Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012; Consideration in Detail
In the short time that I have I would like to reiterate that this bill, the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012, should pass this parliament not only because of events today but also because of events of the last decade. I urge all members of this House to at least allow this to be tried—and, by all means, if it does not work, take it to the next election, take it to the people. But we should in this chamber allow an executive to do its job. This is in no way running interference on community based detention, on onshore assessment or on issues of genuine refugee and asylum status in Australia. This is, as much as anything, trying to stop the loss of life at sea of people trying to get to Australia for a number of reasons. This is trying to reach bilateral agreements with countries in the Asia-Pacific region to slow the movement of people within our region. This is attempting to try to break criminal syndicates that are running off the edges of asylum seekers and genuine refugees and are involved in the insidious trades of people smuggling and—the one that does not get much airtime in Australia but should—the worst crime of all, in my view, the crime of people trafficking, particularly in the sex trade in the Asia-Pacific region and, yes, right here in Australia as well.
I want to clarify again what I wrote to all members on 13 March—that is, that this is not a carbon copy of the government's Malaysia bill. This is a combination of three things. Firstly, it is trying to codify in domestic law the Bali process, which is a bipartisan process started by Alexander Downer in 2002, continued by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and others and co-chaired by Australia and Indonesia. With the Indonesian President coming here next week, what better message from this parliament than to say that we as an Australian parliament want to reach out to Indonesia and work together to slow the movement of people in our region? The Bali process is the regional cooperation framework—and I am happy to once again, if required, recirculate the key principles of that Bali process. They are good, defining principles for what I think we are all trying to achieve with respect to border protection and humanitarian issues in dealing with refugees and people smugglers. That is the first part of this bill.
Secondly, it does pick up on elements of the government bill in response to the recent High Court decision. That is a game-changer. This bill does pick up on part of that.
Thirdly, it also picks up on is the Liberal-National coalition amendments to the above bill, which attempt to allow only countries participating in the United Nations 1951 refugee convention to participate in bilateral agreements on offshore assessment. On this third point, I refer you directly to the following sections of the bill that try to pick that up—section 198AB and section 198AC, which look at offshore assessment country processes and the way that documents should be now laid on the table so that basically anything the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship does from here on has to come before the parliament, and organisations like the International Office of Migration and the UNHCR have to table documents in this place in a transparent way and in a way that allows for debate to continue in this chamber.
It is not correct that the Leader of the Opposition says that the coalition's position has been consistent—and I am happy to recirculate the letter I sent to everyone on 13 March which identifies the significant shift in the position of the coalition and their relationship with the UN refugee convention. They have flipped on that in the last two years and are now using that as a straw man argument to run interference on getting this parliament to do something.
Today is the day that we do something, and I urge this House to finally pass this bill.
I acknowledge the good intentions of the member for Lyne and I acknowledge the good intentions of, I think, every single member in this House of wanting to address this issue. But good intentions are not enough to deal with the problem that has been before this place for the last five years. We need more than good intentions to address the terrible things that have happened over the last four to five years. It was good intentions, I am absolutely sure, that led members of that side of the House when they came to government to abolish the measures that existed under the Howard government. It was the arguments of many outside of this place who campaigned for years and years—and described those measures which kept our borders secure and ensured that fewer than 300 people turned up in six years—and that prevailed in 2007, and the measures that were in place were abolished. Since then we have seen more than 19,000 people arrive and we have seen more than 330 illegal boats arrive—and, even as we speak, we are seeing another tragedy unfolding to our north.
The Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012, which has been put forward by the member for Lyne, effectively achieves the same outcome as the government's bill in abolishing all human rights protections that are legally binding under our Migration Act. That is what it does, and I will move in my name amendments that would seek to restrict those countries that could be eligible for offshore processing under the member for Lyne's bill to be limited to those countries that have signed the refugee convention. It was the High Court itself when it issued a statement on the matter that has focused the minds of the parliament today that said:
The Court held that, under s 198A of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), the Minister cannot validly declare a country (as a country to which asylum seekers can be taken for processing) unless that country is legally bound to meet three criteria. The country must be legally bound by international law ...
