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Thursday, 14 March 2002
Page: 1332

Mr ANDREN (12:28 PM) —The bill providing for the transitional movement of certain non-citizens is testament to this government's pandering to the electorate on the issue of asylum seekers and so-called border protection. The Migration Legislation Amendment (Transitional Movement) Bill 2002 would be unnecessary had the government fulfilled its moral obligations in the humane and compassionate treatment of human beings seeking asylum—fleeing from some of the most oppressive and dangerous regimes in the world at the moment—and allowed these people to land in Australia and have their claims fairly considered instead of being shipped around the Pacific in a cynical vote grabbing exercise that, far from providing any solution, has posed further problems and costs, to which the existence of this bill attests.

According to the Financial Review of 14 February this year, the Pacific solution, or the Pacific problem, will cost around $480 million this financial year—almost half a billion dollars on a solution that is so full of holes it actually needs legislation to patch it up. If asylum seekers were allowed to land in this country and be processed here, we would not need legislation to allow them to be brought in when they are sick—and with the risk of malaria from these Pacific containment camps, the numbers could well be very high—or, indeed, when they are needed as witnesses in people-smuggling trials or for transit home to a third country. We would not be here debating that bill if these people were here as they should be in the first place being properly processed.

This bill is not just a matter of providing the legal framework for the movement of non-citizens or `transitory persons', as the bill calls them—how about `fellow human beings' as a legal term—in and out of the country. The bill shows the Pacific solution for what it is: a waste of time and money. What a waste of innocent people's lives and a degrading of those people and of our international `fair go' reputation—all for votes and the continuation of bad policy. The bill is designed to patch up a policy that has gone badly astray. While the Tampa shame and the resulting Pacific solution may indeed have deterred asylum seekers from trying to enter this country, can the government sit with a self-satisfied smirk and believe that the job is over and that the people who seek to come here are more and more someone else's problem?

In a research paper prepared by our excellent parliamentary services on the 1951 refugee convention, a number of problems with that convention's modern-day applications are detailed. While it is acknowledged that there is an inequity of outcomes between camp and convention refugees, with priority being given to those present in a country on the basis of their mobility, surely no-one could argue that the very fact that asylum seekers find a way and a means to flee their country, or country of first asylum, should rule them ineligible for assessment. One other problem highlighted in the parliamentary paper is the gross disparity between what Western countries spend on processing and supporting asylum seekers and what they contribute to the UNHCR for the world refugee effort. Is it any wonder that refugees would bypass the camps of Peshawar to find their way to a third country, even by boat, and even paying their passage? Our lack of commitment to a credible UNHCR solution is another case of `out of sight, out of mind'—except when the heat is on, as was the case late last year when an extra, but, in the scheme of things, very small, contribution was made by Australia to the processing of people in their country of first asylum.

It suits the politics of this debate to continue to use the terms `illegal' and `unlawful'; indeed, they are included in our laws. In my book, people can never be illegal; only what they do. We should ask ourselves why people fleeing the Saddam regime or Iran—or those with continuing valid fears about their likely fate in Afghanistan post-Taliban—are dubbed illegal. As the government has recognised with this bill, and plans to construct a detention centre on Christmas Island, the only humane and moral way to treat these people is to manage and process their claims on our own soil. That should always have been the solution pre- and post-Tampa. That processing in our onshore detention centres at the moment is a disgrace. I am told that, of the 187 Iraqi asylum seekers in the Woomera camp, one has been rejected as a non-refugee while the remainder have been awaiting their primary status decision for an average of 10 months. In the United Kingdom, as I understand, it such people are by law permitted to be held for 10 days, during which time a primary decision must be made.

There are currently about 1,500 asylum seekers in Pacific solution camps on Manus Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island and Nauru. The Pacific nations among those have been bribed to take on our problem. It is South Pacific colonialism and paternalism all over again: beads handed out for services rendered. Added to those 1,500 people are about 2,500 in detention on mainland Australia. That is about 4,000 all up. Let me compare that with the problem of asylum seekers elsewhere in the world. The poorer countries of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and eastern Europe are carrying the bulk of the world's refugee burden. Iran has an estimated 1.8 million; there are about 1½ million in Jordan; there are two million—probably heading towards three million—in Pakistan; there are half a million in India; and there are 200,000 in Thailand. That is just for starters.

