Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Business

Consideration of Legislation

9:31 am

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion to provide for the consideration of the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019 for the remainder of today.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter; namely, a motion to provide that a motion relating to the consideration of the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019 may be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.

This is one of the core issues that we took to the last election: our promise to repeal the Labor-Greens backed weak medevac laws, which have weakened our border security arrangements and weakened our national security. Today the Senate will have an opportunity to side with the government in support of stronger national security and against weaker national security arrangements.

This legislation has, of course, been subject to a Senate inquiry. We've had significant debate already. It is obvious from the speakers list that has been circulated in the chamber that Labor and Greens senators have asked to be grouped together towards the bottom of the speakers list, so clearly there is no significant urge by Labor or Greens speakers to participate in this debate any longer. We believe it's in the national interest for this legislation to come to a vote, to be resolved, and for us to leave here this week with the strong border protection and national security arrangements that this government has put in place having been restored. That is why I'm moving this suspension and intend to move the motion circulated in the chamber.

The effect of this motion will be that there will be a further continuation of the second reading debate that's consistent with the order on the speakers list circulated in the chamber. Again, it was not our decision for Labor and Greens senators to be put on the list where they are; it was at the specific request of Labor and Greens senators. On that basis, given where we are in this process, I commend to the Senate the suspension motion and, indeed, ultimately the motion in relation to time management in relation to this bill.

9:33 am

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, it is clear that a secret deal has been done—a deal between the government and Senate crossbencher Senator Lambie. The parliament and the Australian people have a right to know what this secret deal is. What is the secret deal? There's been a deal between the Morrison government and Senator Lambie to drive a stake through the heart of medevac, and they're keeping it secret from this parliament and from the Australian public. Without the full details of this secret deal, how on earth can senators cast a vote in this debate?

Without the details of this secret deal, senators are being asked to cast a vote. Will it start the boats again? Will this secret deal undermine national security, or will this secret deal follow through on a better result for the people who are held in regional processing centres in Manus and Nauru? We simply don't know. Is this what this government has come to—secret deals done behind closed doors, and now dragging it in here, guillotining debate so that it can rush to a vote?

We know that this is a Prime Minister who is willing to do or say anything or promise anything, so what has been agreed to by Senator Lambie and the government? Is the one condition Senator Lambie made clear over the weekend the deal? Have they agreed to Senator Lambie's one condition? Have the government given her their word? Have they actually put pen to paper? These are all questions we don't know the answer to, because they're unwilling to tell us. This is a deal that will remove life-saving medical transfer provisions for people in PNG and Nauru. Before medevac came into existence, 12 people died on this government's watch—12 people—and countless other people were left sick, disfigured, scarred. If senators are to repeal medevac without any knowledge of the deal, they are voting blind.

I ask: does Senator Hanson know the secret deal? Does Senator Roberts know what is in this secret deal? They've given their commitment to vote for a repeal of medevac. Now they're being asked to vote for a repeal of medevac. There's a deal they don't know anything about. You've been cut out of the process, have you? Do you know if this deal is going to be good for the people on PNG, or bad? Do you know if this deal is going to restart the boats, or not?

Do you trust this Prime Minister? I say to Senator Lambie: think about this Prime Minister. He will make up anything just to get himself out of a political bind. He promised to ban the expulsion of gay students on the basis of their sexuality; he never delivered on that deal. He promised to introduce religious discrimination laws by the end of the year; he has pushed that off into the never-never. The Prime Minister promised to deliver the national integrity commission; he pushed that deal off to next year. He promised to respond to the ACCC report on digital giants; he pushed that off. He's gone slowly on the dairy code after they committed to doing that. They promised higher wages; that's a broken promise. They promised to put flash technology for diabetes sufferers on the PBS by March this year; they failed to deliver on that. They have a worthless ministerial code—having witnessed Angus Taylor. And they've gone slow on the banking royal commission. So how can Senator Lambie have any confidence they will deliver on whatever secret deal she has struck with this government?

The fact remains that medevac was only ever needed because the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs refused life-saving transfers for sick people. Labor believes that Australia can have strong borders without losing our humanity. Let's be clear—people's lives are at risk. When we are casting our votes on this legislation, people's lives are at risk. It is not the time for secret deals. It is not the time for political games. And the worst part is: how are we as a parliament possibly supposed to hold the Prime Minister and this government to account when they're doing secret deals with the crossbench that they're not telling the parliament or the people of Australia about? They're asking us to just trust them with a secret deal. Medevac has saved lives and continues to save lives. It should not be repealed with a secret deal, and Labor will vote to save medevac.

