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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 31108


Mr HOLLIS (11:51 AM) —I am ple-ased to finally take part in a debate concerning migration, having had my name down to speak on several bills over the last couple of weeks and being always shunted off the end of the speaking list. It is interesting that this bill, the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 6) 2001, is one that in the main I am in agreement with. Perhaps that is why I got a spot today. Some of the bills that have been debated over the last couple of weeks I most certainly was very opposed to; indeed, I was opposed to some of the views of my own party. Perhaps that is why I did not get the opportunity to voice my view on some of those bills. In the main, this one I have no great difficulty with—I have some concerns but no great difficulties.

There has been much debate on migration over the last few weeks and especially during the last few days. People are saying that, with this debate we have been having on migration, we have suddenly got a challenge. We have got a challenge because people are moving across borders. It is a new phenomenon; a thing that we have never experienced before. Even the great waves of migration in the last century were nothing as compared with the people movement today. People are moving for all sorts of reasons, from ethnic cleansing and civil wars and, God forbid, to look for a better economic future. So the world is experiencing this new phenomenon.

I must say that sometimes I am immensely proud to be a member of this place and hear some of the speeches made. An example of that was on Monday. But there are other times when I am quite embarrassed at some of the nonsense that is spewed out in this place as people wrap the Australian flag or the banner of Christianity around themselves. I noticed that the honourable member for Moreton was parading his Christianity. Some of the most bigoted and ill-informed comments I have heard on this whole migration debate have been from people professing their Christianity. A good example appeared a couple of weeks ago in the IllawarraMercury. That great Christian, Fred Nile, wrote an article urging the minister that the only refugees he should ever take should be Christian refugees. It does show a certain amount of compassion, and I suppose one should be pleased that Christianity is so alive and thriving in this country!

There has been an unbelievable lot of nonsense spoken during this whole migration debate. One thing we ought to get clear is that we are not facing a flood of people. Britain may be facing a flood of people, Germany may and Holland may, but we most certainly are not.

I must say in all honesty I am not as upset and concerned about people paying to get away from an oppressive regime as some of my colleagues appear to be. Do people really think that you have to be poor and have absolutely nothing to be a genuine refugee? What about the Jews in Nazi Germany? Not all of them were poor; many of them paid to get out of the country. And who would blame them? If I had a couple of kids or even a couple of nephews in Afghanistan and I could not leave but I was a shopkeeper there or I could sell a few things and get the money to give these young people the opportunity to leave that area, of course I would do it. What father wouldn't? The honourable member for Moreton was somehow saying that just because these people paid their way they were not genuine refugees. I have been into the detention centres and Senator Ferguson and I met a couple of young guys at Woomera, and Senator Ferguson said, `How did you get here?' They said, `My uncle or my grandfather paid my way.' I did not think that was a problem.

Put yourself in any parent's place: if the choice was staying in Kabul—which is probably going to have the smittens blown out of it over the next couple of weeks—or taking the opportunity by selling a few goods to get part of your family out of that country, wouldn't any parent take that chance? Now these people are being demonised. Because they paid money to escape that regime, people are saying that they are not genuine refugees. What is the definition of a genuine refugee? The definition of a genuine refugee is a person who has got a well-founded fear of persecution in their own country. My God, if you are not part of the Taliban in Afghanistan today you would have a well-founded fear of persecution in that country. If you were a woman under the Taliban regime who happened to be attracted to a male of a different country you would have a well-founded fear of persecution. If you were a woman who had been raped in one of these countries you would have a well-founded fear of persecution. Wouldn't you want to get out? Of course you would want to get out.

What I do agree on very much with the minister and others is that we have got to do something about the people smugglers— those who are playing on the fears of other people. But we are not going to solve it on our own. It is an international problem. Just as we are seeing an international coalition against terrorism today, we are going to have to have an international coalition dealing with the people smugglers. You hear so much said in this chamber and people get so carried away—we all do; we are all politicians. But this business that we are constantly putting out about us not being a soft touch and that we have to `send the red signal to all these people that we are not a soft touch' goes too far. And to allay our fears, we always say, `How good we have been: we take 12,000 genuine refugees.' If I hear `genuine refugee' again, I think I am going to be sick. All we hear about are genuine refugees. The truth is, Australia has always been hostile to people coming here. Malcolm Fraser made this point a couple of days ago in the SydneyMorningHerald and the Melbourne Age, and it is true.

If you want to look at how paranoid Australia was, read O'Farrell's book on the history of the Irish in Australia. Back at the start of the 18th century the demonised people were the Irish. Now, around this parliament and everywhere else, we trot out our Irish ancestry, real or imagined. One of the biggest parliamentary friendship groups in this place is the Australian-Irish one. The Irish Ambassador comes in here and is treated like a brother. We all search through our family histories trying to see—if we did not come out as a First Fleeter—whether we have a little bit of Irish there somewhere. And these were the people we were demonising in Australia!

I am old enough to remember us talking about wogs and dagos and people living on the smell of an oily rag. Then we had the domino theory: how all these dominoes would fall and the yellow peril would come down to Australia. We have always been frightened of the north. We have always been frightened of people coming here. Today everyone talks about how great we were towards the Vietnamese. Ask a few Vietnamese who came here in boats and landed in Darwin 20 or 25 years ago about the great reception they got! Unlike Nauru, there were not people there in hula dresses presenting them with flags. Go back and look at some of the articles in the papers when the Vietnamese came here in boats 20 years ago and at the xenophobia that was exhibited then. So it goes on. Always in this country there is a competition as to how far we can demonise people. That is what we are doing today. That is what we are continuing to do in this country.

