Senate debates

Tuesday, 14 November 2023

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Immigration Detention, Cost of Living

3:02 pm

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

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Wong) and the Minister for Finance (Senator Gallagher) to questions without notice asked by Senators O'Sullivan and McGrath today relating to a recent High Court decision concerning migration matters and to inflation.

I had the pleasure of asking the first question today. It's a matter of serious concern for Australians. The issue that I raised was in relation to the High Court ruling on immigration detention. I cited three cases that have been reported recently, over the last day or so, in various Australian publications: the Australian newspaper, the Guardian and also again in the Australian. I want to repeat the particular individuals and the situations where people have been released as a result of the High Court's ruling last week. I quote the first one:

… a violent sex predator with a record of attacking elderly women in their own homes so chilling a judge branded him "a danger to the Australian community".

The second one was in relation to an individual that was attacked in their workplace: it says the victim was 'held up against a shelf in a blind spot without cameras in a retail store about 4 pm on a Thursday afternoon'. The final one was, in relation to a 28-year-old woman, 'fatally shooting her in a forest on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur and blowing up her body with military-grade explosives'. These individuals are now out on our streets. That is just chilling.

I realise that these are cases that go back some time and that this particular case that was before the High Court has been dealt with over the last year—I think it was sometime last year that it was first brought forward; someone might correct me if I've got that time wrong. The point that I want to make is that the government has had time to prepare. The questions that I asked Senator Wong went to what the government is now doing about it. There was nothing that went to what the government is doing.

This is of grave concern to Australians. About 50 people in Western Australia at Yongah Hill, which is in Northam, about an hour and a half out of Perth, have been released. I asked a question about other examples of cases where people were held in indefinite detention, and I didn't get an answer to that either. Do we now have people wandering the streets of Perth in my home state who are similar to the people in the cases that we've heard here? Sadly, we didn't get an answer to that either.

I'm concerned because Minister Giles, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, in question time in the House yesterday said that the government rightly argued against this particular case to overturn the two-decade-old precedent. He said, 'We were prepared for this outcome.' Sadly, I didn't hear anything in Senator Wong's response to my question that demonstrates that the government is now actually doing something about it. If they were prepared, why can't they be upfront with us and tell us about what they're doing? The minister went on to say in question time yesterday—sorry, the Attorney-General, Mr Dreyfus, went on to say that he'd confirmed that there were legislative options that were being considered. Obviously the government couldn't have known what the outcome of the High Court case would be, but if it knew that it needed to be prepared, why is there not legislation in parliament right now that we could be dealing with as a matter of urgency? This is of grave concern.

So far, in the response of this government, we're not seeing the steps that they are taking. We're left in the dark. We don't know who all these people are. We're not being upfront with the Australian people about the types and situations of the people who have been let out of detention. We also don't know what steps the government is taking to take this seriously. The government is distracted and is not focused on the things that matter to the Australian people.

3:07 pm

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

I will address some of the remarks that Senator O'Sullivan made in taking note of answers and then go to some of the other questions that were asked by opposition senators. Firstly, in regard to the first question asked and the comments just made by Senator O'Sullivan, because I think it's really important, I will reiterate—and be very clear that these are very serious matters that the government is taking very seriously—that the decision to release these noncitizens was a decision of the High Court, not of the Albanese Labor government. I will be very clear about that because I have seen the mischaracterisation of the matter in the House today and I hope that I don't see the same characterisation here in the Senate. I know that senators opposite, particularly those who understand the law, and some of them are lawyers themselves, would understand that when the High Court makes a decision the law must be complied with.

The government argued against this decision. We argued against it. We argued that the detention was lawful. The High Court did not agree with those arguments. The decision required the release of noncitizens and in responding to this matter our ministers are working very swiftly to make sure that community safety is completely front of mind. They are waiting for the reasons to be released and are making sure that any response is dealt with quickly. That is what we are doing. What we are not going to do is let those opposite mischaracterise this as a decision of government or mischaracterise this as a process that didn't involve the government arguing against the decision of the High Court or requiring those people to be detained. That was the premise of the arguments made by the government, and it remains our position.

What I do want to respond to very carefully, though, are questions by those opposite regarding how households in Australia are facing the cost-of-living crisis, because that is what the government is focused on. We are prioritising these matters in this place, and we are making sure that cost of living and the way people are dealing with cost of living is front of mind. That's why I asked a question today in Senate question time about the way the government is strengthening Medicare, particularly in rolling out urgent-care clinics across the country, and we saw the pretty woeful interjections from those opposite and from the senator who I think was going to be the health minister if the opposition had been successful at the last election. Thank goodness that didn't happen, because her response of 'So what?' to urgent-care clinics really demonstrates that there is a huge divide between how this government is dealing with cost of living and taking care of people's health and the approach of those opposite.