9:38 am

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

What we've just heard from ambassador Keneally there—

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

Order, Senator Birmingham! I ask you to refer to senators by their formal titles.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

What we've just heard from current Senator Keneally there—and staying Senator Keneally, thanks to the fact we don't have a Prime Minister Bill Shorten—is Senator Keneally engaging in complete overreach and completely misleading conduct in terms of the issue that is before this chamber. We hear from Senator Keneally and those opposite, again and again, statements that try to create the belief that somehow without their flawed medevac laws there is no process or no role for medical practitioners in terms of the transfer of individuals to Australia. That is completely untrue. The truth is that processes for medical transfers already existed prior to the medevac laws, and they will continue to exist should this bill pass the Senate. Specifically, section 198B of the Migration Act allows for transitory persons from a country or place outside Australia to come to Australia for a temporary purpose—for medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment. These provisions have been used and will be used. That is what is there already. The repeal of Labor's laws doesn't change the ability to medically transfer a transitory person to Australia. It does not change that.

The truth is that it is a misconception that the medical transfer provisions inserted by these so-called medevac laws introduced doctors into the transfer process. It did not. The department and ministers of the day have consistently relied upon advice from doctors and medical practitioners to form decisions on whether to bring a person to Australia for medical treatment. We've always been clear on this position.

Senator Keneally poses rhetorical questions to the chamber like, 'How can somebody trust or believe or otherwise on these matters?' How on earth can anybody trust the Labor Party when it comes to matters of border protection? How can they be trusted at all? We know that when it comes to temporary visas, the Labor Party are willing to roll back those parts of the government's successful border protections. We know that Mr Albanese has previously gone to the Labor Party national convention wanting to roll the whole lot back. We know that Senator Keneally herself has wanted to roll back plenty of elements when it comes to border protection policies. And we know that when Labor were last in office they completely lost control of our borders.

The government wants a circumstance where we don't have to deal with these issues at all in the future. We know that we can best have that circumstance by maintaining complete control of our borders, by maintaining the orderly arrivals that this government has achieved by stopping the boats and stopping new individuals going into detention. Our policies have worked in stopping those boats. Our policies have worked in getting all children out of detention. Our policies are working in terms of resettling individuals as a result of agreements we're striking elsewhere around the world. Our policies continue to provide the provision for medical advice to inform decisions made by the minister, and it is completely misleading for Senator Keneally or anyone else in this place to pretend otherwise.

9:42 am

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

I want to be abundantly clear with the Senate that the debate we're currently having is literally a life or death debate. It is literally a debate that will make such a difference for and have such an impact on so many people that I urge senators to put away—as Senator Birmingham just brought out—the political boilerplate rhetoric here and actually focus on what we are debating. It is literally a life or death debate. There are literally lives at very real risk based on the decisions that we make today. Without medevac, the transfer of desperately ill and sick people who have been in Australia's offshore detention regime for coming on to seven years now—the overwhelmingly majority of whom have significant and serious physical and/or mental health problems—will ultimately be determined by the minister. Medevac placed those decisions where they ought to be in a civilised society, which is in the hands of doctors. That is what we are debating.

It is obvious now that Senator Lambie has done a deal with the government. I can only urge both parties to that agreement to come clean on what it is, because how can we have this debate when the majority of the Senate is in the dark about what that agreement is? How can we have a debate that is going to determine whether some people live or whether some people die without the full knowledge of the facts at our disposal?

This is the culmination of well over a year of work by this parliament and, ultimately, a decision made by this parliament to place medical decisions where they ought to be in a civilised society, which is in the hands of the doctors. What we don't need now is a secret deal that will determine whether some people live and whether some people die, and the Senate being asked, as I dread is the case, to conduct these votes and debates absolutely in the dark about what, if anything, the government has agreed to with Senator Lambie. Come clean and allow the Senate to operate as it should, in the full possession and the full understanding of all of the facts that are relevant to this debate. Don't do a secret deal when people's lives are in the balance. That is what I fear has occurred. That is what I fear is going to occur. Playing with people's lives through some secret arrangement is one of the most reprehensible things that you can do as a member of parliament.

This is not just some ordinary piece of legislation that might change the amount of money that someone has or what access they have to public transport or other everyday government services; this is a piece of legislation that will literally either save lives or cost lives. It is completely unacceptable that we should be asked to make these life-or-death decisions without all of the facts at our disposal. I urge Senator Cormann, I urge the Prime Minister, I urge Minister Dutton, I urge whoever has been dealing with this on behalf of the government and I urge Senator Lambie: please put the information on the table so that we can understand whether we are voting to save lives or to kill people. That is what sits in the balance here—whether people live or whether people die. There is nothing more serious that this parliament will ever debate, so let's debate it in the full possession of the facts.

