Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Matters of Public Importance

National Security

3:57 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, four proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Roberts:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

That the flawed and dangerous Medevac legislation undermines Australia's border security and must be urgently repealed.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the senators in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

3:58 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to emphasise that Pauline Hanson's One Nation is deeply concerned about the security of people in our country. We are uniquely positioned in the world, as our location as an island nation puts us in a position where the isolation of distance in times past has provided the natural barriers and protection of being surrounded by ocean. This barrier of sea has, in the past, been a natural protective barrier against disease, noxious pests and other simple dangers. But we live in complex times, and in these times it is also a barrier to the modern dangers of complex terrorism and keeps out those who would challenge the Australian way of life and the safety and security of Australians.

Pauline Hanson's One Nation party understands what is needed to run this country. Strong laws are required to provide strong border security to ensure that people who come to Australia do so by a path that allows clear identification of persons who do not pose an unacceptable risk to our culture and to the personal safety of our citizens. We must be vigilant in keeping out of Australia people whose beliefs and conduct threaten our way of life and, indeed, our lives. Pauline Hanson's One Nation also has the aim of ensuring that our laws are fair and do not provide excess benefits to some to the detriment of others. People residing offshore who have attempted to come to our country outside the normal rules are not entitled to the benefits beyond what Australians living in mainland Australia can access.

The medevac legislation is an abomination for many reasons. It is providing a back doorway for queue jumpers to come to onshore Australia, and they receive a standard of medical care that many Australians cannot afford or receive. Some come with their families, and they never leave. What is fair about that? They are like the less than welcome family guests who may come to our home for a few days and stay and stay indefinitely. The level of care, the standard of medical care offered to these freeloaders is higher than that available to many hardworking Australians living in our rural areas. Is this fair? I say not. What about the costs to the taxpayer? Just to get one person medevaced to Australia is in excess of $100,000—more than the income of very many Australians earned over a full year; in fact, it's 20 per cent more than the average wage in this country. Is this fair? I say not. These queue jumpers are in fact double-dipping. Firstly, they jump the queue to get to Australia, and, secondly, they get treatment that is unaffordable for many Australians already doing it tough.

Let us consider the nature of many of these queue jumpers. Many are not refugees in the usual sense, but are economic migrants seeking a better life and jumping the queue to do this. That's not fair. Some have already been accepted to go to the United States, but rejected that option, choosing our country, Australia, as a better choice because of our more favourable welfare system. This is seriously out of whack. It is ironic that the services available to these queue jumpers offshore are in many instances more than those that are available to Australians living in our rural areas.

Pauline Hanson's One Nation offers policies that will provide effective stewardship of Australian assets. We will not support projects that waste public moneys, the money of the Australian people. We accept the responsibility and trust placed in us by the Australian voters. We will always support projects that benefit Australians. Many Australians would benefit from a helping hand, yet this legislation is geared for spending money on non-Australians who have jumped the queue to come here in the first place.

Pauline Hanson's One Nation stands for good governance. This means ensuring we support policies that assure the future of Australians, working to the benefit of all Australian citizens. Pauline Hanson's One Nation party notes the importance of good trusteeship. For us this means supporting, protecting and providing guardianship of the great values that are part of Australian culture. We believe in giving a person a fair go. That does not mean a free ride. Many of the queue jumpers must see this legislation as a golden gift, a means to a shortcut into Australia, and all on the say-so of two doctors who may never have even seen or met the detainees. Who would know what the ultimate intention is to get to Australia? Minimum vetting is not helpful. How easy would this system be for an undesirable criminal or terrorist to abuse and come to our country.

Our border protection is an imperative responsibility, and Pauline Hanson's One Nation party sees this legislation as a failure in every aspect. So do the people of Wentworth, who turfed out Kerryn Phelps after just months and now have a Liberal back in their place. And the dollar cost: at $100,000 a go, can we afford to haemorrhage money into a system that has no cap on spending? I say not. As a reasonable and responsible party, Pauline Hanson's One Nation does not support the ongoing nature of this program and calls for the immediate repeal of this dangerous legislation.