That is what it said. This bill does not confine or restrict those countries to those countries that are bound by international law.
The question is asked: why is this important now to the coalition? It is a simple answer. It is because this bill, as with the government's bill, seeks to remove the legally binding human rights protections in the act. And when you remove those protections, those on this side of the House, who believe in offshore processing and offshore protections, say that those measures should be replaced by other legally binding protections. The only objective, legally binding protection that can be used as a litmus test for this parliament to give instructions to the executive as to which countries and which places they could send people is whether a country is a signatory to the refugee convention. There are 148 countries who have signed that convention. That includes the Philippines, that includes Nauru, that includes Papua New Guinea, and that includes many other countries.
These protections are important. You have to ask yourself the question: why is it necessary to abolish the protections that exist in the Migration Act to allow this abominable Malaysian people swap deal to proceed? Why is that necessary? Why must you abolish human rights protections to enable this deal to proceed? That is what is being put before this parliament, not only by those members opposite but also by the member for Lyne. The Bali process, as he outlined in his bill, is a worthy process and one we initiated in government but it does not provide legally binding international obligations on its participants. We believe in a bill that would have the consensus of this House and of the other place—because the only bill that will leave this parliament this week is one that reflects the consensus of both houses of this parliament. That is the bill that the Leader of the Opposition referred to earlier, when he sought to have that bill introduced and was frustrated by the members of the government.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to move the amendments and I implore this parliament to protect those protections in the human rights field in the Migration Act for offshore processing. (Time expired)
I seek leave to move the amendments standing in my name.
I move opposition amendments (1) to (3):
(1) Schedule 1, item 25, page 6 (lines 14 to 16), omit paragraph (d), substitute:
(d) the designation of a country to be an offshore processing country need be determined only by reference to the fact that the country is a party to the Refugees Convention or the Refugees Protocol.
(2) Schedule 1, item 25, page 6 (lines 20 to 23), omit subsection 198AB(2), substitute:
(2) The only conditions for the exercise of the power under subsection (1) are that the Minister thinks that it is in the national interest to designate the country to be an offshore processing country, and that the country is a party to the Refugees Convention or the Refugees Protocol.
(3) Schedule 1, item 25, page 8 (lines 7 to 9), omit paragraph (f), substitute:
(f) a copy of the instruments of accession by the country to the Refugees Convention or the Refugees Protocol.
In seconding these amendments to the bill, I highlight the fact that the Prime Minister has attempted to say in this chamber today that she wanted the politics to be set aside, but she in fact does not. If she did, she would agree to the amendments.
The sticking point is, as the member for Cook has just outlined, that we on this side insist that a country where offshore processing is to take place must be a country that has signed the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The member for Cook has pointed out that Nauru, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and the Philippines are countries that have done so, and that Malaysia is a country that has not. The member for Cook has also pointed out that the High Court said that the minister was incapable of giving protection under section 198A of the Migration Act to protect the rights of those people—and that showed, quite frankly, that he had not done his homework.
The proposed Malaysian solution—what a hideous term it is—is in fact a trade in human flesh. It is swapping human beings from point A to point B and it is totally and utterly unacceptable to this side of the House. If the Prime Minister were fair dinkum about her wish to find a way through this impasse and to see that we have legislation enacted that would be a deterrent to the trade of the people smugglers, then she would agree to these amendments.
It is quite clear that when those on the other side of the House get up and deny, as they regularly do, that the legislation that was implemented and the actions that were taken by the Howard government worked and that the boats stopped, they are in absolute denial. There was one person on ABC Radio this morning who did admit that the boats stopped as a result of the Howard actions, but said that that did not actually amount to a solution for the difficulty. The fact of the matter is that by having temporary protection visas, by having offshore processing and by turning boats around when safe to do so—and our proposal is not, as the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness said this morning, to tow boats around, again, a misleading statement; our proposal is that boats be turned around where it is safe to do so—the Howard government took actions that worked.
