Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2023


Migration Amendment (Evacuation to Safety) Bill 2023; Second Reading

9:02 am

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

On 19 July 2013 Australia's government—a Labor government—reintroduced a policy of offshore detention, making it clear that someone who arrived in Australia by boat to claim asylum would never settle here and instead would be forcibly transferred to an offshore prison. That policy has resulted in murders, rapes, child sex abuse, state sanctioned child abuse, institutional brutality, deliberate dehumanisation of innocent people and the destruction of countless lives.

The policy was arbitrary, it was illegal under international law and it was contrary to Australia's international obligations. It established Australia's offshore gulags. They were designed to harm people so grievously that those people would be forced back to the country that they fled from in the first place to face the persecution and the risks that they had fled from in the first place. It undoubtably qualified under international law as a system of torture. This is because it consisted of the deliberate infliction of severe harm on people for the purpose of coercing them and others into particular actions.

I hope those responsible for this system's design and implementation one day face the consequences of their actions. Charge them with torture, convict them of torture and lock them up for a while and give them a taste of their own medicine. That's what should happen to those people.

That Australia's offshore detention policy framework has been seized upon and promoted by fascists, Nazis and far-right political parties in Europe, even to the extent of using the very same words and the very same font as Australian government communications, tells us everything we need to know about its philosophical underpinnings and the kind of people it was designed to appeal to. Right now, as we debate this bill, the UK government is seeking to implement its own version of Australia's shameful policy. This is one of the most shameful exports this country has ever produced, and it has seen us go from an international human rights champion to an international human rights pariah.

Offshore detention has been a humanitarian calamity and has been one of the darkest and bloodiest chapters in our country's story. It is time we wrote the ending to that chapter, and this bill will help us do that. After 10 long years of offshore detention, it is beyond abhorrent that about 150 people remain in exile in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Every one of those people is suffering. Some of them are suffering grievously.

It is no exaggeration to say that the passage of this bill will save lives. It will save the lives of some innocent people who have been used as human billboards, who, like thousands of others, have been tortured in order to send a message to other people that they should not attempt to come to Australia by boat to claim asylum. This is the Senate's opportunity to make right a small part of the injustice, the lies and the degradations of the last decade.

This legislation does not require the government to settle people permanently in Australia, although that is the Greens' position, but it does require the government to offer to bring them to Australia to support them until a durable third country solution is secured. It is entirely consistent with Labor's policy platform, and on that basis there is no barrier to the Australian Labor Party voting for this legislation other than their own political courage. The fact that the Australian Labor Party sent every one of the 150 people who are still exiled in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to Manus Island and Nauru in the first place means every Labor senator today has a moral responsibility to vote to end their exile.

When Labor was in opposition, Labor senators and MPs were happy to support the Greens' medevac amendment. This bill gives Labor the chance to finish the job. It represents a compassionate and practical solution to the ongoing calamity of offshore detention. It provides a necessary step towards a durable solution for people who have been without one for nearly a decade now. It will offer people a chance at safety in Australia with the support and medical attention they need while awaiting resettlement in a safe third country. This is a critical step in ensuring that people who sought asylum in Australia and were treated so abhorrently finally get an opportunity at the dignity and respect they deserve, and a much-needed chance to rebuild their lives in safety and freedom.

The explanatory memorandum goes through the provisions of this bill. In short, it will compel the government to make an immediate offer of evacuation to all refugees and people who sought asylum in Australia who are still offshore in Papua New Guinea or Nauru—that is, about 150 people. It will compel the government to place all refugees and people seeking asylum who accept the offer into the Australian community and not into held detention, and it will compel the government to make available any medical assessments and treatments that people evacuated to Australia need.

There are many other provisions in this bill, and I urge senators to educate themselves about them by reading the bill and the explanatory memorandum. At the end of the day, there is one thing this bill will indisputably do—that is, save lives. It will actually save the lives of people who have now suffered for 10 long years. It will do that in a way that is completely consistent with the policy platform that the Australian Labor Party took to the most recent election. I could quote you chapter and verse, but time will prevent me from going right through all of Labor's policy positions that this bill is in line with, but Labor commit to giving permanent protection to those found to be owed Australia's protection. I make the point here that almost all of the people that this bill covers have been found to be owed protection. They have been found to be owed protection, and under Labor's policy they should be given permanent protection.

