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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 12357


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (18:55): I rise to express strong faith in the Solicitor-General and in the minister's intent in this legislation, but in defence of parliamentary process I raise the issue of this legislation being introduced at 6.15 tonight with an expectation that it will be voted on less than one hour after its introduction. Why? Because suddenly we seem to have agreement between the two major parties—one in particular which in the recent past has been campaigning on the so-called 'death of democracy', but which, when it is convenient, is happy to be a party to ramming through legislation at record speed. I have done my best to get my head around the legislation in the short time I have had to look at it, including talking to the minister at the table, Minister O'Connor, and I take on faith the reasons given for the speedy progress of this legislation.

It is based on one particular case before the Victorian Court of Appeal. In the short time available I have been trying to find the case, using AustLII and other methods. At best I came up with a definition of 'payara'. One small irony is that it is also a vampire fish; comedians could probably have some fun with that, given the abuse of process. This is an exercise of taking the major parties on faith in trying to beat the court. This parliament should not be a place of trying to beat the court in decisions that may be taken at some point in the future. This particular case, I gather, is going to be heard in the Victorian Court of Appeal on Thursday. It beggars belief that government and the minister only became aware today that this issue was before the court on Thursday and so this bill is being presented to the House tonight. Surely, knowing the timing of courts generally and knowing that this matter has been listed with the Victorian Court of Appeal for some time, an appropriate time frame for consideration of any relevant legislation, even if we are trying to 'beat' the court, could have been decided during the last month or two and presented to all members of parliament. It is incredibly unfortunate—in fact it is an abuse of the parliamentary process—that we are being asked to break normal conventions of the consideration of legislation, effectively based on a phone call today to say this legislation is important, urgent and on sound advice from the Solicitor-General. It further validates concerns I have about migration policy from both sides of this chamber; the emphasis seems to be more on crisis management than on developing long-term sustainable strategies for the future direction of this country. This is the latest bad example of bad policy, policy on the run, from governments forever in crisis mode on migration policy and immigration policy. It is disappointing that Australia has found itself in the situation where policy seems to be driven by crisis and political outcomes rather than by national interest outcomes.

The bill sitting on the table is another example of a bill crafted largely around crisis management and for political reasons—much like the Malaysia offshore processing bill. It has been an exercise that both major parties should be condemned for, (a) for the inability to focus on national interest rather than on political interest, and (b) for failure to reach any version of consensus or any sensible or sustainable result. That bill is still sitting on the table and, therefore, we have question marks galore in the area of migration policy regarding onshore/offshore 'assessment'—rather than 'processing'. We also have question marks about the implications, for example, for the budget, in regard to community based detention and onshore assessment as a consequence of policy failure.

I was very keen to move amendments in and around international work that Australia has taken the lead in, across party lines, which stands in stark comparison to the domestic debate. That international work is around the Bali process started in 2002 by Alexander Downer, continued now by Chris Bowen and involving 43 countries of the Asia-Pacific region—Malaysia and Nauru and all the other countries whose names are mentioned in this divisive domestic debate and internationally. Australia should be proud to be an example of a country that wants to lead in the area of fighting people smuggling, people trafficking and related transnational crime. There is a framework that has been developed over nine years that could be the framework for domestic policy as well in the areas of assessment, asylum seekers and detention, people smugglers, people trafficking and the various related transnational crimes.

Quite proudly, Australia leads internationally within the Asia-Pacific region, is forward looking, does look to the long-term sustainable regional interests in trying to frame policy but, unfortunately, as soon as we get into a domestic environment, it is crisis management, political division and legislation in a rush. What we are seeing here again tonight is an example of that.

So all the intent and all the reasons behind it may be valid—I would accept the advice of the Solicitor-General if I actually had time to see it—but I am relying on the good faith of the minister and his office. It is pretty hard to accept an argument that this only turned up today with the court of appeal making some considerations on Thursday.

I urge this minister, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the executive generally and government backbenchers—and hopefully one day soon with the support of a national interest test of the parliament rather than various political parties—to engage in a sensible debate and discussion and a reframing of issues broadly in regard to immigration and migration, particularly in consideration of the good work we are doing with 43 other countries that could potentially help reframe the domestic argument.

I will spend some more time now going through the notes before me, considering whether the verbal advice of the Solicitor-General outweighs the complete abuse of parliamentary process. It is pretty disappointing once again that we see crisis management win the day on immigration and migration policy.