I want to talk about three of the things that I have mentioned in this speech: firstly, stewardship; secondly, governance; and thirdly, trusteeship. These are the three main cores of governance. Whether it be managing a company, a club or a nation, stewardship of current assets consists of two aspects: cost of living at the national level and security of the people. They are stewardship functions, and Liberal-Labor duopolies over the last six decades have failed in their stewardship of the assets. The cost of living is out of control for many people. It is becoming unaffordable to live in this country, and the security concerns are being undermined by the types of people that we're allowing into this country. The second aspect is governance, which is about providing for the future, and that means for the Australians who aren't even born yet. We're responsible for them, what they will do in their lives and their opportunities. The third aspect of governance is trusteeship of our values. What makes this country so wonderful are the Australian values—mateship, fairness, compliance with the law, respect for the law, and so many others that we know about ourselves and we take for granted as we live our lives in this beautiful country.

We need to have a vision for the future. We don't see that. We see Labor squandering our assets. We see the Liberal Party just making up facades and then selling those facades. We don't see a vision for this country in terms of infrastructure; we don't see a vision for this country and the way people will be living in 20, 30, 40, 50 or 100 years; and we don't see the protection of our culture. The most valuable asset of any entity is culture. It's what determines productivity in a company. It's what determines safety and productivity and the future livelihoods of people in any nation, and that is being undermined. Immigration affects all three aspects of governance—stewardship; governance, in terms of providing for the future; and trusteeship of our values.

It's not just a matter of security that is being decimated here; it is a matter of our future, and not just the future of the people who are alive now but the future of Australians who are not even born yet. What did medevac do? It bypassed formal procedures for vetting. The campaign for getting Kerryn Phelps into the seat of Wentworth was funded by GetUp!, a notorious organisation driving an agenda funded by George Soros, who is the pin-up boy for criminals, the CFMMEU and Mr Bill Shorten, who was one of the foundation's directors. The people of Wentworth saw this error. They were fooled by GetUp!, but then they repented.

Instead of a Soros-controlled country, we want a secure, productive country with great productive capacity. At night we don't lock the front door of our house because we hate the people outside; we lock the front door of our house because we love the people inside. Government's primary role is to protect the people already in Australia. We must end this medevac abomination and lock our country's front door once again.

4:08 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The coalition supports the proposition that is before the chamber. Let's remember that a fundamental purpose of the nation-state is, in fact, to protect those within it. Therefore, if a nation-state cannot protect its borders, it is not a nation-state worthy of that description. That is why the Howard government embarked upon a border protection policy which worked, and, as a result, we stopped the gatecrashers coming into Australia.

In 2007 Labor leader Kevin Rudd promised that he too would turn back the boats and that he too would ensure the protection of our borders. But what did the Labor-Greens government of the 2007 to 2013 era do?

They went back on their promise to the Australian people and allowed over 50,000 people to come to Australia via criminal people smugglers. They were of the view that people who could afford criminals should be given priority over those in actual need. So we as a government in 2013 went to the Australian people saying we would again stop the boats, we would turn back boats and we would have a refugee intake based on need, not on capacity to pay criminal people smugglers. We did that and we achieved that.

So why are we today still talking about people on Manus and Nauru? It is the legacy of the Labor-Greens governments. Let us never forget that. The reason that we have legislation now on the books, the so-called medevac law, is as a result of Labor and the Greens taking advantage of a minority situation during the last parliament to try to force this issue and signal to the world, and indeed to all Australians, that they had not learnt the lesson of the 2007 to 2013 era of allowing 50,000 people to literally gatecrash Australia, part of which—might I remind you—saw over 1,000 people drown at sea. Where is the social justice in that? Where is the social justice in denying refugee status in Australia to people who are needy, because they've been displaced by people who have been able to afford to pay criminal people smugglers, by people who have never set foot in a refugee camp? But they're the people that Labor and the Greens and the Left and GetUp! would support in favour of those genuinely in need. That is why so many of the refugees that have come to Australia in recent times and have become Australian citizens actually voted for the coalition, because they saw the injustice of the Labor-Greens-GetUp! approach in allowing boat people to come here who had never set foot in a refugee camp. But those who had been living in a refugee camp for 10 to 20 years waiting for resettlement saw that the coalition policy was in fact the correct policy and it was the just policy, and we on this side believe that is the right way to go.

Later today, the people of Australia will be regaled by what I am sure will be an excellent speech by the new member for Braddon, which will follow an excellent speech given in the first week of the 46th Parliament by the member for Bass. Labor and the Greens might like to think and contemplate why it is that those two seats changed hands? Can I say to the Labor Party—I don't know why I'm giving them this gratuitous advice—one of the reasons is their constituency, which had previously voted Labor, saw through Labor's medevac laws, where they cooperated with the Greens and with GetUp!, and told the people of Braddon and Bass that they had not learnt the lessons in relation to border protection.

