Wednesday, 23 June 2021
Statements by Senators
I want to talk about the Murugappan family from Biloela. Before I start, let me say this: I'm not a bleeding heart. The courts have decided that Priya and Nades aren't owed protection as refugees. They fled a civil war; that's no longer a civil war. Wrongly or rightly, that's what our system has found. They came to Australia without valid visas. They claimed asylum and were found not to be owed asylum, so they're without valid visas. If their youngest daughter isn't granted protection, none of the people in the family will have a legal claim to stay in Australia.
That's what the law says, in black and white. The letter of the law is crystal clear here. But there's a part of that law that allows the minister for immigration to use his or her discretion when it comes to decisions like this. It's a power that, when there's a clash between what the law says and what common sense would tell you, the minister's got the chance to use some common sense. Surely now is one of those times, because, if you stick to the absolute letter of the law, you're threatening to send two little kids home to a country they've never been to. You're deporting two little kids from a country they've lived in all their lives to a country they've never even seen and telling them they're home. That's what the law would have you do.
I had to resign from parliament in 2017 because I was found to have dual citizenship with Scotland. I've never been to Scotland, and, if you asked me to shut up shop here in Australia, ship off and live in Scotland and never come back, I'd be lost. I wouldn't know where to start. I'd feel like what was being asked of me wasn't fair. Here's a country I've lived in all my life, I've paid my taxes in, I've grown up in; I've served it in uniform and I've represented my state in its federal parliament, and now that country is telling me to go home—home to a country I've never called home. It wasn't my choice where my dad was born. For those two girls, it wasn't their choice either. You don't choose your parents. Those girls didn't choose their parents, and I don't know how you can look those two girls in the eye and say, 'Hey, sorry, sweethearts. It's nothing personal, it's not your fault, but there's no home here for you.'
Priya and Nades are not owed our protection, but just because we don't owe them this little bit of mercy doesn't mean we can't offer it to them. When you give something away and it's not out of obligation, that's what you call generosity. That's the Australian way. We have the ability to be extremely generous here, not because we have to—just because it's the decent thing, it's the decent Australian thing, to do.
And it's not going to restart the people-smuggling trade. That is absolute rubbish! God, if I hear that once more, look out! What kind of message are we frightened of sending—that, if we show a little bit of kindness, a little bit of the Australian way, to this family, then other people will look at that and go, 'I'll sign up for the same'? They'll all make the life-threatening trip across the ocean in a sinking boat. They'll all arrive in Australia, try and put down some roots, get put in detention and get put in detention in another place. They'll all sign up to be left there until their own child's blood turns to poison in their veins. Even if you believed that, even if all that were true and people were signing up to a deal just like that in droves, they'd still have to invent a time machine, or bring in Doctor Who and the TARDIS, and come here before 2013!
An honourable senator interjecting—
I know; it annoys me—because since then we've had turn-backs, we've had offshore detention, we've had Operation Sovereign Borders, and it stopped the boats.
The minister for immigration has announced that he's letting the Tamil family reunite in Perth under community detention. Good on him for doing that. But he's drawn the line at allowing them the chance for permanent resettlement. He's got the power, because parliament's given him the power, and he won't use it. He is saying he can't ever use it—full stop—because, if he does, it will create an incentive for people smugglers to start up again. I don't know what planet this minister is on but he may want to get some national security briefings because obviously he has been missing in action. Either that or he has no life experience and has no idea what he is yapping on about; I will be brutally honest there.
Your power, Minister, is sitting there and is unable to be used. It creates false hope for families, it's unnecessary and by the way—here is a news press release for you—it is redundant. I would suggest you do something about that, Minister. I would suggest you use it or lose it, I reckon. The minister has told us that he can't use it—fine. If he doesn't want to use that power, if he doesn't have the courage to use it because he wants to play a noddy and think that's going to give him points out there for an election, once again, I don't know where you live, Minister, but you ain't living in the real world. So, in saying that, if you are not going to use that power, Minister, I have no problem in putting up an amendment to the Migration Act to take that power off you and trying my luck in here, just to see whether or not I can remove it. So either show some courage and show some mercy on these two young ladies and their family or try my patience because that is where we are at.
