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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11215

Mr ROBB (Goldstein) (13:21): I rise to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. The coalition strongly support offshore processing. In fact, we developed an effective program for offshore processing, one that worked. It worked under us. It worked for many years under us. It worked so well that, when the Labor Party took office in 2007, there were just four people—four, not even a handful—in detention. It was a remarkable success. Yet 12,000 people have arrived by boat since that time.

We oppose the government's Malaysian proposal because it is bad policy. It is bad policy because, firstly, for every asylum seeker Malaysia takes, we receive five back here. It is not an acceptable arrangement. It is not a sustainable arrangement. It will work, if at all from that point of view, on a one-off basis. What happens after the 800 have arrived? There has been no satisfactory answer. In fact, when the Prime Minister was asked that question last week, you could see from her body language that she had not thought it through. She was all at sea. She had effective spin prepared for every other question that day, but, when it was put to her in question 8 last week, 'What will you do when you reach the 800,' she clearly had no idea. There is no plan B.

It is, on all grounds, a policy conceived out of politics. It has been continued because the Prime Minister is too pig-headed to eat humble pie for a day and do the effective thing. I think everyone expected, after the Labor Party formed government at the most recent election, that politics would be put aside and the Prime Minister would pick up the phone to Nauru and seek to get an effective solution in place. It would have involved 24 hours of some egg on the face, but people out there really do not care who conceives an effective policy. They do not give points according to who the idea came from, whether it was from Tony Abbott or anyone else, for that matter. They just look to the government to adopt effective solutions. And, in the end, a government will be rewarded for adopting effective solutions—but not this Prime Minister. The only thing standing in the way of a return to a proven offshore model is the stubbornness and pigheadedness of the Prime Minister. She does not want to lose one skerrick of face by conceding that there may be already in place, already available, a proven offshore model.

The other ground on which we oppose this Malaysian proposal is that it provides no guarantee of protection. The High Court itself disallowed this arrangement in the first place, and in our view there are still no guarantees. There are just good faith obligations. That is all there is in this proposed bill. There are good faith obligations but no guarantees that the human rights protections that should sit around any offshore arrangement—or any onshore arrangement, for that matter—are there. There is a very real prospect, in fact, that the High Court would also rule this legislation invalid because, although the government, in this week's version of the legislation, as distinct from its version last week, has reintroduced the protections that are the essence of the UN refugee convention, those basic requirements do not have any legal backing, such as Malaysia signing up to the refugee convention. So, if legally challenged again, the government will most likely end up with a black eye again.

This sums up four years now of incompetence on this issue. This has been a running sore for the government for four years. Try as they might, on all sorts of fronts, the one thing they are determined not to do is to take on a proven model, because the proven model is associated with their political opponents. That betrays a lack of political confidence, and the government are paying the price. They are paying the price for their lack of confidence in themselves to take a proven model and put it into effect. Their handling of this issue not only displays remarkable incompetence; it also displays a lack of principle.

Just before I came into the House, I received a note from my neighbour member, the member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby, along with a publication from Freedom House. Of course, the member for Melbourne Ports has a strong and well-deserved reputation for defending freedom and human rights. It has been a hallmark of his career in this place. Michael, whom I consider a friend, sent me this booklet, Freedom in the World 2011, which assesses the level of freedom in different countries. In his note to me, he says: 'In my view, this Freedom House survey gives you the big picture on the overall situation in any given country, and some context to political developments that affect democratic rights.' The categories for countries are 'free', 'partly free' and 'not free'. I looked up the definitions. The booklet says:

A Free country is one where there is open political competition, a climate of respect for civil liberties, significant independent civic life, and independent media. A Partly Free country is one in which there is limited respect for political rights and civil liberties. Partly Free states frequently suffer from an environment of corruption, weak rule of law, ethnic and religious strife, and a political landscape in which a single party enjoys dominance despite a certain degree of pluralism.

A Not Free country is one where basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied.

I then went to the very comprehensive table in this publication recommended to me by a member of the government who has a very well deserved reputation for defending freedom and civil and human rights. I see that Australia is listed as a free country. On political rights and civil liberties respectively, Australia has scores of one and one. The scores go from one to seven, with one being the optimum score. I then looked at how Nauru is classified—for all those years, were we, the coalition, sending refugees to a country which was not free and did not respect political rights and civil liberties? Nauru is classified by Freedom House as a free country and also gets top ratings—one for political rights and one for respect for civil liberties.

I then had a look at the classification of Malaysia. It is classified as partly free. I remind the House that a partly free country is one where 'there is limited respect for political rights and civil liberties. Partly free states frequently suffer from an environment of corruption, weak rule of law, ethnic and religious strife, and a political landscape in which a single party enjoys dominance despite a certain degree of pluralism'. On a scale of one to seven, Malaysia rates four on political rights and four on respect for civil liberties.

This confirms the fears that we have had about the protections which are embodied in the UN refugee convention not being guaranteed. Malaysia militates against respect for the civil liberties and political rights of those that come there. All of the anecdotal evidence associated with immigration cases that has been presented over the last five years—30,000 canings associated with immigration, and much more—is confirmed by those ratings of four and four. This is one of the reasons why we have been so strongly opposed.

There is a workable alternative. It was working and it respected human rights. Yet we were told by Prime Minister Rudd that it must change because there was a more compassionate way of dealing with this issue. My friend and colleague the shadow minister for immigration personally inspected the circumstances under which the 95,000 or 100,000 refugees are currently living in Malaysia. When I asked, 'What is it really like, Scott?' he said, 'You wouldn't send your worst enemy to those refugee camps.' Forget about the kids—of course they should not be there under any circumstances—but 'you wouldn't send', he said, 'your worst enemy'. Yet here we have a party which has had a proud history of at least supporting human rights issues and it is now unilaterally pursuing an approach which is, in all likelihood, going to have no guarantee that fundamental human rights will be adhered to.

That might be a hard choice for a government if there was no alternative, but obviously there is an alternative that has worked, and I will recount what happened. We were told that there had to be a change because of push factors: the Afghani action and the Iraq war. The invasion of Afghanistan started in October 2001 and the Iraq war started in March 2003. We saw: in 2001-02, 19 boats; in 2002-03, no boats; in 2003-04, one boat; in 2004-05, no boats; in 2005-06, eight boats; in 2006-07, four boats; and, in 2007-08, three boats. Throughout seven years of action in Afghanistan and six years of war in Iraq, we saw a handful of boats and four people left in detention.

This is unacceptable. The community is hostile to queue jumping, the community saw a boat program that worked and the community sees this proven system not being pursued because of pig-headedness. The bill must not be supported; the amendment must not be supported. (Time expired)