Senate debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023


Instrument of Designation of the Republic of Nauru as a Regional Processing Country

4:11 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator Gallagher, I move:

That, for the purposes of section 198AB of the Migration Act 1958, the Senate approves the designation of the Republic of Nauru as a regional processing country.

At the last election, the Prime Minister spoke of the need to be strong on borders without being weak on humanity. Regional processing is about both. It is about being strong on borders because we know that regional processing breaks the business model of people smugglers, who seek to market an outcome. In doing so, it ultimately saves the lives of vulnerable persons who would otherwise be exploited onto leaky boats to attempt a dangerous voyage at sea. That's something which also risks the lives of defence and Border Force officers, who have to deal with the often tragic consequences of those ventures. I appreciate that some in this place may think differently about this issue, but regional processing has been settled policy by both sides of politics for over a decade for precisely the reasons I've described.

Regional processing was recommended in a report led by the former Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, along with Professor Michael L'Estrange, the then director of the National Security College at ANU, and refugee expert Paris Aristotle. The panel was charged with making recommendations on how best to prevent asylum seekers from travelling to Australia by boat. Its principal recommendation was the introduction of legislation to 'support the transfer of people to regional processing arrangements as a matter of urgency, including Nauru'. In discussing the declaration of Nauru under the Migration Act in 2012, my colleague the then minister Chris Bowen said at the time:

We are determined to expose the people smugglers' business model for what is: a ruthless con. There is no visa awaiting boat arrivals, no speedy outcome and no special treatment.

Those words were true then, and they are true now.

The government has been transparent in its position on regional processing. We implemented it when in government previously, we remained committed to it in opposition and we went to the election on it. That's because, fundamentally, regional processing breaks the operating model for people smugglers. It takes away the product they are trying to sell. In doing so, it stops vulnerable people risking their lives on dangerous voyages on leaky boats. It stops deaths at sea. It's as simple as that.

It is tough. It sends a message that persons will not settle in Australia. It is part of a wider framework in Operation Sovereign Borders that means persons trying to enter Australia without a valid visa will be returned to their port, country of origin or another country where they have a right of entry. Every person who has attempted to enter Australia this way from mid-2014 onwards has been either returned or turned back.

The government has been both determined and focused in its conduct and support of Operation Sovereign Borders. We have not politicised this issue or allowed others to do so. We have viewed it as an important undertaking to be pursued with the seriousness that the issue demands. That is the approach that we are taking today by seeking the parliament's support for a resolution to redesignate Nauru.

In doing so, it is important to note the legal framework under which this declaration is made, and I'll take a few minutes to set that out. The power conferred on me by section 198AB(1) to designate that a country is a regional processing country is contained in part 2.8B of the act—and of course that power is conferred on the minister rather than on me personally. Section 198AB(2) provides that the only condition for the exercise of the power conferred on the minister by section 198AB(1) is that I think it is in the national interest to designate the country to be a regional processing country. Section 198AB(3) provides that, in considering the national interest for the purposes of section 198AB(2), the minister must have regard to whether or not the country has given Australia any assurances to the effect that the country would not return a person to another country where they would be at risk and that the regional processing country allows assessment of that person to be a refugee.

There are three key documents that have facilitated the minister's consideration regarding Nauru as a regional processing country. These are, firstly, the memorandum of understanding between the Republic of Nauru and Australia on the enduring regional processing capability in the Republic of Nauru signed by the former minister on 24 September 2021; secondly, a statement of arrangements that are in place or are to be put in place for the management of persons; and, thirdly, advice received from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which has been consulted regarding the designation.

In determining that it is in the national interest that Nauru be redesignated as a regional processing country, the minister has considered the following factors. Firstly, the ongoing operation of regional processing arrangements will deter people smugglers from exploiting and encouraging vulnerable persons to risk their lives that sea. I note the need to prevent loss of life at sea was a primary object of the subdivision at section 198AA. As I've stated above, regional processing breaks the people smuggling model.

Secondly, regional processing also supports the broader objectives of Operation Sovereign Borders, which further deters such ventures by ensuring that persons will not settle permanently in Australia. I note that another primary objective of the subdivision is that persons should be able to be taken to any country where their claims can be properly assessed.

Thirdly, regional cooperation is the only matter in which the challenges of irregular migration can be addressed. I note the work through the Bali process that continues to acknowledge the transnational challenges of people smuggling and irregular movement.

