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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2150


Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (15:55): It is worth starting this contribution with a clear statement of fact: the government's so-called border protection policies have failed in every conceivable way. This is a government that have a policy framework in extreme disarray. Firstly, they have failed in human terms—the basic test.

Senator Bushby interjecting

Senator McKIM: The basic test, Senator Bushby—they have failed in human terms, because they rely on the deliberate mistreatment of men, women and children in Australia's detention centre network. Make no mistake: people have died at their own hand as a result of this government's policy and the neglect of this government. Others have been badly injured and there is a toll, as yet unrevealed, specifically in terms of those who have been left traumatised and mentally scarred, no doubt in many cases for life, because of this government's policy. So the cost in human terms has been absolutely massive. Remember, Amnesty International, an extremely well-regarded non-political international organisation, has found that what is happening to people on Nauru fits the internationally accepted definition of torture. What do we get from the government in response to that allegation? We get a blanket denial, with no engagement at all on the detail of what constitutes torture, on the detail of what we are doing to these poor children, women and men on Nauru. It is effectively a government that is putting its fingers in its ears and saying, 'La, la, la,' every time something is said that it disagrees with.

There is still no solution for the people on Manus Island and Nauru. The Papua New Guinean foreign minister said just yesterday that the Manus refugee processing centre is undergoing final phases of shutting down. If it is in the final phases of shutting down, as the Papua New Guinean government is saying publicly, what is going to happen to those poor people who are incarcerated there in Australia's name? What is going to happen to them? The answer from the government is deafening silence. We know from public statements made by Australian ministers that the Australian government is in negotiation with other countries to try to find a resettlement option for the people on Manus Island and Nauru when the only reasonable settlement option is staring them in the face: bring those people, our fellow human beings, back to Australia so that we can look after them properly in line with our moral obligation to them and in line with our international obligations under instruments such as the refugee convention.

We have seen sad tale after sad tale. The Nauru files made it abundantly clear that we have seen widespread violence and abuse, including sexual abuse, against men, children and women who have sought Australia's protection. They reach out a hand, asking us to look after them, to help them, and we kick them in the face. We subject them to arbitrary imprisonment and we expose them to conditions of torture.

The Nauru files also made clear the deliberate under-reporting and downplaying of serious incidents on Nauru. As the landmark Island of despair report from Amnesty International recently made clear, what is happening on Nauru is torture and it is Australia's responsibility. For the Attorney to come here and to quote a High Court case, as he did earlier today, that found that Australia is not responsible for what is happening on Nauru simply ignores reality. We are funding every single dollar of expenditure on Nauru. Every single dollar of expenditure on the detention centre on Nauru is being funded by the Australian taxpayer. What the government is doing is outsourcing cruelty and torture. That is what our government is doing.

The framework is also in disarray because we are witnessing contractor after contractor abandoning offshore detention in absolute droves because they know that they are suffering extreme reputational damage by being associated with such cruel and draconian conditions. We have seen Wilson Security and Broadspectrum pull out of providing services on Manus and on Nauru after strong public campaigns against them. So we are seeing contractor after contractor voting with their feet and saying that they do not want their company associated with what is going on on Manus and on Nauru due to the reputational damage they are suffering.

The policy has also been a failure in pure financial terms, so it is not just the massive human cost that we are dealing with here. In pure dollar terms, the cost of Operation Sovereign Borders has blown out to almost $10 billion in the last three years. The Australia National Audit Office found that the department was not following government procedure in issuing tenders, which has resulted in massive overspends. It also found that Australia's policy framework is costing well over half a million dollars—in fact, $573,000—per detainee per year. This is a government that spent the last few years warning Australia that we had a budget crisis. Well, if we have a budget crisis, why on earth would they implement a policy regime that has cost well over half a million dollars per person per year to detail people on Manus and on Nauru.

At the core of this government's policy is an overwhelming desire for secrecy because the government simply does not want the rest of the world to know what is being done in our name. That is why section 42 of the Border Force Act imposes terms of imprisonment for up to two years for people who blow the whistle on what is going on on Manus Island and on Nauru. How instructive that, in fact, that provision has recently been overturned for doctors because a group of doctors had a High Court case coming up.

But, if it is good enough to remove the gag from doctors, what about teachers, nurses and the many other categories of support workers who operate on Manus and on Nauru. They still remain caught by section 42 of the Border Force Act. They still face a term of imprisonment for up to two years if they speak publicly about what they have witnessed in those places. This is a commitment to secrecy almost unparalleled in recent Australian history. This is a government that knows that it ought to be ashamed of what it is doing and a government that has a commitment to secrecy that is, quite frankly, disgusting and disgraceful.

One day the truth will come out. The full truth of the horrors of this regime and this policy framework will come out. There will be a truth and reconciliation style process. Mark my words; one day in the future, and I do not know when it will be, an Australian Prime Minister will stand up in this parliament and apologise for what is being done today and what has been done over the last few years. Yes, that will be a great day and, yes, that is a necessary thing to occur, but this is happening today. The solution is obvious: engage with our regional partners and come up with a cooperative policy framework that has reasonable times for assessing people's claims for asylum and their claims for refugee status and ensure that those time frames are followed. It is not the situation now, where you front up in Kuala Lumpur at the UNHCR office and get told to come back in three years time for your first appointment. We need a comprehensive policy solution. It can only be delivered on a regional basis—that is, Australia working collaboratively with other countries in our region. Yes, we should contribute financially to it. We can do that by closing the camps and bringing the people who are in those camps here to Australia, and save the $3 billion a year plus that it is currently costing us to run those camps.

This is a policy failure, because although the mantra of this government is, 'The boats have stopped,' in fact we know that they have not—on the government's own admission. This government and the previous government under Tony Abbott have, on their own figures, turned back or intercepted 30 boats since Operation Sovereign Borders started three years ago. They are running at about one a month, on the government's own figures. They are just the ones they are admitting to. They are the ones that we know have been turned back and intercepted. So, when the Attorney gets up and says, 'No people have died at sea,' it is a claim he cannot reasonably make because that claim would rely on the government knowing exactly when boats set off to sea. We know that they do not know that, because many of those boats have nearly made it to Australia before they have been turned back or intercepted. I ask the government: how many people have died between their boats setting out to sea and the government first becoming aware of them? The answer, of course, is that the government do not know. None of us know. To assert that no-one has died at sea is a falsehood. The government cannot reasonably make that claim.

What of the ones that we do turn back? We are turning back people to die somewhere else. We are turning back people to face arbitrary detention, arbitrary imprisonment, torture and potentially death. This idea that no-one is dying under this government's policy is quite simply untrue. The government cannot possibly make that claim.

So we have a military-like shroud of secrecy that has been thrown over this government's nonsensical, ineffective, inconsistent policy framework, where the best they can do is say 'no comment' on operational matters because that is the phrase they use to keep the Australian people in the dark about what is going on. Make no mistake, a Prime Minister will apologise for what is happening today in the future. That will be a necessary step in the healing that this country needs to undergo to get over the cruel and inhumane policies of today.