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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26138


Senator BUCKLAND (1:49 PM) —I begin by quoting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, the preamble to which, in part, says:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people ...

Those are profound words. They represent something which, until recently, Australians believed in and were encouraged to believe in by their political leaders. But, sadly, through the actions and attitudes of the Howard government, many have allowed these great principles to slip from their consciousness and allowed prejudice and fear to contaminate the views of those less fortunate people from foreign countries looking for refuge on our shores.

Our modern society has been founded upon the principle of individual freedom motivated by the atrocities of the Second World War. This leads me to ask the question: was the High Court finding on 6 August 2004 a con-scious attempt to revert to the pre-war con-finement of socially stigmatised people or a downright mean and dirty ploy masterminded by the federal government in the lead-up to an election? I will leave that for the Senate and the people of Australia to judge.

International law is based on the fundamental notion of individual freedom. Over recent years we have seen the Howard government erode the core values of Australia's psyche and cut away at the edges of what most nations now regard as common law—a common law that most countries respect and that a Labor government would embrace. We should be looking to reverse the recent occurrences by acknowledging the valuable role that international law can play in shaping common law. It is time to bring the Prime Minister's arrogance to an end.

The High Court's finding on 6 August makes me think that we need a rider for refugees like al-Khafaji and al-Kateb, who are of no threat to the Australian community or to our national security. We have to ask ourselves whether they still warrant permanent detention. Commonsense, common law and good conscience lead me to believe that these people, who have committed no crime against Australia, should not be detained behind razor wire or electric fences. Some refugees have been living in the Australian community since November 2002, and during that time they have surely proven that they do not pose a threat to our community. Yet they now face indefinite detention through no wrongdoing of their own. This is simply un-Australian. I have to say that I am proud to be a member of the Australian Labor Party, which does not support the indefinite detention of refugees who have proven that they are no threat to our community or national security.

The federal government has simply `cocked up'—to use a purely Australian term—and made a fundamental mistake in the deportation of Iraqi nationals to Syria. Take the case of al-Khafaji and al-Kateb: the federal government demonstrated a complete lack of concern for those individuals and a lack of understanding of their situation. Rather, the Howard government simply chose to persecute them. It showed a lack of concern for their welfare, a lack of concern for their human rights, a lack of concern for international law and a complete lack of concern for common decency.

Unlike al-Khafaji and al-Kateb, many other refugees in their position have been afforded temporary protection visas and allowed to live in the community. For these two people, being shifted around the South Australian outback detention centres has meant that they have had no means to appeal the original decision. Others who have appealed have largely been granted TPVs, but al-Kateb and al-Khafaji have not. Due to the limited appeal time frame and the lack of resources available in the former Woomera and now Baxter detention centres, al-Khafaji will not be afforded a new appeal, although if he were afforded a new appeal in all likelihood he would be granted a TPV.

Where is the fairness and honesty from the federal government? This is just another example of the outright meanness and trickery being displayed by the Howard government towards boat people and legitimate refugees as determined by international law. The government has chosen not to do the right thing for these unfortunate and desperate souls. The government's approach towards refugee applications has seen regressive policies such as the costly Pacific solution and long-term detention in places like the South Australian outback. The term served in a detention centre, in which these unfortunate souls are required to serve their sentence for crimes they have not committed or for crimes that they have not been charged with having committed, is inhumane. This is good reason to reflect on those opening words from the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ongoing costs to the Australian taxpayer have been immense, unnecessary and offensive to all reasonable, thinking Australians. Labor believes that, once a decision can be made that these people are not a threat to Australia's national security, they should not be behind bars. Given the great turmoil occurring in the homelands of these people, the choice to flee to Australia has to be seen as a reasonable but hardly easy choice. It is a choice fraught with danger, often putting those fleeing at risk of losing their own lives or the lives of their families and loved ones. They do this and accept the risk in the hope of gaining a better life and freedom, but what do they get? They get Baxter—a jail.

Leaving your house in the middle of the night to escape detection, leaving your belongings behind and leaving the people you have grown up with, family and friends, cannot be a light choice. Genocide and war should not be wished upon anybody, yet people who flee their homeland to escape such events are, upon reaching Australia, treated like the very criminals they are fleeing from. Where has our humanity gone? Joseph Welch, lawyer for Marx during the McCarthy witch-hunts, said, `Sir, have you no decency?' If we put that question to our Prime Minister, the answer would have to come back as: `Decency doesn't convert into votes.' Decency, like statesmanship, has to be earned. The Prime Minister has failed on both counts.