Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012; Consideration in Detail
We have just seen in this place, with the vote on the previous amendment and the one that has now been put before us by the member for Denison, some very serious matters. The coalition reached out to this parliament and put forward some very serious proposals to the crossbench. We put forward an amendment to this bill, the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012, in good faith. It would have seen this bill passed not only in this place but in the other place as well. It would have seen us leave this parliament this week with legislation that the government said was needed and that the Australian people expect is needed as well.
That is not going to happen now because the government have rejected the amendment that was put forward and the offer that was made by the coalition to secure that amendment and break this deadlock. The amendment put forward by the member for Denison will not be supported by those on this side of the House. The offer that was made by the coalition has been rejected by the crossbenchers. It has been rejected by the government. They have decided to stand there and lock this parliament up over a potential way forward rather than dealing with it as I believe the people of Australia would have expected and as the coalition was hoping for. The member for Pearce stood here in this chamber and was given two opportunities to make that plea to the members of the government and the crossbench. That plea—from the member for Pearce, from the Leader of the Opposition and from me as the mover of the amendment—was categorically thrown out of this chamber by a government looking to score a cheap victory on this issue tonight rather than introduce legislation that will pass this parliament.
The amendment put forward by the member for Denison will not be supported by this coalition. This carbon-copy bill—the government's plea for their abominable Malaysian people swap—will not be supported by this coalition. This government's attempt, supported by the member for Lyne, to strip the human rights protections of clause 198A out of the Migration Act and replace them with nothing legally binding will not be supported by members on this side of the House—but it will be supported by many members on the other side of the House.
I am not sure how many members of the government, as they examine their consciences on this, will walk into this place and support the abolition of these measures. I am not sure how many of them will examine their consciences, when this bill is finally debated and voted on, and vote for their abominable Malaysian people swap. I ask them to examine their consciences tonight because this side of the House is going to stand against the Malaysian people swap. I will tell you why: unlike most on that side of the House I have been to Nauru and Malaysia and seen where people will be. I have seen the schools they would attend—and the schools they will not attend in Malaysia. I have seen the clinics they will not be able to go to in Malaysia. I have seen the conditions that they are going to live in. I have seen the abuse that they are going to be exposed to. I have seen it and I will not let it happen in this place. I returned from Malaysia and shared with my colleagues—the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow cabinet—that we could not allow this abominable bill and proposal to be supported by this parliament.
Members on that side may well support this abominable bill, but one thing we know is that the coalition will stand tough on this in the Senate. We will prevent this parliament from backing such an abominable arrangement. I am sorry to say to the member for Denison we will not support this amendment. He understood that we wanted to get legislation through this parliament. That has been rejected by those opposite. It has been rejected by the majority of the member for Denison's crossbench colleagues. The Australian people were looking for talks; we had them today. A compromise was put by the coalition—a significant compromise which required us to move. We did move, and that move has been categorically rejected by a government hell-bent on introducing— (Time expired)
Do not provoke me. I do not think that would be a really good idea, Paul Neville. The situation to me seems very simple. If you can get on a boat and get into Australia, then you would be a fool not to have a go. The people who are coming in are coming from countries where incomes may be $3,000. It seems to me the average income for the people who are coming in is about $3,000 a year. Here, even if you do not work, you are on $35,000 a year. It is a pretty good call.
The bloke in front of me here, the member for wherever he comes from—Bundaberg—says, 'Come on!' Are you disagreeing, my friend? Are you disagreeing that a person comes here because he will get a better standard of living? Oh, you are not—so stop interrupting.
On the figures that have been presented to me by both sides of this parliament, it would appear that if these people are processed—here or overseas—two-thirds of them will end up getting into Australia. I suspect the figure is a lot higher than that, but I will accept the figure that I have been given of two-thirds. So if you have a shot you have a two in three chance of getting in to what these people would probably consider a paradise. So why not have a go? They have a go and a lot of them die because no-one has told them that a lot of people die attempting to get here.
