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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8680

Mr WINDSOR (New England) (11:43): I rise to support the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. Firstly, I want to recognise the members of the expert panel that went to work on this task, a task on which this parliament—or the Senate at least—was unable to achieve an outcome. I thank Angus Houston, Paris Aristotle and Michael L'Estrange for their work.

I was one of the parliamentarians on that committee for the briefing of the expert panel, but they were the custodians of the recommendations.

I would like to say a number of things about their recommendations. I think that most of the debate so far, whether it be in the press or the parliament, really has been based on Nauru and Manus Island. The members of the expert panel went to great lengths, both in private and public briefings, to make the point that they were recommending a package of arrangements. It is not a revisiting of the so-called Pacific solution. If that were the case I would not be supporting it because a Nauru solution in itself will not work. I think it is fairly clear that all it would do in reality is buy some short-term advantage for someone. But if the other pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are actually plugged together and worked on, in particular the regional arrangement recommendations that were made, including Malaysia—but not just in terms of Malaysia—and Indonesia and the other countries that are involved, and also having a greater relationship with the UNHCR, and also the geo-regional context of their recommendations, these are probably far more important than the selection of a couple of islands in terms of fixing the problem in the long term.

I congratulate the members of the panel. It was an awesome task. They have been able to achieve an outcome where the politics of this building was unable to. We have seen movement from all sides of politics towards a number of recommendations.

I would also thank those members of the cross-party group that took the time to come together: the members of the Liberal Party, Labor Party, the National Party, the crossbenches and the Greens. On a number of occasions they came together to talk about these issues. I personally found it to be an extraordinary learning curve and one where it was very interesting to see people who obviously disagreed on some of the issues but were able to hear each other out and listen to various views from people who have far greater knowledge than I and many others had. There were people from all persuasions making their views heard. We had people from the Navy, the Australian Federal Police, the UNHCR, the various humanitarian and refugee groups—people who have been working on the ground. I am not suggesting that the expert panel has come up with any sort of mirror image of what the cross-party group was talking about, but in terms of the regional framework there may well be a role for that group to continue to participate to make sure that we just do not stop at Nauru and Manus Island. My view, and I think it is the view of some others in the building, is that if that is the objective it eventually will fail. Whoever is in government at the time of the failure will be up to the people.

The poison pill in the current debate relates very much to the no-advantage test. That has been discussed by a number of people. It has not really been adequately explained how it will work and what impact it will have on individuals, particularly having seen the circumstances that the previous arrangement with Nauru, in particular, had on the mental health of some people.

The package has a whole range of incentive/disincentive arrangements, whether that be increasing the humanitarian intake, or the family reunion arrangements, or whether it be sending negative messages to people smugglers and people who would board their boats. There is a range of messages that go to a range of different people. Therein lies a number of issues. First, and I refer back to Angus Houston's reference to the package, if we diminish the package and start to cherry-pick, as some would like to do, the capacity to succeed in reducing the number of people risking their lives at sea could be diminished.

The poison pill I refer to is this. If a no-advantage test is applied to those who take the journey, that may well have a positive impact on reducing the number of people who are encouraged by people smugglers to take the journey. But the negative impact is that they may well be determined to have very long stays on Nauru or Manus Island or other venues that might be determined in the future. Some would see that as being one of the negative signals to go out to the people-smuggling business world and those who would hand over their $10,000, the message being that it is not worth it because there will be no advantage. You will go somewhere and then you will be treated as if you had not gone anywhere, so why waste your money.

The poison pill in that, in my view, which goes to the politics of it, is that, if that occurs and does not reduce the number of boats—because the balance of the package is not addressed if it is just left to being Nauru and Manus Island, which is the politics of this place at the moment—then there will no doubt come a time when the politics of the people of Australia will reverse. I guess it will most likely be in an Abbott government, if the polls are any indication of the future. But I think if the general public see people left on Manus Island or Nauru for extreme periods of time, and a whole range of mental issues arising, the political tide will swing back the other way—and the demands that led to the current government making changes to the previous government's arrangements will, in fact, start to blow back the other way. We saw issues like Cornelia Rau and others, where there was a great deal of sympathy expressed by the Australian community, the very same people who are expressing a different view at the moment—that they want the boats stopped, for a whole range of reasons. Most of us agree that we do not want people drowning at sea. Others have varying views as to where they should be processed, how many more we should take—there are a diversity of views that flow from there. But if you go forward three or four years, and there is an issue in relation to the no-advantage tests, and there are very real issues in terms of people's mental health et cetera, that will again become a political issue for the government of the day. That will be interesting viewing in itself.

The regional framework that the expert panel and the cross-party group spent quite some time on reflected on how that could be constructed. There were various issues about those within the Bali process and those who were either signatories to the refugee convention, or non-signatories, and the legal protections that could be afforded to unaccompanied minors—all of those issues that were talked about when the Oakeshott bill was put forward some six or seven week ago now, which achieved an outcome in the lower house but was unable to in the Senate. All of those issues are still very live issues.

I was interested to hear the expert panel say—and I hope I am not verballing them, and others who have raised the issue—that perhaps the convention arrangements of the 1950s are not the major stepping blocks that we should be using this century, particularly given the make-up of the signatories within our own region. I would like to see that regional attempt to develop a broader framework within the region, irrespective of whether countries are signatories to the convention or not, but those legal protections are required. We would all think that they are within the convention agreement now, but I think the point has been made that you could still have very similar or the same protections without being a signatory. Now, I know that will create some issues for some people, but through the Bali process, and other processes that have been engaged in, we have to make sure that the process goes forward rather than just stops after today; otherwise, as I have said, the process will most probably fail at some stage or another.

May I conclude my remarks by recognising one person who I think has made an extraordinary contribution to this debate in this parliament, over many years—and I know that she isn't comfortable with the outcome that the parliament is debating at the moment—and that is the member for Pearce. I thank her for her role in terms of the cross-party arrangements that were put in place and for the invitation to a number of people to come and talk to that cross-party group. I thank her for her efforts on behalf of people less fortunate than ourselves. She has experienced firsthand the heartache and experiences that many people have had, which I have not—and I think many of us, as members of parliament, have not had those same experiences. But I would encourage her to look to the future in relation to the regional agreements. And, hopefully, all of us within this place, after today's victory or defeat—depending on whoever's side you happen to be on or want to take advantage of—will all try and work together on a regional framework and, rather than find reasons not to do things, let us try and find, as we did in the cross-party committee, reasons to do things that are positive in terms of a regional framework for the future. Thank you.