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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5496

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (09:57): I start with the question that my colleague Senator Milne started with, which was: how long? How long are we going to be inflicting on desperate refugees detention on Nauru, in an environment that we know causes extreme mental stress? It is all very well to say, 'It's not going to be the same as it was before.' Australians should not be fooled; it will be. It will be the same as before. We are stripping out of the act the ability to offer protections and the necessity and requirement to offer support and protections. That is the very issue that we are talking about here, because we cannot guarantee those legally binding protections, so we are stripping those away. So it is going to be even worse than before, because we cannot enforce those protections. We know we cannot enforce those protections. So I go back to the question: how long? A decade? Longer? We know people have been in Indonesia, Malaysia and these other areas for that long, so how long do the government and the opposition think that we are going to be keeping people there?

My colleague Senator Hanson-Young demonstrated very, very clearly what impact it has already had on vulnerable refugees—people that are fleeing for their lives. Put yourself in their situation. They are being persecuted in their homeland. They are leaving their families and loved ones, often their wives, their children, their mothers, their brothers, their sisters, their fathers, their extended family—leaving them because they are being persecuted. Surveys showed that 96 per cent of Australians, when asked if they would do anything they could to protect themselves and their families, said that they would and, yes, they would flee.

And what happens when they flee when, as in a lot of cases, they have been tortured and subject to persecution? They get to a country that is saying: 'No; go. We don't want you here.' Because this is what this policy is about. Let's face it. This country is saying, 'We don't want those people here,' not that 'We understand your pain, we understand the torment in your homeland and we welcome you.' No. 'We'll lock you up even longer and punish you for wanting to have a better life and protect your family and your children. And we'll lock up your children at the same time, indefinitely, so they grow up in detention.' And then, in the future, will we recognise that, like we have this time, and have to compensate them? Yes, we will, of course.

Why not treat people fairly now like we have in the past? Why not accept that people are being damaged, that people are fleeing persecution, torture and distress in their own homelands? We see it every night on our television. Those are human beings that are being impacted. They are being bombed, tortured, persecuted for what they say. We have been having a debate in this country about freedom of speech; but, when we see people doing that in other lands and then being persecuted for it, we want to turn a blind eye, punish them even further, lock them up again and torture and persecute them even more. It will end up leading to the inevitable lifelong consequences of poor mental health.

And we know these things have lifelong consequences. In this country we are dealing with other people who have been mistreated by the system, and we know of their lifelong consequences and are still dealing with it decades down the track. That is what we are going to be doing with this proposal.

The Greens are deeply committed to caring for and looking after refugees and people in general. That is where we come from. We have been working hard to find an approach to a complex problem. No-one is denying that it is a complex problem, but people take desperate actions when they are fleeing for their lives, and we need to recognise that. We are supposed to be a caring and compassionate society, and what is caring and compassionate about locking people up again indefinitely and stripping away our requirements under our legislation to look after and offer protection to people? I ask again: what is caring and compassionate about it? The government cannot even answer how long we are going to be locking people up for, how long we are condemning people for. That is not caring and compassionate.

The sorts of things that we are stripping away by this act are our requirements to provide access for asylum seekers to effective procedures for assessing their need of protection, providing protection for asylum seekers pending determination of a refugee solution, providing protection for persons given refugee status pending their voluntary return to their country of origin or their resettlement to another country and also making certain that countries meet certain human rights standards in providing that protection. Stripping those requirements out, we do not have to do that anymore. How does that make us a caring and compassionate country when we are amending those particular requirements? How does it make us a caring and compassionate country when we are amending the Migration Act and the requirements for guardianship of children, when we are allowing the transfer to countries and areas where we cannot guarantee protections for these desperate people? These are people we are talking about. We cannot guarantee those protections.

Weigh the fact that people have already taken their lives in their hands by fleeing their birth country. That is a huge commitment these people have made; and, instead of recognising that and recognising that people who are fleeing for their lives take desperate measures, looking at how we can address that in a much more compassionate and regional approach, we are saying: 'We don't want you here. We're going to do everything we can to stop you actually being in Australia. We're going to put you in an environment that we know damages you. We know you're already damaged; we're going to put you in that environment again. We're going to repeat the mistakes of history because we are incapable of learning it—because we are so desperate not to have you in our country that we'll change our laws to make it so we don't have to ensure that these countries are complying with human rights measures and law. We'll change it because we're so desperate not to.' What does that say about our country?