I voted against the Malaysian solution the first time and I think really it was for political reasons that I made the decision. I am ashamed to say that, but that may have been an element most certainly in my thinking at the time. But if you know that when you get on that boat you are going to be at the back of a queue of 250,000 people in Malaysia then there is not much point in getting on that boat. That is what we are talking about and voting on here. I will also be voting for the legislation being put forward by the opposition because I think it is better to have two horses in the race than one horse in the race. But it does not seem to me that too many other people in this place are too interested in that. They have got their idea and they are not going to change it, they are not going to compromise. From my experience, on both sides of the House I have been presented with that approach. I think that the Malaysian solution may not stay afloat in the longer term and we do have to go to another solution, but I just cannot but see that if you know that you get on the boat and you have two-thirds of a chance of getting into a country that they would consider to be paradise then it is worthwhile having a go.
My forebears and the forebears of most people in this House—all mine were here in 1870 or earlier—came out here and were prepared to live on a dirt floor in a galvanised iron shanty in the goldmining towns of Australia, as did the forebears of almost all those who were here before the Second World War. But these people are not coming here to live on a dirt floor in a galvanised iron shanty; none of them are going to do that. They are going to live in what is considered by most people on Earth to be fairly attractive circumstances. Unless you can demonstrate clearly to these people that if you get on the boat you will not get in here then this will continue and get considerably worse.
I have spoken in this place a thousand times that you live in a country that is empty. I represent an area that could support a population of 60 or 70 million people. The electorate of Kennedy has got the water and the land resources. This issue will bring it home to the rest of the world. As the United Nations lady from the Indian subcontinent said, 'You will take these people because you are a country that can.' I think that they are very ominous words for the people of Australia. The more attention that is brought to this issue, the worse our country is going to be. (Time expired)
I am always reluctant to speak early in these debates. For a whole lot of personal reasons, the emotions run very deep in me in relation to refugees. The member for Kennedy said that his forebears came here in the 1870s. My father came here as a refugee on 3 September 1948. He came from a country where there was war. He had to wait his turn, but he was desperate to come here. The member for Kennedy is right: there is a great deal of hypocrisy from time to time in these debates. But I will say one thing deliberately to this parliament. I will never ever support a people swap where you can send a 13-year-old child unaccompanied to a country without supervision—never. It will be over my dead body. How dare people?
Some people say they are wrestling with their conscience. I am not; I know exactly what I want to do. The compromise that the Leader of the Opposition offered today went some way forward to offering a solution, be it Nauru, Manus Island or somewhere else. I fought with the previous Prime Minister, my Prime Minister, about Nauru. I opposed it until the moment he assured me that at all times Australians would be able to supervise the people who were sent there, that they would be protected, that they would have health care and education support—until he could assure me that those most vulnerable would be protected. That was when I agreed with him. I was prepared to cross the floor in a previous government with an absolute majority in this place because I disagreed with the treatment of those most vulnerable by my Prime Minister. Until he assured me personally, together with the minister for immigration, that no child would ever be abandoned in another country once they had come under the guardian protection of Australia—until he assured me of that I would not support it. But he did.
This government is now asking us to support a situation where a 13-year-old child could be sent to another nation without any regard for their welfare after that moment. Even if we have words from the immigration minister about it being a case-by-case basis, it is the threat of it and from time to time the enactment of it that is the most damning thing for our conscience. That is why I feel entirely consistent. That is why I was so angry about being gagged before. I have wrestled, like many others, with their conscience on this debate but I am entirely consistent with my soul. I will sleep easy because I know from my own background and from what I have done in the past that I am going to be consistent no matter how painful it might be in the electorate, no matter how hard it might be explaining it to my constituents. I rest easy on this because I can be entirely consistent with what beats within my soul.
It is an honour to follow my friend and colleague the member for North Sydney in this debate, and I thank him for the contribution that he has made to the House.
Let me say that, as far as the coalition is concerned—yesterday, today, forever—the Malaysia deal is a dud deal. It is a bad deal for Australia; it is a cruel deal for boat people. We will never, ever support it. It is still a dud deal, even if it is only going to last for 12 months. The coalition will never connive at a bad deal, let alone for 12 months. So we will not be supporting the amendment that has been moved by the member for Denison.
What has happened in the last hour or so is that this House has voted for legislative deadlock. This House has turned its back on a legislative proposal, the amendment put forward by the member for Cook, that would have gone through this chamber and through the Senate. So this House has voted for deadlock tonight because the proposal which is now before the House will never go through the Senate. It will never get support in the Senate. It should never get support in the Senate, because it will never work in ways that the Australian people will ever support.
