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Thursday, 10 November 2016
Page: 3480


Mr FEENEY (Batman) (11:24): I am proud to rise and speak against the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016, and I am proud that Labor came together unanimously to express our disgust and opposition to the government's absurd asylum seeker lifetime ban. From the very beginning, it was clear that this was a disingenuous and desperate act—an act by a Prime Minister keen to give in not only to the Right of his own party but also to One Nation. It was a measure designed to try and distract Australia and Australians from the fact that this is a government that has done so little to address the largest humanitarian crisis in history since World War II.

This legislation would make any application for a visa an invalid application where the person applying was processed offshore after July 2013. This legislation would cover anyone in regional processing, anyone living in onshore detention, anyone in community detention, anyone who has voluntarily returned to their own country, and anyone who has been resettled in a third country, if they were taken to Manus or Nauru.

It is a ridiculous proposition for the government to make that none of these people would ever be able to return to Australia to work, to study, to visit family or to visit this country through the normal visa application processes for family reunions and spousal visas. I am fortunate to live in an electorate that is incredibly diverse; we have migrant and refugee families from all over the world. These families can and do apply for visas to reunite their families—mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, who join our community and become new Australians. Are we to deny that right to the refugee families who form part of the cohort the government has now targeted and wants to permanently deny visas? Are we to deny the right of business people, doctors, athletes and students who want to visit Australia and who the government now seeks to permanently deny entry to Australia? What a nonsense that in decades hence a person is unable to visit the country as a tourist because they form part of this cohort targeted by the government! I think the answer is clear and the government's position is ridiculous.

Ben Saul, Challis Chair of International Law at the University of Sydney, argues that this legislation breaches article 31 of the refugee convention as well as Australia's family reunion obligations under articles 17 and 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Minister Dutton, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, has sought to make the argument that he has a broad discretion to waive these provisions in the public interest for either an individual or a class of persons specified in a legislative instrument. However, he does not have a duty to consider whether to exercise this discretion in any given circumstance. As I have said previously in this place, are we truly going to trust this minister to make fair and logical decisions when this is the kind of legislation he is prepared to put forward to this parliament? Are we truly ready to trust these decisions to a minister who has overseen a mismanaged regional processing system that has been the subject of repeated allegations of physical, sexual and psychological abuse and a minister who had to be forced by Labor into an inquiry about those very allegations?

Among the many and varied reasons the government has given for this legislation is that it is necessary in finding viable third-party resettlement solutions and Minister Dutton has said that this measure is aimed primarily at getting people off Manus Island and Nauru. Yet there is no evidence that the government has lined up a third-party resettlement option. They have not acted on this for three years, and there is no evidence that they have started acting now. To pretend that this legislation is linked to or even necessary for resettlement options is ludicrous and it is a political deceit. There is no evidence that it will make finding a third-party resettlement easier, but there is evidence that it will make it more difficult.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Keys is quoted as saying:

We've got no intention of having separate classes of New Zealand citizens.

He has recoiled at the notion that persons settled in his country would be denied rights that others in his country enjoy. It has been reported that Prime Minister Keys has ruled out an agreement if the refugees granted New Zealand citizenship would be unable to travel to Australia. To ask other countries to create a two tiered and unequal system of citizenship is unfair and unlikely to be agreed to. This is a government that is making the resettlement of persons on Manus and Nauru more complex and more controversial than it already is.

The government has allowed people to languish in offshore detention for three years, and without a resettlement option that detention remains indefinite. This is a government that needs to make resettlement of those persons a priority—a matter of urgency.

Labor have said repeatedly that we do not want to see a repeat of the horrendous loss of life at sea when people smugglers were selling a perilous journey. I was a member of parliament at that time and, like many of my colleagues, I feel the loss and indeed the sense of responsibility that comes with that loss of life. I, like my colleagues, am determined to never allow that to happen again.

But that is not what this legislation is about. This legislation goes well beyond preventing any suffering. Instead, it seeks only to increase it. Labor have never supported indefinite or punitive detention. We have called on this government again and again to find a third-party solution and to act to ensure the health and safety of those in our regional processing systems. The challenge that we face is great, but we must not face it with fear, hate or a lack of empathy. For too long the government has used the language of fear to denigrate asylum seekers and to seek to treat them as less than human. We must not and will not allow that narrative to continue.

This legislation is not about good public policy. There have been zero successful people-smuggling ventures in recent times. It is not about resettlement. It makes the resettlement of these persons more difficult, not less difficult. Sadly, what this legislation is about is politics. It is about polls. This is the Turnbull government seeking to consolidate itself in a post-election phase. It is seeking to return to those debates that it failed to prosecute during the federal election that it has now judged are useful to it. This is cynical politics at its worst. This is the kind of conduct that promotes and builds despair in the Australian population about how politics is done in this place.

Instead of embracing this course of action, we must seek to bring about structural change so that we can bring more people here safely. That is Labor's policy. We have never supported indefinite detention. It has always been Labor's policy that those on Manus Island and Nauru should be resettled as soon as possible. Under the former Labor government, we worked with the UNHCR to establish what was described as the Malaysia solution, a plan which would have achieved that goal for so many asylum seekers. However, history tells us that that plan was voted down by the coalition, in concert with the Greens party. So Australia now finds itself in a situation where no solution has been found for three years.

We have never supported punitive detention, where the deterrent is the cruelty of the processing centres rather than being limited to preventing resettlement. This government has been responsible for the egregious mismanagement of our regional processing system. Labor have pushed at every opportunity for the government to care for the physical and mental health of detainees, but they have refused to listen. I believe that everyone in regional processing should be provided with the level of education, health care and safety that we would expect for our children in Australia. This legislation is nothing more than dog-whistle politics and should be treated as such, and by Labor it is being treated as such.

The government need to do much more than simply abandon these politically demonstrative pieces of legislation. They need to listen to the people of Australia and they need to achieve third-party resettlement of refugees as soon as possible to end indefinite detention. They need to embrace Labor's plan for doubling Australia's humanitarian intake. They need to embrace Labor's plan for Australia's annual contribution to the UNHCR to be built to $450 million over three years so that we are once again engaged with the world in managing this humanitarian crisis. The government need to implement fast and fair processing of claims, including reintroducing the 90-day rule scrapped by the coalition government.

The government needs to implement independent oversight of Australian funded processing facilities and empower the Commonwealth Ombudsman to provide independent oversight for onshore processing facilities. This is critical to the transparency and the conditions of those places and is critical to the reputation of our great Commonwealth. The government needs to appoint an independent advocate backed by resources and a statutory authority to pursue the interests of children.

We need to take a leadership role in our region to establish a regional approach to addressing this humanitarian crisis. This includes working with our neighbours to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees in transit countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have access to work rights, education and health care. We need to take on the task that failed once in the Malaysia solution but should not be abandoned as a way forward.

In closing, I would like to thank all of the people in my electorate who have called, who have emailed and who have written to me to join with Labor in opposing this legislation. I am proud to come from an electorate where I have received countless calls agreeing with Labor and our approach on this legislation and none that have disagreed. I hope that together my community and I can continue to pressure the government towards a refugee and asylum seeker policy that reflects the compassion and humanity of the Australian people and, I might say, the people who call Batman home.