Coming to the actual medevac bill, which was forced through this parliament, and which I hope will be repealed as soon as possible, it is an insult to the people of Manus and Nauru, because what they're basically saying is that the medical provisions that the ordinary citizens of Nauru and Papua New Guinea have are not of a sufficient standard. If that is what the Greens and Labor genuinely believe, why is it then that not everybody from Manus or Nauru that has a medical situation should be allowed to come to Australia? It is a very patronising and ugly reflection on Nauruans and on our friends in Manus.

The legislation that Labor and the Greens forced through the parliament without any consultation with experts or our national security people was designed to send a signal to the green, Left inner-city types that they would go back on strong border protection. That was the signalling that they undertook. They undertook it sufficiently successfully to make the Australian people realise that if they wanted to keep strong borders they had to return the coalition government. That is what the people of Australia did on 18 May. They did not only renew the government's mandate, they in fact increased it.

If the Labor Party and the Greens want to continue to go down this line of saying, 'This medevac law is a good law,' I say you are welcome to it, but the Australian people have sought to send you a message in relation to border protection. They've tried to send you a message in relation to what a just, fair and reasonable refugee policy and intake is. Labor can continue to live in denial, but we as a government will continue to ensure that we have good, strong border protection policies and that we do not send any signals to the criminal people smugglers that we are open for their terrible trade in human misery.

Let's be very clear, there was no medical emergency in relation to the people on Nauru and Manus. Indeed, during the period of the medevac bill, over 900 people have been brought to Australia for particular medical treatment. They were treated on a fair and reasonable basis. So why is there this legislation when Labor, the Greens and GetUp!! knew about the actual numbers and the provision that we had to look after them?

We were told during the debate when it occurred—I recall telling the Senate during that debate—that there was one celebrated case of a person demanding evacuation to Australia. The doctors thought it was not necessary. Legal action was being taken. You can imagine the rest. The person was finally evacuated, but not on a normal, regular flight. It had to be a charter flight to Brisbane. That was undertaken at a cost of over $100,000 to our fellow Australians. The person was taken to hospital and diagnosed with, dare I say it, constipation. Doctors had signed off on this and, as soon as the person arrived in Australia, what happened? Lawyers went to work to ensure the person couldn't be taken back from whence that patient came from. This is the sort of manipulation that, sadly, occurs.

As Senator Roberts indicated to the Senate: you can have two activist doctors say, 'On the basis of what we read, this person should be medevaced to Australia,' without actually having seen the person or spoken with the person in any way, shape or form. Is that the way to run government? Is that the way to run national security? Is that good stewardship of the taxpayers' dollar? The answer to each of those questions is no, no and no, which begs the question: why is it that the Labor Party and the Greens persist, and continue to persist, with this nonsense, which should by now have embarrassed them into a quiet retreat and putting the white flag up the flagpole? Whilst the Labor Party and the Greens will not learn the lessons of 18 May, the Australian people can be assured we will continue to pursue strong border protection for our nation.

4:18 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

Flawed and dangerous: that is exactly how I would describe those who've put forward this MPI motion today. Senator Roberts has, in this motion, described the medevac legislation as flawed and dangerous—just like One Nation.

This legislation passed by Labor and the crossbench has already been proven sensible and humane. It is simply designed to ensure that people who are sick or who need health care get it, all while remaining in security of Australia's borders. It's sensible and logical legislation that allows those who are unwell, in ill-health, to be given the medical attention that they need. We don't want to see further deterioration or complication in their health issues that could lead to serious negative health outcomes, and we've actually seen clear examples of that in our offshore processing regime. Denying people the health care they need is clearly dangerous and flawed.

Senator Roberts seems to have forgotten the mechanism by which the legislation works in practice, so shall we outline them to the Senate again one more time? Under the legislation, a medevac can only be used by two or more independent doctors. Doctors should always have the objective authority on health matters, in my view. Who should assess a person's health and wellbeing and determine whether they are in a critical condition and in need of urgent medical attention? Clearly, it should be a doctor. What we saw in the previous model was that doctors would provide advice, but that would then be referred to various bureaucracies and government departments to work out whether arrangements should be made. Essentially, it became an act of veto over an independent medical assessment.