The overall and most important requirement on this side of the House is that offshore processing only take place where the convention has been signed. Choosing to have a trade in human flesh with a nation that has not signed the refugee convention shows that the Prime Minister has no legitimacy and no real concern about trying to stop those boats being put to sea. We saw all the intoning and all the trickery that went on prior to question time, when the Leader of Government Business was trying to stop the Leader of the Opposition moving to suspend standing orders and have a vote in order to see the opposition's bill—the bill that would be the step that is necessary to stop the trade of the people smugglers and to stop people putting their lives at risk on the high seas.
Madam Deputy Speaker, if the government has any sense of wanting to show the Australian people that it can tell the truth on just one thing, it will agree to the opposition amendments that have been moved by the member for Cook. It is not too late for the government to change its mind, if it sees fit to do so. It is not too late for the Prime Minister to stop intoning about wishing to find a solution and take some action that will stop the boats. That means having the three-pronged policy: you turn the boats around where it is safe to do so; you have offshore processing but only where the refugee convention has been signed; and you have temporary protection visas so that, when it is safe for a refugee to return to their homeland, they will do so. In the meantime there is no family reunion, which is part of the 'sugar on the table' that Indonesia refer to when they talk about Australia tempting people to come here and risk their lives. We have the opportunity right now to take action by accepting the amendments as moved by the member for Cook. (Time expired)
The Australian people are watching this parliament. The Australian people are asking the question: will this parliament put aside the partisan political divide to save lives? This parliament should today say: 'Yes. We will put aside the politics of the ordinary days, we will put aside partisan point-scoring and we will act to save lives.'
Ms O'Dwyer interjecting—
There are people who have criticised the Malaysia agreement. There are people who will continue to criticise the Malaysia agreement as being too harsh. There are difficult decisions for governments and ministers and parliaments to make. There is nothing as harsh as dying on the sea. There is nothing as harsh as saying to people, 'You must risk your life to come to Australia in order to receive Australia's protection.' There is nothing humanitarian about that approach and there is nothing as harsh as saying, 'We will let that position continue.'
The opposition say it is the job of the government to govern, and they are right. It is the job of every member of parliament to look inside their conscience and act in the national interest. There has been a legitimate debate now for many years about what works and what does not, about what would be effective and what would not, about what is fair and what is not. The opposition say that a detention centre on Nauru would work as a disincentive. We disagree. By itself, it is simply people being processed and then transferred to Australia after receiving refugee status. We say that would not work. We say the Malaysia agreement would work. The opposition disagree. But we say this: is there one single member of this House who could argue with any conviction, with any responsibility, that implementing the Malaysia arrangement and a detention centre on Nauru could not save lives? Is there one member of this House who could argue that? I would submit there is not. And, if every member of this House accepts that implementing Malaysia and Nauru together would save lives, there is an obligation to vote accordingly. There is an obligation to act in the national interest. There is an obligation to put people's lives before partisan politics.
The opposition say that they have had a consistent view for many years. But the view that an asylum seeker can only be transferred to a country that is a signatory to the refugee convention is a new one. Nauru was not a signatory to the refugee convention when the policy was implemented by the previous government. My colleague the shadow minister for immigration, when asked whether it would be a precondition that Nauru be a signatory to the convention, said on 27 July, 'No, it is not a precondition that Nauru is a signatory to the refugee convention.'
Nauru is a participant of the Bali process. The member for Lyne's bill makes clear that transfers could only occur to nations that are signatories to the Bali process. The opposition say that you cannot transfer somebody to a country which is not a refugee signatory, but their policy, which was repeated just then by the opposition spokespeople, is to return boats on the high seas to Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the refugee convention. They say it is okay to turn a boat around to a non-signatory country but it is not okay to send people by plane to a non-signatory country. The House will forgive me for questioning the consistency of that approach. To me that says one thing: there can be, on behalf of the opposition, no consistent and coherent opposition to this bill.
I conclude my remarks with a quote from a Prime Minister:
In commending this bill to the parliament, I again say to the opposition—to their representatives in this House and also in the other place—that it is in the national interest that this bill go through tonight.