Labor promises that people in detention will be treated fairly and reasonably within the law and promises that people in detention will be provided an appropriate standard of care, including the provision of health, mental health and education services, to a standard consistent with that afforded to the Australian community. That is not being delivered to the people in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. I want to make it clear here: the people in Papua New Guinea whom the previous government, the LNP government, washed its hands of in a disgraceful abrogation of its duty of care still should be, and are, under Australia's duty of care. It is beyond shameful that a Labor government has refused to address the decision made by Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton and, instead, is carrying on like some kind of pale version of the LNP. It is beyond disgraceful. The people in Papua New Guinea have to be considered under Australia's care because we owe them a duty of care having exiled them—under a Labor government, I might add—so long ago.

It's critical in this debate that we hear some of the voices of the actual people, who are suffering and who have suffered under this disgraceful policy framework. I want to place some of those on the record now in a de-identified way. Firstly, here are some words from Shariff, who is a refugee in Nauru who is awaiting urgent evacuation to Australia. I might add, doctors in Nauru and an Australian specialist have recommended Shariff be transferred to Australia for treatment. That still hasn't happened, disgracefully, and it has been a decade since Shariff has seen his family, including his two children. Shariff says:

It is important to get evacuated because we do not get any treatment here in Nauru.

…   …   …

At the moment I cannot imagine being able to think about resettlement, I can only imagine after I have treatment.

Here is Rajah, a Tamil refugee held in Nauru who is in excruciating pain, which is increasing each day. Rajah says:

Take one minute for us and think about our feelings and our families. We are separated from our children, siblings and parents. It is not easy. If we have done anything wrong, tell us.

Nur Mohammed is a refugee recently transferred to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment. He says:

Australian immigration forced me to Nauru, and I did not want to go, but for 10 years I followed the rules.

…   …   …

I want to see justice for my friends in Nauru and PNG. Open your hearts and minds and do something.

Those are some of the many case studies that the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee heard about during the inquiry, the report of which was tabled in the Senate yesterday.

I want to diverge slightly and refer to one further submission to that inquiry. This was the only submission the inquiry received, I might add, that called for this bill to be rejected by the Senate. That, completely unsurprisingly, was from the Department of Home Affairs. It is beyond belief that those rampant hypocrites in the Department of Home Affairs would dare try to use the Convention on the Rights of the Child as an argument against this bill. I mean, please! These people have been torturing children on Nauru for a decade. They oversaw a system of deliberate, state-sanctioned child abuse on Nauru, and then they have the barefaced gall to argue against this bill in their submission using the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Give us a break! I mean, seriously! These people who deliberately tortured children have no right to be quoting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Get back in the bin, you absolute monsters! You absolute monsters, get back in the bin. You're a disgrace!

The 150 people left stranded in Nauru and in Papua New Guinea are the small remnants of the thousands who were exiled in the first place. They are innocent people who face murder, who face rape, who face child sex abuse, who face medical neglect, who face deliberate dehumanisation and who've witnessed the destruction of so many lives. They are innocent people who reached out a hand to our country and asked for our help, and they were treated disgracefully and abominably. They were used like the corpses that used to be impaled on the walls of medieval cities to send a message to other desperate people that they should not try to enter. Those who remain stranded today have been suffering for 10 years, and they are still suffering today.

We've got an opportunity today to take a small step towards ending some of that suffering. Many have chronic and critical health conditions that need urgent treatment that is not able to be provided in Papua New Guinea or Nauru. There is simply no point in extending their suffering. It achieves precisely nothing. It is simply brutality for the sake of brutality. Surely, colleagues, we are a better country than that. Well, we're about to find out.

9:17 am

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to be speaking on the Migration Amendment (Evacuation to Safety) Bill 2023 today, the private senator's bill on amending the Migration Act. I rise and speak on this bill as Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. I've had the opportunity to discuss the bill with the senator who has moved this bill's second reading and to receive a wide range of evidence from stakeholders and the department. Over the course of the inquiry, we received over 150 submissions about the bill and the issues it seeks to address. On the record, I want to thank the organisations and individuals who took the time to make a submission to the legislation inquiry. I understand that views on this issue are deeply held and strongly felt across the community and across the parliament.