We are opening urgent-care clinics across the country. That means we are making sure that people can get acute care when they need it. In Queensland we've announced or opened clinics in Bundaberg, in Ipswich, in Brisbane South and on the Gold Coast; that clinic opened yesterday, and patients are already able to go in there. We've announced one in Murrumba Downs, Browns Plains and Toowoomba. These are urgent-care clinics all across Queensland, with more to follow, where patients are able to go in and get that acute care, making sure they're able to see a doctor when they need to and preventing them from going into emergency departments. And if those opposite don't think giving people the option to go to a doctor when they need to on the weekend or after hours doesn't impact the household budget, then they really don't understand how people are struggling and how important health care is, not only to the household budget but also to wellbeing.

That's why we are investing in bulk billing. It's why we have tripled the bulk billing incentive. We've made the largest investment in bulk billing in the 40-year history of Medicare, and this is part of our commitment to make it easier for families to see a doctor. This is in sharp contrast to those opposite. When Peter Dutton was the health minister he put Medicare into the worst shape it had been in 40 years. He proposed a GP co-payment and was declared the worst health minister I think in history, because of the way they cut and slashed Medicare. Well, that is not what Labor governments do. When Australians are doing it tough we step up and we make sure Medicare is protected, and we invest in Medicare. Those opposite will always cut Medicare, and we'll always invest in it. (Time expired)

3:12 pm

Photo of Maria KovacicMaria Kovacic (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm taking note of a question Senator McGrath asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Gallagher, about OECD data and inflation. It's not news to any of us here that, as we heard yesterday, the latest CPI data shows that the price of food has gone up by 8.2 per cent. That's for food. That's something people can't budget-cut on—food, groceries. Housing costs are up by 10.4 per cent. Insurance is up by 17.3 per cent. Electricity prices are up by 18.2 per cent, and gas by a massive 28 per cent. These are all things you can't cut out of your family budget. These are things you can't cut out of your household budget. You can maybe fill up half the tank with petrol for your car or turn off the heater when it gets a little bit less cold and you can throw on another blanket, or you might put fewer things in your trolley. But you still have to buy those things. You still need to use those things. They are needs. I remember doing commerce at school—I'm perhaps giving my age away here!—and we learnt the difference between needs and wants. The things we're talking about here are all needs.

To Senator McGrath's question, Senator Gallagher sort of just gave a mishmash of different things but particularly focused on what the former government had and hadn't done. I'm fairly new to this place but, frankly, I'm sick of hearing it. I'm sick of hearing about what other people did or didn't do, and I think the Australian public are sick of that as well. I think they're quite interested to know what this government is actually going to do in order to facilitate having the cost of living not spiralling even further out of control.

The other thing that struck me was that there were some conversations around things that this government had delivered versus things that they had inherited. Senator Gallagher made the comment that they had inherited inflation but they had delivered a surplus. I actually think there's a bit of confusion here. I think that's the wrong way round. I think they inherited a surplus and have delivered an inflationary environment, because that is what is being shown by the evidence that we have before us.

Some of the commentary that Senator Gallagher used to substantiate the fact that they had inherited inflation was very confusing to me as I stopped to think about it. She made the comment that inflation in other countries peaked earlier, so it made sense that it ended earlier. That made me think: so it peaked later here and started later here, which was kind of in line with the new government taking control of the budget and the economy here. We've heard Treasurer Chalmers say on the record many, many times that the inflationary impacts here have nothing to do with what's happening overseas; they're based on decisions that are made here. So, on that basis and on the basis of the comments that Senator Gallagher made, the fact that inflation was largely under control whilst the opposition was in government, and it has spiralled out of control whilst the current government has been in government, suggests that this is something that this government has delivered rather than inherited. But that's just my observation of some of the facts that Senator Gallagher put forward rather than answering Senator McGrath's question.

But the important thing to take note of here is that, by not answering these questions, the government are not telling everyday Australians when and how they are going to stop the pain that they are feeling. That hurt continues daily—at retail outlets when they go to buy things, or in the letterbox or the inbox when they get their electricity or gas bill or their insurance renewal. Everything is costing more. Interest rates increase because inflation is too high. Australian mortgage holders and small business borrowers can't continue to do all of the heavy lifting to curb inflation via increased interest rates. A family with a $750,000 mortgage is now paying $24,000 a year extra.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator. Senator Sheldon.

3:17 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

These people brought us $1 trillion of debt when we had a change of government. Then they come here and start lecturing about what needs to be done. Of course, we start then putting suggestions about what should be done. What do we do? The government turn around and provide the first surplus in 15 years. And what happens? There's still no credit. Then we start putting policies forward to reduce the cost of living. And what do they do? They vote against them. When we have cost-of-living reductions, $3 billion of vital energy bill relief, those opposite vote against it. If they had succeeded in stopping that change coming through from this government, then we would have seen in the September ABS quarter an 18.6 per cent increase in prices for energy. Not only are they standing in the way, but their alternative model would mean that Australians would be even harder hit.

We've seen their opposition on so many issues, like funding cheaper child care and fee-free TAFE. Time and time again we've seen their opposition on issues, opportunities and policies that would take pressure off the Australian public. Then you think: 'Maybe they'll start rethinking what they're doing. Maybe this is just a moment in time. Maybe it's just a blip in the thinking policy, or lack of thinking policy, on how to deal with cost-of-living pressures.'

