Save Search

Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2709


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (10:07): I rise to speak in opposition to the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012. The Australian Greens are in strong opposition to the idea of removing Australia's entire mainland from our migration zone. When John Howard, back in 2006, proposed to do this very thing here in this place, not only did we have members of the Labor Party speaking strongly against it; we even had members of the coalition speaking strongly against it. When John Howard proposed to strip all migration law rights away from people based on their arriving on the Australian mainland, one of the reasons that that bill did not end up passing the Senate was that even Barnaby Joyce—

Senator Williams: Senator Joyce.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: believed that this was bad policy. Even Senator Barnaby Joyce knew the madness of this policy. It must be pretty bad when you have got Senator Joyce arguing for the rights of refugees and the rights of vulnerable people under basic rule-of-law provisions.

I urge all members in this place to search the back of their conscience and to think about why this is really being put forward and why there is an urgency for it to be rushed through. There is no urgency, of course, except the continued failure of the government's already harsh, inhumane and cruel no advantage rule and offshore processing, which have not worked to stem the flow of people in our region who are desperate to seek protection. The Prime Minister on this issue is always looking for somebody else to blame, and now it is that we have provisions on the mainland that uphold the rule of law—that is bad and that has got to go, according to the Prime Minister and this Labor government. And of course Tony Abbott's opposition are going to support this legislation, because it is their policy. This is the Labor government implementing John Howard's policy and Tony Abbott's policy. That is what is going on here. We do not have to wait until 14 September; we have already got the opposition's policy. The Labor government have done all the Liberal Party's dirty work when it comes to beating up on refugees, dog whistling on immigration and stripping away laws that protect the most vulnerable in our community.

This bill effectively excises the entire mainland of Australia from the ordinary operations of the migration zone so that, wherever somebody may arrive, they do not have the right to seek protection under normal circumstances. This expands the already existing two-tiered system that is in direct contravention of the refugee convention, which clearly identifies that we should not be discriminating against people and their right to protection, care and safety based on their mode of arrival. It is simply wrong. It is unacceptable under the refugee convention. Yet here we are this morning seeing exactly that happening—both the government and the opposition doing away with, violating, the letter and the spirit of the rights outlined in the refugee convention.

As I said, the Howard government had already attempted to do this. In 2001, they set up a system which treated refugees who arrived by boat differently—not to protect them, not to care for them, not to deal in a practical way with their vulnerability and needs. No, no; it was to demonise them, to whip up fear and hatred and to send a signal to the nastiest, darkest parts of our psyche, where we may think that somehow, because somebody is a refugee and had to come by boat, they are a bad person. That is precisely why John Howard changed these rules in 2001 and that is precisely what the Labor government, hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder with Tony Abbott's coalition, are doing today.

This is yet another stark and very, very disappointing example of the government locked in a race to the bottom with the coalition over immigration and refugee policy. Punishing refugees for seeking protection in Australia is the central concept of this bill. Let us not beat around the bush. This bill does nothing to save people's lives. This bill does nothing to protect and help and care for vulnerable refugees, including children. This bill does nothing to help these people and it will not save their lives. This bill is all about punishment and all about whipping up fear and hatred and demonising people because of how they arrived and where they have come from. The fact is that the majority of people who arrive here by boat—whether it is in the already excised zone or the small handful of people who find their way to the mainland—are people who could not come to Australia by plane because they never would have got a ticket without a visa, because of the countries that they come from, because of their need to flee from torture, from persecution, from war. This bill goes right to the heart of discriminating against refugees because of the places they have had to flee.

Of course, as we know, just as happened in 2006, this bill has been widely criticised by a range of legal and human rights experts. This bill went to inquiry, and it was universally condemned. The only supporting evidence to this inquiry came from the government's own department. Not one independent voice in support of this piece of legislation came forward. Not one independent voice of support exists for this legislation.

In fact, let me just go to what the United Nations and their human rights and refugee committees have said in relation to this piece of legislation. We know that the UNHCR in Australia have said that they are extremely concerned that the measures to excise large portions of the territory to set up systems which substantially reduce fundamental refugee protection rights sets a negative precedent internationally.

This is not about building a regional protection framework; this is doing the absolute opposite. This is about gross, bottom of the barrel, crass domestic politics here in Australia. This is about the Labor Party competing with Tony Abbott as to who can be the toughest, the cruellest, the meanest on refugees.

Senator Williams: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I ask Senator Hanson-Young to refer to those in the other place by their correct titles. She started off with 'Barnaby Joyce' instead of 'Senator Joyce', then continued on about 'Tony Abbott'—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ): Thank you, Senator Williams; I understand your point. Before you continue, Senator Hanson-Young, Senator Williams is absolutely correct: you have, on a number of occasions, referred to other members of parliament without their correct titles. You have corrected yourself on one of those occasions, and I should have drawn it your attention earlier. So, please, would you adhere to the Senate standing orders.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. This is crass domestic politics that is based on the Labor Party competing, in a race to the bottom, as to who can be the cruellest, the nastiest, the meanest, the harshest on refugees. A race to the bottom with Mr Abbott's coalition—that is what this piece of legislation is about.