At the last election, the now Prime Minister spoke of the need to be strong on borders without being weak on humanity. Being strong on borders without being weak on humanity—it's an important balance, and it's one that we are getting right in government. It's one that only a Labor government can get right, which is why we have already followed through on our election promise to provide a permanent visa pathway for existing temporary protection visa holders and safe haven enterprise visa holders. And—perhaps inconveniently to the mover of this bill—since the election the number of displaced people on Nauru has more than halved.

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

Why would that be an inconvenience?

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through you, Acting Deputy President, I'll take that interjection. What I'm going to do today is stand here and calmly state the facts, the policy and the actions that our government is taking. What I'm not going to do is to grandstand, speak over other senators and allow other senators to draw this debate into an exercise in making viral social media videos using emotive language.

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McKim, on a point of order?

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

Yes: improper reflection on another senator. Firstly, Senator Green has said that somehow people being removed from Nauru is inconvenient for me. That is a personal reflection which is not true, and I ask her to withdraw that. Secondly, she has stated very clearly that my outrage is confected and for the purpose of delivering social media content. It's not confected; it is genuine and appropriate. I ask her to withdraw that as well.

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On the point of order, respectfully, senators across the chamber sat through the language that was used by the senator who moved this bill. There were no points of order called. I appreciate this is an emotive debate, but there is no point of order.

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you; I'll rule on that. I don't believe there was a point of order, but it may assist the Chamber if there was anything that you could withdraw. But it's up to you.

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. If I made a reflection on the previous senator's motives, I withdraw that, to assist the Chamber. But what I will say is: as I progress with my speech, it would assist the Chamber and me if there were no interjections and I didn't have someone speaking over me while I was trying to give my speech. What I was contributing to this debate were the facts and the policy, and the actions that our government is taking. That is what I am doing today in this speech. I am highlighting the developments—what the Albanese Labor government is doing, now, to determine that our government is creating a functioning and effective migration and humanitarian program. That is what we are doing.

Again, at the election, the Prime Minister was very clear: we can be tough on borders without being weak on humanity. Regional processing does both of these things. I have to be clear that the Albanese government is committed to Operation Sovereign Borders and regional processing, including our ongoing partnership with Nauru. We know that people smugglers exploit and encourage vulnerable people to risk their lives on dangerous voyages to reach Australia. Regional processing is designed to break this model and to prevent deaths at sea. An essential aspect of this model is providing people currently on Nauru with permanent options through third-country settlement. For all their talk, the previous government achieved very little regarding third-country resettlement for people on Nauru. But since coming to government—let me say it again—we have more than halved the number of displaced people on Nauru, and we have secured resettlement into third countries, like the USA, Canada and New Zealand. These people can finally begin the process of rebuilding their lives.

I appreciate that some in this place want to see additional reform at a faster rate, and I appreciate—I'm sure, as other senators do—that not everyone in this place supports Operation Sovereign Borders and regional processing. But that is the government's policy, and we are delivering it. Regional processing has been settled policy on both sides of politics for almost a decade, and the government has been clear and consistent in its position on delivering this. The minister has consistently reiterated that this government is strong on borders—strong on borders because we know that regional processing breaks the business model of people smugglers. If you want to talk about saving lives and protecting people, that is what we are talking about today. In doing so, it saves lives of vulnerable people who would otherwise be exploited onto leaky boats to attempt a dangerous voyage at sea. It sends a message that persons will not be settled in Australia when they take a dangerous and often deadly route. It's as simple as that. I recognise that that is a tough measure, but that tough measure has broken a model that exploits vulnerable people. It exploits vulnerable people, and we have broken that model. The government has been determined and focused in its conduct on support of Operation Sovereign Borders, but, unlike the previous government, we haven't sought to politicise this issue in some sort of attempt to weaponise it or sow distrust in the community. What we have done, and what we are doing today, is to calmly get on with the job. We have a view that it is an important undertaking to be pursued and to be dealt with in the seriousness that this issue demands.

On third-country resettlement, can I say: an essential part of delivering this policy is working with third countries. It is working with the government that has led to the number of people on Nauru almost halving. Our government finally took action on third-country resettlement, including the longstanding offer from the New Zealand government, which was ignored by the previous government. Only our government, only a Labor government, has taken action to ensure work to resettle people is happening. Only our government is ensuring that this is happening through our close engagement with New Zealand. We've had a first group of refugees depart Nauru and resettle in New Zealand and start new lives. We continue to go about this work in an orderly but diligent way, with the care that it requires.

