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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 7073


Mr PERRETT (6:09 PM) —I want to start by commending the contribution made by the member for Pearce on the migration bill. It has certainly been an interesting experience to hear the different speeches delivered from the other side of the parliament on the bill, but I will return to those contributions later. Firstly, this evening, I want to explore a particular topic relating to the Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill 2009, which is before the House, and put a little context around it.

I turn to a definition of racism. Racism is a noun and it is defined as: ‘A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.’ That is from Dictionary.com. I am sorry that I have not referred to the Oxford or the Macquarie dictionaries. When we look at that definition and apply it to Australia’s history of racism, it provides an exploration of the dynamics of power and ignorance that have so shaped Australia’s history. The fundamental legal concept of modern Australia was based on this definition. Since 1788, there has been the idea of terra nullius. It is a legal concept that was applied in this part of the British Commonwealth and is based on some racist assumptions.

I must admit that the Australian Labor Party has its roots in racism. In fact, it was one of the strongest organising forces in the Australian Labor Party. Disparate groups came together to form the Labor Party under the tree of knowledge at Barcaldine, in the suburbs of Sydney and around Australia. For instance, there were elements of an anti-Chinese force in bringing people together to form the proud Australian Labor Party. Obviously this came out of the time when there were anti-Chinese riots and rallies. I read recently that every window of Chinese businesses in Brisbane was smashed during some of those rallies in the 1890s. That is the history of the Australian Labor Party. It is not one that I am proud of but one that we must acknowledge in building a stronger party for the future. And we have done that. We have dealt with the ghosts of our past.

If we look at the institution that we are in today, we will see that one of the first things the Commonwealth of Australia did was to pass racist legislation—legislation that would not get off the ground at all in 2009. But 1901 was a different time and there was a different sense of what was right. In the past when I have touched on these topics in speeches, I have had people from the Labor Party say: ‘You can’t say that. You cannot talk about that history of the Australian Labor Party.’ But I always make a point of saying it—not dwelling on it, but acknowledging it—because that is the only way we are ever going to move on from this shameful legacy.

You do not have to look far to find racism, especially in Queensland—the state that I come from. It has probably got one of the worst legacies in terms of racism. There is the Palmer River goldfield massacres where Chinese people were slaughtered by miners. There is also the treatment of Kanakas and the blackbirding that took place in the sugarcane plantations in Queensland. We can look to a more recent history, say, that of my grandfather’s time during World War II. A lot of American troops were based in Brisbane, particularly in my electorate where there was an airfield base, and there was segregation of the African-American service personnel; they were not allowed to go over the river. We can look at an even more recent time. Just a few weekends ago, on Saturday, 13 June, I was at the Pho Quang Monastery, a Vietnamese establishment in Inala. It is not in my electorate. I told the member for Oxley that it was actually in his electorate, but it is just over the border from mine. It was quite a poignant experience being in Oxley on that day, 13 June, because on 13 June, 11 years ago, 11 members of One Nation were elected to the Queensland parliament.

I still have the horrific memory on that election night of that failed businesswoman from Ipswich striding through the tally room in that horrific yellow outfit. I remember it well and it still sends a chill up my spine. Even more recently—not 11 years ago but just a few years ago—after the September 11 horror, there was a firebombing of a mosque in my electorate by an idiot.

Obviously, Queensland does not have a particularly proud legacy when it comes to migration and racism but things have changed. In the small country town I grew up in there were not too many people who were not of Anglo-Celtic background. I remember the Yet Foys, who were successful businesspeople, and some other friends of mine, the Longs, who were Aboriginal-Chinese—which is not an uncommon history in country Queensland. It is a story that would break your heart if I told you but I will save that for another day.

That is Queensland’s background but we have moved on and we have changed. I look at the great work of a group in the Labor Party called Labor 4 Refugees in the lead up to the 2004 federal election. I want to particularly acknowledge the work of two young people who taught me so much, Matt Collins and Sarah Abbott. They had the courage of their convictions and tried to move the federal Labor Party and many other people to combat the ignorance that often comes with some of our policies and our ideas.

As a member of parliament from Queensland, I can proudly say that things are turning around from a state that at one time had the lowest percentage intake of refugees in Australia to a state that now has the highest percentage of refugees. We are changing our culture. We are shedding our redneck past. I look at the success stories such as good old white-bread Toowoomba—with respect to the member for Groom—embracing a lot of Sudanese refugees. There are places like Gatton that do not have a particularly multicultural past—except for maybe Irish, Welsh, Scottish and English—and yet are now embracing people from all around the world. In my electorate one in three people are born overseas. So things are changing. We are able to shed our history and become a much more inclusive society.

I turn to address a couple of myths that were already largely rebutted by the member for Pearce but I will revisit some of those myths for the benefit of the people of my electorate. These are myths that were unfortunately raised again in this debate by people in that side of the parliament. The member for O’Connor used the term ‘queue jumpers’ again and again in his speech. I am not too sure who makes up his constituency or what he thinks they need to hear. He is obviously a man of convictions but I sometimes wonder where those convictions are spread. As the member for Pearce stated, there is no orderly place to queue in some of the hellholes around the world that attract the attention of the UNHCR or which are so disorganised that you cannot even get the UNHCR in there to talk about forming a queue.

That term is still out in the common parlance but anyone who understands world affairs would know that there is no queue. As the member for Pearce said, they are not illegal refugees—they are refugees. If we are going to talk about people that are illegal obviously we would be talking about the vast majority of people in Australia who do overstay their welcome. They do not come on boats. They come on planes and they stay in hotels. And if we want to be accurate, they normally come from the United Kingdom or the United States—but obviously that is not what people are talking about around the barbeques, especially if a fear campaign starts.

