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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 715


Mr MORRISON (9:03 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1)   notes that:

(a)   Australia has a long and proud record of resettling more than 700,000 refugees since the Second World War;

(b)   there are 10.4 million refugees around the world and less than 1 per cent will be offered a resettlement place;

(c)   Australia’s current refugee and humanitarian program is set at 13,750 with 6,000 of those places going to refugees mandated by the UNHCR and referred to Australia for resettlement;

(d)   the current Government has lost control of our borders with more than 9,000 irregular maritime arrivals to Australia since August 2008;

(e)   as a result of the failure to protect our borders, places in the offshore Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) are being taken up by onshore protection visa applicants and their families; and

(f)   women who have been identified by the UNHCR as being in danger of victimisation, harassment or serious abuse have been rejected by Australia because there are no longer any places left in our offshore SHP; and

(2)   calls for the Government to:

(a)   give priority processing to the following visa applications within the SHP:

(i)   offshore applications for subclass 201—In Country Special Humanitarian Program Visa which offers resettlement to people who have suffered persecution in their country of nationality and who have not been able to leave that country;

(ii)   offshore applications for subclass 202—Global Special Humanitarian Visa for those subject to substantial discrimination and human rights abuses in their home country and who are sponsored for entry by an Australian citizen or permanent resident who is not, and has never been, a subclass 866 visa holder;

(iii)   offshore applications for subclass 203—Emergency Rescue Visa for people who are referred to Australia by the UNHCR and whose lives or freedom depend on urgent resettlement; and

(iv)   offshore applications for subclass 204—Women at Risk Visa for women who are registered as being of concern to the UNHCR;

(b)   confine immediate family members of sub class 866 protection visas holders, that includes irregular maritime arrivals, to eligibility for sponsorship only through the primary visa holder as a secondary applicant for a sub class 866 protection visa; and

(c)   cap the number of visas available in the refugee and humanitarian program in the following ways:

(i)   6,000 subclass 200 visas for people identified by the UNHCR and referred to the Australian Government as mandated refugees;

(ii)   3,750 subclass 866 protection visas for primary and secondary applicants, including irregular maritime arrivals and their immediate families; and

(iii)   4,000 subclass 201, 202, 203 and 204 visas.

I have very strong views on the government’s failed border protection and immigration policies. I do not think that is a secret in this place or anywhere around this country. I hold those strong views because, if we continue with the failed policies that have been in place for the last 2½ years, boats will continue to come and, when boats come, people put their lives at risk. I do not think there is anyone in this country that could deny that that is a fact. We know, sadly, that over 200 people have met that fate as a result of those journeys we know about. People die on boats. I have said it before, and I never want to see it happen again. I hold this view because, as long as we have this type of arrangement in place, people who are in places offshore seeking our protection as they have for many, many years will be denied their right and their place under our program to seek protection and gain that protection, and that is the subject of the motion before the House this evening. Thirdly, I hold these views very strongly because I believe in the integrity of Australia’s immigration program. This immigration program has been an enormous success for this country, and I want to see that it remains a success in this country. I believe in its integrity, I believe in its intent and I believe that the confidence of Australians in this program needs to be upheld and proven. That is particularly the case in this area where the government has failed so badly and so damaged public confidence in our program because of its failures on border protection.

In one of these areas, in November of last year Captain Simon Hartley of the Salvation Army came to see me. We met in Melbourne. He was joined by other Salvation Army officers, a member of the Chaldean community here in Australia and a member of the Ethiopian community, who raised with me some very distressing cases. One of those who saw me was Ms Abate. She is a former refugee from the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. She came to Australia under our refugee program four years ago. Her mother has been living in virtual slavery since she was trafficked to Saudi Arabia. She wrote to me and others, and she repeated this story on the day. She said:

My mother Sofia … is an abused domestic servant in Saudi Arabia. She had to flee Ethiopia and was trafficked to Saudi Arabia. As a Christian, illegal woman now in hiding she has no real options and suffers abuses on a regular basis. My mother has been sexually abused, beaten, humiliated and has no one to protect her. No UNHCR, no police force, no women’s shelter. It is just suffering.

The woman who wrote this is an Australian citizen, and she asked the question in her letter:

How can my government abandon me?

Another woman wrote to me with a similar circumstance. She says:

I have a sister … a mandated UNHCR suffering in Kakuma.

