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Thursday, 17 September 2015
Page: 7211

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (17:42): The Senate Select Committee on the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru arose following the intervention of the former Minister for Immigration, Mr Morrison, who acted upon what he said were intelligence reports when the government sought to sack a number of employees of a contractor to the Save the Children Fund who were alleged by the government to have acted improperly in that they had been orchestrating complaints by asylum seekers on Nauru. The government, through the minister, unilaterally removed those people from the Save the Children Fund from Nauru and from their responsibilities to provide welfare services for the detainees on Nauru. A subsequent report was produced by the department following the commissioning of an independent investigation into the affairs of the Save the Children Fund. It was found that those people who had been deported from Nauru—

Senator Ian Macdonald: What are you talking about?

Senator KIM CARR: That is the basis for this report, Senator Macdonald. If you are a member of the committee, if you actually attended, you would know the circumstances of why this select committee was established. These were not the actions of a previous government; these were the actions of this government. This is a centre that has been administered by the current government, not the previous government. This was a matter that came about as a direct result of the allegations made by the minister in this government into the activities of one of the government contractors. As a result of the independent investigation, it was subsequently found to be baseless. Those persons have never received an apology, not even recognition, that the claims made against them were ill-founded, intemperate and, of course, predicated on false reports by the contractors.

What has been discovered as a result of that independent inquiry is that there had been repeated instances of mistreatment of detainees at the hands of the contractors, including widespread sexual abuse. Senator Macdonald, you and I might have substantial differences on most things, but one thing I would not accuse you of is condoning that action. The purpose of Senate inquiries such as this is to actually protect the human rights of people. That goes to the issue of when people are detained as a direct result of government policy—

Senator Ian Macdonald: It was your government.

Senator KIM CARR: I do not care which government. If people are detained as a result of the actions of any Australian government and they are subjected to sexual abuse, to torture or to mistreatment—and we are financing that—as a parliament we have a responsibility to do something about it. Senators have many great illusions as to what their powers are, but they have one substantial power—which we would all have to concur with—and that is the power of exposure. In reality, that is the only real power we have. The work of the Senate committees is vital to carry out that function. Has anyone said that the results of this committee inquiry have been proven to be wrong? No, because they have been demonstrated to be supported. A further non-party, non-political, non-parliamentary inquiry demonstrated the widespread abuse of detainees at Nauru and at our other detention centres.

You asked: did I, as a cabinet minister in the previous government, sign up to offshore detention? The answer is unequivocally yes. I will say this: never, ever was there a proposition put in any part of any government that I participated in that we would brutalise detainees as part of the offshore detention system and that is something that this parliament should turn its back upon. The proposition that the brutalisation of detainees was an inherent part of any detention is of course a proposition that I thoroughly and completely reject.

In relation to the conduct of this inquiry, what I can say is that I participated in the inquiry and I sought to participate properly. I freely concede that Senator Gallacher has not chaired many Senate inquiries but I cannot fault his behaviour. In the 23 years that I have been a senator here, I have seen quite a few chairmen of committees. You, Senator Macdonald, were one of the worst committee chairs I have ever seen. What I say about Senator Gallacher is that he acted courteously, he acted properly and he acted consistently with the advice of the secretariat on all occasions. He provided opportunities for witnesses, no matter what their position, to be heard properly.

Is it true that the government did not like this inquiry? Yes. Were they opposed for political reasons to this inquiry being established? Yes. It does not change the fact, in any regard, that there were coalition senators who behaved properly on this inquiry—Senator Johnston being one of them. Senator Bernardi behaved entirely differently, from my direct observations, to the way in which Senator Reynolds behaved. There are some fundamentals about how this Senate operates—a recognition that there may well be substantial differences of opinion, but when it comes to the procedures and protocols there is a standard of behaviour we expect, particularly on committee business. Senator Macdonald, that is something you have ignored for a long time and as a chair you behaved appallingly. Senator Gallacher, as far as I am concerned you behaved professionally, properly and in the very best traditions of this Senate.

This report itself is important. Do not detract from the substance of this report because there have been human rights abuses that have occurred under our name. The Parliament of Australia has been funding programs that led to circumstances which are simply unacceptable. The point of this parliament as far as I am concerned is to expose such injustice and to have it stopped. I think this report will go a substantial way to seeing that happen. You may not like every recommendation and you might want to rely on the legal fiction that this is happening in a foreign country and therefore it is not a matter of our concern. I put to you that that position is completely wrong. The conservative government in New Zealand does not share that point of view. The conservative government in New Zealand says that what happens on Nauru in regard to the human rights abuses is of importance to them. We have seen the sacking of the chief magistrate and the sacking of the police commissioner. We have seen operations on Nauru, and that is something that we should not condone, particularly when this parliament is paying for it.

Senator Gallacher, I commend you for the work that you have undertaken. I wish there were more opportunities for backbench senators to be able to present a proper view of how this parliament should operate.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Carr, your time has expired.

Senator Kim Carr: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.