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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11253


Mr BRADBURY (LindsayParliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (16:10): I rise to support the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill. Ours is a great country. It is a welcoming country, a warm-hearted country, but most significantly it is a country that has been built upon mass immigration. We are very fortunate to have one of the most successful and cohesive multicultural societies that the world has ever witnessed.

There is a number of important elements that have underpinned that very successful and cohesive multicultural society. I believe there are three elements that have underpinned the success of our society as a multicultural nation. Firstly, we are a generous people, but the control of people movements into our country has always been considered an important question of national sovereignty. Secondly, the power to do this, to exercise this control, has always been considered to be the prerogative of the government—the executive government. Thirdly, the exercise of such control has always been one of the most essential and the key ingredients of the very vibrant, non-discriminatory multicultural policy that we have. These not only are elements that are underpinning that which we as Australians hold dear but also are Labor values. That is why Gough Whitlam would, on the one hand, resist Vietnamese boat arrivals but, on the other, dismantle Australia's White Australia policy. That is why Bob Hawke embraced thousands of Chinese students post Tiananmen Square but resisted boat arrivals from Cambodia. That is why the Keating government could champion multiculturalism like no other government before it but, at the same time, introduce mandatory detention.

The question of control has been an important and an ongoing part of our immigration program. It is important because we believe that sovereignty is a key issue and that the very success of our multiculturalism relies upon us maintaining that control. When I look at the bill that is before the House I see that is very much consistent with these principles. Most significantly, it is about restoring the notion that control in these matters is within the hands of executive government. It should be the prerogative of executive government to determine the policies that are put in place in order to achieve that control and to maintain an orderly migration program. We all know that the High Court has taken a decision that overturned the position as we previously understood it. The opportunity now rests with this parliament to amend the law and to restore the position to that which was previously understood.

Much has been said in this debate from a number of members in their contributions about approaches that have been put in place in the past. There has been considerable attention to the efforts to manage the flow of people throughout the post-Vietnam War period. The flow of Indochinese people throughout our region and, indeed, in many cases to our shores was often held up as a great example of how these matters should be resolved. I think in some of this discussion people often misread or misrepresent what actually did occur back then. It is worth noting that at that time there were a number of boat arrivals to Australia. At that time people were accepted, processed and determined to be refugees. In total there were about 2,000 who came directly to Australia's shores by boat.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! Would honourable members on my left, if they are going to converse, do so quietly. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer has the call.

Mr BRADBURY: An important part in dealing with that challenge was that countries like Australia were involved in international efforts to resettle people who were displaced as a result of the Vietnam War and the regime that was installed as part of that war. If we have a look back into history, we see that at that time the Comprehensive Plan of Action was entered into and under that program Australia welcomed 16,800 refugees over a period of years. They were refugees that were accepted through an offshore program. They were not people who arrived by boat. They were people that this country, as part of meeting its international obligations and pulling its weight internationally, determined should be given an opportunity to start a life in Australia. I think that was an appropriate policy. It was appropriate because the Australian executive government was able to take the necessary steps in order to enact that program. That is the question that is up for debate in this bill: whether or not executive government should continue to have the ability to take decisions to control people movements into our country.

Significantly, in the context of the Vietnamese boat arrivals debate people often overlook the fact that thousands of Vietnamese people died on the high seas in the course of trying to make their way to countries like Australia. Estimates vary greatly but Elizabeth Becker in her book When the War Was Over cited UNHCR figures to suggest that some 250,000 Vietnamese people died on the high seas trying to flee their country and come to countries like ours.

The challenges that we face on the high seas and at our borders today are very different. In some respects it is easier for people to make it to the shore. It is easier for people to make it to Australia. There have been various technological developments that make it easier for people to sail even leaky boats and to get closer to Australia Even if they do not make the mainland because of our increased capacity to patrol our waters, there is a greater chance for people to make it by boat to Australia. In part that has led to an increase in the numbers of people that have been seeking to make it to Australia by boat.

I mentioned the Indochinese example of the 70s and 80s because I think the Malaysian arrangement that has been brought forward and put in place with the agreement of the Australian government and the Malaysian government is very similar in many respects. The fact that we are prepared to embrace and welcome an extra 1,000 refugees into our country each year but in doing so insist upon the ability to exercise some control over the flow of people in our region, indicates to me that this proposal is very much in keeping with the history and tradition of the way in which this country and the Labor Party have been able to manage people flows in the past.

