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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 31105


Mr HARDGRAVE (11:31 AM) —I am delighted to stand and support the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 6) 2001. Noting that the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs is in the chamber to be part of this debate, I take the opportunity to congratulate him on the safe set of hands that he has brought to a very difficult set of circumstances in our nation's history. People in my electorate are very supportive of the minister's very sober and direct concern for the importance of the integrity of our immigration system.

As you may know, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the last decade a lot of people in my electorate have come to this country through the immigration system in various categories: free migrants of one form or another, family reunion migrants and, importantly, refugee and humanitarian settlement migrants. To a man and woman, they have come to me and said, `We need to ensure that our immigration system is very pro-Australian in its logic and very supportive of those who come through it in its execution, because we need to know, as refugees, that our position in Australia is enhanced, not detracted from, by the developments that have been occurring with criminal elements trying to force people onto us, as they have been doing in increasing numbers in recent years.' Let me say that another way. Refugees in particular that have come through the system, received UNHCR qualification as a refugee and come as one of the 12,000 per year to this country to be settled, are very supportive of government efforts to enforce our right to choose the type of people we want to settle here: to choose not on the basis of race, religion or political affiliation but on the basis of their integrity, on law abiding and criminality factors, and also on health matters.

People in my electorate who are refugees are also very supportive of measures which say that people who want to come and settle in this country but who, before they even arrive, have shown they have no regard at all for the laws of this country are not the sort of people they want to see coming into this nation to receive the same status that they have. They do not want to see people forcing themselves onto us, paying heaps of money to criminal elements to float them to us, and receiving the same status as genuine refugees who have done the hard yards that the system we have in this country dictates. They are concerned—as I am and as I am sure all Australians are who genuinely have the best interests of genuine refugees at heart—about Australia being seen by some as a soft touch, being seen by criminal elements to our north and west as being incredibly vulnerable because of our good nature, and therefore able to be exploited. They are very concerned that government must act and they support the action that this minister, this government, is undertaking.

We are facing now in this country a real understanding, perhaps for the first time, about the extent of the commitment that Australia and Australians have undertaken towards genuine refugees. It is extraordinary to me that, if any good thing has come out of media hyperbole in the last few weeks, it is that more and more Australians actually understand what we do. More and more Australians have a good understanding that when you have come through the system, when you have come through the UNHCR and fronted here as a person of good character and good health and are given the opportunity to settle here, Australia does the right thing by you as a settling refugee. Australia does in fact have, on a per capita basis, the second largest intake of refugees in the world. People are celebrating that commitment. I am finding that people are more and more enriched in the knowledge that we, as a generous nation, are doing our bit. There are some who would like to see us do more, and I can certainly say that there are a lot of people with the right attitudes wanting us to do more. But, at the same time, if we do not have in place a series of conditions, then we are letting down those who come here. We have not just simply given refuge to people; we have taken on a responsibility.

In the past 5½ years that I have been a member of this place, I have met and dealt day to day with people who have settled here from difficult parts of our world—nations such as those in the Horn of Africa: Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Sudan. They are people who have stood and waited patiently—maybe not so patiently some days— in places like the Kakuma refugee camp outside Nairobi. I have come to understand a little more about what a wonderful country we live in and how much we as Australians who were born here—not Australians by choice but Australians by birth—have to love and nurture what we have in this country perhaps more than we have before. That people would aspire to come here is very understandable. Many families have told me stories that simply horrify me. Without wanting to name names, I have told the minister a few of these stories. He understands some of these examples, because what I see he sees 300-fold, and his experience in this place dictates that it is probably many thousand-fold. He understands exactly the circumstances and conditions.

The places with the turmoil that has been left behind may change, the faces of the individuals involved may change, but the stories are true. I know of people who have come here—people in crisis who have watched their father killed before them. I see people who have come here, having been assaulted and raped because they have been in a different political circumstance from another. I see people who have come here with virtually nothing to their name. I know they are refugees and I am proud that this country gives them a place where they now can find some chance to gain the footing they need to get back the dignity that they have lost and to create a future that they want for their children and grandchildren. They are the refugees. I am proud to be part of a country that does its bit to try to create a good circumstance for those shattered individuals.

I read an article in today's Australian about Afghans on board the MV Tampa. Afghanistan is a shattered country. It is a nation that will face, I suspect, some form of terminal turmoil in the weeks ahead. It is a nation that has been racked by war and by political divisions. I understand all of that, and everybody on this side understands it too. That article about `Ali' in the Australian states:

His uncle paid an agent to get him to Australia. He doesn't know how much, but he knows Australia was the cheapest destination. He walked about 20km over the border to Pakistan, from there he flew to Bangkok and then to Singapore, and finally travelled to Malaysia.

From Malaysia he sailed to Jakarta, where he met many others ... and they began the journey to Australia ...

That is after having paid criminals to get him on board an Indonesian boat to float him to Australia. I do not suspect that he fits into the same category that exists for people whom I know in my electorate who have not faced the ease with which that chap was floated to Australia. I have no idea whether `Ali' will ultimately be judged by the UNHCR to be a refugee. I have no knowledge of whether `Ali'—it is a pseudonym— will finally find settlement here in Australia. But he has enough money to pay people and fly from this country and fly to that country—not `flees' but `flies'. There is a distinction between him and a number of people that I know in my electorate. It is important that that distinction is enforced in legislation. If we do not have distinctions that say that if there is no order there is chaos, we are letting down the genuine refugees.

