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Thursday, 12 May 2011
Page: 3842

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (13:27): Australia is a nation built on immigration. Indeed, this phrase has been repeated so many times that it is almost a part of our commonsense. Paradoxically, we are also a nation that has, with each generation, wrestled with the idea and the consequences of immigration: what it does to our identity, what it does to our community and what it does for our economy. As we have engaged with this debate, we have usually come to the conclusion, the right conclusion in my view, that migration has not only made us a more prosperous and interesting place but has helped to draw this small and new nation situated at the bottom of the globe closer to other countries in our world. It also breeds a love of country in those who have made Australia their home, as a letter published recently in the Illawarra Mercury shows. The letter said:

I want to thank Australia and all Australians for giving me and other immigrants the chance to live here permanently as a citizen. It is a beautiful country with very good people and I think I am spending the best days of my life in Australia. I also think that, if someone lives here once, they cannot live somewhere else. It is like heaven to me. So, again I say thanks and wish Australia the best of luck in the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

The Migration Amendment (Complementary Protection) Bill 2011 reflects our values, which were demonstrated in that letter. It demonstrates to the world that we are a humane country willing and capable of providing refuge to those who have or may suffer extreme persecution or torture in their country. We will do this in accordance with Australian and international law. We will do this in an orderly and transparent way. This bill introduces complementary protection arrangements into all claims that may engage Australia's non-refoulment obligation under certain human rights instruments. Complementary protection describes a category of protection for asylum seekers who are not refugees under the 1951 refugee convention criteria but who deserve our protection because returning them home would mean they would face a violation of their fundamental human rights, a violation which may include being arbitrarily deprived of their life, being subject to torture, being subject to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, or having the death penalty carried out on him or her.

In international refugee law this is known as a non-refoulment obligation. Australia's non-refoulment obligations arise under various international human rights instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This means that, as a signatory to these conventions and these treaties, the obligation to abide by them has existed in international law but has not, as yet, been integrated into Australian domestic law. The introduction of complementary protection arrangements into Australia's immigration laws has, as previous speakers have indicated, been advanced on a number of occasions and has most recently been discussed in a Senate inquiry into the matter.

Introducing complementary protection arrangements into applications for a protection visa will mean that there will be a clearer, more efficient and transparent mechanism to deal with these claims. That is because at present this is dealt with by ministerial discretion and the consideration of complementary protection occurs only after all primary and review refugee status determinations have been completed.

As you would expect, the existing legal process takes time, during which these people are detained in Australia's immigration detention system. It is not fair to individuals, should their claims subsequently be found to be valid, and it is not an efficient or a humane way to deal with people facing these situations.

Under the system proposed in this legislation, a complementary protection system would be integrated as part of the protection visa application process. This will mean that people will be held in detention for shorter periods of time due to a more streamlined process. With regard to complementary protection it is important to note that not everyone who arrives in Australia seeking asylum will satisfy the definition of 'refugee' as set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention, yet these people, who are often stateless, may still be in need of our protection.

Under this amending legislation, for a person to fall within this non-refoulment obligation they must be at real risk of significant harm. The danger of harm in this regard must also be personal and present. This harm must also be a necessary and foreseeable consequence of their removal from Australia. These criteria are strict and mean that substantial grounds have to be established to receive complementary protection under this arrangement. Examples of some categories that may come within this consideration for complementary protection include homosexuality and women at risk, particularly single women.

We know that there are still too many countries in this world where people do not all share the high level of human rights and equal opportunity that we in Australia take for granted. The serious levels and types of discrimination against women in a number of countries around the world are well known by members in this place. For example, we know that in the United Arab Emirates it is sanctioned by the state that a husband can beat his wife, provided no bones are broken. In Pakistan, two women a day die as a result of honour killings. Some three million women every year are exposed to the risks and the terror of genital mutilation.

What we as Australian parliamentarians know is that the danger of harm in situations like this is purely personal and therefore falls outside the definition of refugee under the 1951 convention and because we—at least on this side of the House—believe that people in this type of situation deserve to have their applications for complementary protection dealt with in a timely and efficient manner, as we propose in this legislation.

The introduction of an administrative process to deal with complementary protection will remove this consideration from the Minister for Immigration's discretionary powers and will thereby increase accountability and transparency, which is a good thing.

I am sure that there will be those opposite—and we have heard a few speak in this debate—who may seek to portray the introduction of complementary protection as a softening or a confusion of the government's policy and who will seek to cause concern and confusion in their communities regarding Australia's immigration policy. Regrettably, many of those who choose to trade in fear and division when it comes to Australia's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers do nothing to add to this debate. The base politics of fear, practised by the opposition, is in fact a barrier to reaching sensible policy solutions to the issue of asylum seekers that were so passionately and recently advocated by the member for Pearce in her contribution to this debate. It is somewhat difficult to be heard above the shouting by those opposite on this issue, but that does not mean that we will give up trying to reach sensible policy outcomes. Despite this, I think there is a broad consensus that it would be good to stop refugees paying people smugglers to get on a boat for the highly risky trip to Australia. Labor's approach is to work within our region to develop regional solutions to this problem. Our recent agreement with Malaysia is an example of this.

This agreement, which will be concluded under the regional cooperation framework agreed to at the Bali process ministerial conference in March, is aimed at breaking down the business of people smuggling in a sustainable way. We know that the best way to deter people from getting on a boat to Australia is to clearly demonstrate that it simply does not work. We hope that, with no guarantee they will end up in Australia, people will be less likely to risk the perilous journey by boat. However, in taking this course of action, we also need to be mindful of our international obligations by, in return, accepting a significant number of refugees from Malaysia over the next four years. We cannot adopt an isolationist posture on these matters—that is not the way to get regional cooperation. It has already been pointed out in the course of this debate by the member for Pearce that Malaysia has in excess of 90,000 refugees within its borders. That somewhat puts our domestic debate into perspective, when we consider that at present we are offering humanitarian visas to somewhere in the order of 12,000 to 13,000 refugees—a small fraction of the 90,000 who are living in refugee camps in Malaysia at present. There are equivalent numbers in Indonesia and elsewhere around the region.

Our traditions and history of doing our part as a good international citizen, including in the global response to the mass movement of those seeking asylum, are reflected in the legislation before the House and our approach to a regional solution to people smuggling, mass migration and dealing with refugees. I commend the bill to the House.