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Thursday, 10 November 2016
Page: 3470


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (10:42): I second the amendment. The Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016 is a bill that Donald Trump would be proud of. This is Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's equivalent to saying he will not allow Muslims into the country. This is Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's equivalent to saying he will build a wall to keep people out. This is a shameful attempt from a Prime Minister—who should know better, but is failing in the polls—to try and fan the politics of fear to recover his political stocks. This is a shameful attempt from a Prime Minister who is rapidly becoming the poor man's member for Warringah—the poor man's Tony Abbott. This is a shameful attempt from a Prime Minister to use the politics of race in an attempt to win votes.

Let us have a look at what our immigration system is like at the moment. Our immigration system, alone in the world, takes people who come here seeking our help and puts them in mental-illness factories in countries that are less able to deal with the problem of people movement than us. It takes people, including children, and puts them in detention until they break. It takes people who just want to live a better life and puts them in a situation where they are exposed to abuse, to sexual abuse, to rape and to the degradation of their mental health to the point where they feel that the situation that Australia put them in is even worse than the situation that they fled. The immigration system that we have at the moment is one that costs us, according to the Australian National Audit Office, $570,000 per person per year to keep someone locked up, when we could be spending that money on schools and hospitals.

We have a government and an opposition that defend an immigration system that most right-thinking people, as well as international observers, say is not the way that you treat people who come here seeking our help. And what happens? Do the government come here and say, 'Let's try and improve our immigration system so that people who are just coming here seeking a helping hand can get processed quickly and fairly and, if they are found to be genuine refugees, we'll take them here and we'll resettle them?' No. The government come here and say that they want to permanently ban people who come here seeking our help from ever coming to the Australian

mainland, no matter how good their claim is, no matter how bad the situation of war, torture or persecution they are fleeing and no matter what might happen to them if we send them back. In a naked attempt to try and win votes, because they have run out of anything positive to say and because they are dropping in the polls, they dredge this one up from the bottom of the barrel. The Prime Minister, who ought to know better, came in here and gave it his full support.

So what do we have? At the moment, we have an immigration system that does not treat boat people like people. It treats people who have committed no crime like criminals. It says that, rather than do what we know is done elsewhere around the world, we will spend over half a million dollars a year per person to lock someone up until they break. What could we be doing instead? There is a glimmer of hope in Australia, because, when I look around my electorate of Melbourne, I am reminded every day that this country used to do things differently. When I look around the electorate of Melbourne and I see, in Richmond, the very strong population that came here from Vietnam 40 years ago—and in the time in between—I am reminded that, if we did then what this government and the Labor party are doing now, we would not have the Vietnamese community in Richmond or across Australia. Those people would be sent back, their boats would be turned back or they would be locked up. That is what is at stake.

I am reminded that, a few decades ago, we used to do it differently. If someone was coming here seeking our help—especially if they were fleeing from a country where we might have sent Australian troops to get involved in that conflict and said, 'The situation there is so bad that we need to put our troops in harm's way'—there was a recognition that perhaps we have an obligation to take some of the people who are coming here seeking our help, assess whether they are genuine refugees and, if they are, settle them here. There was a recognition, 40 years ago, that we needed a regional approach to deal with it. That means you talk with other countries, you work out what is the fair share for countries like Australia or, potentially, other countries to take and then you say ,'If someone is waiting somewhere, we will take you in.' If you want to, in the government's and in Labor's words, stop the boats, the way of stopping the boats is for Australia to turn around and say: 'We understand that there are lots of people on our doorstep in Malaysia and in Indonesia and that they have been waiting in camps for decades and decades and decades, even though they have been found to be genuine refugees. What we will do is we will take a chunk of those people and bring them to Australia.' That would send a message to the people in the camps that, if they have been found to be a genuine refugee, Australia is taking people again.

There is a lot of talk about the people smugglers' business model. I will tell you one thing, Mr Deputy Speaker: the people smugglers' business model is based on the desperation of people who have often been found to be genuine refugees, who are languishing around the world, including in camps, who do not see any other way of getting to places like Australia. Along comes someone who says, 'Give me a bit of money and I'll pop you on a boat,' and they do it and they take the chance. I will tell you what, Mr Deputy Speaker: if I saw that Australia was turning back boats, if I saw that Australia was building up a wall around it and turning away people in the way that Donald Trump likes to talk about doing in his country, if I saw that and if I knew that the only glimmer of hope of getting out of a situation of war, the only way to protect my family, was to pay someone some money to jump on a boat, I would probably do it. I would bet my bottom dollar that most people in this chamber would as well. If you thought that was your only way out, you would take it.

If you really want to break the people smugglers' business model, so-called, what you do is you offer hope to the people who are languishing in the camps. That means Australia must immediately substantially lift the number of people that we are bringing in, and it means that we must immediately take a chunk of people from camps in neighbouring regions. When you start to do that, it sends a signal that Australia no longer has the closed-door policy that it had in the past, and it sends a signal that, if you wait, there is now a queue. We hear a lot of talk about queue jumpers. The reality is, when you are stuck in one of those camps, and the waiting list on average is 67 years, there is no queue. That is why people jump on boats. If we were serious about stopping deaths at sea, that is what we would do. We would work with neighbouring countries and we would say: 'Where there are lots of people waiting, we will take a chunk in. We will do it in an orderly fashion and people won't then have any motivation to get on a boat.'