But you've got to look back a little bit on the coalition, because one of the ways you actually deal with the cost of living is having those big companies that are making bit profits turning around and saying that workers can also get a fair share of it. They oppose that, and, when you look back to 1921, for example—because they have a history of this. In 1921, in the McKell report, for the increases in wages they got through their period of government up to that period in '21 to the period prior under Labor—if they had of got the same increases that Labor did, every worker would be $254 a week better off. So you've got them opposing $254 all that way back; you've got them opposing policies that give energy bill relief; you've got them opposing policies that turn around and increase the minimum wage; and you've got them proposing policies which say the secure jobs bill isn't the right approach, even though it has helped increase wages again. Of course, they're also opposing new legislation coming forward in these present bills that have been discussed over these last number of weeks.

What they're about is not about actually finding relief, because they voted against relief. When we came to power, they voted against relief that would have given us relief from the drama and the incompetence that they'd brought to the economy. We know that this is a tough time for everybody. We know that this is a time when we have to pull together to make those differences. But every time we put forward a proposal for a difference, every time we put forward a suggestion or a recommendation for a cost-of-living reduction, those opposite vote it down. They vote it down because they just can't help themselves.

When it comes to talking about new and proper legislation to make sure there's a fair bargaining field, whether it be for road transport operators, road transport workers, owner drivers or gig workers, the opposition also vote that down. They say, 'That's not something that's fit and proper,' when we're dealing with wage theft where companies are intentionally stealing from their workers, competing with companies who do the right thing, which the majority of companies do. They don't want to even keep the criminals accountable. This just keeps smelling of the same thing. You, on your side, just don't care. That's what you keep saying to the Australian public: 'We don't care how much you hurt. We haven't got solutions, and, when solutions are proposed, we oppose them.' That's either because the big end of town are opposed to them or because those across the chamber can't quite understand that the Australian public deserve something better.

When you start hearing about those who are opposed to some of the initiatives we put forward on the industrial relations front, you get companies like BHP and the Minerals Council and the opposition's favourite, Qantas. All of those are being supported time and time again by those opposite to suppress wages. It's in their DNA. Those opposite want wages suppressed, and they want the big end of down to town looked after.

3:23 pm

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

There is no greater example of the incompetence and the danger those opposite, the Labor government, present to the Australian people than them allowing 80 and possibly up to 330 people in detention, because they've been denied visas on character ground—and some of them are violent rapists and murderers. You start to think, 'Well, how could this possibly have happened?' Unfortunately, it was entirely predictable and preventable, but this government did not prepare.

So what's the situation? Last week the High Court overturned a 20-year precedent that has underpinned the migration policy of both sides of government. The issue the government now face—and, again, this hasn't been a secret hearing by the High Court; this has been well-known and is an entirely predictable outcome. The plaintiff in the High Court itself who made this decision committed a heinous child's sex offence. So far we've heard in the media—and not from this government—that at least 80 others have been released into the community.

While I said the government wasn't prepared, one minister was prepared: the minister for immigration. He prepared by ensuring that these 80 people had visas prepared for them. And not only did they have visas prepared for them; they also had hotel rooms booked for them. The government made sure they had visas and hotel rooms, but they did not think to ensure that they did not get out of detention in the first place. The High Court hasn't even delivered its reasons yet. They could have been detained a bit further.

While the minister for immigration was rolling out the red carpet for these 80 and possibly nearly 300 more, what was the Attorney-General doing? What was the Minister for Home Affairs doing? By their own admission, they were doing absolutely nothing. They could have started thinking, 'What happens if this does happen?'—which, again, was entirely predictable. They could have started thinking, 'We'll use the time until we get the decision from the High Court. We can prepare some legislation, possibly under our current terrorism framework, and we can have it ready,' because, guess what, the Senate was sitting last week. The House is also sitting this week. We have rushed urgent legislation through both chambers in previous years, under the previous government, and we could have done it here now. Not only has this incompetent government run down our economy in less than 18 months and made it very hard for Australians to afford their rents, their mortgages and their grocery bills but it also is not keeping Australians safe.

What's happened in Western Australia? We've heard from the West Australian, not from those opposite, that apparently 50 of those 80 were released from Yongah Hill detention centre, just out of Perth, into an outer suburb of Perth, where they're all currently sitting in a hotel. Where are they staying? Who's safeguarding them? Who would think throwing into a cheap motel 50 people who mostly have criminal records and present a threat to the Australian community, giving them a few bucks and saying, 'On your way,' was a good idea? It is almost inconceivable how incompetent and how dangerous those opposite are.

The refugee advocate, presumably for those 50 in Perth, warned that many were at 'huge risk of imminent homelessness'. What could go wrong once 50 people—who have all been denied visas for Australia on character grounds, many because they have committed the most heinous crimes—get kicked out of the hotel? What does Labor do? 'Let's roll the carpet out. Let's give them a visa. Let's put them in a hotel or a motel for a while. We won't worry about what happens to them afterwards.' They have no legislation in this place this week, which they could well have done, to keep Western Australians and Australians safe.

They've done all of this in less than 18 months. They're destroying the economy. They're destroying people's lives. They're now releasing murderers and rapists into the suburbs of Perth and elsewhere. Shame on you all.

Question agreed to.