The UNHCR goes on to say that, if each one of the 148 other countries around the world that have signed on to the refugee convention took this attitude and changed their laws in this way, it would undermine the entire convention. This legislation is out of step with not just the letter but absolutely the spirit of the convention. We know that the Refugee Council has said that they are extremely concerned about this as well—that it violates our obligations. It strips away people's rights, and it will likely cause serious harm to people fleeing from persecution and torture. It will cause more harm, more damage, to people who are already fleeing some pretty unsafe and harmful circumstances. That is what the experts are saying.

We know that many of the church groups around the country are extremely concerned about this as well, from a moral perspective as well as a legal one. We have seen Elenie Poulos, the National Director of UnitingJustice, attached to the Uniting Church, say that this is a shameful piece of legislation that undercuts our moral responsibilities as a nation towards vulnerable and oppressed asylum seekers.

This is a bad piece of legislation and is only designed to hurt people and not care for them. There is nothing in this legislation that will save people's lives—in fact, unfortunately, all to the contrary. People's lives are going to be at more risk. People are going to suffer more. Children will not have rights. Despite the need for protection, they will not now have access to lawyers. They will not have any legal assistance at all. They cannot even make a claim for refugee protection under this legislation. They can be sent, of course, offshore to one of the cruel camps—whether that is Manus Island or Nauru or wherever else this government or the coalition decide they want to start dumping vulnerable refugees. This bill exposes vulnerable people to indefinite detention in inhumane and cruel camps.

As to those who may be lucky enough to be put on a bridging visa after suffering in detention, they will have no work rights. They will have no access to proper education or medical services. They will have no way of being able to rebuild their lives and protect their children. In fact, children and families under this legislation will be pushed into poverty even further.

This legislation exposes more people in immigration detention to inadequate legal assistance and legal oversight—in fact, not just 'inadequate'; they have no rights at all. Whether you are the vulnerable family of someone who has been fighting for democracy in Iran or a Hazara family from Afghanistan, you have no rights for proper protection under this piece of legislation.

What is the urgency for us to have to rush this piece of legislation through? It is not going to stop people coming here by boat; we know that. We know that being harsh to people, deterrence policies, do not stop people taking those dangerous journeys when that is the only option they have. We have seen that proven over the last six months.

Back in August last year, we saw this again—the Labor Party implementing the coalition's policies on offshore detention, on stripping out protection and on the no-advantage rule. We were told that was going to slow the boats. It has not slowed the boats at all: we have four times the number of people fleeing to Australia than we did last year. It has not stopped people taking those journeys. It has not saved people's lives.

In fact, the unfortunate thing about all of this is that no-one is safer—no-one is being kept safer or treated better; no-one's rights are being upheld. In fact, the exact opposite is happening: we are now subjecting children to institutionalised child abuse in the detention camps of cruelty on Manus Island. That is the reality of the policies that are coming from this government, backed up by Mr Abbott's coalition. These policies are not saving people's lives; they are not caring for people. These policies and this legislation are subjecting people to further harm and torture.

I will be moving three amendments to this legislation. The first amendment is in relation to allowing for media access to these detention camps that Australians are paying billions and billions of dollars for. We saw the budget come out on Tuesday night and we know that offshore processing is costing Australian taxpayers more than $7½ billion. In fact, if you include this year and the forward estimates, it is costing $10 billion to detain children and their families on Manus Island, in inhumane conditions, damaging them for the rest of their lives—$10 billion. There is of course no media access to these detention centres, because the government do not want the Australian people to see how badly we are treating our fellow human beings. They do not want the Australian conscience to be pricked by the truth of what is going on in these camps. The amendment that I will be moving in relation to that is to allow media access to our detention centres, particularly those offshore on Manus Island and Nauru.

The second amendment is about allowing the Australian Human Rights Commission to enter those camps and be able to inspect them—because we cannot trust either this government or any government run by the coalition to treat vulnerable refugees and their families properly. We know that every time we actually get a glimpse into what is going on in these awful places, we see that people are not being treated right, that it is inhumane, that children are suffering. We should be allowing the Australian Human Rights Commission to go inside and inspect. I ask you, Mr Acting Deputy President: if there is nothing to hide, why not let them in?

The third amendment is a very important one, in relation to removing children and their families from Manus Island. It is a horrible place. It is a cruel place. It is an inhumane place. Even adults should not be there. Vulnerable refugees do not deserve to be treated like animals, as we have seen from the footage that was leaked through the Four Cornersreport only some weeks ago. Children are suffering on Manus Island, and it is time they were brought to the Australian mainland and cared for properly. This amendment will ban any government from being able to detain children, remove children to those awful places of abuse and cruelty—they are inhumane. Those children must be brought to the Australian mainland and cared for.

As a mother I have a responsibility to stand in this place and argue for the rights of those children. I call on every senator in this place to stand up for those children's rights as well, and do what you would want if they were your children.