Thursday, 13 May 2021
Consideration of Legislation
I seek leave to move a motion to provide for the consideration of the Biosecurity Amendment (No Crime to Return Home) Bill 2021. The motion has been circulated in the chamber.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice of motion, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent as would prevent Senator Patrick moving a motion relating to the conduct of business, namely a motion to give precedence to the consideration of the Biosecurity Amendment (No Crime to Return Home) Bill 2021.
I've not sought the grace of the Senate to immediately consider a bill before, and I would not do so except in exceptional circumstances. The exceptional circumstance and the reason why we should be dealing with the bill this morning is that on 1 May the Minister for Health and Aged Care made a high-risk country travel pause determination under the Biosecurity Act, making it a criminal offence for distressed Australian citizens to return home from India.
I don't say we should open our doors and just let everyone come back in without any sort of quarantine or any measures put in place. My bill does not seek to prevent the exercise of other existing powers under the Biosecurity Act to require persons, for example, to quarantine on arrival or to go to a particular destination. It doesn't stop any of that from occurring.
I know there are a bunch of Australians out there who would say: 'Tough luck. You left the country. You shouldn't be able to compromise our health.' I know that that sort of sentiment is driven by uncertainty and fear. I understand that. But we shouldn't be losing our compassion and our humanity in relation to our Australian friends and neighbours.
Sure. I'll go to exactly that at the moment. Last week it was revealed that there are 173 unaccompanied Australian children in India who are affected by the determination. If we don't deal with this determination this week, that will continue. Not only that; there is a possibility that, throughout this pandemic, the minister could extend that determination. The minister could make a new determination that is similar. It's important to understand.
Last night I read through the explanatory memorandum of the Biosecurity Act around section 477, which is how the power is being exercised in these circumstances, and there was nothing in there that suggested in any way, shape or form that that particular act would ever be used to prevent an Australian from returning home. We're in a situation where a determination that wasn't foreshadowed has been made. So, the urgency in dealing with this is the fact that a right has been taken away that the parliament never intended to take away. That's the problem we've got here. That's why we need to deal with this issue urgently. We have had a determination made that is not disallowable, so the Senate can't use its normal processes to deal with this determination.
Again, I checked the explanatory memorandum last night, and the reason for not having these determinations disallowable was that they were going to be determinations that were based on technical and scientific requirements. This doesn't go anywhere near that. This is about the removal of a right for an Australian to return home—to criminalise an Australian's return home. That was never the intention of a non-disallowable instrument under the bill that was debated back in 2014. So there is absolute urgency in dealing with this motion.
I wasn't in the chamber yesterday when Senator Fierravanti-Wells talked about this determination, but I did read the Hansard this morning. She made it very clear that these sorts of determinations are quite dangerous—where the parliament has no oversight over the exercise of a power. So I am now forced to come into the chamber and seek to expedite the passage of my bill through this chamber in order to deal with a situation that should never have arisen under the bill that was originally presented to this parliament. I invite people to go back and have a look at that explanatory memorandum. I invite them to have a look at the debates. The exercise of this sort of power was never mentioned.
We have to deal with this bill. I'd love to be able to do it by way of disallowance. I'm unable to do that, and that's the reason we should be dealing with this bill this morning.
I rise to contribute to this debate on the suspension of standing orders to consider Senator Patrick's motion, and I indicate that the Greens will be supporting the suspension. We believe this is a matter of urgency that needs to be dealt with now. We also believe amendments need to be made to the Biosecurity Act. People may recall that earlier in the week I circulated an amendment to the biosecurity bill that was supposed to be coming to this place after being dealt with by the House of Representatives. We thought that was a way we could deal with this issue, by amending that bill, which would of course amend the act. However, that bill hasn't come on for debate, so that has not been able to occur; hence our support for the suspension of standing orders to discuss this bill.
I remind this chamber that there are 9,500 Australians and permanent residents stuck in India who wish to come home. They were devastated when the ban was put in place but even more devastated when, overnight, on a Friday night, the minister chose to put in place and announced criminal sanctions on people returning home. That was a further devastation for those people, a reminder of those 9,500, including 950 vulnerable people, 173 of whom are unaccompanied minors. I'm sure everyone in this place has heard the very tragic accounts of parents separated from their children. They need to come home. I can barely imagine being one of those parents who heard about the ban and then the criminalisation of their child's potentially coming home. That's why this is urgent. Although the Prime Minister at the moment is saying, 'Oh, yeah, we'll have three repatriation flights and maybe a few more,' there's nothing to stop him enacting this again and making it happen again. That is why this is urgent. That is why we will be supporting the suspension of standing orders, to ensure that this situation does not occur.
