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Thursday, 12 May 2011
Page: 3836


Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (13:01): What a pleasure it is to rise after that 10 minutes of diatribe that contained nothing about the Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill but just typical dog-whistling from the opposition because they have nothing intelligent to say and nothing to actually put on the table—

Mrs Gash: What is your electorate saying?

Mr MITCHELL: I will tell you what my electorate are saying. They are saying that we should be compassionate and we should be humane, something that you should listen to instead of worrying about whether the grass is being dug up as we try to make your electorate a better place and bring it into the 21st century.

I support the government's longstanding commitment to better protect those people who are unfortunately at risk from the most serious abuse of human rights. We are a generous nation, a country which has been built on fairness and mateship, a country which proudly defines itself by its liberty and its democracy. So we have an obligation to enhance, support and uphold the protection of human rights.

We must always be cognisant of the fact that there are many people across the world who do not have our opportunities, our privileges or the quality of life that we in Australia are fortunate enough to enjoy. With this in mind we must continue to do what we can to ensure that we have the right systems in place to process requests of people seeking asylum in our country, particularly if those seeking our protection are fleeing persecution, a violation of their basic human rights or even death in their home country.

This bill provides a criterion for the granting of a protection visa in circumstances where a non-citizen has been found not to be owed protection obligations under the refugees convention but where, as a consequence of that non-citizen being removed from Australia to a receiving country, there is a real risk that this person will suffer 'significant harm', as defined in the bill.

This bill will incorporate our non-refoulement obligations under international law into the current process for the assessment of asylum under the refugees convention which will allow claims to be considered under a single integrated protection visa application process. Non-refoulement obligations cover people who, if returned to their home country, would face a violation of their fundamental human rights such as being arbitrarily deprived of their life, being subjected to torture, being subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or having the death penalty carried out them.

We are a developed nation in our way of thinking. We are a nation which has a strong history in the protections of freedoms, a strong history in fighting for human rights, and we should never waiver from this proud history. The passage of this legislation will ensure that the structural procedure to assess the status of non-citizens is quicker, more efficient and transparent under existing international nonrefoulement. Importantly, this bill addresses the protection of asylum seekers from being returned to a country where their lives or freedoms could be threatened.

Complementary protection already exists in Australia. However, at the moment, it relies on the use of ministerial intervention powers and is considered only after primary and review refugee status determination has been completed. Currently, applicants have to go through a ludicrous charade, applying for a protection visa as a refugee already knowing that they are going to be rejected. Then they have to appeal that decision, again knowing they are going to be rejected, before eventually seeking the minister's personal intervention. Think about how much time and energy is being used to run this charade process for people already under personal distress. Also consider how much diversion and time is being used by officials to play this silly game. It is not only an inefficient use of taxpayers' funds and time; it relies on having a minister who is as compassionate and hardworking as the current minister. That is all well and good now, but in the future we may actually have a Liberal government, and we know their track record on hard work and compassion. They are absolute failures in that regard.

This bill seeks to remove this legal fiction and streamline the existing process. In essence, this amendment to the Migration Act 1958 will bring the consideration of the claims of asylum seekers into the existing protection visa process and eliminate the complexities and the untimely process that currently exists. Despite the carping from those opposite on the refugee situation, the bill does not seek to increase our refugee intake. Rather, it will ensure that people seeking the granting of protection will be processed efficiently and it could shorten the amount of time they are in detention and under personal distress. The bill will ensure that our non-refoulement obligations are integrated into a new complementary protection framework as contained in international human rights conventions including 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. Subsequently, these non-refoulement obligations will cover people who, if they were to be returned to their home country, would face breaches of their fundamental human rights. I want to keep pushing that point because it does not seem to be getting through to the other side. They do not seem to understand that we are actually talking about decency and humanity, two words which I am sure are not in the Liberal playbook. As the minister said, complementary protection would provide greater certainty and faster outcomes for vulnerable people at risk of violation. He said:

A woman fleeing a so-called 'honour killing' may not be covered by the Refugee Convention, whereas she will be covered through the inclusion of complementary protection in Australian law.

Women facing this kind of harm will have their claims considered more quickly under the integrated protection visa process.

This will bring Australia into line with many like-minded countries—including New Zealand and European and North American countries—which have already incorporated complementary protection into their own processes.

I concur with the words of Minister Bowen and the ideals to protect the most vulnerable in our global community.

On 21 March we celebrated Harmony Day, an annual celebration of our cultural diversity which coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The message for Harmony Day this year was 'Everyone Belongs'. Every Australian belongs to this nation, regardless of who they are or where they are from. Our history and our stories are what make Australians Australian. I truly hope that we can all embrace this year's theme. As community leaders we should be promoting and enhancing this message.

I would also like to take the opportunity to congratulate our government on our new national multicultural policy 'The People of Australia', which will build on our strong support for multiculturalism here in Australia. Multiculturalism has greatly enhanced and strengthened our economy and continues to further our national identity. It can be seen when you walk down the streets of our cities, suburbs, towns and regions. Effectively, it is what has helped establish and build our nation, the places that we know and love.

Despite the great work of the Gillard government in strengthening multiculturalism, surprisingly there are some people who continue to oppose, wreck and tarnish it. Some of those people hold their own interests above those of the people that they claim to represent. No surprises as to who they are! Remember that we had the shadow immigration spokesman tell the shadow cabinet that they should capitalise on concerns regarding 'Muslim immigration' and the 'inability' of Muslim migrants to integrate. It was reported very widely that shadow cabinet members were asked to bring three ideas to the table for the Liberal Party to focus on this year, and scaremongering, discrimination and promoting religious intolerance was all that they could come up with. If these are the best ideas that are being concocted and brewed in the dark, hazy party room of the Liberal Party and if this is the best that they have to offer the people of this country as the so-called alternative government, then we are in trouble. With this strategy, they are the only group out there making it difficult for any persons of various religious or cultural beliefs to integrate into our society, to be part of the Australian society. It is the Liberal Party who thrive on the creation of a societal divide for their own cheap and lazy political gain.

Unfortunately, we know that this has been a long-term strategy of the conservatives. They are always thinking of themselves rather than the Australian community and forgetting that it is our duty when we leave to have made this nation a better place than it was when we found it. As elected representatives, we have to strive to eliminate discrimination on all grounds—sex, race and religion—not encourage or feed it. I hope the Victorian Premier is listening, as he has been trying to wind back antidiscrimination laws. We must always be looking to the future, and building a world we want to live in, a world we want our children to grow and live freely in. We must continue to foster and nurture acceptance and tolerance, because if we don't do it, who will? If we as leaders do not lead, how do we expect others to follow?

This bill will go towards eliminating unnecessary processes for people at risk of torture, inhuman treatment or likely death so they receive a protection visa in accordance with Australia's existing international obligations. The Minister has stated that the Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2011 allows claims raising Australia's non-refoulement obligations under international human rights treaties to be considered through the same visa process as claims that raise obligations under the refugee convention. This is about helping vulnerable people, people at risk of the most serious forms of harm if returned to their country. Our international treaty obligations mean we cannot and do not send these people home. But, under existing processes, currently they are only able to get a visa through the personal intervention of the minister. This bill addresses that concern. With those few words I would like to wish this bill a speedy passage.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs D'Ath ): Order! Before I call the next speaker, I acknowledge the visitors from Regents Park Christian School and Toongabbie Christian School in our galleries today.