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Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 5518


Senator SCULLION (5:09 PM) —I rise to support the Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002. I am somewhat miffed. This is the second excision bill that has been introduced into this parliament, the first being the Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration Zone) Bill 2001. The subsequent bill simply extends the concepts of the original bill into new areas. There is nothing complex about that. I am very surprised that the Labor Party have brought to this house a whole range of conundrums without actually bringing some sort of legislation that would repeal the original act and further unwind the border protection measures that have been so successful and that we have already put in place.

It is curious that Senator Bartlett said he is very pleased that the Labor Party have in fact maintained their opposition to this aspect of government policy. I would like to note that, in the second reading debate on the Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration Zone) Bill 2001 and related bills, the shadow minister for immigration, the Hon. Con Sciacca, said:

The opposition will support these migration legislation measures contained in the Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration Zone) Bill 2001 and related bills ... The measures are in accordance with our bipartisan approach to matters of this nature.

... ... ...

It is very important when we talk about ... the integrity of our borders, when we talk about people who come here on an unauthorised basis, that we do so in a way that both governments, of whatever political persuasion, and oppositions do their best to think about the nation and the security of the nation and ensure that, wherever possible, these matters are looked at in a bipartisan way.

That is hardly maintaining their opposition to these things. They were clearly very supportive and undertook to continue to support these issues. Labor's decision to oppose the bill completely reverses their earlier position in regard to a whole range of issues. They claim in their majority report that the bill is self-defeating. I have heard Senator Bolkus speak about the fact that, if we excise the islands, people will go straight past the islands and to the mainland. This completely ignores the suite of measures that have been put in place to ensure that people do not do that. Some of the most draconian penalties that have been put in place include a five-year sentence for a first offence, with a mandatory penalty of three years, and an eight-year sentence for a second offence, with a mandatory penalty of five years. I have a history in small business. I can tell those who have not been in small business that spending three or five years behind bars is not the way to move forward. It sends a very clear signal: if you are in the business of smuggling people and trafficking in human lives, don't come to Australia. It is a very clear signal.

People say, `What about the islands? They are just a couple of kilometres from the mainland; why bother?' This obviously comes from a group of people who do not understand or have not visited the islands in that area. The whole idea of avoiding apprehension for non-compliance is to ensure that you avoid contact with the authorities. People may not realise it, but the roads that connect the mainland infrastructure do not go to the islands. Clearly the islands are an opportunity for people who are involved in smuggling people to ensure they escape apprehension for non-compliance.

There has been much discussion about international obligations with regard to non-refoulement. Australia has a clear obligation not to return a refugee to the frontier from which they first fled—that is quite clear. None of the parties who suggested that this might happen could provide us with any evidence whatsoever that refoulement has occurred. They also went on to say, `What about our obligations? You can't just pass on obligations to other parties. You can't pass on obligations to Manus Island or Nauru.' In terms of Manus Island, New Guinea is a signatory to the convention. It takes up those issues under the convention. The Australian contract with Nauru to look after these people states:

Any asylum seekers awaiting determination of their status or those recognised as refugees, will not be returned by Nauru to a country in which they fear persecution, nor before a place of resettlement is identified.

It seems pretty clear that those countries that have joined with us are not going to be able to refoule anyone. We are not, nor have we been, in breach of any of our convention requirements. In the opposition's report they also recommend that an external body, such as the magistrates or the Refugee Review Tribunal, provide for an appeal process on the original statement. We questioned a body that I thought was a bit of an authority on this matter: the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. When questioned, the UNHCR stated that all persons who seek asylum in the excised area will have their claim for refugee status assessed against the criteria contained in the refugee convention, which would include an internal administrative review of a negative decision, and that that appeal would be completed by a different officer. That is in line with the UNHCR policy for processing asylum seekers. Australia has adopted that policy in these circumstances so that we use the very best world standards to ensure that these people are properly assessed.

The report dealt widely with consultation with Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities. Government members would agree that the consultation process certainly was not very timely and was hardly comprehensive. Whilst I was involved in some of the earlier parts of that, I recognise—possibly from the some 20 years that I have been involved in the process of discussing and consulting with Indigenous communities— that it is an issue right across the board that successive governments need to do better.

`Consultation' is an interesting word, and I have to suggest that it does not just mean a visit. Reading the majority report, you would reckon that we just popped in for a visit and popped out again and said that we went there. Consultation is all about visiting people and reflecting the views of the people that you have met. I note that at the front of the report—it must be pretty galling to Indigenous people—it states:

A most eloquent statement about the proposal to excise these close islands came from Mr Alan Keeling.

Mr Keeling goes on in a way that shows he has absolutely no knowledge of the area and knows nothing about the issues. If he was from Goulbourn Island one would not be surprised to see his statement right at the front of the report, but he was a visitor from Queensland who was there for half a day, one of the white people who was there. So let us quote him up-front—I think `disingenuous' is a pretty reasonable term for that sort of thing. The comprehensive and overwhelming view of the island communities is that they support this bill. I will quote briefly from a description given by the Tiwi Land Council at Land Council meeting No. 224, which was held at Ngulu on 12 September:

Members expressed surprise that there could be any opposition to the Commonwealth legislation to assist in the protection of our coastal zone and deny access to foreign persons or vessels on the shore of Bathurst and Melville Island.

It goes on to say:

Our member for Arafura, Marion Scrymgour MLA was also at our meeting and agreed that it was helpful for there to be such legislation ...

That is a Labor member representing Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. I am not sure who is out of step. The report went on to quote people like Richard Gandhuwuy, who says:

I would like to strongly support the new proposal that the committee is looking into now that is going to be part of the legislation to control the coast, especially in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. I would like to strongly support that legislation to go ahead and be approved by parliament and become a law, an act.

I do not think there are too many surprises in that respect. They very strongly support this legislation because, unlike the Labor Party, they see it as a further protection measure, which is all it actually is. The communities are very keen to increase their level of contribution in border protection to the islands and seas directly adjacent to their homes, and there is also a high degree of recognition of the existence of their contribution. There is a clear need for government to review employment opportunities in this regard and I will be personally pursuing that. I have reported the wishes of these communities and I have had some very positive responses from government.

I have spoken before about the plethora of quarantine issues that are associated with this legislation, but there are some principles that I would like to go through. The bill simply extends the concepts embodied in the first bill. The Labor Party said they would give bipartisan support to the affected bill. The bill is part of a suite of measures to provide further border protection and they have been dramatically successful, with no arrivals since last November. Australia has met and will continue to meet its obligations under the UN convention for refugees and other conventions. We have confirmed that there is no evidence of refoulement. Our assessment processes are endorsed and supported by the UNHCR. Indigenous communities have been consulted and absolutely support this bill. The bill adds to our already strong quarantine border control measures. This bill provides for further border protection, something which is in the interests of all Australians, and I commend the support of this bill to all senators.