I can assure you this act to these young ladies and their family would have to be one of the most un-Godliest things I am yet to see in this parliament. Show some mercy. Show some courage. You want to make a mark in this place and show some heart and show what Australia is really about? You want to show some values of our upbringing here? You have the perfect opportunity to make your mark right now. You have the perfect opportunity to do what is the right thing to do because, let's be honest, it is the right thing to do here.
You cannot keep going around this circle. You have no other choice. I mean, you can keep going if you like and you can look the worst in the world and you can continue to do that. Good luck with that. But while you are doing that, I want you to think about those two girls, who have spent nearly every day of their lives in detention so far. I want you to think of the harm you have already brought those two ladies before they have even basically started school. You have a good think about that. Let me know how your conscience goes with that. I want you to stand in front of me and tell me how your conscience is next time you see me because, if you don't want to tell me, I intend on asking you. We will see who wins that debate one-on-one. Let's see how much courage you really do have. Let's see. But right now, if you are not going to use that power and use it as it should be used—for good or bad—I'm going to come after you and I'm going to try and take that power off you. I will try it.
Before I start, I concur with the comments from Senator Lambie. Senator Lambie, we can see your passion and everything you said makes sense. I want to reiterate too, the disgraceful comment that letting these children and their mum and dad here into Australia where there's plenty of room will open up the people smuggling; I don't know what goes through ministers' heads at night, where they think that's a really intelligent smart thing to say when they get in front of the cameras—disgraceful. Good on you, Senator Lambie.
I have a couple of things I want to talk about today, but the first one I want to bring to the attention of the chamber. I think it's magnificent timing, because we have sat through this Senate in the last couple of weeks debating the transport amendment bill, and you have all heard my thoughts around shipping, foreign shipping and foreign flags of convenience. I was talking to my very good friend Mr Ian Bray from the ITF. Ian and I go back many years and—proudly, I say it in every forum I stand in—Ian is a mate; Ian is a comrade. We have stood together shoulder to shoulder in battles on the waterfront in Western Australia. He gave me some figures today, and I said that I wanted to put them to the Senate.
The International Transport Workers Federation operate a global inspectorate that looks after the welfare of international seafarers. In 2020 the ITF globally managed to recover some US$45 million—let that sink in—in unpaid wages and entitlements of some of the world's most exploited and vulnerable workers, the seafarers. The world relies on seafarers, as we know as an island nation, to keep the global economy afloat—I ask to be excused for the pun—and this is how they are treated.
The Australian inspectorate of the ITF operates with a team of five full-time employees. This team of five attempts to hold shipowners to account, particularly the shipowners that hide behind the flag-of-convenience nations. In 2022 the Australian inspectorate of the ITF conducted no fewer than 512 inspections around Australia and recovered US$2 million in stolen wages for international seafarers. In 2021, to date, the Australian inspectorate of the ITF has conducted no fewer than 211 inspections nationally and has already recovered US$2 million in stolen wages. Given that we are only halfway through the year, this is a terrible sign and further demonstrates that the exploitation of international seafarers is on the rise, which is something I've talked about in this building for many, many years. I am also informed that the ITF's Australian inspectorate has identified a further US$57 million in theft of wages and other entitlements that they are trying to resolve with three companies. These companies are all preferred charters of Alcoa. Whilst not all this wage theft has occurred in the Alcoa supply chain, a fair chunk of it has. Let it sink in: US$57 million. I will remind the Senate that Alcoa is the same company that used security guards to remove Australian seafarers from the MV Portland in 2016. I remember it vividly. They were dragged out of their bunks in the dark of night and marched down the gangplank to be replaced by exploited foreign seafarers—Alcoa.
The MUA warned us that wage theft and exploitation would feature in the Alcoa supply chain going forward, and, given the figures reported from the ITF's Australian inspectorate, how right they were. These figures for wage theft are a national embarrassment, and this government—you mob over there—needs to stop supporting this shameful theft and exploitation. Companies like Alcoa need to take stock and re-employ Australian seafarers in coastal trade and, at the very, very least, take control of their supply chain and clean up this chronic exploitation and wage theft.
