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Monday, 19 November 2012
Page: 8913

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (10:22): I rise today to speak on the two bills before us which the government has put forward, the Appropriation (Implementation of the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers) Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013 and the Appropriation (Implementation of the Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers) Bill (No. 2) 2012-2013, asking for even more Australian taxpayers' money to be spent on inhumane, impractical and failing policies.

During the last few weeks of this parliament's sitting we have debated this issue of offshore processing over and over again. We continue to hear from the government that locking people up indefinitely on Nauru and Manus Island will be the only way to stop people from fleeing war and trying to come to Australia for safety. What a load of bollocks! It has failed. Deterrents do not work when you are forcing people to make a choice between freedom and safety or punishment for seeking protection for their families. These are people who are fleeing war, persecution and torture. Rather than punishing these people and wasting billions of Australian taxpayers' dollars, it would be much better for us to take the support and advice of the experts—which suggests that putting in place safer alternatives would be much better for both the taxpayer's pocket and human rights outcomes.

We have a refugee and humanitarian crisis—a rolling crisis. We have hunger strikes in Nauru. Those who have already been sent there are threatening, very seriously, their own lives. We have one man who has been on a hunger strike for 39 days. He is very ill. Unfortunately, it may be that, without proper intervention from the government, this man will not survive the next few days. This man—and I urge him to end his hunger strike because I do not think it is helpful for him; obviously we do not want to see people taking their lives in their hands like this—is protesting using the only weapon he has, his own body, to make a very pointed observation about how bad the conditions are for refugees on Manus Island. His issues have been raised and conferred on by some of the world's most eminent experts on refugees and those seeking protection around the world. The United Nations has been very clear in condemning Australia's indefinite detention on Nauru and the freezing of the processing of the claims of those kept on Christmas Island and, increasingly, on the Australian mainland.

We have had the United Nations refugee body, the UNHCR, say that this principle of 'no advantage' is ludicrous. It is meaningless. It has no weight. And yet, when we were in this very place only three months ago debating the legislation which allows the government to dump people in Nauru, the then Minister—Senator Lundy, who is in the chamber—representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, told us that the government would work with the UNHCR to determine how the no-advantage test would be implemented. The UNHCR has said it cannot be implemented. It is meaningless. It is in breach of the convention and it is not going to work to stop desperate people fleeing danger and seeking safety.

This man, who is risking his own life in such an extreme and desperate manner, is also very concerned about how long he and other refugees will have to remain on Nauru. The government will not give us a time frame for how long people will be there. They cannot put a figure on it despite the fact that we know it is indefinite detention, by its very nature, that drives people to such desperate acts. The two bills before us are going to create a black hole into which taxpayers' money is going to continue to be thrown over and over again because there is no end in sight.

We know that we can assess people's claims quickly. We can ensure that those who have had their health and security tests done to make sure they are not a risk to the community have their claims assessed in much cheaper ways. Community detention, and the assessment of people's claims while they are living in the community, is 90 per cent cheaper and 100 per cent fairer—and yet that is not the path this government is taking. Rather than looking at the practical needs and coming up with a practical response to the issues of people fleeing war and persecution in our region, we have seen this government absolutely kowtow to the wishes and demands of Tony Abbott's coalition. It has not provided any solution to the numbers of people in our region who are seeking safety.

Let's go back to the list of things that are wrong with the current policy. We have hunger strikes in Nauru. We have conditions which have been labelled 'inhumane' by various international and Australian organisations. They have been condemned by the UN and the UNHCR. The Australian Human Rights Commission says that indefinite detention and the conditions on Nauru are extremely worrying. We have seen Amnesty International make statements and demand access because the conditions are so bad. We have locals on Manus Island protesting the building of the new facilities—even blockading the airport last week so the personnel who were being flown in to build the facilities, this new prison, could not get on with their work. The locals on Manus Island do not want this prison there either. We have rooftop protests at Villawood detention centre. We have tents being put up on Christmas Island because the numbers of people being detained there indefinitely is ballooning.

We know what happened last time we constructed tents on Christmas Island: the frustration, tensions and dangerous circumstances that arose meant that riots broke out in the immigration detention centre. It was a combination of inappropriate accommodation and, of course, the freezing of the processing of people's claims for asylum. That is exactly what is happening all over again. This government are absolutely incompetent when it comes to managing the needs of refugees. Rather than taking a practical response to a humanitarian issue, they are far more worried about whether they can win the race to the bottom with Tony Abbott and his coalition, who, frankly, do not give a damn about the human rights of refugees. They do not give two hoots about the conditions that refugees have to face on Nauru, Manus Island, Christmas Island or any of the other detention prisons scattered around the Australian mainland. They do not care how long people have to sit rotting simply because they fled war and persecution. They do not care about the rights, protections and needs of some of the world's most vulnerable children, who are those children who have had to flee war, persecution and the torture of their mothers and fathers.