If we are to continue to condemn the tyrants of the world and if we are to continue to support America's war against terrorism, then the flip side is our responsibility to the victims of that oppression. While people-smuggling and trading in misery are to be condemned and rooted out, the victims of those regimes are still victims, whatever their means of travelling. It would be interesting to know what reaction there might be to a boatload of asylum seekers picked up off north-west Australia who arrived under their own power aboard a boat they had bought and crewed themselves. Would they be any braver or more desperate than those who take their chances on a leaky fishing boat out of an Indonesian port? Indeed, what might be our reaction if boatloads of people flee Zimbabwe in the weeks and months ahead? I see this morning that the non-indigenous population in that country—those with British and European roots—are considering their options. What priority might those people take in such circumstances? Would they be detained in camps until their status is determined?

Mr Hardgrave —That is disgusting.

Mr ANDREN —Why is that disgusting?

Mr Hardgrave —That is disgraceful.


Mr Hardgrave —You are attempting to bring race into a debate that is all about law and order.

Mr ANDREN —I am not.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms A.K. Corcoran)—Order! The honourable member for Calare will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr ANDREN —I am talking about equity of access to the process.

Mr Hardgrave —This is a law and order issue and it has nothing to do with race.

Mr ANDREN —It is not about law and order. It is a humane issue. You described the Pacific solution as a disgrace, did you not, a moment ago?

Mr Hardgrave —I described you as a disgrace for the way you brought race into this discussion.

Mr ANDREN —It is not a matter of race; it is a matter of equal treatment of people under our obligations internationally. The Australian Financial Review this week published figures from the ANU seriously challenging claims that Australia has a generous refugee intake. The figures show Australia ranks about 32nd in the world in the number of refugees it hosts, accepting three for every 1,000 in the community.

The report, from the ANU's Department of International Relations, authored by Ms Thuy Do, says that Australia is the only country that has a policy of mandatory detention. The report refutes claims by the minister that Australia accepts the second largest number of refugees per capita after Canada. In fact, we may be third among the 10 countries with formal refugee resettlement programs for which an annual quota is set. However, a much larger number of countries accept refugees and asylum seekers and do not specify a quota, according to the report. In fact, we fall to 32nd on the list—with the top three refugee-hosting countries being Pakistan, Iran and Germany. The House will note that the first two are at the epicentre of the current war on terrorism. Iran has been targeted as part of the `axis of evil', yet we would cast asylum seekers from these parts of the world as `illegals', `unlawfuls' and `queue jumpers' and cast them into outback detention centres where the trauma of their experiences is being exacerbated by many months of incarceration and an assessment process that could at best be described as glacial.

Prior to Tampa, prior to the hysteria of the past 12 months, we were processing asylum seekers and at least providing temporary protection visas. About 90 per cent of those people from Afghanistan and Iraq were being approved for such status. What has changed? There has been a quite cynical exploitation, I would suggest, of these people for political purposes. The Prime Minister will be guided by mainstream Australians when the refugee issue is in the polls and on the talkback, but he will not be swayed by the mob—as he calls it—when it comes to issues of leadership and principle inherent in processes like the Dr Hollingworth matter. These are seen as double standards for purely political reasons.

This bill is designed to extricate the government from part of the dilemma created by its Pacific solution: the dilemma of our long-term damage in the eyes of our Pacific neighbours—being seen as being ready to dump refugees but failing to acknowledge something like the likelihood of environmental refugees, down the track, from Tuvalu. These are double standards that are well-recognised in the Pacific and things that we will not be able to extricate ourselves from in any hurry.

The 70 per cent support—or whatever it is at the moment—for the government's current policies is not a measure of the 100 per cent support out there for strong border protection. It is a 70 per cent largely built on fear and ignorance. It is a measure of how much work needs to be done to lead our people and our country into understanding that we have a rich resource in offering haven to those who flee the cruel regimes of this world—regimes our soldiers are now fighting, and dying in the process. The first step is to dismantle our inhumane and discredited detention program.