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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6322


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (12:13): I rise to speak to the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 and to put on the record that the Australian Greens will not be supporting this bill. While a number of the amendments to various schedules do relate to administrative issues, they are amendments that have been brought forward by the government to circumvent rulings by court decisions that have happened over the last little while. We are concerned that these measures put a number of vulnerable people at potential risk, whereas it may have been better for the department to work out a way of managing its bureaucracy rather than pushing the burden onto the individual applicant. As we know, many people who apply for asylum in Australia, if they come by boat, are found to be in genuine need of protection, so they are already in a high-vulnerability group.

We believe that this bill will have significant implications for people seeking to engage Australia's protection obligations. It will undermine access to fair, just and due process. We are concerned in particular by the changes in relation to the new application measures, particularly for minors. We believe this may put refugee children at higher risk of not being given protection; also, women are at risk of abuse at the hands of former partners. We are concerned that those women may not now be able to apply for protection simply because of these changes.

This bill will prevent individuals with genuine claims lodging further protection applications, limit a migration assistant's ability to act on behalf of their client—we know that this is really important, particularly for the many people who have been in detention for a long time—and increase the likelihood of Australia breaching its non-refoulement obligations. That is in relation to the schedule allowing somebody to be forcibly returned even if they have a bridging visa application on foot.

Australia has obligations under the refugee convention and international law not to return people to places where they would be at risk of significant harm. These obligations simply cannot be dismissed just because the government and the department want a way of circumventing their own bureaucracy. It is not just an administrative issue, when you are looking at people's applications. For people who are applying for protection it is a matter of life and death. It cannot simply be 'Oh well, administratively that's too cumbersome so we'll try and short-circuit it.' Come up with a smoother way, rather than a way of trying to avoid giving people a fair go.

Despite the experts telling a parliamentary inquiry they had serious concerns about the amendments proposed in this bill, the government and the opposition are clearly both in support of this piece of legislation and so it will pass the Senate today. I again put on the record the Greens' concerns in relation to this. We would have preferred to have seen a more protection focused piece of legislation that still dealt with the administrative issues without putting people at further risk.

The Australian Greens do not support this bill. We believe it is another step by this government, which we know is relentless, in their attempt to limit protection avenues for refugees who are in genuine need of protection. This government is headstrong in doing everything they possibly can to limit the ability of people who need protection to get it. Every piece of migration legislation or regulation that has come before this place since this government took office a year ago has been to punish those who are most vulnerable—to punish refugees and asylum seekers. Rather than dealing with the administrative issues in a humane way, this government has again used it as an opportunity to kick refugees at a moment when applications are on foot. Children who need help with putting forward new applications and women who are at risk of further abuse from former partners will now have no avenue to reapply for protection. We think that is a fundamental problem with this piece of legislation. We will not be supporting it.