9:47 am

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

Here in opposition, we have certainly seen some bad law pass this chamber. We have seen the government push through legislation that we haven't agreed with and that other members of the crossbench haven't agreed with, but, in almost all of those cases, we've been able to debate in openness and transparency the matters on which we disagree and the content of the arrangements of that legislation, because it is put before the chamber. But what we understand, in some of the discussions that have been happening around this bill, is that, whatever agreements may or may not have been reached with Senator Lambie, we will not be given the opportunity to scrutinise those arrangements, to debate them or to disagree with them, because that is part of a secret arrangement between the government and Senator Lambie.

I can't think of a more important piece of legislation that touches on the lives of over 500 people who have been forced, through the lack of action by this government, to be held in offshore detention now for seven years. Think about that, each one of us here. Imagine, Senator Reynolds, being stuck somewhere without the opportunity to leave for seven years.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Who put them there? You put them there; every single one of them!

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

I'll take the interjection. I can guarantee that Labor in government would not have left 500 people on an island for seven years without lifting a finger to do a thing about it. I can guarantee you that. These places were for offshore processing, not for indefinite detention, which is what they have turned into.

Honourable senators interjecting

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

Order on my left and right. Senator Urquhart and Senator Reynolds!

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

Some 500 people have been forced to spend seven years—

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Fifty thousand people. It wasn't you picking them out of the sea; customs officers had to get them out.

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

This mean government is so obsessed with getting a win after this shocking week and after defending a minister's behaviour that is, frankly, disgraceful. They're desperate. They're trying to get a win off the back of more than 500 people.

Honourable senators interjecting

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

Order! Please pause the clock. I'm going to insist that, when I name senators and ask them to come to order, they count to 20 before they start interjecting again and breaking the standing orders again. We have two sitting days to go. We need to deal with this debate. The senator should be heard in silence.

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

Thank you, Mr President. This government is so obsessed by this legislation that was passed by the democratic houses of this parliament in the last term. It simply allows a refugee currently in offshore detention who needs medical treatment that can't be provided where they are to be brought to Australia to access that medical treatment. They are so obsessed with their ideology—their determination to be inhumane to the more than 500 people left there—that they will do anything to get a deal on this today. We're hearing on the grapevine that we will not be given any opportunity to have a look at what that deal is. What is it that this government has offered and agreed to in order to pass this legislation?

Let's understand what this is. If this legislation passes today, the 535 people still in PNG and Nauru—the majority of whom have been found to be refugees and have been held for seven years—will not be able to access the processes that have been put in place under the medevac laws for doctor consideration about their health needs. That's what we're doing today. This chamber has every right to stand up and demand that the details of the deal that has been done be provided to this chamber. We should be allowed to debate it. We should be allowed to disagree with it. If in the end you get the numbers, well, you get the numbers.

Labor will continue to fight to ensure that people on PNG and Nauru are not just left there, without anyone caring, in what has turned into indefinite detention. We will continue to ensure that in some way their health needs are maintained, despite the meanness of this government and its ideological pursuit of campaigns essentially against Labor. They're prepared to put these 500-odd people in the middle of it. It's a disgrace.

9:53 am

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Let's name what's going on here. The government have done a deal with Senator Lambie to repeal the medevac laws and they have got a side deal, which is secret. So we've got a government working with Senator Lambie to repeal laws that provide people access to health care. That's all that the medevac laws do. The medevac laws say that, if you are sick, you have a right to see a doctor and it's the doctor who makes the decision about the sort of health care that you receive. That's a fundamental human right. Giving people access to medical care has got nothing to do with refugees or, indeed, with people in Australia. That is a fundamental human right. That's all the medevac laws do.

Now we know that those laws, which enshrine what we all understand to be a basic right afforded to every citizen, are going to be repealed on the basis of a secret deal. There's some arrangement that the government has entered into with Senator Lambie that, through the course of this debate, the Australian people will not be made aware of. We won't know what has been decided in secret. That is not the way a parliament works. It's not the way a government should work—negotiating deals in secret, agreements in secret, that fundamentally alter what has been one of the most contentious pieces of public policy in this country for decades.

Now we're being told to accept the repeal of medevac, because there's some secret deal in the background—that may make the situation better or worse; we don't know. We simply do not know. My plea to the government is: make this deal public. Demonstrate that you respect the principles of transparency and accountability. If you are going to enter into an arrangement to repeal laws that protect a fundamental human right, at the very least you owe it not just to this parliament but also to the Australian people to have the basis of that agreement made public.

