Wednesday, 4 December 2019
Let me make the most important point up front: there is no secret deal. Let me repeat that again: there is no secret deal. There is no secret. The Australian people know extremely well the work that we have done to strengthen our border protection arrangements. The Australian people understand very well what we have done in order to clean up the mess that Labor left behind on our borders when you lost government. The Australian people know perfectly well how we are ensuring that the boats don't start coming again and they understand that, under our legislation, medical transfers were possible before Labor brought back weak medevac laws. And medical transfers where appropriate will be available after the Labor-Greens weak medevac laws have been repealed.
Obviously the Labor Party doesn't believe anybody can be persuaded by a good argument. Whenever we are able to persuade anyone, the Labor Party assumes there must be some secret deal. There is no secret deal, there will be no change to our strong border protection arrangements, there will be no change to our strong national security arrangements and there will be no change in the way we deal with the legacy caseload that Labor left behind when last in government. We will continue to do what we have done steadfastly over the last six-and-a-bit years. We will continue to protect our borders and we will continue to work our way through the caseload that Labor left behind and the caseload that Labor sent offshore. You should be ashamed of yourselves. The government is continuing to clean up your mess.
Let me tell you: the government are hopeful that we were able to satisfy a majority of senators in this place that Labor's weak medevac laws need to be repealed, that it is necessary and that we are doing all the appropriate things to deal with the legacy caseload without compromising our border security and national security arrangements. I mean, we are hopeful that not only through constructive engagement, through discussion, through extensive briefings explaining what we're doing, but also by explaining the risks of keeping medevac laws in place as they currently stand carefully and constructively and over an extended period of time, we have been able to persuade the majority of senators that Labor's weak and bad medevac laws must be repealed in order to strengthen our national security again. Labor, the Greens and various others weakened our national security arrangements in the lead-up to the last election. That is why we are bringing this on this week.
It is very obvious that the Labor Party did not want to participate in this debate. They explicitly asked for their speakers to be put towards the bottom of the speakers' list. I don't know if that was a game of tactics or an indication of the fact that they didn't actually want to engage in the debate. Look at the speakers' list that was circulated through the informal arrangements in this chamber; it's very obvious that the Labor Party asked to be put at the bottom of the list. We need to get on with this. This is just another attempt to avoid a vote by the Senate on this very important legislation, which repeals the weak Labor-Greens backed medevac laws, which are not necessary and have weakened our national security arrangements. The laws should be repealed as soon as they possible can be.
One Nation strongly supports the repeal of the medevac legislation. If the Labor Party had any common sense about this, they would listen to how the Australian people feel about it. This legislation resulted in 179 people being brought into the country, and only 19 were hospitalised. Of that 19, only six were hospitalised immediately upon their arrival in this country. The Australian people—
An opposition senator interjecting—
You've taken the people for a ride here. The Labor Party has allowed these people to come here to Australia. This Kerryn Phelps bill is ridiculous and does not address the problem. Medical attention was given to these people. You have allowed them to come into this country to abuse us—as soon as they get into the country they are then using it to stay here. How many of the people have been sent back? None—not one. They have all used it as a back door into the country, yet look at the people who want to come into Australia the legal way. We know that these are self-inflicted—like palm oil into their bloody penises. This is what they've done to get into the country, and it's costing us $10,000 for them to do it. There's not just one; there are multiple cases of it being done. They're actually swallowing stones to come here. For what reason? To get into the country so that they can use our laws to overturn—and we can't send them back.
This is not about what deals have been done. I will sit here and listen to the Labor Party's 'greater than thou' act, as if they have never done their deals. They are a bunch of hypocrites. When they're in government, they will deal with whomever they can to get their legislation through. I know that deals are being done in this place by both sides of parliament, so don't stand up as if you're greater than thou—you're not. We're not here to discuss any deals done with Jacqui Lambie. That's none of my concern. I'm here to vote on a bill that is going to secure our national security. That's what this bill is about, so stop making it into something that it's not. It's about people coming here to Australia illegally—illegally! Have a good look at their backgrounds, because a lot of these people have been investigated by the Federal Police and by ASIO. They are not good characters. And you want to see them in this country? You are quite happy to see them in this country—these people of not good character? They're rapists. These people are thugs. They don't belong here in Australia. They've gone through the process but you're quite happy to open up the gates and allow them in here. Are you going to take responsibility if these people turn on us—if they're going to be a threat in our society? Is that what you really want?
