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Tuesday, 26 June 2001
Page: 28628

Mr HOLLIS (10:40 PM) —In the last 15 minutes of the sitting last Thursday, a piece of legislation called the Migration Legislation Amendment (Immigration Detainees) Bill 2001 was rammed through this House. I do not want to debate that bill, because it has gone on. I was going to speak on it, but I did not get to speak because it was allocated only 15 minutes. During my 18 years as a member of this parliament, many pieces of legislation with which I am proud to be associated have come forward, from both sides. This bill is not such legislation. I would have opposed the legislation for what it does to people and the image it sends out about Australia.

Australia does have a well-deserved reputation as a protector of human rights and an enviable record of accepting and resettling refugees. Why is it that many newspaper articles and editorials have drawn attention to detention centres in the past couple of weeks? Last Wednesday, the Canberra Times editorialised that the detention centres are a disgrace. The Australian headline was `Ruddock must see sense on refugees', and so it goes on.

Of course, the response of the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs is that those of us who worked on the Human Rights Subcommittee to bring down a report on detention centres did not put in the hard yards, we were not worldly-wise, we were a soft touch and we were naive. Why, I wonder, is it that everyone is taking a different point of view from that of the minister? The number is growing daily and, be they bishops, lawyers, trade unionists, international organisations, NGOs or politicians, they are always verbally abused by the minister. We cannot all be wrong all of the time. All wisdom in dealing with refugees, asylum seekers or detainees—and it is a very difficult topic—does not reside with the minister alone. There is an increasing tendency for anyone daring to disagree with government policy to be roundly condemned and abused.

I well remember, as one who is old enough, that I was opposed to Australia's involvement in Vietnam and that I was called naïve and wrong. I was also the chair of the parliamentary anti-apartheid group, and again I was condemned and told I was naïve and wrong. And so it is in relation to the detainees. I do believe—and I do not say this lightly—that sooner or later there will be a death or deaths at one of these centres. All of the ingredients are there. Instead of looking at alternative measures, this minister will not consider an alternative point of view. The result he claims to want to avoid will be inevitable. There will be more riots and, I fear, sooner or later a death.

As I speak, there are plans to spend even more money on security measures at detention centres to make them more impregnable. A new security fence is to go up at Port Hedland at a cost in excess of $3.6 million. The reason for the new fence is to control an increasingly noncompliant detainee population, says the minister. Let me tell the minister: if I were languishing in the hellhole that is Port Hedland, I would be noncompliant too. Another $2 million will be spent to make Maribyrnong even more impregnable.

I received a letter, as most members did, last Thursday afternoon, outlining the facilities at the detention centres. Well, they must have improved greatly since I was there, with the 700 plants for Woomera and various other things. In every disturbance at a detention centre, you see an interview with many people but never with a detainee. Why are the media not given access to detainees? Why are they not told of the provocation towards these people? I saw many times the video made of the Port Hedland disturbance, and that video is shown time and time again. But there is never any airing of the taunts of the guards and other acts that take place. I am also very concerned about the so-called weapons haul. Even today we had Minister Ruddock saying:

In detention, people receive a very high quality medical advice and some might say of a higher standard than is available to the Australian community as a whole.

This is similar to the statement that he made recently that the housing there is better than most Australians live in. That is absolute nonsense. I do not know where the minister lives, but his standard would most certainly be much better than the detention centre. There was a letter in the West Australian today from one R.J. McLean, talking about holidays and resorts. He said that if it was good enough for the military and the mining people, it was—(Time expired)