Fourthly, Nauru has been designated as a regional processing country for a decade and has, for a number of years, accepted transfers under the sovereign borders framework with significant infrastructure and administrative processes in place. I note in the past, however, that there have been real issues and concerns with the provision of services on Nauru but that there have also been uplift in these services, particularly those relating to the health and wellbeing of persons on Nauru. In particular, the efforts that this parliament has made to ensure medical evacuation, clinical service provision and as-appropriate escalation arrangements mean that service provision is very different now than in the past. In addition, it is also important that persons on Nauru are not in detention. Where there have been individual circumstances requiring examination and assistance, the minister has also made it clear that we have the highest expectations of care and that there are appropriate channels for advocates and others to engage in if there are concerns.

Fifthly and finally, the permanent resettlement of many persons from Nauru to the United States, Canada and New Zealand demonstrates the ability of regional processing arrangements to ensure durable, permanent pathways for resettlement while ensuring that people smugglers are denied their objective of marketing Australia as an outcome of their evil trade. I might say that this government has made good progress in resettling those persons who remain on Nauru, and we intend to keep doing that.

These considerations are in addition to the requirement under section 198AB(3) that Nauru has provided assurances that it will not return people to a country where their life or freedom are at risk and an additional assurance in the memorandum of understanding with Nauru.

In conclusion, when the Prime Minister spoke of the need to be strong on borders without being weak on humanity, he also spoke of the need to respond pragmatically to policy that works. This issue, like so many issues, of the past two decades, has been subject to ruthless politicisation. These issues are not best dealt with in an environment of partisanship and posturing. They are serious issues that require difficult choices, and their solutions are ones that carry immense responsibility and gravity. Ultimately, there is a higher purpose in stopping people dying at sea. The preservation of life while ensuring persons are resettled appropriately is at the very core of regional processing and Operation Sovereign Borders. The minister is determined every day—as is the rest of the government—to pursue that objective where required in turning back boats and returning persons. The continuance of regional processing is essential to fighting the people-smuggling trade, and its deterrence value means we don't enable people smugglers to exploit persons in undertaking dangerous ventures. We need to separate the politics of the past on this issue from clouding our minds to what needs to be done to prevent the re-occurrence of these issues.

Saving lives through difficult choices may be tough, but it is also humane and it has been shown to work. I hope that this resolution proceed without the rancour that has been associated with these debates in the past. I acknowledge there may be some who disagree, and to them I say: consider the alternative—an alternative this country knows only too well, measured in the lives of those lost forever at sea. For that reason alone, I commend the resolution to the chamber.

4:21 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I listened very, very carefully to the minister, and I know the minister, through his professional background, is a person who has an eye for detail and who would not have missed this point which I am about to speak to. That is—if you can believe this, and it was never discussed in the minister's comments which you just heard—that the legislative instrument which made Nauru a regional processing centre actually lapsed on 1 October 2022. I didn't hear the minister refer to that. Did you hear that? Did you hear the date had actually lapsed, and that the relevant minister had their eye off the ball? Can you believe such a thing? There are 14,000 people in the Department of Home Affairs, and they missed that. If you went into the register of legislation this morning or yesterday and looked up the instrument making Nauru a regional processing centre, it would have said 'not in effect'. Why? Because it lapsed. Why? Because the relevant minister—not his representative here in this chamber, but the relevant minister—dropped the ball.

From May 2021, the government was given the information that this instrument needed to be renewed. It would no doubt have been in the incoming minister's brief after the last election. They dropped the ball. That instrument ceased to be in effect in October 2022. And here we are now, in February 2023, and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has to come in here and do the tidy up for the minister in the other place who dropped the ball. It's absolutely appalling.

The minister could at least provide that transparency to this chamber instead of giving me the political opportunity, to be frank, to come up and surprise everyone listening with the fact that you didn't choose to tell this chamber. Someone very, very bright told me early in my business career: if you're going to eat crow, eat it fresh. But we didn't get that from the minister today. He had absolutely no reference to the fact that that instrument ceased to have effect in October 2022. The concern that raises in my mind is: what exposure did that lead to? The relevant officers, members of the department, were diligently undertaking their duties, discharging their duties under the Migration Act. Did it expose any of them to legal claims, to liability? Did they have all the protections they should have had after the instrument lapsed? It's absolutely appalling!