As a government we know that two things can be true at once. The Albanese government are committed to strong borders, but we are also committed to being a modern, responsible nation that finds space for vulnerable people fleeing persecution. We can do this important resettlement work because of the enduring deterrent value of regional processing. It is a system that has been and will be kept in readiness to respond to any contingency. While there may be disagreements about policy, the fact is that regional processing saves lives by discouraging dangerous voyages at sea. Our government is working hard to obtain viable third-country resettlement options for those on Nauru.

I want to address one of the other things that our government is doing to deal with some of the aftermath of the previous government's neglect of this migration program. Just last month, the Albanese Labor government confirmed it would provide a permanent visa pathway for existing temporary protection visa holders and safe haven enterprise visa holders. This was our government delivering on our election commitment to end the state of limbo for refugees who have been kept in Australia for the last decade. Around 19,000 refugees have been provided with a certain future here in Australia. These are people who have been found to be refugees. They are also people who have made a life in our communities. They have worked here or built small businesses. They have often made outstanding contributions to rural and regional communities. But, despite their contributions, their visa status meant that they couldn't buy a house or pursue further education. These people have been left in limbo over the past decade because of the belligerence of the previous government, but now they are on a fast track to build their lives with a sense of certainty that cannot come from rolling protection visa applications.

Just this weekend, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles, announced further funding to our government's economic pathways to refugee integration grant program. This program supports social enterprise that delivers employment opportunities for refugees. Programs like this not only provide an opportunity for communities to harness the potential of our diversity but also provide refugees with a sense of stability.

Our government takes the view that support for those fleeing persecution entails more than just visa approvals. We do recognise how much security and certainty that can provide. We understand the urgency that many TPV and SHEV holders would feel about settling their visa status. To assist with this, the Albanese Labor government has committed $9.4 million over two years for specialist legal support.

In summary, our government is taking the important, vital steps to give certainty to those people whose future was kept in limbo by the previous government. Whether it's by promptly processing visas, after the unacceptable backlog; providing third-country resettlement options, finally, for those refugees on Nauru; or providing certainty for thousands of refugees who have been on rolling TPVs, you can have tough borders without being weak on humanity. Our government seeks to do both. We are the only government that has done that. We are the only party of government that can do that. We have been and we will continue to be consistent in this approach.

Those on the other side of the chamber might seek to say that we're not being tough enough on borders, and some at the end of the chamber might say that we are not being strong enough when it comes to humanity. The truth is that none of this is black and white, and you do need a balanced approach. Only with a Labor government can you deliver a system which ensures that people are not enticed to take a vulnerable trip across the seas, that there is regional processing and an Operation Sovereign Borders that is well resourced to ensure people don't put themselves in that dangerous position.

At the same time we are working through years of neglect by the previous government, to make sure that third-country resettlement is a priority—and it's happening. We're getting on with it. We have halved the number of people on Nauru. We are working through this. We're doing it in a diligent and organised way without being sensational about it and without putting people at risk. This is what our government is doing, and it's because we can be tough on borders that we are choosing not to be weak on humanity. Only a Labor government can do that. Only a Labor government is ending the years of uncertainty for TPV and SHEV holders. I want to ensure those people who have contributed to the inquiry into this bill that we have undertaken to balance those very fragile considerations—this bill should not be supported. This bill is not the policy of the government for a very good reason.

9:31 am

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

At the outset, can I say I deeply respect Senator McKim for the introduction of this bill, the Migration Amendment (Evacuation to Safety) Bill 2023. I respect his passion with respect to this subject. More than that, I think he demonstrates that passion and concern in terms of the actions which he and his office take to advocate for personal cases and individual cases. Senator McKim puts his argument with great passion, and I think it's based on a foundation of deep care for the people who are in the invidious position of being in regional processing centres. I respect his motives in terms of bringing forward this bill.

In terms of Senator Green's contribution, I think Senator Green appropriately summarised the activities of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. We received submissions from a very wide number of stakeholders who gave detailed evidence with respect to their concerns regarding the impact of regional processing on individuals. I commend each of those organisations for their advocacy in this regard, and I also commend them for the services and support they provided to people in regional processing centres.