That was not this Prime Minister. That was John Howard in August 2001, appealing to the opposition to support the bill which allowed Nauru. The then Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, acted in the national interest. He said that he did not agree with everything that the government was proposing and that he did not support the government in all elements but that he recognised that governments have an obligation to act in the national interest, and I call on this opposition to do the same. (Time expired)
As I outlined in my 90-second statement before question time, I was the senior opposition representative on the SIEV221 inquiry, which looked at the disaster we had in December 2010. A boat had left Jakarta, like literally hundreds of boats before it. It sailed for a couple days down the Sunda Strait and arrived at Christmas Island. But it arrived at Christmas Island on a day when the sea state was the worst sea state that people on that island had seen in their lifetimes. Other members in this chamber who sat on that committee will certainly recount the day when we went down to where that boat foundered and we spoke to the Australian personnel who had rescued the people who were on that foundering ship. They told us specifically that, when the ship came in, the sea state was so bad that it flooded the engine of that boat. The boat had no power left to proceed under its own steam. So the boat could only be captured by the swell, and it would be pushed onto the rocks and the swell would take it back out, then it would be pushed back onto the rocks again. The Australians and the Christmas Islanders—well, they are Australians as well—stood on the shore, and they were literally the distance between me and the government benches away. In fact, at some stages during that rescue they were closer. They were indeed so close that somebody managed to jump—astonishingly, this incredibly lucky individual managed to jump—from that vessel onto Christmas Island. That is how close that boat came to the island itself. One of the Australians told me that he looked face-to-face at a child who he could not rescue even though he could almost touch her, and that child perished. Australian forces will be dealing with similar things at the moment, and, of course, they dealt with terrible tragedy earlier on this week.
I never questioned the sincerity of other members of that committee, and I do not question the sincerity of other members of the parliament today, but I do believe the position we have is the right one. I do believe that it is the right position. I do not believe that we should be sending people to Malaysia. I have thought long and hard about it, and I know that other members on this side of the House have thought long and hard about it as well. Unfortunately, those good intentions are not enough, and that is a concern I have with the Oakeshott bill that we are discussing at the moment.
I understand that the member for Lyne has good intentions. I actually believe that all 150 members of this place have good intentions when it comes to this particular bill. But we need to do something that is going to be effective, and I genuinely believe that the opposition's policies, which have been criticised for many years as being too tough, are necessary for this parliament to come together, to stop people-smuggling and to stop this from happening again in the future.
There are no measures deployed by governments in the battle against people-smuggling which are particularly palatable. All of them have great difficulties, contradictions and painful choices associated with them. They all have aspects which are cruel, but it is our jobs as legislators and it is the Prime Minister's job as the head of our government to reach a balance between ensuring that there is a complete end to people-smuggling on the one hand, which could obviously be achieved with the cruellest imaginable measures, and on the other hand for Australia to maintain its duty as a compassionate and generous country respecting its obligations under the convention.
Finding that balance is very hard. There was a time after the election of the Labor government in 2007 when there was a view—and I do not suggest that view as anything other than sincerely held—on the part of the government that the rate of people-smuggling, the rate of asylum seeker arrivals, was entirely a function of push factors and that Australian domestic policy was irrelevant. I recall, as Leader of the Opposition at the time, saying again and again that the push factors varied, certainly. Sometimes they were immense; sometimes they were even more immense, but they were always immense and therefore the factor that impacted on the rate of arrival was Australia's domestic policy. Well, we had an experiment. Australia's domestic policies were changed and the arrivals increased and increased and increased. As a consequence, given the nature of the vessels that these desperate people embark upon, the nature of the seas and, all too often, the inexperience of the captains, the deaths are increasing as well. And so we have come full circle and we are back here seeking to find a way to stop the people-smuggling trade.
The government wants the opposition to agree to the Malaysian solution. It states in its defence the testimony of Andrew Metcalfe, the head of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, a very experienced man, no doubt. He says that the Malaysian solution will be effective. He recognises there are problems with it but he says it will be effective. Our objection to it is not whether it will be effective or not, because only time would tell, were it to be implemented, but because it fails to reach the right balance of protecting human rights. It abandons any human rights protection, the human rights protection contained in the convention.
Politics is the art of the possible. This nation, this parliament, needs to make a decision on this this week. The coalition has resolved not to support the Malaysia solution. That decision has been taken. The consequence of that is that even if this bill is passed in this chamber—and I do not doubt it may well be passed—it cannot possibly pass the Senate, so it can never be law. So what is this about, other than an effort to embarrass the coalition and to put pressure on the coalition?