It's not as if we've got a hundred regional processing centres—there's Nauru. They couldn't even get their homework right in that regard. What is the minister doing? How many times was the minister reminded? How many times did the minister fail to act? If the minister is missing something this obvious, what else is the minister missing? How can we have any confidence in the minister? This is appalling. It's absolutely extraordinary. Who's advising the minister? Who picked it up? Who said: 'Minister, we've got to fix this quickly. This is expiring in October'?

Remember, Mr Acting Deputy President, the election was in May. It wasn't as if this was happening the following week. If you go to the Federal Register of Legislation in relation to this instrument it's there for everyone to see. Obviously, the minister doesn't visit the Register of Legislation and check out his own instruments and legislation. It says it's no longer in effect, and the contribution we just heard from the minister made absolutely no reference to that. Those in the gallery listening to this debate and those listening through the broadcast would have had no idea that those opposite had actually dropped the ball on this. They would have had no idea, because those opposite weren't transparent and up-front about this terrible, terrible error.

I'm a lawyer by profession. I don't really know what it means, in terms of liability and the rights and obligations of people, that we've had this gap in the law between October and today. I don't know the ramifications. What I do know is that there are going to be all sorts of people looking at this very carefully now—looking at what it means for the people they represent, their various stakeholders—and we don't know the answers. The minister didn't even refer to it. It was as if it didn't exist. Did those opposite really think they were going to get away with that, that we wouldn't pick it up? It's absolutely extraordinary, Mr Acting Deputy President.

There were elements of the minister's speech that I absolutely agree with—in terms of the need for regional processing; I absolutely support that—but it always strikes me as somewhat disingenuous when those on the other side get up and say anyone criticising their policy is engaging in rank politicisation but they never engage in rank politicisation. It's only when they're criticised that it amounts to rank politicisation. There will be senators in this chamber who get up and make contributions to this debate and speak from the heart, and I respect their views in that regard. I will not say that they're engaging in rank politicisation. They're simply saying what they believe, and they have every right to do that. But, in the context of this debate, how could you come into this place and miss out the fundamental issue, which is that this instrument has failed to be in effect since October 2022? He didn't even mention it, let alone the ramifications of it. What we've seen from the minister is absolutely extraordinary.

I realise it's not his portfolio. He has the job—and it's a very, very hard job—of representing the minister in the other place. It's a very difficult job. I wouldn't wish it on my own worst enemy. He's got the job, so I guess he has diligently fulfilled his task, but maybe he should go back to the people who wrote the speech and say: 'You know what? I would have preferred'—and I think it reflects his character, to be frank—'that we'd owned up to the mistake; that we'd been transparent, open and honest with everyone. That's the way I roll.' It's a shame that the major issue this motion is dealing with wasn't canvassed by the minister in moving it. It's a real shame. I suggest to all of my colleagues in this place that we should seriously reflect on that state of affairs. I've often in this place spoken about the importance of delegated legislation instruments and their impact on the powers and liberties of people. It's something I take incredibly seriously. If you're going to come into this place and present a motion, give us all the facts, give us all the context and let's have a reasonable debate about it. Don't even try to hide that which can't be hidden, because it's there for everyone to see on the Federal Register of Legislation.

4:30 pm

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

The more things change, the more they stay the same sometimes in this place. It is beyond doubt that many people in the recent election voted for the Australian Labor Party in the hope that they would be more compassionate towards refugees. Here we are, less than a year after the election, and what are we getting? The same rubbish in a different bin. We're getting the same old lame excuses, the same old spin, the same old toxic politics that we got for year after year after year from Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton. We're getting it now from the Australian Labor Party. That speech from Senator Watt could have been given by Mr Morrison or Mr Dutton. Yes, the tone is different, but the words, the excuses and the spin are identical to what we heard for years from Mr Morrison and from Mr Dutton.

Here's a tip for Mr Morrison, Mr Dutton and Senator Watt: there are no excuses for torture. There are no excuses for torturing innocent people. There never have been and there never will be. You can roll out all the excuses you like for deliberately harming innocent people in order to send a message to other desperate people that they should not try to come to Australia to seek asylum by boat. You can roll out all the excuses you like, but that's all they will ever be: excuses for torture. You can never, ever excuse torture and you never, ever should try to excuse torture.

