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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8566


Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (11:25): I would like to say a few words about the Migration and Maritime Powers Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2015. Labor supports this bill which amends two pieces of legislation passed last year that came into effect in December. The first is the Migration Amendment (Character and General Visa Cancellation ) Act 2014, which essentially strengthened the character test and gave the minister greater discretion in removing noncitizens who had committed crimes and could put the community at risk. We supported that legislation and all but one of the amendments in the present bill, which were mostly of a technical nature, relating to it. Therefore we support the bill before us now.

The bill provides consistency in the treatment of deportees who, for whatever reason, have to return to Australia. At present, if a destination country refuses to accept a deportee, that person is lawfully able to return without a visa and, legally, it would be as though the deportee had never left. If a deportee's journey is disrupted for some other reason—such as an unforeseen incident in transit—that person could not return without a visa. This bill removes that anomaly and therefore all returning deportees will have the same legal standing.

The bill also provides for greater consistency in the application of the character test, including requirements for information applicants must provide. Under the original legislation, information had to be supplied upfront. This bill extends that requirement to applications made on behalf of others. That is most likely to happen when the applicant is a minor. In this regard Labor is pleased that the government accepted the Senate committee's recommendation that the explanatory memorandum be amended and that the amendments clarify the operations of the legislation with respect to minors and people with cognitive impairment. The amendment will also explain retrospective provisions in the legislation. These changes remove what would otherwise have been obstacles to Labor supporting the bill.

This bill also amends the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Act 2014. That legislation had many schedules—one of which had the intent to ensure that Australian vessels act lawfully when they intercept other vessels on the high seas. That schedule is the only remedial provision amended by the bill now before us. This bill provides that any exercise of maritime powers, such as the interception of a vessel at sea, is lawful provided it complies with Australia's international obligation. The relevant international obligations in these matters will also be those set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This provision of the bill also applies to an Australian vessel passing through the territorial waters of another country. This obviously relates to the government's policy of turning around boats carrying asylum seekers from Java to Christmas Island.

When this bill was being debated in the other place, the member for Corio noted that Labor does not want boats to set out on that journey again. The loss of life over many years was a tragedy, and there is nothing compassionate about standing by while people's lives are lost at sea. The most significant measure to dissuade people from embarking on that dangerous journey was the regional settlement agreement that the Rudd government negotiated with Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Because of the role that that agreement has played in ending deaths at sea, Labor continues to support it. We do not however support the way the government has managed the offshore processing of asylum seekers. There has been a lack of transparency, which has destroyed confidence that the rights of asylum seekers are in fact being respected.

Labor is deeply concerned about the decisions the government has taken with regard to the management of the facilities on Manus Island and Nauru. For too long the medical facilities on Manus were inadequate, leading to the death of Hamid Kehazaei from what should have been a preventable condition. Worst of all, the government delayed completing the construction of the facility on Nauru so that people had to live in tents for much longer than was necessary. Now, the facility is said to be an open centre, but it is unconscionable that the government force people to live in worse conditions than they otherwise could have done. The government must negotiate with the PNG and the Nauru governments to establish independent oversight of the facilities as soon as possible.

I repeat the call made in the other place by the member for Corio that the government must provide an answer to a fundamental question: what is to be the fate of the 2,000 people on Nauru and Manus? A Labor government would not allow these people to be cast into the limbo of the detention centres indefinitely. Yet this is what the current government seems to be willing to do.

In July, Labor committed itself to a series of measures that would allow Australia to re-engage with the international humanitarian efforts on behalf of asylum seeks. Under a Labor government Australia would double its humanitarian intake and would substantially increase its funding to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. I say these things are important, and it is important that Labor make its position clear on them. We are willing to act in a bipartisan spirit on asylum seeker issues when it is possible to do so without violating the principles that must be upheld, and that is why we support the bill now before the Senate. It remains a matter of deep regret, however, that the government chooses to act on human rights issues in a manner which is inconsistent with the spirit of bipartisanship.