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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 11356


Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (1:33 PM) —I speak on behalf of the Australian Democrats on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Further Border Protection Measures) Bill 2002 [No. 2]. This is of course the second time that this bill has been before us. The Democrats opposed it the first time around and we continue to oppose it now. It is a part of the so-called Pacific solution, which has resulted in incredible suffering for a significant number of people and in a whole group of people being removed from the rule of law and the protection of law. That is a principle that the Democrats oppose, regardless of who it applies to. The fact that it is applying to people, many of whom are clearly amongst the most vulnerable people on the planet—people who are fleeing persecution, people who are fleeing danger and seeking safety—and putting them in a situation where they have fewer legal rights than anybody else is something that the Democrats do not support and will never support.

It should also be said that the legislation is unnecessary under existing law. Unfortunately, despite the strong opposition of the Democrats—indeed the Democrats were the only party to vote, alongside Senator Harradine, against those bills at the final reading—legislation was passed through this chamber prior to the last election which provided the minister with ongoing powers to introduce regulations to remove any particular islands offshore from Australia from the jurisdiction of the Migration Act. This legislation seeks to remove the need for that by putting all of those islands—around 4,000 or more islands—outside the jurisdiction of the migration zone for the purposes of the Migration Act. It removes any opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny should the minister want to remove islands in the future and it removes any need for the minister to have to justify the removal of those islands from the migration zone.

It is a massive broad-brush approach that is not needed. It is clearly not needed, as shown by the evidence over the last year or two. But even if there were still boats arriving, from the Democrats' point of view people are entitled to the same level of protection under Australian law whether they happen to be on an island offshore from Australia or on the Australian mainland. To expand the principle that people have fewer rights depending on which part of the country they are in is completely unacceptable, whether it is in relation to refugees and migration law or to any other aspect of the law. People deserve the protection of the law and they should not be exempted from that protection simply based on which particular piece of Australian soil their feet happen to be on.

The Democrats have noted repeatedly the major draconian aspects of the package of legislation that went through this chamber just prior to the last election. Much has been said about the unfortunate fact that the Labor Party supported all that legislation at the time and have indeed supported, under this current term of government, a few pieces of legislation which further removed people's rights under the Migration Act. However, we note that they have opposed this legislation and continue to do so. We thank them for doing that and note that at least they are holding the line on this particular issue. I hope that, as part of their continuing review of their immigration and refugee policies, they will commit to winding back further some of the legislation that was passed prior to the last election.

In short, as to the Prime Minister's suggestion that the Senate is ruthlessly obstructing everything that this government does, if we were wanting to do that we could put up a number of speakers on this legislation and speak at great length on it—and it would deserve it. The fact that I am giving only a short speech on this should not in any way indicate that it is not something that we take seriously. We do take it seriously but we believe the debates have been had before.

We have had a Senate committee inquiry. We had a debate on this bill the first time around, and I think we even had regulations of a similar type prior to that. So it is an issue where the facts are clearly on the table and people's positions are clearly on the table. The Democrat position is consistent: we opposed the whole idea of having parts of Australian soil outside the migration zone where people do not have the protection of the law. We certainly cannot in any way support this legislation, and we would be completely inconsistent in our philosophy, policy and principles if we were to do so.

I take the opportunity to highlight the fact, and it needs to be emphasised at every opportunity, that this legislation—even though I believe it is not going to pass again today, and I am thankful for that—is nonetheless part of an ongoing policy that is still very much alive and well. It is hard to call a policy like that `well', but it is still very much alive and still very much in operation. That policy is still operating today—the Pacific solution—under what is called Operation Relex II, and I think we still have about $18 million or $19 million coming out of the Defence budget to require defence personnel to patrol the coasts to keep out people who are seeking protection and safety. We still have people marooned on Nauru at the moment, including people who have been assessed as refugees in need and deserving of protection and who are still being kept in what is, in effect, detention, with no idea of what their future holds and with no rights at all under the law. We still have others on Nauru who have nowhere to go and have no future.

We still have people in Australia—thousands of people—who are on temporary visas whose futures are completely unclear and who are living under the terror of being sent back to the regime and country from which they fled for their own safety. We still have thousands of people who are being kept separate from their families—husbands and wives, children and parents—causing immense suffering, stress and hardship, which is a direct result of this policy. We still have people in detention centres for prolonged periods of time—all of whom are suffering enormously, all of whom have no certainty about their future and all of whom are living under fear of being sent back to a regime where they all genuinely believe they would not be safe.

All of that is costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars at the same time. It is a bankrupt policy; it is one that needs to be reversed. The Democrats will continue to oppose it in all its forms. This is simply one component of it; unfortunately, it is not a particularly big component. We wish we could do more to reverse the temporary protection visa to reverse the offshore detention regime. We will continue to work to do that, but we certainly will not support any legislation that increases that morally bankrupt and legally disgraceful policy which unfortunately is still in place under the current government.

Question put:

That this bill be now read a second time.