And it's not just the Greens that say this is torture. Amnesty International conducted a rigorous assessment of Australia's offshore detention regime and they found categorically that it is akin to torture. Let me explain why that is. On senator Watt's own account today and on the excuses given by Mr Dutton and Mr Morrison, offshore detention is designed to send a message to other people that they should not attempt to enter Australia. It is designed to coerce people into taking an action or not taking an action by the infliction of harm. That is categorically, comfortably within the definition of torture. The people who are caught up in Australia's offshore detention regime—and it's been going, let us not forget, for nearly 10 long years now—are like the corpses that used to get impaled on the walls of medieval cities to dissuade other desperate folk from attempting to enter those cities.

We have learned nothing in this country since the days of Port Arthur, where deliberate harm, including psychological harm, was inflicted on people as a punishment. In offshore detention in Australia for 10 years we've seen murder, we've seen rape, we've seen deliberate medical neglect, we've seen child abuse, we've seen child sex abuse, we've seen mass armed assault, we've seen death, we've seen disease and we've seen lives destroyed. Do you know why we've seen those things in Australia in offshore detention in the last 10 years? Because that system was deliberately designed to brutalise and dehumanise people. It was deliberately designed to make people's lives so unbearable that they would prefer to return to the dangers and persecutions that caused them to flee their homelands in the first place than to stay in the prison camps on Manus Island and Nauru. That is why those things happened. Those deaths, those murders, that brutality and that dehumanisation were not bugs of the system; they were features of the system. It was a system designed either intentionally to cause those things to happen or in the knowledge that those things would be likely to happen if the system were designed in that way. That's what offshore detention is in Australia.

Right now around 150 people are about to clock up a decade in offshore detention. What has Senator Watt been doing for the last decade? I hope he has been doing a lot of great things with his life. What have Mr Dutton and Mr Morrison been doing for the last decade? I hope they've had some good things in their lives too. I've had some great things happen in my life in the last decade, but there is a group of people who have lived a decade now in those systems are deliberately designed to dehumanise them and to brutalise them. They've lived without hope for nearly a decade—10 long years.

What did the Labor Party do when it came into government? It stitched up a $420 million contract for three years—to purportedly look after and provide services to well under 100 people on Nauru—with a company that stands accused of human rights abuses in the US prison system. That company is under investigation by the government in the US for fraud and human rights abuses. Somehow the Labor Party thinks that this is a company that is worthy of having responsibility for people who've been in the offshore detention system for nearly a decade now in Australia. It is a disgrace that the Labor Party have stitched up a deal with MTC. They are a disgrace of a company. They should not be given responsibility for even one person's life, let alone the lives of people who are about to clock up a decade in offshore prisons in Nauru.

I was on Manus Island in 2017 when the Australian government ordered that the food, drinking water, electricity and medical support be cut off from hundreds of men. I was there. I was in that prison camp inside the Lombrum Naval Base on Papua New Guinea. I saw the desperation in the eyes of those men, but I also saw their bravery. I want to contrast their bravery—the reclamation of agency that they engaged in there when they actually said, 'No, we're no longer going to do as we're told and as we're ordered to do; we're going to actually stand up and reclaim our lives,' which is exactly what they did—with the cowardice we're going to see in this chamber today when the overwhelming majority of this chamber vote for this obnoxious instrument that is currently before us. That contrast is immense and it does no favours to the majority of senators who are about to vote for this instrument.

But, no matter how bad things seem, there is always hope. I want the chamber to know that today Behrouz Boochani came into this parliament, into this building that we stand in as we debate this motion today, and made a speech—effectively, a speech to the Australian parliament. One of the things he did in that speech was urge the Labor Party to actually, finally, do something for the relatively very small number of people who are still stranded in Papua New Guinea and Nauru—fewer than 150 people who are, as I've said, about to clock up a decade in offshore detention. And he asked the Labor Party a question in his speech. He said, 'What are you scared of?' I think that's a question the Labor Party needs to answer. What is the Labor Party scared of? Any moral person who looks at the last 10 years of the lives of the fewer than 150 people still in exile in either Papua New Guinea or Nauru is going to say, 'Enough is enough.' They are going to say, 'At least bring them to Australia temporarily while you find a third country to take them.'

