Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 3414


Mr GILES (Scullin) (18:46): In making my remarks on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016, I want to talk about weakness and about toughness. These are two heavy words that have been lightly thrown by government members, including the Prime Minister and the minister for immigration, in the course of this debate.

I want to say this to government members: there is nothing tough about Minister Dutton and his administration of this portfolio. There is nothing tough about this government's approach to this policy area. It is not weak to reject the cynical politics that are embodied in this bill. It is not weak to accept, as the Labor Party does, the challenges—legal, practical and moral—of responding to a world in which 65 million people are forcibly displaced and in which forced migration is a global problem that demands a global response and leadership from countries like Australia, not resiling and shrinking from our responsibilities in the course of petty, cynical politics. Of course it is not weak to reject the cynical politics that are in this bill. It is not weak to speak up for the voiceless. It is not weak to challenge executive government when its actions deserve to be challenged. It is not weak to stand up for decency and for those in the Australian community who demand it, rightly, of their elected representatives. It is not weak to put our compassion and our concern for vulnerable human beings who have sought our help before politics, especially when the politics here are all of distraction and division.

So I am proud to join with my Labor colleagues in opposing this bad bill and the worse politics which sit with it. It is a race to the bottom, as the member for Kingsford Smith put it—an appeal to the dark angels in the Australian community. And why? The policy rationale underpinning the bill is very difficult to discern. It is impossible to discern because—let's be frank—there is none. This bill does not rest on any secure foundations other than the political expedience of this government and its desperate cynicism. The bill before us is an answer in search of a question, as the government has demonstrated.

Only today, the member for Chisholm—as the member for Kingsford Smith pointed out—demonstrated this very eloquently. Having putting herself up to talk about gaps and loopholes that people smugglers could apparently exploit, she was asked by a journalist, 'What's the gap or loophole that there is at the moment under this government?' She said, 'There are no gaps or loopholes.' She went on to say, 'The outcome under the Turnbull government speaks for itself.' She was asked, 'I'm sorry again. Why is it necessary to have this legislation? You've just said that there are no gaps or loopholes.' She could not answer. She walked away. I do not say this to poke particular fun at the member for Chisholm. It is not her fault. She could not point out gaps and loopholes because, on her terms, on the government's terms, there are none.

In his contribution, the member for Grayndler went to the discrepancy between the government's triumphal posturing about their success in this policy area before the election and their desperate struggle to find a rationale to support the prosecution of this bill in recent days. It is a sorry chronology, starting on Sunday, 30 October—a week and a half ago—where the minister and the Prime Minister have shuffled through a variety of rationales supposedly supporting, supposedly demanding, the introduction of this bill.

We should not blame the member for Chisholm for her failure to be able to articulate a justification for the bill because, when it comes to policy terms—whether it is on the government's own principles or whether it is on any objective basis—there simply is no justification. The one thing that has been demonstrated over the last seven or eight days is that this is all about cynical politics, cynical posturing. The only point of this bill is to further a political agenda of division and distraction—distraction away from the real issues Australians, including my constituents in the Scullin electorate, are concerned about. It is about fomenting division for its own sake to distract us from the fact that this is a government without an agenda, without a story to tell the Australian people and without any sense of purpose, direction or hope.

There is weakness that has been revealed in the course of this debate. There has been weakness revealed—or rather, further demonstrated—on the part of our Prime Minister, the member for Wentworth. He is a person who really has shrunk in this role. In September of last year, when he became Prime Minister, he attempted to distinguish the way in which he would conduct himself from that of his predecessor, the member for Warringah. He spoke at that time of his concern about conditions in the offshore detention network. He went on to say that this area of policy is controversial and it is a challenging one. He talked about the need for a considered approach to making changes. Well that was then and this is now. That was the old Malcolm Turnbull, the one who thought we lived in exciting times, the one who thought there was a point to him being Prime Minister. Over the last year, that has evaporated, and he has shrunk. He has shrunk as a political figure and he has shrunk as a member of this place. The considered approach to policymaking, in this area and in other areas which he promised, has disappeared. Instead, he has shown himself to be a weathervane. What is worse is that the winds that he is blown around by are those of the dark forces in Australian politics. On this issue, he is singing to the tune of Senator Pauline Hanson and the One Nation Party. He is being pushed around by the conservative and reactionary elements within his party room and those conservative elements outside his party room. They have claimed the win in this area, and they are right to do so, because they are setting the agenda.

Today of all days—perhaps just about now—it is a time for all of us to care about representative democracy and care about our role as members of parliament to conduct civil debates that are about enlarging our civil society, enlarging our nation and our Commonwealth and playing a positive role in world affairs. We should think about how we do politics. We should think about the practice of politics. Because we are seeing in the United States a triumph of the most coarse, the basest, approach to politics—the race to the bottom.