That takes me to the points Senator Fierravanti-Wells made yesterday, reinforcing the concerns that the Greens have had for a long time. I used to be a member of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, as Senator Rice is now. This issue has also come up, repeatedly—that is, legislation that is coming through with instruments that are not disallowable. It is an outrageous way to govern this country, when ministers—and prime ministers—can make decisions that cannot be questioned and that we cannot come into this chamber and seek to disallow. When you're getting something so momentous as banning 9,500 people from coming home, of whom 950 are vulnerable, which means they need urgent support and attention, that power should not be put in the hands of a minister. That's just one example; there are a whole lot of other instruments that are not disallowable.
Increasingly, it's the trend of government to move to putting in place instruments that are not disallowable. This is certainly one. I commend Senator Fierravanti-Wells. I don't often commend Senator Fierravanti-Wells, to be honest and open, but on this one she's right. We shouldn't be governing in this manner. In some legislation there are a few principles, but there's not much meat on the bones and everything else is through regulatory instruments, increasingly many of which are not disallowable. That's why this is urgent. It's so we make sure that the Prime Minister doesn't change his mind again to stop people, particularly those in India—citizens and permanent residents—from coming home. It is absolutely critical. The situation in India, we know, is critical. That is why this debate needs to be had, and that's why we'll be supporting this motion to suspend standing orders to bring on this bill.
Unquestionably, Australia stands absolutely side by side with India through the pandemic crisis that currently is impacting that country, and we will continue to stand by countries around the world as they go through the pandemic. However, decisions in relation to Australia and decisions in relation to legislation remain in the purview of the government. The idea that Senator Patrick, with the support of the Greens, would seek to come in here and decide that he himself is the one who decides how this chamber is operating—there is a process—sort of surprises me. Senator Patrick has always been one of the people who have been particularly consistent in understanding the processes and the procedures of this chamber. I understand that Senator Patrick is a great respecter of the processes of this place and respects this chamber. So I find it quite surprising that he comes in here today and decides to rearrange government business.
However, I would just like to put on the record, before I finish my short contribution on this matter, that Australia takes its responsibility for keeping Australians safe very, very seriously. We also take our responsibility in relation to all Australians very, very seriously. We will always make sure that we operate in the best interests of the health and safety of our citizens, because there can be no more important thing that a government can do than to protect the safety of its citizens and its country. We will continue to do so. But we will continue also to defend the right of the government to determine the operation of the business of this chamber. I'm sorry, Senator Patrick, but I think this is, once again, a stunt. I'm particularly disappointed because I know how widely held your views on convention are in this place, and for you to come in here and seek to abuse that I find quite surprising.
One Nation won't support Senator Patrick's stance on suspending standing orders to put his bill forward. I do believe also that it is grandstanding. The determination will come to an end on 15 May, and it will be reviewed to see if they will open up the borders. Why I think this is important is that, yes, India is going through a pandemic, but the courts ruled on this and they threw it out. It was not breaking the constitutional rights of the people; it was for health reasons. It's exactly the same—the premiers didn't open up the state borders for exactly the same reason the courts have ruled. They supported the government on its stance.
In India, you have the consulate of Australia. It depends on the citizens that are there, as a lot of them are permanent residents who have travelled there under an Indian passport. Under the international laws, if they travel on an Indian passport, they are under the laws of that country and the Australian consulate cannot intervene. For those Australians it depends on whether they travelled under an Australian passport or under an Indian passport.
Well, I think it is urgent and we should be talking about it, because it is about whether or not to bring citizens back to Australia when there is a pandemic going on. I think Senator Patrick is grandstanding here, because it's two days until it will be reviewed. The government made the decision. We cannot allow this to stand up. Senator Patrick has always been exactly the same: he has always looked at the procedure of the chamber and government business. He doesn't like voting against the procedure of the chamber, and now, all of a sudden, we're supposed to vote on it because he decides he wants his bill heard. We won't be supporting it.
Labor will not be supporting this motion by Senator Patrick. Labor shares Senator Patrick's concern for the stranded Australians in India, and we oppose the Morrison government's attempt to jail Australian citizens for coming home. But this motion would see the introduction of a bill for debate that would see the Senate override the advice of medical experts, and that is not the Senate's role. The only way we can bring home the 40,000 stranded Australians, including from India, is for Scott Morrison to finally roll out the vaccine here in Australia and accept his responsibility to safely expand Australia's quarantine capacity so that all Australians can again call Australia home.
I won't be supporting this either. This is a mixture of a lot of things. First of all, let's be honest: Liberal Party, you have failed so far. We've got just over 2½ million vaccine jabs on the road, so we're miles behind on that. It's not just Australians in India. We're now 15 or 16 months into this and we've still got stranded Australians who want to come home from countries that have now got COVID under control, and we still can't get them home. That is a failure of the government. You still have not set up places to quarantine them so that we can get them home. It really has been a failure, and, for that, they're paying the price.