There is simply no benefit to them staying and there is no need for them to stay in offshore detention. For 10 years they've been there. There is no benefit to them staying there, except for the lame old excuses—the lame old spin—that get rolled out by the Labor and Liberal parties to try to justify torture. That is what we've heard in this chamber today and for the last decade, and in the other place in this parliament: excuses for torture. Well, enough is enough. There is never any excuse for torture.

The Greens have got a bill; it's been introduced today. That bill, if it's successful, would compel the government to offer a transfer to everyone still in Papua New Guinea or Nauru who was exiled there because they made the mistake of stretching out a hand to our country, asking for our help, and they arrived here by boat to claim asylum. That bill should be passed. There is no doubt that that bill should be passed.

I remind the Labor Party that they supported the Greens' medevac amendment when the Labor Party were in opposition. They supported that and they told Australia that they were supporting it because it was the right thing to do because we had a moral obligation to the people who were in offshore detention to make sure they got the medical treatment they needed. That's why the Labor Party said they supported the medevac legislation. Well, this Greens legislation is absolutely in the spirit of the medevac legislation that Labor previously supported.

So here's the test for the Labor Party. They can support our legislation and show that the reasons they gave to the Australian people for supporting the Greens medevac amendment were real and fair dinkum. But, if Labor don't support the Greens evacuate-to-safety legislation, it'll make one thing abundantly clear, and that is that their support for the medevac amendment when they were in opposition was just rank politics. It didn't owe anything to doing the right thing. It didn't owe anything to the concept of respect, the concept of human rights and the concept of human dignity. That's the test for the Labor Party. I urge them to support our bill and help us to finally write an end to one of the darkest, bloodiest and foulest chapters in Australia's story: the chapter of offshore detention.

Finally, I'll just say this: we need a royal commission in this country into immigration detention: a royal commission into offshore immigration detention and a royal commission into onshore immigration detention—into the corruption, into the human rights abuses and into a system that is the extension of the carceral state that was actually one of the founding element of European settlement in Australia. There are some things that we have just never, never learned. It's time to bring an end to this dark chapter and write a new beginning.

4:45 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution on the debate here in the chamber about this very important matter. The resolution that's before us deserves the support of the chamber. I want to acknowledge, before I move to my prepared remarks, Senator McKim's authentic care embedded in the speech he made. But I also want to note some alarmist language. This is the problem I often find as a member of the Labor Party, which finds itself, happily, in government; it's a contrast with the rhetoric of the Greens party, who seem to fight against the way the world is, and seek to describe it in the way they would seek it to be.

When you're in government, you have to make tough decisions—with compassion, with humanity—and protecting our borders is a core task for any government that is worthy of governing the nation of Australia. Senator McKim speaks very passionately, and uses the words 'human rights' and 'human dignity'. But we also have the protection of human life. There's little dignity and there are few human rights for the people who foundered in a vessel off the coast of Western Australia, at Christmas Island. For those of us who were here in parliament at the time, and for Australians right around this country who saw those images, that was the moment that meant things had to change. So, while I acknowledge Senator McKim's contribution, I think it's fanciful to believe that without the policy that has been implemented and maintained for 10 years, there would not have been incredible loss of life.

I also want to speak about the contribution made by my good colleague in this place Senator Paul Scarr, with whom I enjoy sharing work on committees in the interests of Australia—particularly in the area of financial services. But Senator Scarr today has made a number of assertions about attempts to hide the facts about what's happening here and why this resolution is before us. Indeed he declared, in a somewhat accusatory tone which harks back to the division that we don't need along political lines on this issue, that the minister would no doubt have had all this information in the incoming brief. Well, for the record, let's be clear that that was not the case. So Senator Scarr's arguments cannot stand.

I would have hoped that we might have had this debate without harking back to the divisions of previous debates on this particular issue. In fact, I am of the belief that we need to separate the politics of the past on this issue from clouding our minds as to what needs to be done to prevent a recurrence of the very issues that ended up leading Australia to establish this policy. The reality is that while what we're debating today is a routine designation, there's nothing routine about four different ministers failing to get this matter right in the last government—or perhaps that is actually the reveal of what they used to do; there was so much they got wrong, so often. Sadly, this was an issue that they failed to deal with in government before they left.

This is the sequence, and I just want to put it on the record—I'm sure Senator Scarr will review this and be interested in the facts.