What you're going to hear now is an hour's motion that forces us—if there's not a vote by 11 o'clock there will be a vote at 11 o'clock. And through the course of this day you will not hear from the government or, indeed, from Senator Lambie what the basis of this secret deal is. To enter into a deal like this over an issue that has been so fraught, so contested, so debated, that has been an area of public policy where the Australian government has been criticised by so many human rights organisations—Amnesty International and the UN—and then to repeal this law on the basis of a deal that we will never get to see, understand or scrutinise is a disgrace. It speaks volumes about the standards that this government decides it wants to uphold. It's a government that's mired in sleaze, in allegations against ministers, and has demonstrated that, while it wants to attack the rights of working people to organise under the banner of integrity, it has no integrity itself.

If this government had a shred of integrity it would allow this parliament to scrutinise the basis of what is the repeal of a law that protects a fundamental human right. Over the past few weeks we've seen scandals around Minister Taylor, we've had allegations against Minister Wyatt and now allegations are surfacing around Mr Christensen. Just when you thought that this government could not sink any lower here they are, ramming through a piece of legislation where a side deal has been negotiated—and the Australian people will never know what the basis of that deal is.

Senator Griff interjecting

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

I'm sorry, Senator Griff, Senator Wong takes precedence.

9:58 am

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Griff. In the short time remaining in the suspension of standing orders, can I make this point: it appears that there's been a deal done to repeal medevac. That's what it looks like. The Australian people want to see the deal. This Senate wants to see the deal. I've seen enough—we've all seen enough—of this government to know that they ram through legislation without any concern for transparency. They don't care if people have seen what we're voting on—and this legislation is about the lives of vulnerable and sick people. It appears to have been decided in secret and out of public view, away from any scrutiny. Certainly that's consistent with the way this government operates. It's not a government that likes scrutiny. It's not a government that likes transparency. We've seen that in the Prime Minister's persistent, stubborn, obstinate refusal to answer questions about Mr Taylor's behaviour, and Minister Taylor's refusal to answer questions.

It is up to this Senate, regardless of our views on the substance of matters, to insist upon scrutiny and transparency. That is what this chamber is for. In this chamber it is usually the case that the government, the executive, doesn't have the majority in its own right, which means we're the only chamber in this parliament that can ensure there is scrutiny. So I say again: show us the deal. Show the Australian people the deal. If the deal is so great, why don't you come out and tell us what it is?

I will say this to Senator Lambie. I regard her as a friend. I have a lot of respect for her. She is a straight shooter. We don't always agree, but she is a straight shooter. I would say this to you publicly, Senator Lambie: do not let them require you to vote for legislation with a requirement of secrecy around the deal. It is not a reasonable proposition for the government to put to you, and it's not a reasonable proposition for someone who is as straight a shooter as you are to say, 'I'm going to be part of an arrangement which I'm not allowed to make public and on that basis I'm voting for legislation.'

I say to the government: this is a deal which should be subject to the scrutiny of this Senate and the scrutiny of the Australian people. None of the claims that the government has made about medevac have been backed up by facts—none of them—so why would Australians now say, 'But it's fine; we're just going to accept the claims the government makes about some deal we can't see'?

This is fundamentally about transparency and scrutiny. Senators may come to a different view about the substance of the legislation. Labor senators have made clear our view about the substance of this legislation—why it is unnecessary, why it is wrong and why Minister Dutton continues to mislead Australians about the effect of it. But, ultimately, this is not just about the substance; it's also about the role of this chamber and it is about whether policy can be made in the shadows or whether it is subjected to some sunlight. This is the only part of the parliament where you actually get a bit of sunlight. It's the only chamber where you get some sunlight. We know how this government works. We know how this Prime Minister works. He always wants to duck and weave, obfuscate and tell people, 'That's in the bubble; that's gossip.' He's always got a way of avoiding accountability. This is the same tactic. Senators in this chamber, whatever their views on the substance, should not allow that tactic to prevent the Senate from doing its job.

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

The time for the debate has expired. The question is that the motion moved by Senator Cormann to suspend standing orders be agreed to.

10:08 am

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That a motion to provide for the consideration of the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019 may be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.

And I move:

That the question be now put.

10:10 am

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

The question is that the question be now put, as moved by Senator Cormann.

10:14 am

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

The question is that the procedural motion moved by Senator Cormann be agreed to.

10:16 am

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the Senate. I move:

That—

  (a) the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019 be called on immediately and have precedence over all other business;

  (b) if, by 11 am the bill has not been finally considered, the questions on all remaining stages shall be put without debate;

  (c) paragraph (b) of this order shall operate as a limitation of debate under standing order 142; and

  (d)   following conclusion of consideration of the bill, the Senate shall return to the routine of business.

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

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Cormann be agreed to.