In saying that, I will always put those on home soil first. I will always put them first and foremost, and I will never put their lives at risk. We will not do that. I'm sorry that there are Australians overseas, whether they're in India or not, but now they're going to have to pay the price. They're going to have to pay the price, if they're there, for the sake of everybody else. I do apologise. I know what you're saying. This is about jailing Australian citizens. Well, I'm telling you right now: I don't think threatening them with jail was a good idea, but, if you want to come home and put other Australians at risk, when there is no need to put the other 25 million of us at risk, you've got to weigh it up. I think it's a really harsh way of dealing—
Yes. The urgency of the motion. Quite frankly, I don't believe they should extend that in the next few days—there's no doubt about that. But there are much bigger problems here. First of all, what are we going to do about quarantine? What are we going to do about getting people vaccinated? How are we going to get these Australians home? We won't be voting for this.
I want to reiterate the Greens' support for this suspension of standing orders, because this issue is urgent. Although the current measures are due to expire on 15 May, it is quite possible for the minister to roll them over and to continue to attack the rights of Australians to come home. Citizens of Australia being able to return to their home country is a fundamental right. That is what is at stake, and that's what there has been ministerial override of.
Whether this is an appropriate action for this government to be taking is an issue that this parliament—and, in particular, this Senate—needs to decide on. We feel very strongly that it is not. The minister has acted in a way to disallow people coming home, to block the borders and to keep Australians in India, where they are becoming sick and dying from COVID. Australian citizens are dying because they are not being allowed to return home to Australia. This is absolutely an urgent issue that we must address, because there are Australians who are dying in India because of the actions and failures of this government.
We know that Australians would be able to return home if we had put the appropriate quarantine facilities in place. It just beggars belief. I do not understand why the federal government has not accepted its constitutional responsibility to deal with quarantine. All this government needed to do was to actually act as a federal government to put appropriate quarantine facilities in place so that Australians would be able to return home, but it has refused to do that. It seems that it's refused to do that because it's left it up to the states so that, if things go wrong, it can blame the states.
You, the Morrison government, have abrogated your responsibility to keep Australians safe by not investing in quarantine facilities. We could have quarantine facilities like Howard Springs. I have not heard a bad word about the experience of people who have been through the Howard Springs quarantine facility. We should and we could have facilities like that right around the country, but this government has just said no. It is not putting the investment in and it is not taking responsibility for that.
It's urgent because people are dying, and it's urgent because this measure that the government has put in place could be rolled over in just a few days time. It is critical. This is our last day here for a month, and we know that there's the possibility that this government could just roll over this issue and keep Australians away from home—lock them out from home—while they are getting sick and they are dying in India. Isn't the fact that people are dying one of the most urgent things we could possibly be considering here? The fate of Australians who should be able to come home is why this is urgent. That's why we need to be discussing this today. The Morrison government has failed to put in place appropriate quarantine facilities. If we don't discuss this motion today, what pressure is there on the federal government to actually put in place the appropriate quarantine facilities? If we don't discuss this today, we will just go on, for another few months, basically blocking our borders to Australians—blocking Australians from their constitutional right to be able to come home.
This is absolutely urgent. This is absolutely right at the core of what this Senate should be discussing, because this Senate is here as a watch on government. We are here as a chamber to oversight what happens. We are here in control of our own destiny. This legislation is entirely appropriate for discussion today; it should be discussed today. We need to have measures in place so that we can keep Australians safe. We need to have measures in place that allow appropriate quarantine facilities. We need to keep the pressure up on this government to set up quarantine facilities like Howard Springs right across the country to allow Australians who are in India to come home. If we don't, then it is on the heads of this government when more people die.
I just want to finish up by saying we did not put measures in place like this when COVID was racing through Europe. The only reason this measure has been put in place is because it is India—because this government does not see Indian Australians as Australians; it sees them as Indians. This is a racist measure that this government has put in place. It is impacting upon people who are of Indian heritage and— (Time expired)
That the provisions of paragraphs (5) to (8) of standing order 111 not apply to the following bills, allowing them to be considered during this period of sittings:
Competition and Consumer Amendment (Motor Vehicle Service and Repair Information Sharing Scheme) Bill 2021
Education Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 2) Bill 2021
Migration Amendment (Clarifying International Obligations for Removal) Bill 2021
Migration Amendment (Tabling Notice of Certain Character Decisions) Bill 2021
Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Student Assistance and Other Measures) Bill 2021.
The Greens propose to vote differently on some of the bills that are contained in the exemption, so we ask that the question on the Migration Amendment (Clarifying International Obligations for Removal) Bill 2021 be put separately.
Yes, that's fine. We will do all the bills except for the Migration Amendment (Clarifying International Obligations for Removal) Bill 2021. The question is that the bills be exempted from the cut-off.
Question agreed to.
The question is that the Migration Amendment (Clarifying International Obligations for Removal) Bill 2021 be exempted from the cut-off.