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Wednesday, 29 August 2001
Page: 30574

Dr THEOPHANOUS (7:16 PM) —I will be brief, because I understand that it is the desire of the House that this bill should be dealt with and considered in the Senate. I oppose this legislation, but my reasons for doing so have to do with the way in which we have been dealing with this particular crisis. As the member for Calare has said, the situation that we have here is not a question of the law of the sea or of international law; it is a question of humanitarian obligations and the image of this country in the way in which it deals with the refugee issue.

One of the things that has not been mentioned—and many things have been mentioned—is the fact that there are many women and children on this boat.

A government member interjecting—

Dr THEOPHANOUS —The honourable member here said that it has been done deliberately.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Calwell will not respond to interjections.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Why are there so many women and children on this boat? I will tell you why. In 1999 the government introduced legislation on the temporary protection visa which, instead of giving genuine refugees permanent residence, gave them only three years, and it also prohibited them from bringing their wives and children to Australia. As a result of that, there is only one course left to these people once they have been given genuine refugee status—that is, to get their children and their wives onto boats.

Government members interjecting—

Dr THEOPHANOUS —The honourable members here are interjecting again. I challenge you to do this: why don't you look at the details of this and see how many people on this boat have relatives in Australia—that is, people who have been granted refugee status in Australia?

There is a second consequence of the 1999 act.

Government members interjecting—

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Mr Speaker, they have had their say.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Calwell has the call.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —There is a second consequence of the 1999 decision. The message has gone back that, if you come only by yourself and you do not bring your wife and children, they will never be able to join you. So what is happening? Whole families are coming now because of this law. So much for the deterrence principle of the minister. Instead of it being a deterrent, it is actually leading to a humanitarian situation in which women and children are on these boats and in danger.

I ask the Prime Minister: if you push this ship out into international waters, how will that solve the crisis? Do you expect that Indonesia is going to accept them? Do you expect that Norway is going to accept them? Or is Australia going to be put in the situation where it continues to have to supply food, water and medicines to these people for weeks? Is that the situation? How can this conceivably be a wise decision? Governments should have a certain wisdom in relation to these humanitarian crises. We need a wise decision here. If these people are admitted into Australia and dealt with quickly, those who are genuine refugees and pass our process can be admitted to Australia, and those who are not can be deported. The situation is wrong if we completely ignore our international obligations in relation to this matter, and this is the real issue here.

I also support the point made by the opposition leader that this bill is so wide that in humanitarian situations to occur in the future we would actually give the right to certain ministers and to certain bureaucrats to actually push people out of our waters who are in danger and who are in trouble. How can we make a decision like this at this hour on this day, without first debating it throughout the whole of society and throughout the whole of parliament?

We have to not only oppose this bill but also start thinking, Prime Minister, about what is going to be a realistic solution to this matter. This issue will not go away. You can push this ship into international waters, but you cannot—

A government member interjecting—

Dr THEOPHANOUS —The honourable member asked me what my policy is. Why don't we first find out. Why don't you put—

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Calwell will address his remarks through the chair.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —All right. The honourable member raised an issue about policy. Instead of sending defence forces, instead of simply deciding to push this ship out in this way, why don't we send somebody who can find out how many of these people do have relatives in Australia and do have genuine reasons for coming here? This is an attempt to try to suggest that somehow our international sovereignty is in danger, when it is not. It is an attempt to use this refugee issue in a political way.

I say that it will not solve the crisis in relation to this ship. Even if you push it into international waters, the situation will continue. Ultimately, we will have to accept humanitarian responsibility for these people and process them in the proper way through our refugee system, Prime Minister. And you may think that you can push this ship out into international waters and somehow deal with the crisis; it will not deal with the crisis. The only way to deal with this crisis is to deal with it in a humanitarian way through showing some consideration for these people in trouble.

Question put:

That the motion (Mr Howard's) be agreed to.

A division having been called and the bells having been rung—

Mr Lee —Mr Speaker, the time has been up for about a minute.

Mr SPEAKER —I thank the member for Dobell. I was in consultation with the Clerk.