If Labor ever get control of this country, they will be the worst thing for border control. They haven't learnt at all. They don't understand the Australian people. The Australian people don't trust them on border protection—they don't trust you! That is a fact. The Australian people don't trust you, and especially you, Senator Keneally. The people don't support you and don't trust you. When you were premier, you couldn't even look after your own state and give people in New South Wales the medical treatment they needed. They couldn't get it under your leadership, yet you're bending over backwards to get the illegals into the country before Australian people can get medical attention. Any medical evacuation costs us about $100,000. For $100,000, do you know how much medical attention could be given to people in Australia?
So 179 have come here under the guise that they are in desperate need of medical attention and only 19 ended in hospital and six immediately. Answer that for the Australian people. Tell me how the Australian people feel about that.
We will be supporting this bill very, very strongly. It should never have happened. We have to trust our authorities that they have given them the medical attention that they need. They have never denied them that at all. I am sick of the lies that are going on. You say the people of Nauru are hostages. They are not. One woman from Nauru said: 'You people in Australia are stupid. You've made us Nauruans very wealthy people. They live the life. They mix with our people. They have babies. They get visas. They can travel the world. You people in Australia are stupid, because you've made us very wealthy people.' That's exactly what the Labor Party has done. You have put the Australian people in that situation. Shame on the Labor Party!
Let's be clear about Australia's shameful offshore detention regime—this dark, foul and bloody chapter in our country's history. It was designed with secrecy in mind. It was designed to be secret. It was designed to put people on Manus Island and Nauru, out of sight of the Australian people, out of sight of the Australian media and out of sight of the world's media. The media couldn't get visas to go and visit, people like me were deported, and people like Senator Hanson-Young were spied on when they went over there. It was designed to be a secret system. That wasn't a bug in the system; it was a feature of the system. And that secrecy has allowed for murders, rapes, sexual assault of children, untold suffering and people's lives being destroyed. That's what that secrecy was designed to deliver, and it successfully delivered all of those things.
And where are we today? We are still in the dark, with secrecy being not a bug but a feature. And just as the previous secrecy allowed for those murders, rapes, self-harm and sexual abuse of children, so will today's secrecy allow for untold human harm and misery. Again, it wasn't just the secrecy allowing for those things; it was designed to operate like that. That has been a feature of our offshore detention system for five, six or seven years now, and that is what will happen as we go forward from this day because the system will remain shrouded in secrecy and the secret deal that has been arranged between the government and Senator Lambie will remain shrouded in secrecy.
And just as all of that previous secrecy allowed for those rampant human rights abuses, so into the future will we see increased levels of human suffering—the suffering of innocent people who did nothing other than stretch out a hand to our country and ask us for help. We will see the suffering, harm and the misery continue. This is a dark day for the majority of Australians who support the medevac legislation. It's a dark day for the Senate, which is being asked to make a decision, shrouded in secrecy, without all of the information in our hands. But do you know who this is the darkest day for? It's the darkest day for those people who remain in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. That's who this is the darkest day for. Under medevac they could have confidence that if they have a medical condition so significant that it could not be adequately treated in Papua New Guinea or Nauru and the doctors believed they needed to come to Australia for treatment, that is what would happen. Senator Lambie, the government and One Nation are taking that comfort away from them.
We have seen deaths, we have seen murders, we have seen rapes and we have seen assaults on children, including sexual assaults on children, and what Senator Lambie and the government are doing today is shrouded in secrecy, as this system has been since day one. They've done a deal to repeal the medevac legislation. The people in offshore detention need our help. They desperately need our help, and Senator Lambie and the government today are going to vote to put decisions on whether people should be transferred for medical conditions back in the hands of the minister who has shown repeatedly that he will fight tooth and nail, including in our courts, to prevent people getting the treatment they need—and deaths have resulted.