Clearly, what's designed to happen under this legislation—and it is working quite well—is that the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs is advised that a patient needs to be brought to Australia for medical treatment. This process ensures the Minister for Home Affairs has the discretion required to bring that patient into the country on the grounds of security, public safety and character. For example, where a patient might have a criminal record and would expose the Australian community to a risk of criminal conduct, that transfer can be denied. They may also deny entry due to security concerns, through the advice of ASIO, such as if ASIO advises the minister that the transfer of the patient is prejudicial to the security of Australia and the threat can't be mitigated. That is a veto right the minister is yet to use.

These solutions were embedded in the original medevac legislation, and that is how the act is currently operating. We did that because we understand the importance of national security, we understand the importance of deterrence at our borders and we understand that the need for ministerial discretion in some cases is imperative. This is a process which is currently working well, and which has nothing to do with opening the floodgates into Australia. In fact, the process has only led to 90 approvals being made by the minister, who is acting according to the rule of law in making approvals upon doctors' advice to admit people to Australia for proper treatment. That means that 90 people that Minister Dutton previously might have refused treatment to have now been able to come to Australia for treatment. The legislative framework of medevac has enshrined patients' access to medical treatment in Australia only where appropriate medical treatment has not been accessible in the place of offshore processing.

One Nation's aim to repeal these medevac laws altogether is simply another thing that strips away the dignity of asylum seekers who are dealing with serious medical issues. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, an organisation which supports those seeking asylum, has described the process outlined in the legislation as 'rigorous, independent and transparent'. Medevac can be seen to be working. If I had expected more from One Nation, I would be talking about how this kind of brazen disregard for human rights in our nation is shocking. But I don't expect more from them or from this government. One Nation's track record on disrespecting the rights of all of those different to themselves, like their positions on First Nations people, LGBTI rights, and immigration—well, of course their position on asylum seekers would be to continue to see them suffer in detention centres and from preventable causes of ill-health and death.

But, clearly, we can't forget in this place that it's not just One Nation who it seems would prefer to prevent people getting the medical care they need. The government would like to repeal this legislation. Minister Dutton, who has consistently misled the Australian people and who has bleated about the weakening of Australia's borders, has expressed his desire to repeal it. There is no weakening of Australia's borders with these laws. It's very clear that anyone who arrives or attempts to arrive by boat now or in the future is simply not eligible for transfer under the medevac legislation. It only applies to those people who were already on Manus and Nauru prior to the legislation being enacted on 1 March 2019. We've seen none of the catastrophic events that the politically motivated statements claimed were going to ensue after this legislation came into being. But Minister Dutton does not care about that one iota. They don't seem to care that the medevac legislation is actually working. They don't care that they already have a right of veto for anyone they think is a threat to this country. They clearly really don't care that, by repealing this legislation, there will be a very real and inhumane impact.

It appears that the only thing that this government cares about is continuing a political tantrum that occurred earlier this year and last year when the bill went through without them, when human rights triumphed over the fear and prejudice that was peddled by the government. They were left out and hurt by progress and fairness being implemented without them. So here we are today suffering through another back step in creating a fair society, due to the government's inexplicable feelings of relevance deprivation, as has been shown time and time again since this bill was passed and in the subsequent months since it was implemented.

Medevac is not an attempt to bring all people who are in offshore processing on Papua New Guinea and Nauru to Australia. It is not a bill to weaken our borders, and it clearly has not done so. It is certainly not a bill for the government and its stooges to use to enact revenge for their past losses. It is a bill that allows people who need it to receive treatment that they most definitely require.

4:29 pm

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

I rise on yet another matter brought to this parliament on which Senator Roberts does not have a single clue about what he's talking about. Again Senator Roberts is pretending he knows more about what is going on than the medical or scientific experts. We shouldn't be surprised about that, because Senator Roberts has built an entire political career on denying science. Now, of course, he wants to deny the doctors. Let's be clear about what the medevac laws do. The medevac laws put decisions about medical care for desperately ill people in the hands of doctors, where they should be. They take those decisions out of the hands of politicians, where they never, ever should have been in the first place.

Let me ask the Senate one question: if any of you were to fall ill, would you seek the opinion of Senator Roberts about your illness? Would you seek the opinion of Minister Dutton about your illness? I'll answer that for you: no, you wouldn't. Who would you seek the opinion of? You would seek the opinion of a doctor about your illness, not Minister Peter Dutton.

