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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5672


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (20:43): I rise in support of my colleague's amendment in terms of a review. It is particularly important that we have a review of this legislation, because the debate tonight has shown very clearly that there is absolutely nothing in place. The government has nothing in the way of conditions.

There are two things happening here. One is an assertion that there will be proper process, that all of the things that the Houston panel had asked for in terms of protections for refugees will be legislated by the government and will be put into place, and then, in the next breath, we hear on the news that the government is telling the defence forces to get the tents to Nauru, get things underway. They are sending people there straightaway, and they have put 220 people on notice that they are at risk of being sent to an offshore location. Subject to the parliament, Nauru and Manus Island, PNG, are currently on the agenda.

So the minister is telling us that there will be laid on the table of this parliament all of the documents which will provide all of the details of the protections and the agreements with the countries—notwithstanding the fact that they are not legally binding—but we have just had the government vote down all of the protections that the Houston review said needed to be in place when Australia looked like sending anyone to one of these offshore locations. They are not in place, and the minister has not been able to tell us in any shape or form how long people are going to be stuck in these places or what is going to happen to them while they are there in terms of health, education, mental health services and all the other services that they need. Under that set of circumstances I think it is entirely reasonable that we say, given the fact that the government cannot answer the questions now and that the government has not been able to say how it will put in place the kinds of protections that are required, that surely the parliament should recognise that if the minister is to be kept to her word it is the parliament which will provide the scrutiny. There should then be a willingness to embrace the idea that the minister would require independent review of this arrangement within 12 months and that review on the protection and welfare arrangements in particular will be then part of a report which has to be released publicly within 14 days of the minister receiving it.

Why is that unreasonable given the minister's complete inability to answer the questions about accommodation? She has not been able to answer a single question about how long those tents are going to be there, when people are going to be able to move into decent accommodation, and how long they are going to be there. We have not had any answers about health and mental health services in particular or any answers about any services. All we know is that there is a wish and a promise that those services will be provided at some point, and we know that children can be sent there with no guardian. We have no idea about the services or for how long. I do not think it is acceptable to have a minister stand up and say, 'I cannot tell you anything at all about how we are going to provide appropriate accommo¬≠dation; I cannot tell you how the appropriate physical and mental health services are going to be carried out; I cannot tell you about access to education and vocational training programs; I cannot tell you about the assistance we might be able to give people during the preparation of their asylum claims; I cannot tell you about the appeal mechanism against negative decisions; I cannot tell you what monitoring of care and protection arrangements by a representative group will be able to be delivered.' She cannot tell us any of those things, but we are voting down a review as well. That is totally inappropriate. The government cannot answer that set of questions and now it is rejecting the idea of an independent review. The minister, the government and the coalition, having abandoned the guardianship of children, are not even prepared now to have a review after 12 months of the services they say they will provide—notwithstanding, as I said, that they are not legally bound to provide then. I want to know why the parliament should have any confidence that this review will be rolled out. If the government are not prepared to support this review, can the minister tell me what exactly are the monitoring and review arrangements that the government has in place?