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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8699

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (13:19): I do not support the amendments and I rise to speak against them. A number of the reasons I, and the Greens, have for speaking against the amendments have been eloquently summarised in a letter sent today to the Prime Minister from a wide range of refugee, social justice and human rights groups, including Amnesty International Australia, Ged Kearney, the President of the ACTU, the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, the Melbourne Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office, former Prime Minister the Rt Hon. Malcolm Fraser, as well as a number of other groups in this sector. They write:

We are united in our opposition to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill, currently before parliament. We are also concerned that other legislative changes required to implement the recommendations of the expert panel on asylum seekers will, if passed, see the Australian parliament remove legislative safeguards for asylum seekers, reverse previous measures implemented to protect vulnerable people and breach Australia's international obligations.

We oppose any form of offshore processing and policy centred on deterrence and punishing people based on their mode of arrival. We are particularly concerned that the implementation of the expert panel's recommendations will:

repeal the few human rights protections included in the offshore processing legislation passed in 2001;

see any country designated for offshore processing, regardless of whether it is a party to the refugee convention;

punish asylum seekers who arrive by boat, in breach of the refugee convention;

implement a return to assessing asylum applications in Nauru and Manus Island, ignoring past lessons regarding the mental health impacts of holding people indefinitely with limited freedom of movement;

facilitate the removal of child asylum seekers from Australia;

facilitate the transfer of unaccompanied minors, who will have no guardian to act in their best interest, in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child;

prevent irregular maritime arrivals, whatever their age, from proposing family members for the Special Humanitarian Program, the SHP, creating greater incentives for families who want to stay together to travel by boat to Australia; and

leave open the possibility that boats may be turned back in the future, contravening the convention for the safety of life at sea.

The letter continues after that.

This legislation and these amendments reflect that it is a tough issue. Anyone who says it is not a tough issue is not paying attention. I know that the Australian people have been demanding that this parliament do something.

But when they asked us to do something, I do not think they wanted us to commit people to indefinite detention. I do not think they wanted us to return to the dark days of John Howard. I think they wanted us to save lives and protect refugees in a different way, and instead we have gone back to the future.

When the pressure is on, when there is a national call from many to say that something needs to be done, and rights need to be stripped away, that is the time it is most important to stand up for vulnerable people and to stand up for vulnerable principles. The right to seek asylum is not a new right. It is a right that has existed in various forms, at various times, for over 2,000 years. It has been codified in our law for many years. But, for the last two decades, we have seen that right attacked and eroded. It started with mandatory, indefinite detention under the Keating Labor government; it continued under the Howard government, when the Labor Party supported the Tampalaws which began the Pacific solution; and it continues today.

What is perhaps the greatest tragedy of the recent debate is that we could have pursued a different path. We could have resolved to pursue actions that would have helped refugees while preventing drownings at sea. The Greens stood ready to work with the government to put substantial resources into processing refugees before they got onto boats. We were ready to put in place a real regional framework, like we had at the end of the Vietnam War, which offered resettlement to people, not deterrence. Instead, we have a reprisal of the Pacific solution. We are punishing refugees with the prospect of indefinite detention on an island prison. We are punishing those refugees who, after many years, find their way to Australia, by removing their right to family reunion. We are punishing refugees by removing any rights to appeal. And the appalling tragedy of this all, Madam Deputy Speaker, is that it will not stop the boats—we know that from history, and we know that from the tragedy of the SIEV X.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The question is that government amendments (1) to (39) be agreed to.

A division having been called and the bells having been rung—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: As there are fewer than five members on the side for the noes, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

Question agreed to, Mr Bandt and Mr Wilkie voting no.