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Thursday, 16 August 2012
Page: 5682


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (21:34): I rise to support the amendment that there be a sunset clause in this legislation. I think, when people realise just how appalling it is and realise what a shocking destination Nauru is for dumping refugees and how much money it is going to cost Australia to go through with this appalling cruelty to people, the sunset clause will not come fast enough. Clearly, we have not been able to get out of the government any indication of what indefinite detention means. It could be many years or decades. All we have got is an assurance from the minister that somehow it will mean that for people sent there there will be a no-disadvantage clause, and we do not know what that means in terms of how many years someone is going to be dumped on Nauru for. The minister has not been able to tell us anything about whether Nauru can provide water. We do not even know if it can provide a reliable source of energy, for example, because that was one of the major problems for that detention centre previously.

I come to the issue of the minister saying this whole thing is about implementing the Houston review. Well, it is not. It is implementing bits of it—a couple of bits—and it is not implementing those properly because the Houston review made very specific requirements that were consistent with our obligations under international law and specified a range of conditions which had to be met. Clearly, the minister has not been able to provide any assurance about those conditions being met, so they are not even implementing in full those bits of the Houston report that have been recommended, let alone all of the report. The whole justification here is saving lives at sea, so, Minister, not only will I be very interested in Minister Clare's explanation as to why he did not know about the boat after the Palestinian representatives informed the government weeks ago; I will also be really interested to know why, when Australia knew that the boat that led to this furore in the parliament was in trouble on the Tuesday afternoon, we did not send anyone into the zone to rescue that boat until Thursday afternoon, when people were already in the water. I raised this at the time. The safety of life at sea is paramount. The Greens have pursued this for many years, especially since the sinking of the SIEVX. It is very clear there is a tension between the government's preferred option of deterrence and our obligations under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. We knew on a Tuesday afternoon that a boat was in trouble but we did not send in the rescue until Thursday afternoon, by which time people were in the water and over 90 people drowned.

The government has yet to explain this, and in the estimates process we will be forensic about examining it. But my hunch now is that, contrary to Senator Lundy's claims, we will be told that it is about national security. We will be told that 'it is about intelligence and you can't possibly know that'. Senator Lundy, I will be really interested when we get to the estimates to hear at what point in the chain of command, from intelligence through to on-the-ground operations, somebody made the call to send the rescue in. They made that call too late and 90 people drowned. Let us see. We will find out about that.

That is why I went to the Prime Minister and asked her to codify Australia's responsibilities under our saving life at sea obligations. It was part of the Greens recommendations for the Houston review and it is what Houston recommended, and I will wait and see whether the government is prepared to codify saving lives at sea. Where were the Navy's ships between Tuesday afternoon and Thursday? When we knew that the Indonesians did not have the capacity to mount a rescue mission, that their boats cannot go to sea in anything above four metres, and when we knew that the Indonesians did not have the intelligence capacity to pick up the signals, why is it that we did not say earlier that we were sending in the rescue boats?

So there is a real issue here about who knew what and when and this tension between deterring people and our obligations to rescue people. We heard that ridiculous, appalling and inhumane carping from the coalition about how the Navy is not a search and rescue service, indicating quite clearly that the coalition's view is that they should be left to the last minute otherwise they will be encouraged to get on boats because they will be safely escorted.

So let's get very real about what is going on with this and let's actually look at what we have in front of us, and that is a cruel and inhumane program that is going to send people seeking asylum in our country to be punished further as an example to others and that says: 'You have already been through persecution. We now want to punish you as an example to everybody else. We don't want you in our country'—anywhere else but here. We are giving effect to a piece of legislation that allows a minister to abrogate his responsibility of guardianship to children to enable them to be deported from Australia and sent to a detention centre indefinitely without a guardian.

I feel ashamed as a parliamentarian to think that this parliament is going to just put through this legislation on the say-so that, somehow, these people's rights will be protected, when the legislation specifically says that it does not have to be legally binding and that the rules of natural justice are specifically exempted in relation to this. It is an appalling day for Australia and I could never have believed that we could have gone backwards so far in the last decade when it comes to seeing ourselves as an Asian nation and seeing ourselves as offering some leadership in the region on human rights. I just cannot understand how the government thinks that this is going to in any way do anything other than undermine our global reputation and hold Australia up to ridicule around the world as a country that does not uphold its obligations under the United Nations human rights convention, under the refugee convention and under the rights of the child convention. I think it is a shameful day in Australia's parliamentary history and I would urge the Senate to at least pass this amendment, which would see an end to this appalling regime in no more than two years. At least put a time frame on ending it. Do not just leave it open for even more extreme and cruel acts in the future.