Minister Dutton was the Minister for Home Affairs at the time, in January 2021, when his department was first warned about the lapsing instrument. That was the first signal. The second flare that went up was when then Minister Andrews was the Minister for Home Affairs under the Liberal National parties as the government of Australia in May 2021. Her department was warned a second time about the lapsing instrument with which we're dealing today. There was a third occasion, when then Attorney-General Senator Cash tabled a report in parliament herself in May 2021 warning the instrument had lapsed. But what did any of those three ministers—the now Leader of the Opposition, Minister Dutton, former Minister Andrews and the former Attorney-General—do to sort out this issue about which they now pretend to be so outraged? They did nothing.

But there was a fourth minister who was involved in this. It was a bit of a secret minister, and that was the self-appointed Minister for Home Affairs, who was also the Prime Minister, Minister Scott Morrison. So the reason we are here and in this position is really the consequence of failed governance by the former government.

I want to make it clear to all Australians that regional processing is settled policy. It was initially recommended, as I said, in the moment after Australians witnessed that incredible loss of life and things had to change. Three people were gathered together to deliver a report to guide the development of a policy to prevent the loss of life at sea and to protect Australia's borders. The first one of those was not only somebody who I'm sure Senator McKim would know but somebody who was very celebrated by the refugee community, and that was the refugee expert Mr Paris Aristotle. His voice was very, very important. His perspective and his advocacy were very important in designing the program. He was also working in concert with Professor Michael L'Estrange, who was then the Director of National Security. This is a vital consideration for such a complex and important policy for national security and the protection of life. They were working alongside the Chief of the Defence Force at the time, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston. Those three inputs were vital to the development of the policy.

I want to put it on the record, so it's clear for people who are just picking up the threads of this now—who weren't paying attention at that time; who might have been 10 but are now 20—that that panel was charged with responsibility by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to make those recommendations about how best to prevent asylum seekers from travelling to Australia by boat. That was who set this plan in train as a response to our national security and the international call to protect life.

The principal recommendation was the introduction of legislation to support the transfer of people to regional processing arrangements, including Nauru, as a matter of urgency. In discussing the declaration of Nauru under the Migration Act 1958 in 2012, the minister at the time, Chris Bowen, said these words, and I think they still ring true for Australians today:

We are determined to expose the people smugglers' business model for what is: a ruthless con. There is no visa awaiting boat arrivals, no speedy outcome and no special treatment.

That was widely known and it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald dated 3 October 2012. That was the establishment of regional processing, and it is the bedrock of Australia's fight against people smuggling and unauthorised arrivals.

This is a policy that above all is about protecting human lives and ending the business model of cynical criminals. The last thing any Australian wants to see is masses of people drowning at sea just to sate the greed of people smugglers.

The policy of regional processing is about effective and sensible processing in safe locations in allied countries. Not everyone will agree with that perspective, and it's right that in a democracy a range of voices speak on this issue. But we on the government benches have a duty and responsibility to govern wisely and carefully, in ways that do not endanger lives.

Our policy in 2023 remains unchanged. We, in opposition, supported regional processing under Prime Minister Abbott; it's a matter of fact. We, in opposition, also supported regional processing under Prime Minister Turnbull. Labor, in opposition, supported regional processing under Prime Minister Morrison. And I stand to affirm that we continue to support regional processing while we are in government for the reasons that I have outlined. We support it because it breaks the back of the people-smuggling operation. We support it because it ensures orderly and efficient processing of persons arriving by sea. We support it because, fundamentally, it stops criminals putting vulnerable people on dangerous boats and it saves those lives. We support regional processing because it stops deaths at sea.

I'm not saying it's not a tough policy, but it is a fair policy. That's why Australians endorse this policy. Under Operation Sovereign Borders, those who attempt to enter Australia in a dangerous manner will be turned back. The government's been both determined and focused on its conduct and support of Operation Sovereign Borders because no country should allow those without a valid visa inside their borders without valid processing. I think this speaks to Australians' sense of fairness—the fact that we are a nation of immigrants and that many people are drawn to our shores for the opportunities that we have here and the rich democracy that we get to participate in. They will welcome more people to come, but, the reality is, they want that to be done in a very orderly way.

