed again. It would normally have been done in non-controversial legislation last year—it was listed for some time—but it was, of course, caught up in the melee of last December. And now we have a set of circumstances where we've got some amendments moved to a bill which deal with the fundamental question—put aside all the palaver—of Australia's duty of care in terms of the provision of urgent medical support for people for whom we have direct responsibility insofar as our duty of care extends in circumstances where the medical support on Nauru, in particular, has not been good enough. It's a simple proposition. We've heard a shrill, irrational, hysterical approach from this government, who's prepared to say and do anything to cover up the facts—to cover up the facts, I repeat—to leak what they claim was to be these incredibly important security issues, to do whatever they need to, to lie and to deceive, and to just cover up the incredible chaos and dysfunction within this government.
I say this in this simple context. The great Achilles heel of this government's approach is some simple facts of life. Under this government, the minister said himself on TV last night that they have transferred a significant number of people here from Nauru 'either for medical attention or people in a family unit'. He said that, so I went and checked the figures. What we find is that some 460 people have been transferred from Nauru and Manus according to Senate estimates. Of course, various family members were transferred as well. Nearly 900 people have been transferred. Has that been a signal to the people smugglers? Has that led to the situation where our fundamental national security has been put at risk? Nine hundred people have been transferred under this government in circumstances where the government sought to keep it quiet.
So it seems to be the situation that if 900 people are transferred by this government, there's no threat to our borders and no threat to our national security, but if there's a proposition brought forward where we actually regulate the circumstances under which people are moved, for urgent medical treatment under strict supervision, under circumstances where the ministerial discretions are maintained, it actually improves the security that seems to be in deterioration. That's the claim that has been put to the Senate. We've actually got double the number of people being moved off the islands than are being moved to the United States. Double. Have we had an increase in the number of boats arriving? No. The evidence is clearly against the hysterical claims that this dysfunctional, chaotic government is seeking to make.
Nine hundred people are moved by this government, and the sky hasn't fallen in. But under these provisions we have proper medical supervision and independent medical advice, and the minister maintains his or her discretion to secure this country, we maintain our duty of care, yet this government tries to turn it on its head, given its own record. There is a fundamental lie at work here, which should be exposed by this Senate. I believe this Senate has a duty to support these amendments and support the message that has come back from the House of Representatives.
This has been the toughest decision I've had to make since I came into this chamber. I can announce that I will be supporting the passage of these amendments today. When we voted for it last December, I was mainly concerned with getting children off Nauru. That has eventually happened, and for that I congratulate the government. But the medical aspects of Nauru and Manus are what have swayed me. I have been fully briefed by both sides of this parliament. I had a half-hour briefing with security forces this morning. I do have some doubts about some aspects of it. I'm glad that the 24 hours was pushed back by the Labor Party amendments, and it now goes to virtually 72 hours, and if you add things on to it it can get to one week.
What really swayed me was the amendment, which I was surprised that the Greens agreed to, which was the one that it will apply only to people who are currently on Nauru or on Manus. That is a sort of reverse grandfathering; it stops there. It's not an encouragement, I believe, to people smugglers, who are despicable and should be despised, because it will only apply to people who are there. People who are transferred off Manus and brought back to Australia, according to the Department of Home Affairs—they assured me today—will remain in detention in some manner or form. So they will not come here and wander around the streets of Australia; they will come here for medical attention. I will acknowledge that the government has spent a lot more money on medical facilities on Nauru and on Manus, but there are conditions which cannot be taken care of there. The doctors who have worked there say there are some medical conditions and situations which cannot possibly be handled there, and they should be brought here.
I am still perplexed about some aspects of it. I was quite happy to be accused of flip-flopping if I had gone the other way, because what we voted for in December, according to the Solicitor-General, might not even be constitutional. That was another aspect that came up yesterday. It has been a very tortured 24 hours. There's been a lot of pressure from a lot of people on all sides of the chamber, but that's part of this job. I don't need the full five minutes; I will give over to some people to talk. Now I can proudly say that, yes, I think it's the right decision. It's a humanitarian decision. In the Justice Party world, we have always tried to look after young people, old people and sick people. Well, all those three categories still apply in these amendments, and therefore I will be supporting them.
I say to Senator Hinch that I genuinely believe he's on the right side of history in the decision that he's made today.
This Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018 is vitally important for refugees on Manus Island and Nauru who have now spent nearly six years detained indefinitely in those countries and who have suffered horrendously as a result. I've been to Manus Island five times and I've seen their suffering for myself. Medical treatment that they need and that the doctors believe that they need will now be available to them in Australia under this legislation. And that is a bare minimum that we should expect in a civilised society. But this bill is actually about so much more than just medical treatment, and its place in our country's history when we look back on this chapter in our collective story means a turning point in the divisive and toxic debate around refugees that's been in this place and this country at least since the MV Tampa hove over the horizon nearly 20 years ago.
Last year, the Senate voted for humanity. The Senate voted for human decency, and in doing so it dealt a body blow to those toxic and divisive politics of fear. Yesterday, the house of assembly did the same: they voted for humanity and they voted for common decency, and in doing so, the House dealt a body blow to those toxic politics of fear and division that, ultimately, have caused deaths, sexual assaults, rapes and human suffering beyond the imagining of any senator for so many people on Manus Island and Nauru.
Today, the Senate is going to confirm the decision that we made collectively late last year. This is a turning point for our country. When our national story is written, when the historians look at what's happened over the last 20 years and, arguably, longer, at the way that refugees and people seeking asylum have been demonised and deliberately harmed—and I genuinely hope that there will be a royal commission one day to get to the bottom of how we fell so far in this country—when historians are writing this dark and bloodied chapter in Australia's story, today and yesterday will be seen as pivotal moments where this parliament rose above that toxicity and voted for humanity and voted for decency.
I rise to speak in favour of the Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018. These sick people in our care are now one step closer to getting the quality medical treatment they need without jeopardising our borders. I welcome the comments made by Senator Hinch and Senator McKim just now.
I'm pleased to be part of a process which has seen the Australian parliament really at its best in that none of those involved in the discussions which led to the amendments carried by the House of Representatives got everything they wanted. But members of a number of parties, as well as Independents, like myself, came together to achieve a result which should help sick people on Nauru and in PNG who are in our care get the medical attention they require. That's the key focus of the bill. These amendments would not have been necessary had the government not been using the courts to stop sick people coming from these countries to Australia for treatment on the advice of medical personnel.
These amendments should now bring this heartless practice to an end and bring greater transparency and objectivity to the existing medical transfer process. We know that more than 800 sick people have already been brought to Australia for treatment without seeing the people-smuggling trade resume. There is no reason to believe that these amendments will change that, particularly with the changes agreed with the House crossbench yesterday. Let us all remember that the boat turn-back policy remains in place. The government should accept the decision of the majority of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate and allow these amendments through this chamber forthwith. The people of Australia will not thank them for any attempts to delay this considered and humane measure. I welcome the prospect of that measure today.
It is a very simple yet a very serious issue that we have here. That issue is that you cannot trust the Labor Party or the Greens on border control. They will always refer—always refer—to compassion, but where is the compassion in 1,200 people dying at sea? Let's talk about the availability of medical treatment on islands like Manus and Nauru. What medical treatment is available to the 1,200 people who have died and are on the bottom of the ocean? That's the issue we've got to look at today. Those that deny that this will start the boats again are denying the obvious. Isn't it a definition of absolute silliness to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome? We've had this before. We've had this time and time again before, and we find the same outcome.
I've heard the briefings. I've heard the well-intentioned comments that people around the chamber have made. There are no evil people talking on this issue. We are all compassionate people. My compassion, when I was appointed as the co-author of Operation Sovereign Borders, was to sit down and make an ethical decision, as I have many times in my life and in my military career. It is an ethical decision to have strong borders. If other countries in our region had borders as strong as ours, then of course we wouldn't need to be doing this, because people who arrive in those countries illegally would not be able to come to our country illegally. I have been an advocate, as has Mr Morrison, when he was the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, for strong borders throughout our region. Strong borders—as with good fences—make very, very good neighbours.
Today really is an opportunity to talk about the wilful disregard that the opposition have demonstrated for Australia's border security. Yesterday evening's events in the House of Representatives are a very big, flashing warning sign about the simple and serious point that I make, and that is that you cannot trust the Labor Party on border security. Yes, as Senator Storer says, the boat turn-backs are still in place. Operation Sovereign Borders is still in place. Should the Australian people choose a new government, how long do you think that will stay in place? Who do you think Ms Kearney is going to back? Who do you think Sally McManus will put pressure on people to back? Is any one of the 30 people in the Labor Party caucus who have indicated they don't support turn-backs going to allow Mr Shorten to ever do a turn-back in any way, shape or form?
