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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5552

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (13:50): As a number of my colleagues have remarked, it also gives me no pleasure whatsoever to rise and speak in opposition to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2012. I will briefly reflect, as many of us have, on the circumstances that brought us here. In 2010, new Prime Minister Gillard delivered a speech on the question of boat arrivals and expressed the need to protect our way of life. Thereby, she bought entirely into this disingenuous conflation of two completely distinct issues, that of asylum seekers—refugees, people fleeing war, violence, ethnic cleansing in our region or other parts of the world—and border protection, as though these were somehow the same issue.

The conflation of those two issues was very effectively developed and deployed by a former Prime Minister, John Howard, and former immigration minister Philip Ruddock. It has been extraordinary listening to contributions from the other side over the last 24 hours celebrating the fact that 'we are back; we were right and we are here again'. Prime Minister Gillard went on to say, 'I understand the anxiety in the community around boat arrivals' and it is on this foundation that the notion that refugees are a threat to our way of life, and that the anxiety around them is therefore justified, should even be talked up or encouraged. All subsequent Labor and coalition discussion has rested on this policy. The ALP has completely accepted the toxic and inaccurate premise of the debate set by the coalition. The premise goes virtually unchallenged within the public pronouncements of the major parties. It has been left to the Greens to put what seems to us so obvious into the public record.

The ethical thing for the new Prime Minister to have done would have been to show leadership on the issue. I think that is what former Prime Minister Rudd and his frontbench had attempted to do in the moves that they made, when they came to power, to formally and legislatively reject the Pacific solution that was in place. Prime Minister Gillard could have continued down that course and she did not. By validating people's fear of this tsunami, as some coalition MPs have said, of illegal arrivals, this flood of people, the queue jumpers—and we heard that phrase again from the speaker before me—Labor has fallen into the trap predicated on an assumption that not only does the Australian public not know any better but we also cannot know any better. It preaches to a base and, I think, a completely wrong understanding of Australian culture and of the Australian tradition of the fair go. I think it sells us all short.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator LUDLAM: I am going to ignore you, Senator Macdonald, lest I say something that I will regret.

Senator Cash interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fawcett ): Order! Senators on my left are reminded that senators have the right to be heard in silence.

Senator LUDLAM: The proclamations and the policies from the ALP and the coalition suggest that they believe a solution is something that frightens asylum seekers away from Australia. We have heard a great deal from both sides of the chamber on that premise in the last few days. The problems are that people flee their homelands, that the processes for application abroad are painfully and dangerously slow, if they exist at all, that other countries are ruthlessly cruel to refugees and that the heads of the smuggler rings take advantage of a ready supply of desperate people, to fleece them of their savings and offer them a cramped spot on a voyage that might kill them. Until the major parties publicly accept this entire picture and not just one convenient element of it, there will not be any solution.

We have always opposed Labor's Malaysia solution because it is a people-dumping proposal. Put quite simply, it is a live people trade of 800 asylum seekers—who are to be made an example of to other people who might be seeking to make a voyage, to rot behind barbed wire, effectively forever—in exchange for 4,000 people who had already been accepted as refugees, living freely but not particularly welcome in Malaysia. In August 2001, as senators know, that disastrous people-dumping scheme was rejected by the High Court in a case brought by David Mann of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre. Mann is the grandson of refugees who fled the Nazis—with the help of people smugglers. To him, the notion that people could reach Australian waters to claim asylum and then be sent to a third country where the human rights, on the balance of the evidence, would put them in very serious danger was morally and legally repulsive, and fortunately the High Court agreed. The decision not only rendered the Malaysian people-dumping project illegal; it also cast doubt on the legality of all offshore processing, including on Nauru.

For that reason, the Greens opposed Mr Oakeshott's bill, which effectively stripped out what little protections exist in the current law, and we therefore oppose this bill. To support either would have marked a 180-degree turn on long-held principles and policies, and it would have been an offence to reason and decency and a betrayal not only of the people who are seeking refuge here in Australia but also of the many Australians who trusted us with their votes, knowing where we stand.

A real regional solution would involve supporting human rights abroad not only in the countries from which people originally fled—some that we have recently invaded—but also in those countries through which people pass on their way to Australia. That means overhauling Australia's overseas asylum application system so that it is no longer prohibitively slow, and significantly increasing Australia's humanitarian intake. Some of these recommendations were taken up by the recent expert panel and some of these recommendations, we hope, will not be lost in the appalling furore that has erupted in this parliament over the last few days.

The UNHCR's annual budget in Indonesia is around $6 million. If the government and the opposition are serious about saving lives, why not support the UNHCR in providing a safe pathway to asylum for genuine refugees. Most of the people who do find a way here are genuine refugees—as everybody knows and I think most senators on both sides acknowledge this—and are seeking to escape the kind of violence that we would not subject ourselves or our families to were it occurring here.

The word 'queue' is thrown around to depict boat arrivals as sneaky and unjust—or even unchristian, one of the strangest contributions to the debate that I have heard so far. In Indonesia, the wait in the queue to be resettled from refugee camps is 76 years. An immediate increase in UNHCR funding of at least $10 million from Australia would at least increase the capacity to assess asylum applications. This was rejected by the major parties.

Early last year a Hazara refugee in the Leonora detention centre told a journalist this:

The people of Australia must understand we are not criminals, we are homeless. If peace in Afghanistan come back, we can’t stay (in Australia) because we love our country, we all want to help our nation. If Afghanistan have peace—no body come across a big ocean with 99 per cent chance of death for 1 per cent chance, in small boat come here and many Afghani died in Malaysia to Indonesia trip, this ocean … All Afghani people take risk and our life risk because they want to work here for peace … Their life in danger—because of this they cross the ocean to reach here and want protected in Australia.

That is something that has been so completely lost in this debate. How dangerous and how serious does your deterrent have to be? If you want to break the so-called business model of the people smugglers you need to be scarier than drowning, war, ethnic cleansing and torture, and more of a deterrent than the things that these people are justifiably fleeing from. We all know that that simply will not happen.

These processes that are combined with the oppressive and dangerous conditions in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and other states from which people arrive here seeking refuge provide the customers for the so-called business model of the people smugglers. Instead of making the alternative more accessible so that people do not climb onto these vessels in the first place, the major parties' approach is to make the smugglers' path undesirable by making the destination scarier than war, ethnic cleansing, torture, systematic rape and violence that these people are fleeing. The major parties believe a successful policy is one that makes refugees believe that they are better off facing repression in Iran, violence in Afghanistan or persecution in Malaysia than they are by reaching Australia's waters by boat. We have reached a point where this is how Labor and the coalition define success and history I believe will see it differently.

Debate interrupted.