The Malaysian arrangement has a number of key elements that protect the human rights of those that will be relocated to Malaysia to be processed there. I think it is important to acknowledge that. I know the debate that has occurred in this place around this bill has centred largely on whether or not there are sufficient protections put in place to protect the humanitarian interests of those that might be sent back to Malaysia. I also want to introduce into this debate the humanitarian interests of those that might be waiting in refugee camps in Malaysia already or those that might be waiting in refugee camps in other parts of the world.

I want to introduce into the debate the story of a Sudanese person in my electorate who has consistently approached me about the difficulties that they have been having to have a family member resettled from a refugee camp in Egypt—a person who has already been determined to be a refugee but has not yet been resettled. This has gone on for several years. I want also, on a more positive note, to reflect upon a Bhutanese refugee who, as a result of the decision of this government just a few years ago to increase our intake of refugees from Bhutan and from camps in Nepal, came to Australia. That person resides in Western Sydney as part of a growing Bhutanese community in the Greater Western Sydney region and has recently represented Australia as a soccer player. Importantly, in the latter case, I make the point that they arrived in Australia because Australia, through the exercise of control over its migration programs, has ensured that they have been given that opportunity. I think that these elements are important to preserve as part of the approach that we bring.

The principal criticism that has been raised about the arrangement with Malaysia is that it is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention. I will make a few observations on this point. Those making these criticisms were all too happy to send asylum seekers to Nauru when it had not been a signatory to the convention. They were all too happy to turn boats around on the high seas and not only risk the lives of Australian defence personnel and border protection personnel but also risk the lives of those asylum seekers—by turning them around and taking them back to Indonesia which, like Malaysia, is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention.

They are the same people who have suggested a range of other alternatives, which include sending some people back to Pakistan to process them. Pakistan is not a signatory to the UN convention. I make the point that being a signatory to the UN convention is not in itself a guarantee of human rights' protection. If we look at the list of countries that are signatories to the UN convention, we see ones that do not always have the best record on human rights. They are countries like Afghanistan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Zimbabwe, Iran and Somalia. But what is even more instructive is the list of countries—in particular, those in our region—that are not signatories to the refugee convention. It includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. Many of these countries are source countries or transit countries for people flows in our region.

I think it is odd in the extreme to take the view that we would not be prepared to undertake offshore processing in those countries that are at the very heart of people movement challenges in our region. I understand the opposition has a policy on Nauru. I think the arguments have been very strongly made about the cost of Nauru and that people realise people smugglers are telling prospective customers of theirs, 'If you go to Nauru it will only be a short time before you end up in a country like Australia.' For these reasons I do not think Nauru will work in the way that some suggest.

Regardless of whether you support Nauru or support offshore processing in any other part of our region, to tell the executive government that they do not have the capacity to enter into an arrangement and process asylum seekers offshore in countries that are not signatories to the UN convention is to handcuff the executive government—not just the executive government of today but the executive government of the future. It means the government is not able to enter into reasonable or meaningful agreements with key nations within our region. You cannot have a regional solution if you take the position that only those that are signatories to the UN convention can be a part of it.

An important part of arrangements like the Malaysian arrangement is that it gives agencies like the UNHCR an opportunity to lift the standards available to those who are in camps like the Malaysian ones. A statement made on 25 July 2011 by the UNHCR on our Malaysian arrangement, says:

UNHCR hopes that the Arrangement will in time deliver protection dividends in both countries and the broader region. It also welcomes the fact that an additional 4000 refugees from Malaysia will obtain a durable solution through resettlement to Australia. The potential to work towards safe and humane options for people other than to use dangerous sea journeys are also positive features of this Arrangement. In addition, the Malaysian Government is in discussions with UNHCR on the registration of refugees and asylum-seekers under the planned Government programme announced in June on the registration of all migrant workers.

This is an opportunity to work with countries that are shouldering a very large part of the burden of people movements in our region. It is an opportunity for us to regain control of people movements in our region and into our country but to do it in a humane way and in a way that ensures we increase our refugee intake and deliver a strong program and a fairer opportunity for people to come to and contribute in Australia. (Time expired)