Mr Katter: Yes, the electors are wrong, aren't they? You lefties are right?

Mr GILES: I note the contribution of the member for Kennedy. What I am talking about is the need for all of us in this place to be respectful of all citizens—something which is missing in the approach of this government to this bill, in particular, on many other occasions and also in the manner in which they conduct themselves in this place.

Mr Katter: Why don't you give blackfellas title deeds, then?

Mr GILES: Shouting down others, shouting down voices which are different, is possibly the point you are trying to make, member for Kennedy, but I do not think that you are doing it in the most effective way. I think all of us in this place do need to be mindful of the lessons of what has just taken place in America. There is a need to engage with all voices, but also a need to raise the tone of our political conversations, not lower it, and to include all voices in our national conversation and to recognise that many do feel that they do not have a say.

At a time in Australia where we are at record inequality since the Great Depression, we are seeing Australian society, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison, on a trajectory towards the United States. We are reaching levels of inequality not far off the United States when it comes to inequality. The government does not have a story to tell on jobs. We are seeing the social compact and the social wage consistently under attack. These are the conditions which mean that people are ripe for exploitation and they are ripe to hear the voices of fear. We must counter those voices with voices of hope. We must not allow those who are vulnerable in our society and also those who are seeking our help to be made victims at the altar of the failures of this government's poor leadership and its paucity of vision for Australia.

The real target of this bill is not the people smugglers, of which government members have occasionally spoken about in their limited contributions to this bill. Let us be clear about this: the real targets of this bill are the Australian Labor Party and the Australian community at large. This bill is simply an attempt to wedge the Australian Labor Party, and we say, no, we are not playing that game. We are not interested in engaging in a race to bottom. We draw a line here. We are interested in having a serious debate about this challenging and controversial policy area, in the terms the Prime Minister used a year ago. A year is a long time in politics. We are interested in the policy challenges, not playing cheap politics. We are interested in conducting a debate about these issues in a way that is respectful and honest. The honest bit is pretty important, because one of the most egregious aspects of the Prime Minister's contributions in question time this week is his desperate and demeaning attempt to link his government's policy architecture in this area with multiculturalism. What makes this particularly despicable is that he is doing this at the same time as he is licensing changes which would water down vital protections against racial hatred speech. If the Prime Minister were serious about standing up for multicultural communities, including those comprising the many waves of refugees who have made such an enormous and important contribution to Australia, he would be standing up for those critical protections and he would be joining with the Labor Party in saying, 'We do not need to licence hate speech'. We do not.

Other speakers have touched on the lack of conformity this bill has with international law, and they have done so effectively. I took the time to look through the explanatory memorandum to the bill, and I am sure that government members have done so too. When it considers the statement of compatibility with human rights, we see some really desperate reasoning, because it is completely evident that this bill does not meet our international law obligations. The member for Kingsford Smith talked about the very strongly expressed views of Professor Ben Saul. I do not think there is a single person with any expertise in this area who agrees that this is a bill that stands up with our international law obligations; it certainly does not meet our moral ones, because the proposition it presents is a complete absurdity. There is no rationale for it.

This was very effectively set out by Madeline Gleeson of the Kaldor Centre at the University of New South Wales when she was discussing the import of the bill last Monday on ABC Radio on The World Today. She said there were really two options for the bill: either it could either be a gross breach of the promises we have made under international law or it could be a move that just binds the system up in more red tape. Actually, now we have seen the bill, they have the double. They have done both. It is a gross breach of international law. When we hear the minister squirm about how he can use his discretion, we see that all it really does is impose additional red tape as well—additional regulation. It is funny, because I see all these offices—that of the member for Canning is near mine—which proudly boast of their rejection of red tape; but when it comes to the Migration Act this government cannot let a sitting week go by without a purposeless amendment—an amendment that is purposeless save in one respect: to continue their divisive approach to the politics of this issue, an issue which they should rise above, where they should show some concern for the human beings at the core of these questions.

Resettlement—it has been over three years now and we do not see any meaningful effort. The cynical way in which the government have dropped out hints that this legislation may somehow be linked to helping desperate people get to safer places is shameful. It shows their neglect of their real responsibilities of looking, as Labor has done, to work with the UNHCR and with regional partners to find safe pathways and a genuine approach to resettlement. They are not interested in that. This bill demonstrates that this government is weak. It is not a tough government. A tough government would look squarely at the moral challenges that the forced movement of people places upon us. It is forced movement, including in our region, that will be increased by climate change. A tough government would look hard at itself and come up with solutions. It would find ways forward that do not demonise people, but deal with these difficult challenges in the manner that they demand, a manner that puts people first and cynical politics out the door. (Time expired)