Do you reckon that you would say, 'Oh, two medical professionals—two doctors—say that I urgently need to go to hospital, but what do you reckon, Minister? Do you reckon that I'm going to be okay?' No, you wouldn't. You wouldn't bother Minister Dutton with your health problems, you'd go and see a doctor and you would follow the advice from that doctor.

The prisoners on Manus Island and Nauru—and, yes, they are prisoners, contrary to the untruths that were told to this chamber by Minister Reynolds yesterday; they are horrific places. Does everyone know why I can get up here and say that with far more veracity than anyone else? Because I've been there, and no-one else in this chamber has. In fact, I've been to Manus Island six times, and I was in the centre when, under the instructions of the Australian government, that prison was laid siege to by the Papua New Guinea navy and the mobile squad of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary. They cut off the food, the drinking water, the electricity and the medical supports for over 600 desperate and vulnerable people.

The policy of offshore detention has been a humanitarian calamity. People have been murdered and they've been assaulted. Children have been sexually assaulted. People have been raped and have been subjected to brutalisation in a system designed deliberately to dehumanise. People have died because they've been exiled there as Australia's modern political prisoners.

People in the chamber know this. Senator Roberts knows this. Minister Dutton knows this, because the cruelty, the deprivations, the humanitarian calamity and the abuse of human rights are exactly the point of offshore detention. This entire regime of deterrence is based on the premise that life in offshore detention has to be made worse than the conditions people are fleeing in the first place. People are leaving some of the most dangerous and hostile places on the planet, and they have to be reminded that nothing but brutality and misery awaits them. That is why offshore detention was instituted. It is a practice that is akin to impaling corpses on the walls of medieval cities, which we used to do hundreds of years ago, in order to dissuade other desperate souls from trying to gain entry. These people are political prisoners and they are being treated like the corpses we used to impale on the walls of medieval cities.

There is no doubt that the medevac legislation is saving lives. It saves lives, and it is actually crucial that these laws are maintained so more lives can be saved. The Greens were proud, and I was proud, to co-sponsor the amendment that created the medevac laws in the first place, and I'll be very proud to stand with my Greens colleagues to defend those laws against the cruelty of the Liberal Party and against the cruelty of the One Nation party. We will never, ever give up the fight until this dark and bloody chapter in Australia's story comes to an end, until we regain the previous high position we had in the global human rights community and until these desperate people that we have harmed so profoundly get the freedom and safety they so desperately need and deserve.

4:34 pm

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this matter of public importance, which is framed:

That the flawed and dangerous Medevac legislation—

That were effected by Labor and the crossbench before the election—

undermines Australia’s border security and must be urgently repealed.

Most people have a longer memory than those on the crossbench and in Labor, but for those who can't remember, let me help them out. In the almost six years in which Labor was in power between 2007 and 2013, 50,000 people arrived in Australia illegally—using our waters and arriving in 800 boats. Eight thousand children were put into onshore detention in Australia, including 2,000 who remained in detention when the coalition came to government. At the worst of the people-smuggling trade and illegal arrivals there were 10,000 people living in 17 detention centres in Australia. If that wasn't bad enough, Australian taxpayers were paying $16 billion—not million, billion—to feed, house and clothe these detainees, in addition to the costs of processing them when they didn't have any documentation.

Now, I know I rattled off a lot of numbers, but let me give you the worst number of all—and it is 1,200. Twelve hundred people died at sea attempting to gain access to Australia's borders. Twelve hundred men, women and, sadly, children—

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

That we know of.

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You're absolutely right, Senator Duniam—that we know of—died in this process. But Operation Sovereign Borders has been an enormous success. Stop the boats and you stop the illegal trade in people smuggling and the exploitation of vulnerable people. Stop access to Australian waters and there is nothing for people smugglers to sell.

So, those numbers—the number of boats, 800 down to zero; the number of children in detention, from 8,000 to zero; the number of deaths at sea, reduced from 1,200 to zero—make me ask why Labor thought it was a good idea to open the door to this disgusting trade, to re-create the market where people smugglers could charge huge amounts of money to people to travel in unsafe boats, often deliberately disabling the safety of those boats to force a rescue—twelve hundred.