I want to be clear about the instrument to which my colleague Minister Watt spoke in some detail, including what it does and the considerations that the minister undertook in her production of this resolution and its arrival here before the Senate. The lapsing of the current designation of Nauru as a regional processing country has had, to be clear, no impact on the resolution of actions under Operation Sovereign Borders. How did it occur? The lapse occurred due to multiple failures in the Department of Home Affairs, many of which occurred prior to this government taking office, and I've outlined four interactions with four former ministers under the previous government.

The reality is that the secretary of the Department of Home Affairs has written to the minister confirming that the department had been asked by this incoming government to confirm that all legal authorities and permissions were in place to underpin Operation Sovereign Borders and that the department incorrectly assured the minister that all legal authorities and permissions were in place. The reality is that the government, despite that failure from the department, was able to continue operations relating to Nauru using other powers, including the Maritime Powers Act in the event of a transfer of a person to Nauru being required, and for ongoing funding arrangements under other powers. These facts are vital to make it clear that the contribution of Senator Scarr was, in fact, in error.

I want to conclude my contribution this evening by indicating that offshore processing in Nauru ensures that those who make the dangerous and illegal journey to Australia are free in the community and they have access to health care and other essential services. If the health care in Nauru is insufficient to deal with the complex needs of a patient, then we will support evacuation off Nauru for required treatment. People in Nauru are not in detention, they're free to walk about in the community until they are resettled in third countries. And 1,150 individuals have so far taken up that opportunity, and have resettled in countries as far away as the US, Canada and New Zealand—among other nations.

Labor, in government, is very committed to continuing a sensible and non-partisan approach. And, of course, today we seek the Senate's support by resolution to redesignate Nauru. As a nation, we have a settled policy; it's working, and it has been working for 10 years, to dissuade those who would ply an evil trade in people smuggling. As the Prime Minister said clearly in the course of the last election, we need to be strong on borders, but we can do it without being weak on humanity. I urge senators to support this resolution.

5:00 pm

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

I rise to speak in support of this motion. I've been speaking about illegal refugees coming to the Australian border since the late 1990s—since my first time in parliament. So I'm not new to the topic at all, and I have been speaking strongly about it. It's absolutely critical that criminal people smugglers and their customers are sent a very strong message: if you attempt to break our laws and breach our borders then you will never be allowed to settle in Australia. This message can only be backed by maintaining offshore processing of those who do the wrong thing and engage criminal people smugglers to get them to Australia in a leaky boat.

While One Nation strongly supports this motion, we know that Labor's terrible record in deterring people smugglers means it cannot be trusted to keep our borders secure: 50,000 people arriving on more than 800 boats during the Rudd-Gillard governments stand as an appalling testament to this fact. So do the attempts at breaching our borders which occurred last year after Labor won the election. And so does the fact that Labor didn't move to address this matter in October last year. To listen to Senator O'Neill make reference to the previous government and their three ministers making their comments in this parliament—that it was their fault! I'm sorry, didn't Labor win the election in May? This was pointed out in October; it expired in October, this is now February 2023 and you've had how many months to deal with this? That is why you are actually scrambling to get this through today, because you knew that you had lost sight of it. That's the problem with all this: you haven't owned up to it and you're attempting now to still blame the coalition for something you have failed to do. So I totally agree with what Senator Scarr has said.

The fact is that this was a matter in October last year, leaving Australia without a clear legal avenue to send people-smuggling victims offshore. That was the whole point. If the boats had come here and people had arrived on our shores, you would have had no place, legally, to send them. I'm not a lawyer, but I don't believe you would have had a right to send them to the detention centre in Nauru. You would have had to take them into Australia, which would have caused more legal problems. Only by committing to offshore processing in places like Nauru can we arrest the tide of smuggled people that would override our borders. This requires unwavering commitment and, unfortunately, a great deal of Australian taxpayers' money.

According to the Australian National Audit Office in 2016, four years worth of garrison and welfare support at Nauru and Manus Island cost more than $3 billion. So it is in our interests to stop the people smugglers sending people here as refugees—not genuine refugees, but economic refugees. That's because it costs us that amount of money. More than $2.5 billion of this alone went to Transfield Services Australia. This was originally an Australian and New Zealand company; however, it was taken over by a Spanish company. It's important we don't use foreign companies to provide these services, and ensure that Australian taxpayers are only paying local companies for these services.