This is the strange paradox about Australia, perhaps the most multicultural nation on earth, a nation where people do live in harmony. I represent the Illawarra area, one of the most multicultural electorates in Australia. We do not have the tensions that many other societies have. We could be seen as a beacon by the rest of the world in regard to how we are able to bring people here and absorb them into our society from all sorts of backgrounds. But what do we do? We always put up these barriers against people coming here. We demonise them.

This has been a very emotional debate, not only here in the chamber but also out there in the community. Last week or the week before for a while I was, if not a celebrity, someone that the media suddenly wanted to speak to. I was interviewed on one of the talkback radio shows, to my eternal shame. I will not say who it was but it was quite a well-known commentator, who said to listeners, `I have got a Labor politician on who is opposed to detention centres.' Then he said, `Look, I don't want to play the race card'—and this is all on air as I was waiting with my earpiece on to go on—`but when those Muslim Lebanese rapists went into the detention centre they got a hero's welcome from the other Muslim Lebanese rapists there.' Then he turned to me and said, `Mr Hollis, you want to open up those detention centres.' That is the sort of misinformation that is out there in this very emotional debate. People should be calming the whole debate down. We have shock jocks and other people out there inflaming the debate. When you talk to anyone about the debate—especially from New South Wales, as it is all wrapped up with that unfortunate rape incident in the western suburbs of Sydney some time ago, or more particularly the prison sentence—you find that it is also linked in now with the dreadful events in New York last week.

I have heard it said in this chamber by the honourable member for Fisher and others that the people coming here on boats are linked with terrorism. To be realistic, if you were coming here as a terrorist, would you come here in sinking, leaking boats with the likelihood of spending the next two years in the harshest and most inhospitable part of Australia? It is absolute rubbish. You would be coming in the business class end of an aeroplane in a suit with a briefcase if you were a terrorist. All the studies show that is how terrorists get into countries. They do not come in in leaking boats. Even the minister himself, or the Prime Minister, identified that there had only been, I think from memory, 11 people who had been found in this way. We really have to bring some rationality and sense into the debate and take the emotion out of it.

I hear members of parliament in here talking about how many messages and phone calls they get in their electorate. Maybe my electorate office is different: I do not know. I have had a couple of calls about my stand on the so-called asylum seekers. A couple have said I should be shot and one said I should be taken out to sea and drowned. A few people have accused me of being un-Australian. Let me tell you this: I have been around this place for over 18 years, and in the last week I have had over 1,000 emails, all supportive of my stand on the asylum seekers, all critical of the government—and, indeed, many times critical of the opposition as well for going along with the government. The speeches being made in this place assume that everyone out there in the community is 100 per cent behind the minister and the government on this issue. Everyone is not. We all want secure borders. I resent it immensely when people say, because you take a different point of view, that somehow you are a traitor—the member for Fisher has accused those who take a different point of view of being traitors—or that somehow you are disloyal or un-Australian.

I am as loyal and patriotic as any other Australian, but let me say this: I do not wrap myself in the flag or Christianity to make a point. I always think that is a very weak argument, when you have to wrap the flag around yourself or parade your Christianity. Let me make this point, though: there are people of goodwill on both sides of this argument. People hold genuine concerns and genuine views. Many of us have not come to this issue latterly. Many of us have been involved in the refugee issue, human rights and such things for very many years. In my own case, it goes back to my university days. I resent that those who take one point of view assume that not only God—whatever God may be, or whatever faith you may belong to—but the flag and the whole patriotic thing are on their side. This debate is incredibly complex. I do not envy the minister his job, and I have said so to the minister. He has a very difficult job to do, and it is a very complex issue.

The answers we are getting around this place are, `Just put a few more fences up and, if we get an overflow of asylum seekers here, give Nauru $20 million and convince them to take some. When Nauru starts to be over-full, okay, have a go at Kiribati and it will take a few.' This country under European settlement started off as a penal colony. We are going to be surrounded by islands around us with penal colonies. That is what they are. You are going to have them in Nauru. The real thing is that New Zealand has, as always, been a little too clever for us. They will take their 180, the doctors and the professional people of that group—and we will take a few—but there will be a whole lot of people on Nauru who do not meet any requirements. And sooner or later, well after the next election, people will wonder what they are going to do with the 400, 500 or 600 people who are languishing on Nauru. Then you have to wonder, when Nauru and Kiribati are full and you cannot build any more detention centres there and you have little island prisons all around Fortress Australia, what we are going to do.

It is, as I say, an incredibly difficult thing. I would ask that we have a little compassion and thought for some of the people who pay to get away from some of the harshest and most repressive regimes in the world. A Four Corners program the other night showed Afghanistan, and people said, `What a terrible place to live!' Of course it is a terrible place to live. Iraqis and Iranians and a lot of those other people are not exactly attending village vicarage parties either. We say that they are awful places to live but, when people seek to escape those regimes, we put all sorts of barriers up.

I have been very concerned over recent weeks about the image Australia has sent to the world. We have always had a good image on human rights issues. During the break, I went through about eight European countries, having a look at their detention centres and talking to various officials about how they deal with this worldwide phenomenon of people movements. People constantly raised with me what the concern of Australia was and they always expressed surprise to me that Australia, which for so many years had had such a good record, was now overreacting to a problem that many other countries have dealt with in a much more sympathetic and humane way. Having said all that, along with my party, with reservations, I will support the bill before the House.