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Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Page: 5885

Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (12:31 PM) —Before the Senate adjourned last night I was on my feet talking about this bill. I will remind the chamber of what we are talking about, which is the abolishing of detention debt. The issue is who should actually have their detention debt abolished. I do not think there is anyone in Australia who, having thought about it and looked at this issue really hard, would disagree that it is fair and reasonable for a refugee to have their debt wiped, where the refugee is genuinely fleeing from persecution or fleeing for their life or is in circumstances that would ensure that they were a refugee.

In actual fact this government has a policy today—and the previous government had one too—by which genuine refugees have their debt wiped. It is not in law; it is a policy, and that has been happening. So you then say, ‘What is this bill actually going to do?’ Well, it puts that into law: genuine refugees will have their debt wiped. But what else does the bill do? This is where we come to the problem. It also wipes the debt of someone who is here illegally, someone who overstays their visa illegally. It wipes their detention debt as well. I do not understand how at the moment, when you have refugees having their debt wiped—they do not pay it as a result of policy—someone can come into this parliamentary chamber and say: ‘You beauty! We’re going to fix the problem. We’re going to make sure that refugees don’t have any debt.’ In actual fact they do not have a debt at the moment, because of policy, but supposedly we are going to pass this law without amendment.

Family First will be moving an amendment to make sure only refugees have their debt wiped and those people illegally in Australia will still have their debt; it will not be wiped. We should not be wiping it. The government put up some time ago the principle about people paying their way when they said that horticulture and agriculture had to pay their way through AQIS fees. Fair enough, but why should we be wiping the debt of people who are actually staying here illegally? It is crazy. It is absolutely crazy, and it is ludicrous to think that they are going to pass this law without any amendment. We will be putting up the amendment and hoping to get support from the coalition, because there is no way that people who stay here illegally should have their debt wiped clean.

This law goes too far. It stinks more than a fish market. Seriously, they have come into this chamber saying: ‘Good on us! We’re actually going to wipe the debt of refugees.’ But they already do that, and so did the previous government—they wiped the debt of genuine refugees. But this law goes a step further, which it should not, and wipes the detention debt of people who are staying here illegally. That is just crazy. Let us be clear what this government’s bill does through this example. A person comes into this country for a holiday, commits a violent criminal offence or illegally overstays their visa and gets put into detention and then the Rudd government says, ‘Let’s wipe their debt.’

Senator Chris Evans —That is just not true.

Senator FIELDING —No, it is true. It is very true. Maybe that is one of the unintended consequences of your bill, so we will give you the benefit of the doubt. But you have got to fix it. I hear at the back of the chamber someone taking a cheap shot, saying, ‘How do you spell that?’

Senator Hanson-Young —How do you spell ‘consequences’? How do you spell ‘compassion’?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Forshaw)—Order, Senators! If you would focus on the front of the Senate chamber and direct your remarks, Senator—

Senator FIELDING —Yes, having a go and taking a cheap shot.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Excuse me, Senator Fielding, but if you would direct your remarks through the chair, please.

Senator FIELDING —Here we are talking about a very serious issue and we have got people from the Greens sitting up the back taking cheap shots.

Senator Hanson-Young —How do you spell ‘compassion’?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order, Senator! Let us stick to the debate.

Senator FIELDING —I will go through this again. Quite clearly, a person who comes to this country for a holiday, commits a violent criminal offence or illegally overstays their visa and gets put into detention has the government wanting to wipe their debt. This is not a person who is a refugee. This is not a person who has fled their country in fear of losing their life. This is a criminal. This is a person who has no respect for our laws. But the government now wants taxpayers to cough up for the bill rather than chase this person for it. Ordinary Australians are being asked by the government to make sacrifices and tighten their belts. I find it astonishing that the government wants to make sure this bill gets through without any changes. I will be moving changes and I am hoping the coalition and those on the cross benches will be supporting them. This is not right. I am reasonable and I am more than happy for genuine refugees to have their debt wiped. In actual fact the previous government did it and so does this one.