Those on the other side pose as champions of morality and the right things, but the policies they support lead to what is fundamentally an immoral outcome, because we know the outcome of this in the past and it remains highly likely to recur—I says it's inevitable, and it is also immoral. Rewarding people smugglers and those who are willing to break the law disregards the potential for more deaths at sea. The other side also makes the assumption that people detained always tell the truth. They never lie. They cannot feign sickness or invent claims about their backgrounds, and they should be taken at face value. This is a level of naivety which is mind-boggling, to say the least. Claims that there is no medical support on these islands are absolutely farcical. Time and time again, we have indicated what is there and, compared to an Australian town, how much more these people up there are getting than an Australian in similar circumstances.
Back in 2013 I was appointed as the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Operation Sovereign Borders. I saw this very, very closely from the inside, as well as being a co-author before the election. We had two years to achieve a good result. We could do it. We have a Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, who knows this inside out. We did it before. We can do it again in the future. I've seen this at close range. It does not work as soon as you lose resolve. (Time expired)
This bill is simply a Trojan horse to collapse Australian border protection. Anyone who cares about this country maintaining any form of border control against illegal immigrants, people smugglers and terrorists should be utterly opposed to this bill. The pretext that the illegal immigrants detained offshore need to come to Australia for medical treatment is utter nonsense. Medical care available on Nauru is excellent and is already vastly better than where these people came from. The real story is that these illegals will simply use this loophole to sneak into Australia with the assistance of the left-wing doctors. We know they will do this because they have already lied and cheated in an effort to jump the immigration queue, pretending to be asylum seekers when, in fact, they are just welfare seekers.
Apologists for this bill will try to claim it's about compassion. What absolute rubbish! This is about chardonnay socialists trying to demonstrate their smug sense of moral superiority over decent, hardworking Australians. It has to be said that those supporting the bills are engaged in left-wing virtue-signalling of the worst kind because it is placing at risk the integrity of Australia's borders. Don't take my word for it: that's what the Australian intelligence and security community tell us. This bill is just bogus, confected outrage looking for a cause. Anyone who isn't a dyed-in-the-wool leftist needs to consign this bill to the recycling bin.
This bill, as amended, does more than what is reported in the media. We all know it empowers doctors to select sick people to come to Australia and that this selection is subject to review by the Independent Health Advice Panel. We also know that family members can accompany sick people to Australia. But the bill also empowers doctors to select healthy people who are unrelated to the patient to come to Australia so as to accompany the patient. There is no review of this by the Independent Health Advice Panel. The expertise of doctors does not extend to determining who should accompany a patient to Australia. This power is ripe for abuse from doctors who think they are God. However, because of Labor taking over this chamber, no amendment to fix this egregious error can be moved. Those senators who vote for this bill will be voting for doctors determining which healthy people can come to Australia.
Make no mistake: what we are seeing here is Labor and the Greens teaming up to weaken our border security and the sovereignty of this nation. We have seen it today. We saw attempts at it last year. There's no question about it. I listened to someone I respect and trust on the issue of border security, someone who knows what they are talking about, and that is Senator Molan. He know what's he's talking about. He has seen it firsthand. He spoke about the people who were the victims of the last Labor-Green government's border security policies, and that is what we are seeing—a return to those sorts of arrangements, which will undercut and undermine the security of this nation. Anyone who believes what's being said—that it isn't a weakening of our border security and that it doesn't change the policies—is being played for a fool.
They say: 'Trust us. Take us at our word.' But I think the best way to measure and test whether these people, the Australian Labor Party, propped up by their mates down here, the Australian Greens, can be trusted on border security—this is a group of people, too, I might remind those listening, who are seeking later this year to win the next election—is to check the record and see what happened when they were running the country and were actually in charge of our border protection policies. As we've heard countless times in this debate, 50,000 people arrived here during the time of the last government. There were 800 boats and up to 8,000 children forcibly put into detention as a result of their weak border policies. They go out there and they say it's about compassion and fairness and doing the right thing by disadvantaged people, but the only people who are getting something out of this are the people smugglers—the people who make money off the misery of others, the people who were the conduit for those people who paid money to come to this country, many of whom died at sea. We know of 1,200. How many more do we not know about? How many of those who pushed off from the shores of the lands they left and never made it here were never accounted for? As Senator Molan pointed out, what medical treatment is available for those people who fell victim, by way of death, to that awful policy?
So look at the record, see what they did last time they were in government, and then you will know where we are headed. This is the first step towards that awful set of arrangements which weaken our country's security and sovereignty. Those opposite are telegraphing their punches before they're even at an election. This is what they're going to be like. We will have weaker borders, and our country will be weaker for it. I urge all Australians—and senators contemplating how to vote on this—to think twice before they trust Labor or the Greens on this issue.