Of those people—the queue jumpers or illegal refugees or whatever you call them—how many do we end up sending home? Is it 100 per cent of them? Is it 50 or 20 per cent? No. It is more like one per cent at best—not even one per cent. Most of them are found to be genuine and they have come from places of horror and anguish. A country as lucky as Australia does have the heart and can normally find a place for them at the table. They are some of the myths I wanted to dispel.

I also want dispel another myth that has not really got a full head of steam but I want to touch on it now—maybe I am starting this myth right here, right now. The myth is that this legislation is part of a Welsh conspiracy, because there is a suggestion that the Welsh are taking over the Commonwealth government. I do not know Prime Minister Rudd’s ancestry and whether there is any Welsh blood there but certainly Julia Gillard is a well-known Welsh immigrant. The next highest person in the government would be Chris Evans—also a Welsh immigrant. Number 4 would be Stephen Conroy. He is Irish but I have it on good authority that nine months before he was born his parents were on holiday in Wales. So I did want to knock that Welsh conspiracy theory on the head as well—the suggestion that this legislation is all about making sure more Welsh people can come here. I stress for any Welsh people listening that I am joking.

This legislation before the House is good commonsense legislation. It is a good commonsense approach to a furphy that is out there. It is about ending this facade that we make people that have landed on our shores pay for the daily maintenance for each day of that noncitizen’s detention and also for the cost of their transport. As speakers before me stated, this does not apply to everyone. If we are talking about illegal fishers or people smugglers this is not legislation that applies to them. We can look at the facts to see why this commonsense legislation is so important.

During 2006-07 and 2007-08 the immigration detention debt raised was $54.3 million. That is obviously quite a significant amount of money. In tough economic times $54.3 million is something that I am sure the Treasurer would appreciate. How much of that was actually paid back by these people who we slap the debt on? About $1.8 million or 3.3 per cent was actually recovered. Unsurprisingly, $48.2 million was written off by the department because it was uneconomical to pursue these amounts of money, and $4 million of that was waived.

I take the member for Pearce’s point that not everyone knows about that particular avenue. For the refugees I see in my electorate, irrespective of how they got there, the first thing they want to do is get work, get a roof over their heads and give their kids an opportunity in life that maybe they did not have. That is why this legislation is such good common sense. I see that the cost of administering these detention debts was approximately $709,000. In terms of the use of taxpayer dollars, pursuing this facade for the sake of a political purpose, which is really what this was all about, is ludicrous—bad politics, bad government. That is why I am proud to speak on this legislation.

I am proud to have spoken after the member for Pearce and the member for Kooyong. I did not actually hear the member for McMillan; I am not sure if he had spoken previously.


Mr Broadbent interjecting


Mr PERRETT —Not yet. In relation to the member for Pearce and the member for Kooyong, I am going to do something a little bit bad, I guess—that is, to talk about their courage and their inspiration to all of the House as politicians of conviction. I especially say to the member for Kooyong how much I will miss him and his inspiration. He will be sorely missed. Big shoes to fill for the person who steps up in his electorate, or perhaps not so much big shoes to fill, but a moral void to fill. I wonder if that person is going to measure up. I hope so. I guess it is not a good thing when the people on this side of the House praise those on the other side of the House, but I guess the member for Kooyong has always been happy to paddle his own boat and he will survive any criticism that comes from me praising him.

It is tough times for those opposite because some of the people of conviction are leaving; not just the member for Kooyong but also the member for Higgins. Despite my criticisms of some of his policies, I would not doubt that he is a man of convictions and he seems to be a compassionate man. I know my trade union colleagues will not forgive me for that, but the reality is he does seem to be a half decent man with some compassion for people. Maybe at Christmas his older brother makes sure that he does not forget that. There is the member for Bradfield, and the member for Wentworth seems to be having some trouble at the moment as well; I am not sure whether his days are numbered. I hope that the tussle that goes on in that party room ensures that people who can make sure common sense prevails win when it comes to dealing with people. A fear campaign is an easy one to run. We know that. Fear is a much more powerful force in politics than hope. I am sure that the member for Brand would remember from running election campaigns in the past that fear unfortunately is much more powerful than hope and common sense and education.

It is important that those opposite do find their moral compass, do find the people like the member for Kooyong who can guide them through some of these tougher policy issues. If you do not have a good moral compass, obviously it is hard to find what you stand for as a party. If you do not have a good moral compass, you start going further and further south and thinking that that is normal. I guess the only good point about going further and further south isthat , if you go far enough south, everywhere is north because you are standing at the South Pole. Even magnetic south would be north of you if you go far enough south. I hope that the battles that take place opposite result in a Liberal Party that has a good, clear sense of direction because Australian government is all the richer when we have a strong opposition that believes dearly in certain things.

I find this bill particularly important as I represent a multicultural electorate. Unfortunately, in the last election campaign the race card was played in my electorate. The repercussions are still being felt. People were hurt in the school ground because of the myths and lies that were peddled because of politics. I am sure many MPs have received emails about people stepping out of boats and into $30,000 payments because they have arrived at our shores. You have seen the same emails, you know they come from Canada or somewhere else and have no relevance to Australia at all. Hopefully that sort of misinformation will not take place and we can have a vote on this legislation and start that journey towards Australia being a much prouder multicultural community, because we do get it right. The rest of the world—especially Europe, that multicultural melting pot—looks to us and says, ‘How do you get it so right?’ So this is about making it better. We do get it right mostly, and we are an inspiration for the UNHCR about how to get it right. I commend the legislation to the House.