Imagine being a cabinet minister, knowing that your government has done a deal and you don't know what it is; you're kept in the dark. You don't know, yet Senator Lambie knows. But nobody else in this parliament is allowed to know; the Australian public aren't allowed to know. Are you that powerless over there, cabinet ministers, that you're not to be trusted with knowledge of what this deal is? If you know, put it on the table! Put it on the table and let us all see it. If it's so wonderful, if it is so fantastic, why can't the whole of the parliament know and why can't all of the Australian people know?
Understand this: when we vote later on this morning, there are going to be members of the government backbench who have no idea what they're voting on or what they're voting for. There are going to be—
I will take that interjection from Senator Scarr. Have they trusted Senator Scarr, but not the frontbench of the government, with the deal? I don't think they have. Senator Scarr and all of his backbench colleagues will wander in here like lemmings, along with the frontbench, and vote for a deal done with Senator Lambie, and they don't even know the contents of it. That's why this amendment is important. It seeks, for the edification of the government frontbench, their backbench and the whole of the parliament, to know what is in this legislation and what deal the government has done with Senator Lambie.
And maybe members of the government don't understand this: the Australian public supports medevac. Sixty-two per cent of the Australian public in an Essential poll supported medevac.
Government senators interjecting—
Boy! They don't like hearing that, do they? They do not like hearing that the Australian public thinks it is an Australian value that when you are sick you get to see a doctor. Amazing idea! You get to see a doctor when you are sick. The Australian public supports that. They support that. Understand this: the government likes to say, 'Oh, you get to see a doctor now.' The government has been going to court since 2015 to stop sick people getting medical treatment. That's what they've been doing. They've been going to court to stop sick people from getting medical treatment. When the Department of Immigration, before it became the Department of Home Affairs, issued a directive in 2015 that medical transfers should only occur pretty much on the brink of death, that is when medical transfers ceased. They all but ceased.
Understand this: 900 people were transferred by the government—
Senator Hanson interjecting—
Nine hundred people, Senator Hanson, have been transferred by the government for medical treatment, but those were mainly before 2015. Then in 2015 they issued this directive that sick people should no longer get treatment; sick people should not be transferred unless they were on the brink of death. That is what the directive said; I read it out in my second reading speech. And that is why medevac has been necessary. Because this government, devoid of a heart, devoid of any human compassion, devoid of empathy, just wants to keep people locked up in indefinite cruel detention for years and years and years, using them as some kind of human warning signal, claiming that somehow this is integral to Operation Sovereign Borders. Let's be clear: medevac has nothing to do with Operation Sovereign Borders. Labor supports Operation Sovereign Borders. We believe you can be strong on border protection without going weak on humanity. This government goes weak on humanity at every single turn. Understand this: what you're voting on today will deny sick people treatment. It will deny sick people the opportunity to see a doctor and to get treatment.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order! Senators Gallagher, Wong and Seselja. Please stop the clock. I have asked senators—last two days of term. Senator Seselja, Senator Wong, I have asked people, when I call them by name, to count to 20 before they continue to breach standing orders and interject.
Senator Seselja interjecting—
What is going to happen today is a secret deal done by the government with Senator Lambie. Neither Senator Lambie nor the government are willing to tell the parliament or the public what's in that deal. This amendment seeks to put it on the table because, otherwise, people are going to be voting in the dark and they're going to take away hope from the people on Manus and Nauru that they are going to be able see a doctor when they are sick.
I'm quite sure many people know in here this has been a really hard decision for me to make. Sorry, everyone, for taking this long to make it but we're getting there. Medevac isn't a national security threat but there are real problems with the way it's operating. There are problems that sit at the centre of its operation. They cannot be amended away. The Labor Party and the Greens may think everything is A-okay, but I am not comfortable with it and I will tell you: they know as well as anybody else that this isn't right.
To those who say that doctors should make the final call on matters like that: doctors don't make our health policy. The final decision-maker for health policy is the Minister for Health. You can take advice from doctors, but doctors aren't elected. They aren't accountable to the public; they can't be voted in or out. The Minister for Finance isn't an economist. The Minister for Veterans Affairs is not a veteran. The Minister for Education isn't a teacher. We have a system here where we let experts give advice but we do not let them make the final decision on matters of this nature.