First, it is limited to just 800. Second, it exposes people going from Australia to Malaysia to punishments that we would regard as completely cruel and unusual. I do not say that in any spirit of criticism of Malaysia, but their standards are not our standards, and we should treat people in accordance with our standards, not theirs. A decent and humane country accords everyone who comes under our protection the kind of treatment that we believe is decent and humane.
I challenge members opposite, who spent so much time attacking the Howard government for sending boat people to Nauru, where they were looked after by Australians in accordance with Australian standards, to justify the abominable deeds that they are about to propose in the upper house. In the end, it is not going to work, because we know what the people smugglers will do; they will send women and children. They will load up the boats with women and children. Whatever fudges the minister might put forward, whatever weasel words the Prime Minister and the minister might put forward, they will stay in Australia and, if just one of them goes back to Malaysia and is treated abominably, this government will stand condemned as a government with absolutely no ethical standards whatsoever.
This coalition has been entirely consistent over the years. We have always stood for principles that would stop the boats and at the same time maintain the standards of decency of this country. What this parliament has done this evening is say no to legislative progress. It has said no to increased refugee intakes. This Prime Minister has said no to the things she claimed to believe in before the election. We know the Prime Minister has form when it comes to saying one thing before an election and doing something different after the election. Yet again, that is exactly what we have seen from this Prime Minister today.
What we have seen from this government is every single position on border protection except one that will actually work. If it were ever put into practice, this one would not work; but it will not be put into practice, because it will not even pass the parliament, because the Prime Minister has rejected the compromise put forward by the opposition today.
The Prime Minister has chosen a pyrrhic victory in this House, over legislation that would actually pass the parliament and would actually make a difference and would actually stop the boats. Shame on her.
I rise to indicate the government's support for the amendments that have been moved by the member for Denison. I find it astonishing, frankly, that the opposition have indicated that they will oppose this amendment, having earlier on in the day—all afternoon—said that they would support this amendment.
This amendment is to ensure that the amendments, including any repeals made by this act, have effect for only a period of 12 months from the commencement of this act; and any act amended by this act has effect after that period of 12 months, as if the amendments had not been made.
This is a genuine position being put forward by the member for Denison, to ensure that there is accountability. Many speakers have made contributions in which they have indicated that this is a difficult issue, and they are not sure what will work or not. What we know is that what is there now is not working. We know and we have a reminder today of the most tragic kind. We have once again a tragedy off our shores.
I believe that the member for Denison is making a constructive contribution to the debate in putting this forward. I want to pay tribute to the member for New England, the crossbenchers, the members of the government and the members of the opposition backbench, all of whom met today and on Monday to try and work through the substance of these issues. I disagree—respectfully—with the position put by the member for Pearce, but I commend her absolute genuineness in putting it forward and her absolute commitment to humanity.
We can have disagreements about the way forward on these issues because, quite frankly, if it were simple it would have been done. We know, for example, that the idea that Nauru is a deterrent is no longer the case, given that it resulted in people settling in Australia. I come from a certain perspective in the party. If you go back and look at the contributions I have made as a member of the Labor for Refugees organisation, I am not comfortable with a whole range of things that are now being considered and implemented. It is not easy. But you have to look at circumstances as they are, rather than as you would like them to be, and essentially acknowledge that we need to find real solutions and that what is on the table from this government is a real solution. So let's give it a go, which is why I am supporting this position. I have taken a position that we need to advance on these issues. The fact that an Independent member of parliament, the member for Lyne, has put forward this legislation in good faith to advance an outcome is significant. We have had considerable debate on these issues and I move:
That the question be now put.
This bill began at around 2 o'clock this afternoon. We have been debating this for close to six hours. The member for Lyne has moved his bill, the member for Cook's amendment has been dealt with and defeated, the member for Denison's amendment has been dealt with and passed, and now there is absolutely no excuse why the government would not introduce this bill into the Senate tomorrow to be dealt with.
I place on record that the opposition expects the government to introduce this bill in the Senate tomorrow to be dealt with, and if they do not it will mean that they were never fair dinkum—that it was just another stunt. I also place on record that the opposition will do whatever is required to facilitate that debate being held in the Senate tomorrow and being concluded. We will facilitate that debate, we will not stand in the way of the government introducing this bill into the Senate and having it debated. We might well, of course, speak to these bills as we oppose the Malaysian solution with every fibre in our being—particularly for the reasons outlined by the Leader of the Opposition. But I think that the shadow Treasurer put it very well to the House tonight.