The medevac transfer bill—these amendments we are talking about—introduced by Dr Phelps last year and fully supported by Labor and the Greens, was flawed and dangerous. But they supported it, knowing the chaos caused between 2007 and 2013, knowing that winding back offshore processing would cause such chaos, knowing that there was such a scramble from the Gillard government to re-establish it. Senator Wong would have been in cabinet meetings about the impact of these unfettered illegal entries that were creating huge accommodation issues. There was overcrowding, and the tensions and safety risks this caused for detainees needed to be dealt with. There was the need to recommission old defence sites because the number of detainees was overwhelming all of the capacity at existing immigration detention centres. The medevac changes were stunningly naive and a massive overreach on the part of the former member for Wentworth.

The bill, or those changes, allowed for two doctors to override a ministerial decision about who could come to this country for medical treatment. But it isn't just about medical treatment. Two doctors can decide to transfer a person from offshore detention to Australia even if they're not diagnosed as ill. They could be transferred simply for assessment. And, with the recent ruling of the Federal Court, a person can be assessed without the doctors even seeing them. They can simply review the file from afar and approve the individual's transfer with just a signature. Once they're onshore, the minister has no way, no power, no right, to send them back to offshore processing—all of which shows what the changes were really about. They were really all about subverting the orderly immigration processes of this nation, all about dismantling offshore processing, all about loosening our borders.

Australian doctors train for at least a decade to provide medical expertise to Australians. As a profession, Australian doctors are highly skilled, and they provide us with world-class health care. At times they also provide advocacy aimed at improving that health care for all of us. Like most Australians, I happily visit doctors when I'm unwell, or when I or my family need treatment. I listen to them when it comes to immunisation. I listen to public health specialists who tell me to wash my hands when I go to the Ekka or told me not to eat soft cheese when I was pregnant. If I were to see a groundswell of concern from doctors about the Health Insurance Commission, I'd certainly go out and speak to doctors to understand their concerns, understand what's going on and advocate on their behalf. But for immigration advice I'm going to go to experts in that field. When I need to understand border protection, I look at the ministers who have successfully protected our borders. I look to the AFP, to ASIO and to Defence, the people who have the expert advice that can properly inform a meaningful policy solution for this country.

Not only was the ethos behind the bill flawed but the drafting has proven to be really loose. Already it's been watered down by the Federal Court decision I've mentioned. Had Dr Phelps looked to the security agencies for advice or gone to the Attorney-General to understand the ramifications of this wording and how the courts would interpret it, she mightn't have introduced the bill in the first place—unless undermining offshore processing was its very intent. Had Labor not been so intent on playing politics, they might have considered their experience last time they were in government. They might have said, 'Hey, remember what happened when we opened the borders last time? That was bad. That was expensive—$16 billion a year kind of expensive. Maybe not.' But they didn't. They played the cheap point and supported the medevac amendments, foolishly ignoring the reality of the good medical care that is available to detainees on Nauru and Manus Island.

You might not know, Madam Acting Deputy President, that there are 60 healthcare professionals on the island of Nauru in the detention centre there, half of whom specialise in mental health, providing services to refugees, nonrefugees and asylum seekers. This number includes general practitioners, psychiatrists, counsellors, mental health nurses and clinical health specialists. That means there's one healthcare worker for every seven people and one mental health professional for every 14 detainees. That is an incredible ratio. It's a ratio that is far better than many of my constituents experience in rural and regional Queensland. In the event that doctors on PNG and Nauru can't provide the medical treatment that's needed, transfers are assessed on a case-by-case basis, with the approval of the minister and with medical advice, and it has been done thousands of times over in the pre-medevac world.

The Greens and Labor like to pretend there's no medical care going on, but that's just not the fact. They like to pretend they've got a monopoly on compassion and that the coalition is just heartless when it comes to immigration, including illegal immigration. But, by stopping the boats, we've been able to increase our intake of refugees, many of whom have been sitting patiently in refugee camps for years, doing the right thing and following the proper processes. Often these are the people with the least means of all. It's because we stopped the boats and reduced the number of illegal arrivals that we've been able to increase our humanitarian migrant numbers by 27 per cent in the last five years.

Clearly, my sympathies and the sympathies of the Morrison government are with genuine refugees—those who do the right thing, apply for refugee status and then wait their turn to come to Australia. These changes weakened our borders. While this act stands, it is the perfect marketing tool for illegal people smugglers to get back in the trade. It is a flawed and dangerous act, and it must be repealed as a matter of urgency.