A captain of the Salvation Army Kenyan divisional headquarters:

… has intervened to save her. However, she still fears for her safety. Gangs operate freely. Women have been raped and killed. Corrupt police demand money from her and threaten her with deportation if she does not comply. She lives in constant fear …

She says:

It saddens me that my government has abandoned relatives of Australian citizens.

The motion I have put tonight is coalition policy. It is a policy that seeks to give priority to the offshore applicants who seek our protection under our program. It is a policy that is designed to ensure that at least 10,000 out of our 13,750 places will be given to people who apply offshore.

I respect the fact that there are some in all political parties who will not always share the views of their parties in putting forward measures in what is a very difficult area. I respect those views, I respect those who hold them and I respect their right to have their say. If they seek to have their say in this debate, then I welcome that and I encourage and challenge those opposite to let those on their benches who have different views to their government speak up and say the same thing, as I am proud to say happens in the Liberal Party. I commend them for their strength of view and for their compassion.

Each year the Australian government provides 13,750 permanent places. There are three main components to this program. There is what we call the mandated refugee program where we take 6,000 people from camps in places around the world in cooperation with the UNHCR, there is the offshore special humanitarian program and there is the onshore special humanitarian program. The onshore program is for those who arrive by boat without a visa—what I refer to as illegal entry. They seek protection under that section of the program. There is protection for 6,000; there is not protection for any other places under that system. The balance of the places are allocated based on the applications that are received and the judgments that are made. But those who turn up and make onshore applications take priority under the system as it is currently designed.

In 2009-10, the number of visas granted to offshore applicants was 3,233. When the coalition government left office, the number in 2007-08 was 4,795. It is no coincidence that the number of offshore applications granted to special humanitarian applicants has fallen by about 2,000 and the number granted to those who arrive by boat has increased by about 2,000. This is what is occurring under our program, and I simply do not think it is fair.

Take the case of Afghan applicants for protection in this country: if you are outside this country and you make an application, based on the figures of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, one in 10 get a protection visa. If you arrive in this country by boat as an Afghan asylum seeker, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship confirm that in the first nine months of last year you had a 96 per cent chance of getting that. That is what I call a pull factor. I think those who are sitting and waiting and waiting—not two years, not three years but, if you go to the Thai-Burma camps, three generations—are waiting too long. I think we should restore some balance to our system.

Those who cannot get on a boat are the immobile. Why are they immobile? Because typically they do not have resources. They are typically women, they are typically frail and they are typically unable to work the system through the smugglers and others to get them to a point where they can get on a boat. They have no voice at all. There are plenty in this place who want to say in this debate that they stand up for those who have no voice, but I can tell you the woman sitting in Kakuma had no voice in this place until this motion. This motion says: ‘We hear you; we think you should have a place. We think that there should be a place reserved for you that shouldn’t be crowded out because of a government that wants to pursue a failed border protection policy that has seen your place taken by those who might come by other means.’ There is enough suffering in this world.

This is a terribly vexed issue. It is a very, very hard issue and there are no easy choices. The alternative to what I have proposed in this motion is that we simply say that anybody who comes will get that visa, that these other visas will not be compromised and that we walk away from the capping system we have for our special humanitarian refugee program. This is a suggestion that others I am sure will put and that I have heard. I respect that suggestion, but I believe it would compromise our position of seeking to discourage people from getting on those boats. I think that position would encourage people to get on those boats and I do not want to do anything that would do that. While I respectfully listen to that suggestion, I cannot agree with it. The only way I can help that woman in Kakuma is to put forward a motion which says that we will reserve that place for her.

It is interesting that those who sit offshore, those who are recognised as refugees and get a visa for this country, wait 52.6 weeks for that decision. Even with the delays that are being experienced in our detention network today under the government’s failed policies, those who get the answer they are looking for wait 22.8 weeks. I can guarantee where they are waiting offshore pales into all sorts of horrid comparisons to what others might be experiencing in the detention network in Australia. There were people particularly on this side of the House during the last government who did many things to improve our system of detention in this country. They should be commended for that and this government has continued many of those initiatives. That would be a far better place to wait. This motion suggests that those who have had their protection claims assessed would be released into the community under temporary visas and their places would not be taken up with a permanent visa until one was available. These are our proposals. This is a difficult issue and I think this is a decent proposal. I seek the support of the House for it.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Is the motion seconded?


Mr Laming —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.