This is not an easy issue. Over the time I've been a senator I've developed relationships through my office with people who have been in regional processing centres, and sought to assist them, in particular in terms of advocacy, to provide a pathway for family and friends, in particular after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, to come to Australia. That is very difficult; many of those people are located in Pakistan, Iran, Turkiye and other countries, and there is an overwhelming demand for the humanitarian visa allocations which this country provides. This is not an easy issue at all.

One thing Senator McKim did not address in his contribution, and which was not addressed in his dissenting report, is the fact that between 2008 and 2013 some 50,000 people arrived by boat in this country. That's 820 boats that arrived in this country. Those boats, organised by people smugglers, organised by people preying on the most vulnerable in our world, led to a situation where Australia's system was essentially being overwhelmed, and approximately 1,200 people died at sea—an absolute tragedy. I commend everyone in Australian Border Force and our armed forces for their efforts and the tasks they had to undertake in response to that unfolding tragedy. Regional processing, under Operation Sovereign Borders, was in fact introduced to address that particular problem. It was introduced to address that problem of 50,000 people arriving between 2008 and 2013, by 820 boats, with at least 1,200 dying at sea. That was the issue. I think any contribution to this debate needs to recognise the fact that there was an unfolding issue which caused the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government to introduce regional processing. Those facts need to be considered and weighed in the course of considering this private member's bill.

The tragedy of that was that the Howard coalition government had effectively managed to deal with the issue of people smugglers providing boats for the most vulnerable in our world to arrive on these shores in an uncontrolled fashion. The problem had been solved. We wouldn't even be having this debate if it were not for one of the biggest policy failures, certainly in my lifetime, from any public administration at a federal or state level. That was the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government reversing the previous policies of the coalition government.

Senator Green can talk about the actions that are currently being taken by the present government, but, again, any reasonable and balanced contribution to this debate needs to recognise that this issue had been addressed, and there would not be people currently on Nauru and in PNG but for the fact that the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government reversed the previous policy of the Howard-Costello coalition government and then had to scramble to introduce regional processing. That's why we're having the debate—the failure of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. That's a fact.

It was that failure that led—between 2008, when Kevin Rudd came into government, and 2013—directly to 50,000 people seeking to arrive in this country by boats arranged by illegal people smugglers. There were 820 boats, with 1,200 deaths at sea. It was one of the biggest public policy failures I have seen in my lifetime. So it's a bit rich to sit here and listen to Senator Green's contribution, which seemed to say that everything was light and intelligent understanding and only a Labor government can fix this problem, when it was the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government that failed to address this issue and changed Australia's policies, which directly led to 50,000 people arriving in Australia as unauthorised maritime arrivals. Those are the facts, indisputable, and any contribution in this debate, to be seen as reasonable and balanced, should recognise that, especially those contributions from the other side.

It is also a fact that the coalition government, when it came to power under Tony Abbott and then Malcolm Turnbull, actually did take positive steps to arrange third-country resettlement. That is also a fact, and, again, it indisputable. There has been plenty of publicity about a phone call between former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and then president Donald Trump of the United States with respect to those arrangements which had been entered into by a previous coalition government. Again, that's a fact.

But the issue we now have to deal with is: how do we humanely and appropriately deal with those people who are still within Nauru and Papua New Guinea, recognising that Papua New Guinea is no longer a regional processing centre? I agree with the majority report from the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee that this private member's bill, however well intentioned, is not a bill which is going to fundamentally address this issue and which, perversely, could actually lead to a restart of the people-smuggling business, even though that's not the intention. I recognise that that's not the intention, but that is my fundamental concern.

We cannot get back to a place where we have coming to these shores hundreds of boats organised by people smugglers and where we have people, including women and children, dying at sea. We simply cannot allow ourselves to go back to that place. We have to as quickly as we can, and as humanely as possible, deal with those who are on Nauru and in PNG, but we can't change the policy parameters in any way that will lead to a restart of the people-smuggling business. We did that once before as a country. The people-smuggling business was broken under the Howard coalition government. It had stopped. The policy levers were changed—however well-intentioned that was—and then 50,000 people arrived, unauthorised maritime arrivals, in 820 boats organised by the illegal people smugglers. That's the reality. That's what happened.