4:44 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak against this matter of public importance that was put up today, which contains a lot of mistruths about what the medevac legislation actually does. I've heard from some of the government senators today as they agree with the matter of public importance, somehow buying into the argument there's something deeply flawed with the medevac legislation. But in my contribution today I really want to start to put the truth on the table.

We've heard government senators in particular talk about immigration and border control. That's not what the medevac legislation is about. It is about dealing with sick people in a fair and appropriate way, in a way that I believe most Australians would want to be treated if they found themselves in a situation where there wasn't expert medical attention available to them. I've heard government senators say today that they take the advice of experts. Well, that medevac bill came from a groundswell of doctors—thousands of doctors across the country—GPs and specialists, who were very concerned about the health and wellbeing of refugees on Manus and Nauru. They're the experts, yet, when those experts speak, the Morrison government doesn't want to listen to them. Somehow it makes it about weakening our borders and so on.

Who could forget that earlier this year we saw the absolute farce, the political expediency of a government so desperate that they suddenly announced, at the cost of billions of dollars, the reopening of the Christmas Island detention centre. According to the government, if you believed the sort of nonsense they were pedalling, we were going to have thousands of people seeking asylum arriving at our borders as a result of the medevac legislation. Anyone who cares to look at that legislation knows that it applies only to the current cohort of refugees. It's doesn't have a future. It applies to the current cohort. It doesn't apply to anyone who arrives in Australia, whether by boat or by plane. It simply applies to those who currently need medical help. And there was a need for this legislation. All of us have heard the horror stories of children refusing to eat, of children not meeting milestones and of adults dying of horrific injuries that started as a very small issue. Had those issues been treated in Australia, they wouldn't have lost their lives. So it was actually needed.

Let's put some other truths on the table. The government controls this process at all times. It's not about two doctors in some beachside suburb filling out a form. The government maintains control. Let's put some more facts on the table. How many refugees have been transferred to Australia since that medevac legislation came into place? Just 70. That's right—just 70. And only seven have been medevaced to Australia against the government's wishes. We just heard from government senators about how we're weakening our borders and how we're opening the gates, but none of that is true. This legislation is about giving people who are sick the opportunity, if they can't be treated where they are, to be brought to Australia. And fair-minded Australians would support that sort of move.

As I said, we heard that the Christmas Island detention centre was reopened. We saw that disgraceful use of taxpayers' money when the Prime Minister flew right across Australia to Christmas Island. As a Western Australian senator, I know Christmas Island is part of the electorates in Western Australia. We saw the Prime Minister with an entourage of media go and take photos and look at all the medical equipment and all of that. Then what happened? Suddenly, quietly, we're not doing that anymore. That's been closed, as we always knew it would be. It suited the government's purpose at the time to try and scare people. This legislation is designed for a specific group of people—it enables them to get the health care they should so rightly receive—yet the government tried to paint it that there would be thousands and thousands of people coming to our shores seeking asylum. Well, that just hasn't happened. It simply hasn't happened.

What Labor want to do—and we supported the medevac legislation—is ensure that people who are sick get the medical treatment that they are entitled to receive. We took the advice of experts. We did talk to security people, which is why Labor also ensured that the minister—currently Mr Dutton—has the final discretion over medical transfers.

Why won't those opposite, the government, talk about the truth of this legislation? It won't, because that doesn't suit their narrative. They want to continue to scare Australians—to scare them about taxes, to scare them about people coming to our country uninvited. They want to scare them about weakened borders because it suits their narrative. As we saw earlier this week, the government really doesn't have a plan. It doesn't have a legislation agenda. We saw at 8.25 pm on Tuesday that suddenly we were doing the address-in-reply. Guess what? The government had no more business. So it suits them to continue with this scare narrative. Whatever it's about, they want to paint this scary picture or blame others, when all this legislation is seeking to do is take people who are sick and enable them, if two doctors—which the government has complete control over—sign off so they can be brought here for treatment.

The other thing that you never hear the government talk about is that the government itself has brought thousands of people here. There are already thousands of people in Australia right now—men, women and children—receiving treatment. They are refugees. Yet, under the medevac bill, we've had 70. On one side we've got 70 as part of this new legislation against the thousands the government have already brought here. But you won't hear them talk about that, because it doesn't suit the narrative of: 'Let's make people afraid and make people think this legislation is all about weakening borders. Let's make people think this legislation is all about immigration.' They're hell-bent on repealing it.