It is a nonsense to wrap this up with, 'Oh, we're trying to stop people getting in boats.' People will continue to get in boats because they are that desperate. They will continue to get in boats and are going to have even fewer protections. Why are we not going back, as my colleague Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has said, to the countries these people have made it to, processing them and facilitating their applications, not making them wait for years and years where they have no protections?

These are desperate people and, over the years, their children will grow from small children to young adults. They will spend their whole lives in this unstable, dangerous situation where they do not have access to education, to adequate housing and to other protections that Australians take for granted. For all their lives all these children will know is poverty, desperation and in many situations cruelty. They will not be afforded basic human rights. By passing this legislation, this country is saying, 'That's okay with us.'

We need to put resources into addressing refugee applications and increase our humanitarian intake immediately. But, instead of doing that, we are saying to these people: 'We will punish you people some more.' We will punish you for what? 'We will punish you for coming from a country that is subject to strife, where the same democratic freedoms that we take for granted are not available to you. We will punish you for having the initiative to want to protect your family and your life. We will punish you some more for having the capacity, the initiative and the desire to live your life with the freedoms that we all take for granted in a democratic country. We will punish you some more because you have not found the mythical queue; you are not sitting in it being subject to persecution while we process your application.' When these people do try to find a place where there may be a queue, we make them sit there for years and years. What is our response to that? It is: 'We are going to change our legislation so that we do not even have to make sure that you are subject to human rights laws where you are staying.' We have gone that low in this country that we think that is acceptable. We think it is acceptable that refugees are treated in the manner that we are seeing them being treated now.

We have to remember what the term 'refugees' means. We think it is acceptable that we strip away our requirements for human rights to apply. What we are saying to the refugees is: 'You shouldn't be trying to get out of those desperate situations; sit there and suck it up.' That is what we are saying. Let us see this for what it is. We are prepared for Australia to participate in a process whereby we sink to such a low level that we ignore our commitment to human rights laws and conventions.

Attacks were made on us yesterday because of the position we are taking on this legislation. Me thinks it is because the people who are making those attacks are too ashamed of the approach that their side has taken. They gave in. They did not try and push for what needs to be done. They caved in to ignoring our commitment to human rights conventions and laws. They have been shown up, even by the Houston report, on the Malaysia solution. Instead of looking at the position they took, they want to come out and attack us for trying to find real solutions, because the solutions that the government and the opposition are proposing will not work. They will lead to the further degradation of desperate human beings and to the further damaging of these human beings. The way you stop people getting into boats is by dealing with them at the place where they land. You make sure that they are not sitting in the so-called queues. There are no queues. They are sitting in desperate situations and not being supported. We need to increase our humanitarian intake. We need to increase resources in order to process people more quickly rather than condemning them to indefinite detention. This legislation is about indefinite detention. I certainly have not heard any answers to the questions that have been posed on how long we will be condemning people to live in these circumstances.

We will oppose this legislation. We will stand up for the rights of refugees. We will stand with all the refugee groups who are saying that this legislation is not the solution. We say: listen to the community; listen to the groups, to the organisations and to the people who have been working for years with refugees to find real solutions that are long term—not a short-term one where you get it out of the way for a little while and out of the headlines; where you say, 'It does not matter that we are condemning people to long-term detention and all that goes with that.' Implement proper solutions. Where is the commitment? Where is the government's announcement that it is immediately going to increase our intake? Do people know that they have an option: the hellhole where they are now or a hellhole somewhere else? Give people a future. Give people a bright future. Give children a bright future. The thing that we in Australia all think about for our children is that they have a bright future in a country where they have access to all of the services that we take for granted. That is what we want for the refugees and their children rather than them ending up in indefinite detention on Nauru or Manus Island or wherever else the government picks on next to shuffle off people so that they are out of sight.

This is not the way that a caring and compassionate country addresses the needs of people who are desperate, people who have been subject to persecution and torture. But what do we do about that? We prolong that as well. This is not good enough for Australia, and we say no to this legislation.