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Monday, 18 October 2010
Page: 568

Mr MORRISON (11:00 AM) —by leave—I move the following amendment:

That this House:

(1)   notes that:

(a)   the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugees Convention) states that ‘contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin’;

(b)   the Government suspended the processing of asylum seeker applications from Afghanistan on 9 April 2010; and

(c)   there are more than 5000 persons currently being detained by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on the mainland and Christmas Island; and

(2)   condemns the Rudd Gillard Government for their imposition of a discriminatory freeze of the assessment of asylum applications for persons from Afghanistan arriving in Australia; and

(3)   calls for the introduction of proven policies proposed by the Coalition to address unprecedented irregular maritime arrivals to Australia, including:

(a)   the application of temporary visas for all persons who have arrived illegally in Australia;

(b)   the reopening of a third country processing centre in Nauru for irregular maritime arrivals to Australia;

(c)   being prepared to turn around boats where the circumstances permit;

(d)   streamline the appeals process by removing the panel system and replace with a review by a single case officer as practiced by the UNHCR;

(e)   presuming against refugee status determination for persons who are reasonably believed to have destroyed or discarded their identity documentation; and

(f)   return unsuccessful claimants for refugee status to their country of origin.

The asylum freeze was a discriminatory election fix when it was announced on 9 April by the then Rudd government. It was a fix designed and produced by a panic within the government, and there was an absence of policy and a bankruptcy of position when it came to their handling of this issue. Instead of understanding that there were other measures to deal with the fact that people’s refugee status can be affected by changing conditions in their home country, and adopting the policy that was put forward and practised by the coalition where a person was given a temporary visa recognising that their refugee status could change over time, this government as a matter of political convenience decided not to embrace that policy but, instead, imposed a discriminatory and harsh policy that separated not only Afghans but Sri Lankans from having their claims assessed.

We had a policy in this country that discriminated against a person who had come to this country and who subsequently sought asylum. We said that because you were Afghan we will not assess your application. Those on the other side and others who participate in this debate may wish to moralise over their position on this issue and criticise the coalition for our consistent stand on this issue all they like. But when it comes to the decision to impose a discriminatory policy of freezing applications for people who had come—believed to be from Afghanistan—it is beyond defence. This is an indefensible policy borne of panic and a political motive to try and put a fix in before the election. So unconvincing was the announcement of this policy back in April that the then minister, Senator Evans, was so incapable of delivering the political message that his Prime Minister wanted delivered that the Prime Minister himself had to go out later that afternoon and deliver a press conference to try and sheet the message home.

This was an election fix. It was a fix borne of the absence of any view by those on the other side of how to deal with this issue. They cannot agree necessarily with the Greens—we will see in due course how much they agree with the Greens on this matter—who at least have had a consistent position on this matter. They believe everyone should come, that there should be no controls and that people should be able to move directly into the community, which of course would produce the result we all know. The government cannot embrace that and the government will not embrace the proven policies of the coalition. They stand in this bankrupt middle ground that has produced the farce that we see today.

Let us assess the freeze through its outcomes. During the freeze of some 25 weeks, 58 boats illegally arrived in Australia bringing 2,872 people—more than 100 a week—so it certainly did not stop the boats. The number of people detained increased from 2½ thousand at the end of March to almost 5,000 at the end of September—4,991—with a few more at sea at the time that the freeze was introduced. The number of Afghans in our detention network increased by around 1,200 over the course of the freeze with more than 750 now being detained in the re-opened Curtin Detention Centre. The appropriated cost to date is $136 million with an annual operating budget each year of $98 million.

The percentage of people held in detention for more than three months as a result of this freeze increased from 30 per cent of the detention population to 71.3 per cent at the end of September. That figure probably more than any other—except one I am about to mention—is probably the greatest condemnation of this government. It is a government that said they were going to keep people in detention longer and that increased the percentage of people in detention for more than three months from 30 per cent to more than 70 per cent over the course of this discriminatory and ridiculous policy.

The number of children in detention over this time rose from 245 at the end of March to 677 by the end of September. As we know from reports in the last few days, the number of children in detention today has risen to over 700. Let us be clear about the reason there are children in detention today. There were only 21 children who had been detained at the time the coalition lost office in November 2007 and none of those had arrived illegally by boat, so there were no children being detained. As at November 2007 and since the middle of 2005 children, were not detained in detention centres as a result of changes that the coalition introduced. There are more than 700 children being detained today by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship because more than 700 children have got on boats.

Until this government gets serious about introducing proven policies to discourage the practice of people arriving illegally in this country by boat and then seeking asylum—which is legal—or arriving in Australia without a visa —which is not a legal mode of entry—and for as long as it refuses to deal with the issue, children will continue to get on boats and our detention centres will continue to fill up. I make the point that sections 197AB and 197AC of the Migration Act currently permit the minister to make a residence determination to remove children from places covered by the definition of immigration detention. That power exists in the hands of the minister today, and if he has proposals to go and act on that then he should come clean with the Australian people about what they are. And he should also explain today what discussions the government held with charitable groups and other organisations in relation to its mooted policy—it was suggested in the weekend press—that it was preparing to abandon the system of mandatory detention across all of these groups.

I also make this point on the proposals that we have put forward relating to East Timor. This is a never-never solution that will never, ever happen. Amazingly, this government cannot take a hint. The government of East Timor has deferred this matter for discussion by the Bali process. So not only does the government have to convince the East Timorese who have already passed a motion in their parliament saying they had rejected it but also now it has to convince up to 50 other countries before East Timor will even consider giving it a green light. Not only does it have to convince the East Timorese but it has to convince its own Minister for Foreign Affairs because the Minister for Foreign Affairs in this country has run a mile from this proposal and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has been left as the person at the end of the line who has to carry yet another can for this government of failed policy when it comes to these issues.

We had the abominable policy of an Afghan asylum freeze, introduced because this government did not have the mettle to deal with what essentially is often the temporary nature of someone’s refugee status. Now we have, instead of embracing the coalition’s policy of reopening the Nauru processing centre—a place where there is no razor wire, a place where children can be accommodated with their families and a place where people can move around the island freely and openly without the need for other forms of restraint that are imposed on children and families that are detained under the arrangements here in Australia—the government abolishing that policy, walking away from it, because it is a political inconvenience to embrace it. The government goes off with this nonsense notion of a processing centre in East Timor that we will never see happen in this parliament. There is no timetable for action, there is no timetable for this centre opening; there is only a timetable for more talk. As long as this government keeps talking, it will not be acting when it comes to this issue. Those who have come and have had their asylum claims rejected should also be returned home. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Before I call for a seconder to the motion, under the arrangements of the House there has to be leave given for the amendment, given that the mover of the amendment, the honourable member for Cook, was seeking to amend his own motion. Is leave granted?

Leave granted.

Mr Keenan —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak later.