They've had Senator Roberts today fire the first shot for them, to test us out. Well, Labor's not backing away from this. We're not backing away from our support for the position that people who are sick need to be treated decently. That is our position. It has been our position from day one and will remain our position. Good on the government. They've tested the waters today. They've seen where their support is.

This medevac legislation is really about giving sick people a fair go. The government is failing the basic test of truthfulness with the sort of rhetoric and spin that it's putting out. We've seen a minister who routinely manipulates, misrepresents and mischaracterises what's really happening. For what? For political gain. We often hear in this place that we shouldn't play politics with this, that and the other thing. Well, it's not people on this side of the chamber who are playing politics here, it's the government. It's the government that would try to mislead Australians into thinking that there are thousands of people coming when there are 70. It's a government that only talks about weakening our borders, when this is about sick people getting the treatment they're entitled to.

We hear the government trying to put a position that this is all about immigration and about controlling who comes here and who doesn't, when the actual truth is that many more people came to be treated in Australia before this legislation was put in place than the 70 who have come since we've had the medevac bill. So we will continue to oppose the government's attempts to repeal this legislation because, at the end of the day, this is about sick people getting the treatment they deserve, signed off on by expert doctors.

4:54 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I must say, it boggles my mind there are people sitting in this parliament who want to repeal a law that allows sick and injured people to receive the medical attention they need. How full of hatred must your heart be to say someone should be denied the medical treatment that they desperately need, simply because they are a refugee or an asylum seeker? Australia has imprisoned these people, there is no other way around this, and providing them with medical care is our obligation.

I find it interesting that Pauline Hanson's One Nation party has brought this matter of public importance forward. Perhaps they are concerned that the Liberal Party is now even more callous than them in their continued persecution of asylum seekers, and they are seeking to play catch up. When One Nation talk about asylum seekers being a risk to border security we know what they really mean. Twenty years ago, they didn't want Asians in this country. Now their target is Muslims. We know why they don't want these asylum seekers to come to Australia. It's because they don't look like you. If the medevac bill is repealed, you will be taking away medical treatment from people, and that is simply unconscionable.

The government controls the lives of those in detention, but at the same time it pretends that they aren't its problem. The government says they aren't in a detention centre but they are locked up every night at 6 pm. Those opposite say they are free to leave whenever they want but won't let them take the offer of humanitarian resettlement from the New Zealand government and now want to take away their access to medical care in Australia. The government is playing games with their lives.

Mandatory detention is killing people; that's the stark reality. The number of suicide attempts and acts of self-harm since the election has reached 100. One young man set himself on fire inside his room. Australia's onshore detention system is killing people as well. Just this month, a 23-year-old man, who fled war-torn Afghanistan six years ago, died at a Melbourne immigration detention centre. We had him locked up for six long years. In September last year, a 22-year-old Iraqi man died in hospital after attempting to take his own life at Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre in Western Australia. He had been transferred from Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney to Yongah Hill a few weeks ago, away from his family, including his two young children.

Jane McAdam and Fiona Chong recently penned an opinion piece called 'How did our treatment of refugees come to this?'. They said:

Imagine losing your eye in an assault and going slowly blind in the other, but having no medical treatment available. Or having your kneecap torn loose, causing intense pain and swelling, but being given nothing but paracetamol and a bandage. Or having a stroke, and needing to see a neurologist, psychiatrist and a cardiologist, but being offered aspirin. These things have happened to refugees held offshore, on Australia’s watch. How did it come to this?

Yes, indeed, how did it come to this? It came to this because of the bipartisan cruelty of both the Labor and Liberal governments. It came to this because they don't see asylum seekers as people just like us. It came to this because they choose fear over compassion. The authors go on to say:

In essence, Australia has sought to create conditions that are so bad that they come close to rivalling the life-threatening conditions from which people are fleeing in the first place. Currently, more than 800 people remain on Nauru and Manus Island, living in idle despair. Many have been there for almost six years, with no clear end in sight, even though most have been found to be refugees. More than 80 per cent suffer from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Reading this and knowing what we all know, it is appalling that this government's major priority is to torment them even further. Enough is enough. We need to close this terrible chapter in our history and find some humanity in our hearts.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

In what I can attribute to the new senators, we are being a bit more productive and we are running ahead of time. I have been advised that the most appropriate thing to do is just pause for a few seconds to allow senators to enter the chamber before I call senators for their first speeches.