We can't give ammunition to the people smugglers to recommence their trade when their commodity is the most vulnerable human beings. We simply cannot allow that to occur. It would be irresponsible in my view—however well-intentioned—to allow that awful trade in people to recommence. That is the fundamental reason why I and those sitting on this side of the chamber in dealing with this very difficult issue recommend that the Senate reject this bill.

With respect to regional processing, we need to be respectful of those who this place, through our policies and our legislation, has imposed burdens on in implementing what the Australian government policy is. I do commend all the people in the department of immigration, in Border Force and throughout the Australian government who have had to deal with this awful issue over so many years. We don't want to again get into a position where Australians in our armed forces and Border Force are forced to deal with horrific scenes of people dying at sea and being lost at sea. We simply can't let that recur.

Having carefully read Senator McKim's private senator's bill, the intention is clearly to bring an end to regional processing. I respect that perspective. That would be the effect of the bill. With the way it's drafted I don't think it could have any other effect. In my view the great danger posed by that is that it would provide ammunition for the people smugglers to recommence their vile trade in the most vulnerable people.

With those comments and in conclusion, I deeply respect the work that Senator McKim does in this place and I deeply respect his passion in relation to this subject, but, considering the facts and the background, I'm firmly of the view that this is the wrong course and it would present a real risk that the people-smuggling business would recommence and we would go back to that period between 2008 and 2013 when 50,000 people arrived on these shores—the subjects of the vile people-smuggling trade—on 820 boats and there were at least 1,200 deaths at sea. From my perspective, this chamber simply cannot let that occur, however well-intentioned this private senator's bill is.

9:44 am

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

I thank Senator McKim for the Migration Amendment (Evacuation to Safety) Bill 2023 and the opportunity to debate this. I welcome this bill. For more than 20 years the plight of asylum seekers and refugees trying to reach Australia has been politicised. Successive governments have been in what seems to be a race to the bottom, campaigning on fear, division and cruelty. We must remember that this issue is about people and not politics. As politicians, we have a responsibility to the people that we represent, and we have a responsibility to build a nation that we can be proud of—a nation that treats everyone with respect and dignity and that faces complex challenges with courage, with open debate and, in the end, I would hope, with unity.

In recent years we have not faced this issue with unity and courage. People seeking asylum and refugees have been used as political footballs, with all sides using them for cheap pointscoring. The 150 people that remain in Papua New Guinea and Nauru are victims of our collective political failure. There are certain basic human rights that everyone should have. We should all have the right to work, to put food on the table, and to have a roof over our heads. The rights of those 150 people have been grossly violated. This bill is an opportunity to change that. If this bill were passed, there would finally be an offer to transfer people from offshore detention in PNG and Nauru to Australia, with the significant caveat that they are not subject to an adverse security assessment by ASIO. That's a really important caveat, and I think it's something that people pounce on when we talk about security threats and the impost on communities here in Australia. In Australia, they would have access to the medical treatment and mental health support that they require—mental health support which, in many cases, is desperately required.

Reading through the submissions to the inquiry into this bill was a moving and sad experience. It just reinforces that this is dealing with human beings like all of us—people who have hopes and dreams for their lives and who, for whatever reason, have found themselves in a situation where they were so desperate that they decided that they needed to leave everything they knew and leave their family to seek safety. And they have sought safety from Australia. On my reading of this report, we are failing them. One of my constituents, a Canberran called Peter, made a submission to the inquiry. He said:

… the human face of the policy for those remaining in Papua New Guinea and Nauru is one of desperate misery—and this for people who risked all to flee oppression, torture and death in their countries of origin.

The human face is missing from the committee report into this bill. In fact, accounts from those who are suffering are not even included in the text. So here are some of the stories in the submission from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Case study 1 states:

Mohammad is a Hazara man from Afghanistan who is in PNG. He has been recognised as a refugee. He is currently under severe mental stress because he is worried about his family in Afghanistan who are living under Taliban rule …

Mohammad has suffered in offshore detention in PNG for over 9 years. He has a multitude of untreated health conditions which makes it difficult for him to eat. He also suffers from depression. His doctor suggests he exercises, but Mohammad does not want to leave his house for fear of his safety.