To listen to Senator McKim and his comments about compassion towards refugees: I think it is being compassionate to give a clear message that there is a detention centre and that if you get on the boat and you want to come to Australia then, I'm sorry, you will go into a detention centre. Those 1,200 people who lost their lives didn't expect to die on the water when coming out here. That is being compassionate—stopping people who could otherwise, unfortunately, lose their lives.

Senator McKim also talked about the torture on the island and the lack of attention and hospitals. It's been brought to my attention by security guards and others that have worked on the island that the hospitals on Nauru are actually a lot better than our own hospitals in Australia. The services they provide are No. 1. The amount of money that's poured into that country—it's unbelievable what it has cost the Australian taxpayers.

He talks about what's happened over there. He talks about child abuse, sex abuse, murder and many other issues. That is the exact reason why we don't want those people here. Why would we want sex offenders, murderers and child abusers? A lot of this has been self-inflicted. We had briefings on this, and we were told that these people, in their desperation to get to Australia and settle here—because it's all about welfare; we're an economic country with economic means, and that's why they want to come here—actually harmed their own children, pouring boiling water over them. They ate pebbles and rocks to get here to Australia for the services they required. There actually was rape, and this is the type of people that they are. We couldn't find out their backgrounds. They destroyed their identification. That tells you something about their character and who they are. If they were upfront and if they were genuine refugees, they would have told us. These people have had the opportunity to be taken off Nauru. They've been given the option to move to other countries. Guess what? They don't want to go. They have been given choices. Their choice is that they want to stay on Nauru.

The Greens are jumping up and down about torture and these poor people and all the rest of it. I wish they would care as much about the people here in Australia: the people that are homeless; the people living on the streets; the people living in their cars with their children; and the people that are couch surfing with friends or wherever they can find a place to sleep that night. I don't hear any of that from the Greens. They are supposed to be representatives of the Australian people, but all they're worried about is refugees that have passed through many countries to get out here to Australia. They could have found a safe haven wherever they wanted to.

I'm sick and tired of hearing from bleeding bloody hearts. Tell me about the real people out there in Australia who are struggling and doing it hard. Tell me about the poverty of the children in our own country. That's what we need to be talking about. Nauru sends a clear message to those people smugglers and everyone else: don't think because we're going to shut it down that you can get on your boats and come out here to this country as illegal refugees. And they are illegal. There are ways you can come here legally. Just ask the many migrants that now call this place home and are proud of it. You put in an application in other countries, and you make your way through the legal channels. Don't think that paying people smugglers thousands of dollars to come out here is the way to do it and gain the sympathy of some bleeding hearts in this place. Because that's not the way and that's not what the people of Australia want. Those people who have been genuine refugees who came out here to Australia and who actually migrated here back me up in what I say because they know that they had to go through the hard channels to get here. They hate these people who want to come through the back door, and they can't stand members in this place who can't see that.

Even though the arrangement with Nauru has lapsed, the fact is that Labor is trying to do something about it and keep it open. The cost is horrendous, but I think it would be more costly to Australia if we didn't keep it open. What I would like to see is downsizing and ensuring that the money is well spent. Two hundred and forty million dollars is a hell of a lot of money as far as I'm concerned. It just needs to be ticking over to ensure that we send a clear message out there: if you want to come out here illegally, you'll end up in a detention centre offshore, and it doesn't mean that you will get citizenship in Australia or permanent residency.

5:09 pm

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

For me, the things we have heard from colleagues in here really just show how polarising this debate is. It's very hard to have a nuanced debate about something like this which is clearly such an important issue for Australia. It touches on so many things, as we heard: human rights, national security and how we be a good neighbour and a good part of the international community.

The thing I am hearing from Canberrans and other people I talk to is that they want us to be able to have that debate. If you say that you want a kinder refugee policy, people say, 'You just want to open the floodgates and let everyone in.' We have to move past that. We are a resourceful, smart country. We have to look at dealing with refugees in a way that is going to ensure that people aren't dying on boats trying to get here and we also have to be looking after people and affording them some dignity. These are people who are desperate and seeking a better life, given what they are facing in their home countries.

The other thing which really makes this debate so important is, if we look to the future with climate change, there are clearly going to be a lot more refugees around the world. Australia is going to have to deal with that. So I welcome debate about our refugee policy, and I really hope to move to a more humane policy—

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Pocock. I'm afraid the time for the debate has now expired. The question is that the motion moved by Senator Watt in relation to the designation of the Republic of Nauru be agreed to.