The coalition do not care, and yet what we see is Julia Gillard locked in a race to try and beat them—beat Tony Abbott at his own game of not caring about refugees and asylum seekers. This not-caring, be-mean beat-up on refugees is costing the Australian taxpayer billions upon billions of dollars. The two bills that we currently have before us are to allow another $1.6 billion to be spent continuing a regime that is inhumane, does not work and is only putting vulnerable refugees in more danger.

I want to go back to some of the conditions that the Houston report identified as needing to be met if indeed the Australian government were to reopen the hellholes of Nauru and Manus Island. Page 48 of the Houston report says that, if we are going to send refugees to Nauru and Manus Island, we need these things in place:

treatment consistent with human rights standards (including no arbitrary detention)

We have not achieved that; in fact, we have achieved the very opposite. The UN has said those conditions are not being met.

appropriate accommodation

Again, wrong; that condition is not being met.

appropriate physical and mental health services

Some of the country's most eminent mental health experts have said it is extremely worrying to see the conditions that are being created on Nauru. Of course, the hunger strikes of the last few weeks, and of one refugee in particular, who is very, very unwell, are a very good example of how poor those physical and mental health services are.

access to educational and vocational training programs

Again, where are they? None of those things were put in place before we started dumping people there indefinitely.

an appeal mechanism against negative decisions on asylum applications that would enable merits review …

Again, we have seen the UNHCR ask what has been put in place. Expecting a small and impoverished country like Nauru to manage that process when they have had no experience of doing it before is simply inappropriate, and we in Australia cannot be washing our hands of our responsibilities in that regard.

monitoring of care and protection arrangements by a representative group drawn from government and civil society in Australia and Nauru

This was another condition that the Houston report said needed to be provided if we were to send refugees to Manus Island and Nauru. Again, the government has failed. They do not have this in place.

They have absolutely failed to uphold the obligations that they said they would meet.

providing case management assistance to individual applicants being processed in Nauru.

I would like to know what case management and appropriate assistance is being given to individuals who feel they are so in harm's way that they have to take their own lives to make a point about how bad the government are at managing the needs of vulnerable people.

This bill asks us to spend an extra $1.6 billion making people's lives even more miserable, putting children in more harm's way, ensuring that billions of Australian taxpayer dollars will be spent on us not fulfilling our international obligations, ensuring that we do not play by the rules we have signed up to, not protecting vulnerable children. This bill is asking us to spend $1.6 billion on doing the complete opposite to what the UNHCR and UN bodies ask us to do. And all for what? So we can stop the boats? The boats have not stopped, have they? They are coming in record numbers.

Deterring people from leaving their homelands that are riddled with war without giving them a safe option does not make any sense. It is illogical to ask a mother and a father and their children to 'just stay put' while the Taliban is chasing them down and murdering their other family members. It is impractical, it is illogical, it is inhumane and it does not do anything to deal with those who are in our region seeking our protection. It is inconsistent with our obligations and inconsistent with the basic value of the Australian fair go.

I will be moving an amendment to this bill which calls for a 12-month limit on the length of time that people should be left on Nauru and Manus Island. I do not want people there at all, but they are there, and the government are so obsessed with competing with Tony Abbott in a race to the bottom of the barrel that they are going to continue to send people to this hellhole. So let's at the very least put some type of time limit on it. You cannot tell me that in 12 months Australian bureaucrats cannot get through the applications of people. They will get 12 months to assess people's claims, and if they are found to be in genuine need of protection then we welcome them. If they are not then we send them home. But let's keep it confined to a time limit. Let's not be back here in 12 months having to fork out even more billions of dollars of Australian taxpayer money just to keep Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott at one in being inhumane to refugees.

The Houston report also said that we needed to spend more money on allowing assessment by the UNHCR in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. The report recommended that the money be doubled to $140 million. The government has ignored that advice and put up $10 million, so guess what? The boats will keep coming. People come to Australia to get their claims assessed because there is no capacity for it to be done further back along the line. If we want to give people a safer option so they do not have to risk their lives to come to Australia on leaky boats, then we need to give them other assessment options. The Houston report said $140 million, and the government, despite spending billions of dollars on an island prison in Nauru, have only given the UN $10 million. Our amendment calls for that extra $140 million, as recommended by the expert panel. We also want to see an independent health panel established because we know the conditions in Nauru are not right and people should be able to access assessment independent of those facilities.

The bills before us are a shame on this government. The bills before us spend billions of Australian taxpayer dollars, all to keep Julia Gillard in the Lodge. It is disgraceful. I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

but the Senate calls for the appropriation of funds for offshore processing to occur only when:

(a) a 12 month time limit on the detention of an individual in Papua New Guinea or Nauru is established;

(b) funding for a regional co-operation framework, and capacity building initiatives, is doubled to $140 million as recommended by the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers;

(c) an Independent Health Care Panel to oversee the physical and mental health of asylum seekers sent offshore is established; and

(d) all contracts for services between the Australian Commonwealth and service providers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, including costs and operational protocols, are tabled in Parliament.