I would ask every Labor member of good conscience—and there are some—to search those consciences tonight and realise what they are doing if they support the Malaysian solution through the parliament tomorrow, and they will hang their heads in shame. The next time boats attempt to get to Australia and meet tragedy, if they are full of women and children, it will be on the heads of the government for pursuing the Malaysian solution—
knowing the outcome of this means women and children being the gold standard for people smugglers in the future.
There are good members on the Labor side of the House. Daryl Melham is one of them, and there are others: Laurie Ferguson is one of them, Melissa Parke is another. They should be searching their consciences and putting the pressure on the government tomorrow on this issue.
I put it to the government—I dare the government—to introduce this bill into the Senate tomorrow. The opposition will not stand in its way and will see it through to its conclusion and a vote tomorrow in the Senate.
I can assure all members that this bill will be introduced into the Senate tomorrow and debated to conclusion. The Prime Minister's office has already been in contact with the opposition and the crossbenches in the Senate to indicate that that is the case. And I suspect that the Manager of Opposition Business, with all this bluster, knows that that is the case. We have seen extraordinary hypocrisy—
Opposition members interjecting—
No more extraordinary than the contribution by the Manager of Opposition Business. The debates and votes that we have had, the divisions where they have sat against concluding the debate in this House, where they voted against the negation of the adjournment debate—which would have concluded the debate at 7 pm—would have meant that not only could we consider it in the Senate but also that it would have been back here in the House tomorrow. That was their position an hour ago, but they cannot keep a consistent position for a minute, let alone an hour. So let us get real about this. The Manager of Opposition Business just indicated that it would be our responsibility if children were put on boats. The previous speaker from the opposition, the shadow Treasurer, said that kids would not be on boats; they would be sent to Malaysia. The inconsistency in their position is extraordinary. I have been in this place since 1996. I was here when the Tampa came in. I have been here during the entire period of the former government. I was here for 'children overboard'. I was here for all of those events. What we have had here is sanctimonious nonsense from those opposite. The fact is that the government has a position on the table. It provides a real solution—not an easy one, but a real solution and a real opportunity to go forward. It is being done on the advice of the experts—people like Andrew Metcalfe. People like Andrew Metcalfe have briefed us in meetings we are not allowed to talk about.
Government members interjecting —
And them. The experts have said this is the best way forward. So do I find it easy? No, I do not—on a personal level, not at all. It runs counter to a whole range of things I have said over a long period of time. But let me tell you: I am not prepared to be a cabinet minister in a government and say, 'I was given advice by the experts and I chose an easy option.'
Mr Schultz interjecting—
So this debate will be concluded in this House tonight. The arrangements and the deals from those opposite have been on the table and off the table. The inconsistency in them voting against the Wilkie amendment is just extraordinary—the position that we saw.
Mr Bowen interjecting—
Earlier on they were holding press conferences saying it was a terrific idea. The sorts of positions that have been put forward are just extraordinary. The government's position is that this is now being concluded. The House of Representatives—the people's House and people's chamber, democratically elected—will be determining a final position over the next few minutes. My request to the opposition is to put politics aside, vote for it, vote for it in the Senate and give it a go. What is the worst that can happen for those opposite politically? The worst that can happen for them politically is that it works. That is the attitude they bring to this debate, which is why people should support this legislation. I congratulate the member for Lyne on his initiative in advancing this legislation, which will now go through the House.
A division having been called, the bells being rung and an incident having occurred in the chamber—
Honourable members interjecting—
Madam Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: is it in order for the Labor Party to be bullying the Deputy Leader of the Opposition from the other side of the chamber during the counting of the division, shouting at the Deputy Leader of the Opposition from the front bench as well? I would ask you to bring the chamber to order.
Ms Julie Bishop interjecting—
Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition! We have not actually locked the doors. Individuals, this has been a very terse debate, and up until now I think the House has actually held itself in incredibly good stead. I would hate it to be spoilt at this late hour by a former occupant of the chair. The member for Sturt might query who is bullying who in this place. I also remind individuals that a member's vote is privileged. The question is that the bill as amended be agreed to.