On another note, I will bring to the attention of the Senate an infrastructure spend in Queensland. You know that two of my passions, in no particular order, are standing up for Australian seafarers and for Australia's road transport operators. Up in Gatton—that's in Queensland—the federal and state governments had a bit of money after the construction of the Toowoomba bypass. They had about $18 million left that they put towards building a decoupling facility, in the terminology of today's bureaucracy and governments. In my day we called them road train assembly areas. Anyway, let's call it a decoupling facility. It's called the Gatton Heavy Vehicle Decoupling Facility, and it is accessible from the Warrego Highway adjacent to Hausers Road in Gatton. Good on the two governments for getting together to provide these road train assembly areas—let's talk normal language, shall we?—so our truckies can get out there, chuck the second on the third—I don't know what they do out in Gatton. I don't know what's going in and out of there, but I know that this is where road trains are hooking up and unhooking and all that sort of stuff. They have told me there are about 30 truck-parking bays. It's not a very big one; it's quite small. What happens is that you have dog runners coming out from Brisbane and dropping out to Gatton where the other driver will follow. They hook up the dolly on the other trailer and off they go—choof, choof—heading east, which means we keep the road trains out of the metropolitan area, for obvious reasons.
I want to congratulate the two governments for having the nous to do something like this. They would have done this because there would have been a fair bit of pressure not only from the community but also from the trucking industry. But, ladies and gentlemen, if you're going to spend $15 million of infrastructure to do the truckies a favour, as part of the favour wouldn't you consult the road transport industry and say, 'Hey, we're going to build this facility, and we'll tell the community it improves safety'? I'm not going to argue that it improves safety. You would say, 'We'll tell the community it increases capacity,' whatever that means, and 'We'll tell the community that it improves network efficiency and the road transport industry.' Right. Tickety-boo. No worries. You would say, 'It reduces travel time.' As an old truckie, that's absolutely magic. If it reduces travel time, you get home to see mum and the kids earlier; even better. You would say, 'It contributes to the economy.' You've got to expect that line to be thrown in. I don't know how, because the bigger the trucks get the more cheap freight we cart. Anyway, that's the world according to Sterle. And you would say, 'It contributes to regional growth.' Der! Okay, good. Fantastic.
Now it's come to my attention that we have a campaign being led, over Facebook, by a Mr Wes Walker. I don't know Wes but I reckon he's a damn good bloke. Wes Walker is not a truckie but he has a lot of mates who are truckies. They've been talking to Wes. He's absolutely had a gutful. Do you know why? The government has spent $15 million in the best interests of our truckies but there's no toilet! Senators, in 2021—let that sink in—we have a road train assembly area, we've spent $15 million but no-one thought that the truckies might like a toilet. If they had one ounce of understanding of what us truckies do, they would have come and asked the truckies. But don't worry about that. If the milk's not on the shelf or the loaf of bread isn't there, they'll soon tell us what they think of us truckies. Anyway, the guys are here, they're uncoupling and they might even want to have a shower.
I remember running the campaign back in the nineties to get the Wubin road train assembly area done in WA. We were pretty proud. We got a big hunk of dirt and put some bitumen on it and we put toilets and showers on it. God help us, we even put lighting in. We wanted our truckies to be able to come in, unhook, pull the air lines out, pull the light lead out, drop the leg on the drawbar and dolly—and you beauty. Three hours from home and I might even have a tub. What is wrong with that? What is wrong with expecting our truckies to want to have a shower? But something as basic as a toilet, we can't even get that.
The best transport publication in this nation is Big Rigs. If you want to know what's going on in the trucking industry, just get hold of James Graham at Big Rigs. He'll tell you. They spoke to a female truck driver. God help us, I'm doing everything I can do get more women into the trucking industry. She's quoted in this article. She said that she went into the road train assembly area the other night. She was squatting down—this is disgraceful—and another truck came and shone his lights on her as he came around the corner. I mean, really, in 2021? Do I have to stand in this Senate to plead with someone with half a brain to go and talk to the truckies who are using these facilities, before you spend our taxpayer dollars, to get what they want?