Those of us who have been raised as Christians—it is not true just for Christians, it is true for all the great religions of the world such as Islam, the Jewish community, the Hindus and the Buddhists—have a care and concern for others. But how can we exercise properly a care and concern for others if those who deserve our care and concern most of all are kept out while those who have the capacity to do something for themselves are pushing or buying their way in? How can we legitimately say that we are taking the worst set of problems and dealing with them? How can we honestly say that we are helping the most needy if we allow a system whereby money dictates that some jump ahead of the queue? How can we? How can we honestly say that we are doing our very best by the genuine refugees of the world? At the end of the day, this legislation, which is all about winding back some of the judicially inspired softening of our standards over the last 12 years, is all about trying to target the most needy first. This legislation, the border protection bill and other matters that the government has been working on to try to deal with the flood of criminally motivated, criminally sponsored asylum seekers coming to this shore are about making sure that we help those who need the help most of all get it first of all.

I welcome the fact that the Australian Labor Party have revised their circumstances and their standing on these matters, probably after having received the shock phone calls in their electorate offices that I would expect them to receive from Australians who were outraged when they saw money buying a way around the queue. They have revised their circumstances and are looking at ways of trying to assist the government with the passage of the legislation. I welcome that. I worry, though, as the minister highlighted in question time the other day, that their support would dissolve if they were elected to public office, to run the government of this country at the forthcoming election. I worry that Labor's current position is more about managing the politics until an election than dealing with the reality of trying to run the country. I worry that Labor's commitment to the government's efforts to deal with this to make sure that those who need the help most get it first of all extends only until the polls close at 6 o'clock after the election is called. I worry that Labor, given the chance and the usual nod and wink that they give to different groups in the community, will look at ways to wind back what the government is doing. Therefore, for genuine refugees in this country, I worry that their position, their status and the care and concern that should be prioritised to them may be watered down by Labor's cynical approach. Let me walk away from that argument because I do not want those opposite to think that I will not give them the benefit of many doubts or that I will not give them the benefit of thinking that they may have realised that, on reflection, their rush to oppose has been rescinded. I welcome their support.

In all matters to do with immigration policy and legislation, it is extremely important—and it is a hallmark of the legislation which has been brought into this place by this minister—that the integrity of the system that governs immigration is upheld. It is vital. It is important that Australians by birth, Australians by choice or Australians who have sought refuge here are all well satisfied that the system is getting the very best set of outcomes for this country. It is important that the system is offering support to those who need it most of all, first of all. It is important for those who have come here as refugees, who may have been involved in some political activity in their own country. We are a nation that believes in free speech, but there are nations around the world where free speech results in persecution and death. I know people in my electorate who have been given refuge here because of their activities in their old countries. They were involved with a different viewpoint in the operation of their nation's national debate and they were persecuted. It is important that we ensure that those people do not face any form of threat from some who may happen to present a reasonable case, come to this country and perhaps operate as sleepers for a different point of view from theirs. There are people in this nation today who worry about those sorts of things. It is important that valid documentation be expected and demanded.

According to the standards of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are 23 million people around the world who are refugees. Under the Australian standards, which have been broadening the categorisation of refugees, there are between 150 million and 200 million refugees, such is the extent of the judicially inspired softening of our standards over the past dozen years. According to the UNHCR, there are 23 million refugees, as opposed to between 150 million and 200 million if you apply the current Australian standards to the world.

No doubt each of those people has their own story, set of horrors and set of reasons for seeking refuge somewhere else. However, by definition, refugees get away from danger and from a place of persecution, and find a place where they are safer. Refugees should not be in a position where they are paying agents to fly them around several countries and make lifestyle choices that bring them to another country. I would expect refugees to seek the opportunity, if at all possible, to go to the nearest place of refuge or to wait their turn through the UNHCR to test their credentials beside all the others who are waiting and to find how they are positioned.

It is extraordinary to think that some are so lacking in confidence about how well they would qualify under the UNHCR standards, which are tougher than our own standards, that they would pay money to go around the UNHCR queue and just lob here and demand that they be treated with the sort of support, respect and concern that genuine refugees who come to this country get. I find it sad to think that anybody would suspect that that was the right way to run a system. What they are really saying is, `Forget the standards. Forget the tests. Forget the paperwork and the documentation. The only paper we want is the folding stuff. We want a system that says dollars buy you passage and dollars buy you refuge.' I do not understand how anybody can think that that is a legitimate way to run a proper system of refugee and humanitarian support. In that regard, this legislation ensures that this country continues to prioritise those who deserve the help and that we do our part, and there is no way that we can possibly look at trying to expand our contribution to assistance for genuine refugees when the system is under such threat from those who try to claim their own importance by hiding behind a tag of refugee and a standard for which they do not rightly qualify.

As the debate about this legislation continues, I will be interested to note the level of commitment to those who are already here in this country who have qualified under the UNHCR standards under which Australia takes 12,000 each year. As a country, we have a responsibility to give those people the support they need and the encouragement to grow. We have a responsibility to give them the opportunity to realise something for their families and that should be at the forefront of our thinking. We can take more people on— and we will—but we cannot walk away from the commitment we already have to those who have come here. In that regard, this legislation is important for another reason: we must concentrate our efforts on those who are here and who we have taken on already.

I will echo another set of words from the member for Bowman. He observed that if the minister has some discretion over those who finally come through the door, that is another reason to feel well satisfied that this legislation is a good thing. I welcome the support of the Australian Labor Party and I again congratulate the minister on his ongoing efforts and his commitment to this nation and all its people, no matter where they have come from and no matter under what circumstances.