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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4507


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (10:31): I take this opportunity to speak on the Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2011. I would have thought that this bill would have had bipartisan support, but instead we have seen coalition speaker after coalition speaker coming into this House and opposing the bill, opposing what I think most fair-minded people would consider to be a very sensible measure. And they do so for no better reason than political opportunism, linking this bill to the issue of boat people arrivals in this country and rerunning their rhetoric on the refugee issue, in particular making claims that this bill is another example of being soft on border protection. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I suspect many coalition members would privately support this bill, because this bill is long, long overdue. It should have bipartisan support, because this bill has been supported by several parliamentary committees, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the United Nations Committee against Torture, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and it is a bill that is very similar to legislation that has already been adopted in New Zealand, in many European countries and in North America.

In addition, Australia is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. All these conventions which Australia is a signatory to contain provisions very similar to what is in this bill.

Nonrefoulement obligations cover people who, if returned to their home country, would face a violation of their fundamental human rights, such as being arbitrarily deprived of their life, being subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or having the death penalty carried out on them. Examples of cases covered by complementary protection include people at risk of being stoned due to their homosexuality—persecution because of sexual preference is not a category of persecution contemplated by the refugee convention, yet some people, if they are sent back to their home countries, may well be stoned; women fleeing ritual genital mutilation; and women at risk of so-called honour killings. With these sorts of examples, I find it very surprising that so many members from the coalition have come in and opposed this bill.

In 2009-10, as has been pointed out, there were six protection visas granted on these grounds, plus four visas granted to dependants of those six applicants. It is not a lot. Are the opposition members who criticise this bill saying that those six people and others that fall into similar categories should have been sent back home? If they are, then I believe they should hang their heads in shame, because what they are really saying is that those people should be sent home to a place where they might be persecuted or even put to death.

At present, only the minister can approve their stay. The department cannot do so. The last speaker referred to ministerial intervention and said that this is about the minister relinquishing his ministerial intervention discretion. That is simply not the case, and I will come back to that a bit later. At the moment, in order to trigger ministerial intervention, the applicant goes through a farcical, time-consuming, expensive and futile application process, knowing full well that, at the end of the process, the department does not have the ability to approve the application. Then, because it has been refused, they can seek ministerial intervention. If that is not bureaucratic and time consuming, then what is? I would have thought the Australian public would have been critical of a process that costs so much money, not just to the applicant but to the department that administers this piece of legislation. We go through a charade just so that the minister can then be asked to intervene. My understanding is that the minister has something like 4,000 cases a year referred to his department for his intervention. Obviously, not all applications are believed by the minister to warrant his intervention, but that is still 4,000 cases. I am sure the question here has nothing to do with whether it is six or 10 or 12; the question here is about getting the process right.

If members believe that the minister should continue to use his intervention in order to determine these cases, then I ask them this: why don't you suggest in turn that every single immigration case that comes before the department be referred to the minister? If you believe this category ought to, then surely you must believe all the other categories ought to be as well. Quite frankly, every immigration case is unique, every immigration case has merits, both for and against, and with every immigration case there is an opportunity in some process for ministerial intervention if it is applied for—so we might as well simply not have a department and refer all immigration cases to the minister.

The reality is that is not the way that you administer government and there is a very important principle here: ministers as individuals should not be assessing every immigration case that comes up. Governments and ministers formulate policy and departments administer policy, and that is how good government works. By all means, and I have no qualms about this at all, question the policy when it comes into this place and question the legislation and debate it, but once it is in place it is the government departments that ought to administer it. In fact, that is how good government works because it means you do not have political interference in cases where you should not have it.

There has also been the claim that this legislation will create a flood of applications of similar kinds if it goes through this parliament and that we will see so many more people wanting to come in under those grounds. My point for coalition members is this. Should the question be about how many applications come in or should the real question be: if applications come in are they legitimate? If they are legitimate then I go back to what I said earlier: are members opposite seriously suggesting that if legitimate cases come before the government we should reject them? To my mind that is the question that they should be asking themselves. They are making the claim about how this will open the floodgates but not one of them has come into this place and shown any evidence that that has been the case in the European countries, New Zealand or North America where similar legislation applies. So until they do so they are purely issuing unfounded claims and statements.

The opposition believe that they are on a political winner with this issue by linking it to the boat people issue. They want to keep alive the debate about refugees coming to this country and keep alive their simple slogans. We have heard them time and time again from members opposite who have come into this place to debate this bill. They never let the facts get in the way of their rhetoric, and again we are seeing that with this matter.

A number of them referred to the current refugee issues associated with Australia. They failed to acknowledge that right now there is a global refugee problem. At the end of 2009 there were 43 million displaced people worldwide. Fifteen million were refugees and almost one million were asylum seekers. In recent weeks, not recent years, we have seen almost 20,000 refugees arrive at the Italian island of Lampedusa. In the USA each year some 50,000 refugees arrive, in Canada 33,000, in Europe roughly 275,000 and in Australia just over 6,000—a stark difference from what is happening around the world, yet if you were to listen to members opposite they would have you believe that Australia is a country in which everybody is trying to seek refuge. In fact, it is my understanding that right now in Malaysia, a country that we are trying to enter into an agreement with, there are some 92,000 refugees seeking resettlement.

What this whole matter highlights is both the hypocrisy and unsubstantiated rhetoric of members opposite. There is hypocrisy because, on one hand, they claim that we should do everything we can to try to make our borders safer—they frequently use the words 'border protection' but I am not quite sure what it is we are trying to protect the borders from—yet, on the other, when we are seeking to negotiate an arrangement with Malaysia whereby we will in a humane way take from refugee camps 4,000 people who are seeking asylum, they criticise that process. We saw their reaction to the announcements of the discussion with Malaysia. We did not see any support for those announcements at all. We saw criticism of them. Yet it is a discussion that will ultimately result in a much more humane outcome for genuine refugees whilst at the same time resulting in an outcome that I believe will be very effective in destroying the people-smuggling business of that region.

This bill is all about doing the right thing by both the administration of this country and people who are genuinely seeking to stay in this country because if they return to their homeland they will be persecuted and even tortured. If anyone in the coalition genuinely believes that is the wrong thing to do, then I believe they are not reflecting the broad views of the Australian people. As I said from the outset, there is a lot of support for this bill. Yes, there have been a number of submissions with respect to it. But it is long overdue, and I commend the bill to the House.