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Thursday, 12 May 2011
Page: 3823


Mr HAYES (FowlerGovernment Whip) (12:04): I am very glad to follow the member for Fadden. I respect his background as a military officer. I respect the fact that he was elected into this parliament. I also respect the fact that he is tied by party discipline to bring sloganism and fearmongering into debates such as this. I am sure the member for Fadden would have been grotesquely upset that his leader tried to enter into negotiations with the member for Denison to increase our refugee intake by 100 per cent. By the way, we take 13,750 refugees a year. Those on the other side of politics were not prepared to simply say, 'That is what the figure has been all that time.' They said, 'We'll offer to double that if you vote for us and deliver us government.' So let us not get too moralistic about this. The opposition do not get wound up about the values or the principles involved or something as basic as doing the right thing. Their attitude is, 'Let's play party politics, particularly when it comes to the issues of refugees, because that is where we think we score political points.' That is essentially what we hear, particularly in these debates, and today is no different.

The Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2011 seeks to fill an administrative hole which currently exists in the Migration Act. The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship outlined that in his second reading speech. The bill will make Australia's migration process more efficient, transparent and accountable. Australia has a very proud history of welcoming immigrants and refugees. We are a good international citizen when it comes to welcoming new members to our community, because we know that immigration has been one of the most effective drivers of the prosperity of this country.

According to the ABS, I have the most multicultural electorate in the whole country. For the record, 20 per cent of my electorate is made up of people who speak Vietnamese at home. By the way, people who came to my electorate who are Vietnamese speakers have been there for no longer than 36 years, because that is when the Communist insurgency took over and Saigon fell. Australia, to its credit, at that stage took in excess of 200,000 refugees—boat people. It took those people in, and they have made an extraordinary contribution in the 36 years that they have been in this country. I get to see what they do; how they apply themselves; how they build, certainly in terms of assisting and developing our enterprise; what they do in our professions and trades; and how they commit to ensure that their kids get a very good education. Something that should not be forgotten is that a lot of people think that the Vietnamese do very well in school, and they do. I see mums and dads who are not necessarily doctors, lawyers or other professionals working two or three jobs to ensure that their kids get a good education and they are provided with tutoring, because those mums and dads know that, to make the adjustment to their new country and to be part of the prosperity of this country, education is a start. You only have to talk to high school principals to know how the partnership works between schools and the Vietnamese who were new arrivals to this country.

The point I am making is that 36 years ago they were boat people. I know that most of the young people in the gallery will not recall all that, but I vividly recall 1975 and the fall of Saigon and what that meant to this country. As a country we took a very clear position because we had a humanitarian issue to consider. We did the right thing, and there is no question that our country has been the economic beneficiary of the contributions made to this country by the refugees that we accepted from 1975 from Vietnam.

This amendment bill seeks to fulfil Australia's non-refoulement obligations under international law by incorporating these claims into existing processes of asylum applications dealt with under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It would cover asylum seekers who are not refugees under the refugee convention but for whom refusing a visa would breach our non-refoulement obligations. This protection only exists for people after ministerial intervention, which is to some extent a very bureaucratic, ineffective and often very drawn out process, as most members in this chamber who have sought or been associated with claims seeking ministerial intervention in those matters can attest. Not only does the current system deny these applications a current level of fairness and due process but the minister does not have to intervene to provide this protection. There is no requirement to provide the reasoning for any ministerial decision and there is no review process for any decision that may be taken. This amendment bill is a simple one to that extent, fixing an aspect of our protection visa system which is currently stressful and time consuming for all involved.

It is not, as we have just heard from the member for Fadden, a case of going weak about protecting our borders. We were given a dissertation about how many people have arrived on boats. This does not apply to that. Just to give an example of the people who would be subject to this visa requirement, the types of claimants would include people who are at risk of being stoned to death for being homosexuals, women at risk of being subject to honour killings if they are returned to their land of origin and women fleeing ritual genital mutilation. They might not be considered refugees in the ordinary course of events, in terms of fleeing persecution for political or other reasons, but they are the people who are being looked at under the terms of this amendment bill.

However, under this proposed bill, the refugee convention will still be the starting point for assessing the applicants for protection visas, but if rejected the claims will then be assessed under Australia's obligations under other treaties for complementary protection. These are treaties we are all part of: 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. We have all taken time in this House to take pride in the fact that we are part of these things, we support them and we promote them within our region. This is how the consideration is being made. People who will be subject to those treaties are the ones being considered for this complementary protection.

In essence, it will ensure that Australia is not returning people to a place where they may suffer harm or torture. Specifically, it will protect those who are at risk of arbitrary deprivation of life, such as having the death penalty carried out on them; being subject to torture; being subject to cruel and inhumane treatment or punishment; and being subject to degrading treatment or punishment. We are talking about people who are in genuine need.

What we were hearing from the other side is what we should be doing as a matter of course: how you divert boats and how you cull numbers. This bill goes to doing the right thing for people in genuine need. Unfortunately, some in the parliament will try to oppose this on the grounds that it is softening our border protection or our visa regime. This is not softening the regime. This is doing something that we as individuals believe to be right. I indicated as an example the people to whom this is likely to apply. It is not seeking to extend this other than to those specific cases—and I know there are not many. This is trying to get it right. This is also taking it out of the hands of politicians, and any judicial review will be conducted by our independent judicial system, by a judge. The opposition rail against that. It will not necessarily be a judge appointed by our side of politics, and that probably would not matter anyway because one thing that we do stand fast on in this parliament is the appointment of our judiciary. We see it and honour it as an independent jurisdiction being able to bring independent thought and give proper review of process. That is what this is seeking to do. This is not a softening of our protection visa system.

There are people in this place who believe there are simpler solutions to what is a very complex problem. This goes back to the whole issue about irregular immigrants to this country. They want to reduce everything to sloganeering. 'Stop the boats' comes to mind. They want to count how many boats arrive in this country and want to make sure that that is where they put the stake in the ground pinning Liberal Party policy. This is not what this amendment is about, and the member for Fadden should know that. It is a soft point with those opposite because they have now committed to oppose this. They want to make sure that the decision making on these classes of visa remains solely with the minister of the day as opposed to there being any external review process on decisions that are going to be made. If we are to believe in equity and humanity, we should measure up to the obligations we have signed on to in regard to those treaties as well as the international refugee convention of 1951, which we were a principal player in establishing.

Passing this bill brings us in line with the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom and nations across Europe, and also our neighbours across the ditch. It is true that New Zealand has got there before us. It has moved similar legislation or already has in place complementary protection systems. By passing this amendment to provide complementary protection, this parliament is following the recommendations of several of the parliamentary committees in this and the other place, the United Nations Committee against Torture, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Not only that, this amendment has the support of the key refugee advocacy groups such as the Refugee Council of Australia.

It is fair to say that the issue of asylum seekers is a vexed one for our community. We understand that. There are some in the parliament who are eager, maybe too eager, to exploit it. It is right that we move to ensure that we are not as a nation being exploited as a destination by people regarding us as an easy touch to migrate to. But when it comes to some serious issues of evaluating genuine need of protection, we cannot shirk our responsibilities. This is not about how we demonstrate how tough we are or about trying to out-hairy-chest one another in terms of how bold we can be in belting refugees. In my electorate 20 per cent are refugees—20 per cent of my electorate are Vietnamese people who have come in the last 36 years. They have made a genuine contribution, and that has obviously been replicated in many other electorates that make up this chamber.

This is a good, fair and just bill. It brings us in sync with international obligations. I commend the amendment to the House.