Medevac lets the doctors make the call, and the minister has an incredibly limited ability to overrule it. If you care about the government being accountable to the people, that should bother you; it bothers me but it doesn't bother me enough to let people die, so I am faced with a question of what to do. Do I repeal the legislation or let it sit there? It is not as perfect as the activists would have you believe but it is not as terrible as the media loudmouths would have you believe either. The usual suspects in the media can make a big song and dance about someone coming because they've got a cold or whatever it is they are talking about.
I have got to be honest; my rule throughout this whole process has been: if it's on the front page of the newspapers and it's anything to do with medevac, it's probably not worth reading. But they dial up the outrage if a person is coming for medical treatment because they've got a cold or a bee sting or a kidney stone. Before medevac, someone presented to a nurse with a flu and 13 days later he was dead. The Queensland coroner found that death would have been completely preventable if we had done something more to help. So I do not accept we can go back to the way things used to be.
I asked myself how we could do things differently. I put up to the government a proposal to work with me to secure my support for the passage of the repeal of medevac. I'm not being coy or silly when I say I genuinely can't say what I proposed. I know that's frustrating to people and I get that. I don't like holding things back like this but when I say I can't discuss it publicly due to national security concerns, I am being 100 per cent honest to you. My hand is on my heart and I can stand here and say I will be putting at risk Australia's national security interest if I said anything else about this. Every journalist asked me to discuss it anyway because they assume that everyone who refers to national security to keep something secret is a lying, cynical bum, and they're probably right most of the time. I understand that instinct.
So I put a proposal to the government, and since then we have worked together really hard to advance that proposal. We've worked to an outcome I believe we both want, which is an outcome where our borders are secure, the boats have stopped and sick people aren't dying while waiting for treatment. As a result of that work, I'm more than satisfied that the conditions are now in place to allow medevac to be repealed. I am voting for the repeal of medevac because I'm satisfied that the conditions that led to medevac being passed aren't the same as the conditions today. The world in which this vote takes place is different, and I thank the government for working productively with me to make sure of that.
I get that this vote will disappoint many, and I apologise for that. This is a matter of conscience. I can't let the boats start back up and I can't let refugees die, whether it's sinking into the ocean or waiting for a doctor, and I am voting to make sure that neither of these things happen.
We've just heard conflicting accounts. We had Minister Cormann say that there was no deal. Now we've just heard Senator Lambie say there is a deal. Who's lying? Who is lying, Minister Cormann? Are you lying or is Senator Lambie lying? We've just heard that you and Senator Lambie have worked on a secret proposal, in good faith, that she cannot disclose for so-called national security reasons, and you, only a few moments ago, stood up and said there was no deal. In fact, you walked over to Senator Lambie and said, 'Is it okay if I say there's no deal?' We heard you say it. Who's lying? Who's misleading this parliament? Who on earth is misleading this parliament? Because there is either a deal, as Senator Lambie has just said, and you're lying, or Senator Lambie is lying. Someone is misleading the Senate. Someone is misleading the Senate about one of the most important pieces of legislation that has been before this parliament.
Order! Senator Di Natale. Can I remind senators to not dance around the use of unparliamentary language, particularly as we close the parliamentary year. The question is that the motion to suspend standing orders moved by Senator Wong be agreed to. I remind senators this requires an absolute majority to succeed.
Senator Wong interjecting—
You may be good at that prediction, Senator Wong. I will let the Senate determine it. The question is that the motion moved by Senator Wong to suspend standing orders be agreed to.
Senator Di Natale, I'm trying to maintain the dignity of the Senate at a tense moment. On the previous occasion I was advised that the opposition person would seek the call, which gave me an opportunity to then supersede the speaking list. On this occasion I wasn't. I'm not blaming anyone. I had given the call to Senator Hanson. Senator Hanson, please continue.
Thank you very much. Good try, Senator Di Natale, to stop me from making a few comments on this. I just had a quick talk with Senator Lambie then. It's extremely hard for her. I do trust her judgement.