The submission quotes Mohammad directly:

My hopes are to be with family, find work, stand on my own feet, feel independent and feel like a human. To have a peaceful life. Just do not forget us and hopefully, you can help us get out of this situation. We are stuck and cannot do anything to change our life for the better.

Another case study states:

Qarar was hospitalised in Nauru earlier this year after he experienced severe pain. He has been approved for transfer, but has still not been evacuated or received the medical treatment needed.

The submission quotes Qarar:

My brother is in Australia, I need to go to Australia for treatment, it is easier for me in Australia. I have been to Australia 3 times—had an operation in Brisbane in 2014 for kidney stone removal, good hospital, I stayed for 2 weeks, with a lot of facilities, proper doctors and professionals, there is a lot of humanity, human being's health is important in Australia, it is nothing here ... Australia is spending a lot of money and could have spent it in a better way.

Another case study in the submission states:

Hiren has been held in Nauru for over 9 years. He was transferred to Australia in February 2023 for urgent medical treatment for chronic pain conditions. Hiren has been held in closed hotel detention. He has not been told when he will be released from detention.

He says:

People are getting crazy. Health issues are worsening. People are scared for their safety. Locals swear at refugees. Get people out of this situation please. They are under a lot of stress and face a great uncertainty. Pay attention to the corruption and torture that is continuing to go on in offshore detention.

The 2010 Australian of the Year, psychiatrist Professor Patrick McGorry, has described offshore detention centres as 'factories for producing mental illness'. It's no surprise that we hear stories of people who've been locked up for over a decade and have health conditions, including mental health conditions. That's on us. That is a direct result of politicians' policies. We have to own that, and we have an opportunity to change that.

Medecins Sans Frontieres found that on Nauru:

Among the 208 refugee and asylum seeker patients assessed by MSF, 129 (62%) were diagnosed with moderate to sev ere depression. The second highest morbidity was anxiety disorder (25%), followed by PTSD (18%), mild depression (11%), complex trauma (6%) and resignation syndrome (6%), also known as traumatic withdrawal syndrome.

We can't ignore this. We know what is happening: there are a small number of people who we keep offshore for political reasons. Please think about these people.

Clearly, there's also the economic cost. Offshore centres cost around $9.6 billion in the three years between 2013 and 2016. That's an extraordinary amount of money. They continue to cost around $1 billion a year to run, which comes to over $500,000 per asylum seeker per year. This doesn't make sense. There has to be a better way to do this. Offshore detention is cruel. It causes the destruction of the physical and mental health of those who seek our care and our community.

The time has come for Australia to adopt a more compassionate and humane approach to refugees and asylum seekers. We have to grapple with this issue. We have to grapple with the national security concerns—the concerns that Senator Scarr rightly raised about Border Force having to deal with horrendous scenes—and we have to grapple with the fact that these are people who are desperate—people like you and me who are seeking our support—and we're locking them up and spending a huge amount of our money do so.

We can and must find a way to ensure that people do not die at sea and people also do not languish in indefinite detention. I believe we need to start to play a more active role in our region. People are only leaving because their situation is intolerable or their life is at risk. We need to stand up alongside calls that call out human rights abuses in other countries. And we really need to start thinking about how we're going to deal with climate refugees, because, if we look back at the last couple of decades and think we've had a refugee problem over any of those years, we haven't seen anything. The thing to think about—and I encourage the major parties to start thinking about this—is that, when we start seeing the spiralling, compounding effects of climate change, our Pacific neighbours are probably not going to be in a position to just do our dirty work. People in those countries will potentially be looking to Australia and saying: 'We can't cope here. We need support.'

This is a really tough problem, but ignoring it or locking up 150 people and hoping that that solves the problem doesn't. I understand that this is not something the major parties will entertain, but I urge you in your party rooms—and in your thinking—to start listening to the Australian community. Once we hear these sorts of stories we start to understand the people and how desperate they are in seeking our support. People want a more pragmatic, humane approach.

I thank Senator McKim for bringing this bill to the Senate. It does have my support. A number of Canberrans contact me on a regular basis about this but not only this. There are people languishing in our community on bridging visas—people who've had small businesses for 10 years and are contributing and paying taxes but who don't have access to services, to tertiary education and all of the things that many of us take for granted. Thank you, Senator McKim. I support this bill.

9:56 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the Migration Amendment (Evacuation to Safety) Bill 2023 be now read a second time.