So there is an option, there is an alternative, but no; Labor and Liberal have been in lock step to say: 'We are going to disregard international law and our international obligation that we have signed up to. We are prepared to lock people up indefinitely. We are prepared to make the situation in Australia worse than the situation that people are fleeing, so that they might choose not to come to this country.' Well, I do not want Australia to become a country where we make life so bad for people that they think they would be better off returning to a war zone in Afghanistan or in Syria. That is not what I want Australia to become.

We are faced with a choice here. I am pleased that this clumsy attempt at a wedge from the government has been so badly handled. When the Prime Minister tries to dredge the bottom of the barrel and pull out a Donald Trump-style wedge, he cannot even do it properly. I am pleased that it has woken the Labor opposition from their close and cuddly relationship with the government on immigration policy, to oppose this. I hope that the opposition continue to oppose it, even if the government announce that they have done some agreement to send people off to a third country or that they are now all of a sudden open to amendments. We should not only oppose this. If it is the start of opposing mandatory detention then I welcome it. If it is the start of opposing boat turn-backs then I welcome it. But I suspect that it will not be.

The reality is: if you are looking for a genuine alternative that takes what former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser did and updates it, you will find it in the policy that I have been outlining, that the Greens have been advocating—and I know a number of other people, like the member for Denison, the member for Indi or even the member for Mayo, will have variations on that policy. There is a better way, but it requires leadership. It requires going to the Australian people and saying: 'We can do it differently to the way that Donald Trump does it. We can look at the best in Australia's history, rather than the worst, and we can work out how to bring a decent number of people here—much more than we are taking now—in an orderly way that stops the deaths at sea and does not require us breaking women, men and children.' The suggestion that somehow we need to have what is in effect child abuse as some necessary part of an immigration policy is a reprehensible one, but that is the suggestion that the government puts forward. The government says we need this. The opposition says we need mandatory detention, including of children, where appropriate. That is wrong. Our choice is not between child abuse and deaths at sea. We are better than that. We are able to find a third way.

This ought to be an opportunity for Australia to make a choice: are we going to follow the Donald Trump-style approach of building a wall around us and continue to ramp up an incredibly cruel policy or are we going to say, 'This is an opportunity to go a different way'? If there is one lesson that we can learn from the election result in the United States, and from Brexit, it is that, when faced with significant dislocation and the realisation that everything we have been told by Labor and Liberal about free-trade policies and the benefits that they supposedly bring people is actually wrong, there are two ways we can go. We can either choose the path of fear that turns up the dial and say, 'We are going to become even more isolationist, we are going to close our arms and, to the people who come here seeking a helping hand, we will show a closed fist,' or we can say, 'Now is the time to take stock.'

Maybe the orthodoxy from Liberal and Labor over the last 30 or 40 years that has told us we have to privatise everything, deregulate everything, make everything user-pays, stop funding education properly and make students graduate with more debt, and make houses less affordable was the post-truth politics that started 30 years ago, and maybe it is time to call it out. Maybe it is time to say, 'Parliaments and governments need to put the community first again.' It is time for us to start creating a society that we feel proud of—a society that says, 'There is enough money in this wealthy society to make sure everyone gets an education'; a society that says, 'It is not beyond our wit to give everyone affordable housing'; a society that says, 'Perhaps we can have secure work again, instead of deregulating and increasing the pace of casualisation.' That is the opportunity that we have.

And then we can add to that the recognition that a successful society and a successful Australia will be built on multiculturalism. A successful Australia will be built on acceptance of our diversity. That means understanding that a refugee or migrant is not a criminal who needs to be locked up or barred from Australia for life but the person who married into your family, the person who works in your workplace, the person who lives down the street from you—because we are a nation that is populated by people who have come from everywhere. That is the story that we can tell and that is the story that the Prime Minister should be telling, instead of aping Donald Trump.

Many Australians know that there is a better way. I seek to table a petition that the Petitions Committee has found to be in order, from many people in Victoria who are calling for better treatment of people who come here seeking our help, and calling for, in essence, boat people to be treated like people. Let us stop the dehumanisation. Let us stop the gutter wedge tactics from the government. I seek leave to present this petition, and I urge everyone in this House not only to vote against this bill but to find a better way.

Leave granted.

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable the Speaker and the Members of theHouseofRepresentatives

ThePetitionofcertaincitizensof Australia draws to the attention of the House the urgent need for more compassionate and less punitive government policies towards asylum seekers and refugees.

Your petitioners therefore request the House do all in its power to: 1. Immediately provide adequate basic living requirements for asylum seekers in all detention centres, including adequate medical and psychological help. 2. Abolish off shore detention and replace with community detention in Australia. 3. Release from detention into Australian community, all children and their families. 4. Implement assessment of refugee claims within six weeks of arrival by increasing funding to United Nations High Commission for Refugees by $10 million.5.

Cease the practice of returning refugees before professional processing.

from 2,248 citizens.

Petition received.