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Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 5518


Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (5:04 PM) —I would like to speak briefly to this report as well. The legislation that is part of its terms of reference will no doubt be debated at some stage in the not-too-distant future, so I can speak on it in a bit more detail at that time. As the Democrat member participating in this inquiry, I want to put on record my thanks to the committee secretariat and to those who put in submissions and gave evidence. The evidence reinforced the Democrats' longstanding concern that the broad Pacific solution of the government is one that breaches our international obligations in many areas. More importantly, I think it breaches fundamental standards of how to treat human beings in a compassionate and humane way.

In relation to the specifics of the legislation and the issues relating to excising islands—I think the total ended up being 4,600-odd islands affected by the legislation—among the fundamentals of the evidence is the fact that a number of contributors, including the department, suggested that excising islands could potentially drive people to be even more likely to go direct to the mainland. That seems contrary to the government's intention. More importantly, it is contrary in terms of the safety and wellbeing of the people on board those vessels.

Last Saturday was the first anniversary of the tragic sinking of the vessel that came to be known as SIEVX. Three hundred and fifty-three people—more than half of those women and children—drowned in that tragedy. I am not trying to make big political points out of that—it would have occurred, obviously, regardless of whether or not those islands had been excised; I believe that at that stage they had not been excised—but it simply highlights the fact that people on boats are engaged in a dangerous activity. They are not criminals. They are not people whose potential fate we should ignore. We should not ignore their safety by providing them with an incentive to go even further and try to actually reach the mainland rather than an island. That just adds to their difficult situation and the risks they face.

For the Democrats there is also the broader issue of the extra cost to Australia that is involved. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being put into building a new detention centre on Christmas Island, which is already excised from the migration zone, enabling people to be detained there out of sight, obviously, away from scrutiny and in an area where they are not able to access legal rights under the Migration Act. We have already seen the problems with Manus Island and Nauru in terms of people not being able to be adequately scrutinised and having their ability to access legal rights dramatically reduced. Further excising islands, as this legislation intends to do, simply further entrenches that unfair and inappropriate system.

I am very pleased that the ALP has maintained its position of opposition to this aspect of the government's policy. It is quite a strong report that the majority of the committee have adopted with Labor and the Democrats. I hope that this is a sign of an ongoing strengthening of the ALP's position on this issue—that it is not just drawing a line here and saying, `No further,' but that it will start actively working to wind back some of the completely inappropriate aspects of the government's policy through the Pacific solution in particular and associated issues like temporary protection visas. This is an issue that will be revisited, hopefully later this week, when the `children overboard' committee report is finally tabled. Some of those issues relating to the Pacific solution will be more broadly and further examined, so I will not go into them in any further detail now. I commend the report to the Senate.