I appeal to the Prime Minister to do this: to agree to the amendment. Let us pass the legislation so that Nauru can be reinstated. Let us do that; let us effectively reinstate not all but the bulk of the Howard government's policy. If that does not work—because you will never know until you try these policies—then the Prime Minister has a basis to come back and argue that the balance between the humanitarian part of the equation and the desire to ensure border security should be re-examined. What the Prime Minister is doing is allowing her conception of the perfect to be the enemy of the good. There is something that can be achieved today. Nauru should be achieved. If it does not succeed then she has the opportunity to ask for stronger measures. (Time expired)
I rise to support the amendments moved by the shadow minister, the member for Cook. I want to pay tribute firstly to those emergency service and defence personnel, who, it has already been noted as part of this debate, are doing their very best, doing their utmost to try and recover the best outcome as is possible in these very difficult circumstances.
I also want to acknowledge the people who have contributed to this debate in this chamber because there have been some heartfelt contributions. People are well and truly adequately reflecting the mood within the Australian public at the moment. The Australian public, like those on both sides of this chamber, want an end to the smuggling of people. That is the basic premise from which we all approach this debate. The words from my good friend the member for Stirling before gave a rare window into why there are such strongly held views, passionate views in this debate. The member for Stirling and others heard firsthand the experiences of those people who were involved at the coalface—what they faced when they went to the terrible scene and the way in which some survivors were plucked from the sea and some were not. Those stories will live with people forever.
This has not been the first case. There are many boats, undoubtedly, that have gone to the bottom of the ocean that we will never know about. That is why the coalition strongly believe that our position that we put to the parliament today—that we have consistently put to the Australian people over the course of the last 10 years—gives us the best capacity to strike a fatal blow to that people-smuggling model. That is why people have seen passion in this debate today.
Yes, no doubt the government believes the solution it is putting forward will achieve the same outcome. But the facts must conclude a different outcome. The facts are that when the Howard government had in place a model that involved a number of elements that have been well canvassed as part of this debate, it did reduced to a trickle at best the number of people who were arriving by boats illegally in this country. It is on that solid base of evidence that the shadow minister, with the support of the shadow cabinet and many professionals otherwise, has decided that our course of action says to the Australian people that we have the best chance of implementation and of successfully carrying out a policy that must be well executed.
What the Australian people must also ask themselves at the moment is this: despite the fact that both parties have good intentions, which party has the capacity to implement a change that will be for the betterment of not just this country but also for those people who are suffering in camps and in desperate situations across the world? This is a policy which has been well thought out. It is a compassionate and a balanced policy. The shadow minister for immigration has moved these amendments because he believes passionately, as the opposition does, in making sure that a country be signed up to the convention. That would afford a basic human right which is not present in what the government puts forward, and that is despite years of consistent belief in the opposite viewpoint held, and abandoned, by many as part of this debate. That is the key consideration for the Independents in this debate at the moment.
The key Independents, who will decide this vote, need to consider, as we ask the Australian people to consider, who has the runs on the board? Who has the capacity to implement the change that can restore integrity to the system? Who has the capacity to say to the Australian people that we have a better way forward? The fact is indisputable that a significant part of the government's actions in 2008 has led us to the position we are in today. That is why we implore the Independents to consider the position of the opposition and to support these amendments. (Time expired)
I was sworn in as the Minister for Home Affairs and the Minister for Justice on 14 December last year. Four days later, I had the responsibility to advise the Australian people that a boat had capsized off the coast of Indonesia and that potentially up to 200 people had perished. Last week, I had to do that again. Today, we face the awful prospect that more people have died.
I believe that Australia has had a gutful of us fighting on this issue. They are sick of us fighting, they are sick of the politics, they are sick of hearing of more people dying, they are sick of us yelling at each other and they just want us to fix this. Both of us, both Labor and Liberal, believe that the best way to stop people dying at sea is offshore processing. We strongly believe that Malaysia is the best way to do that. The opposition strongly believes that Nauru is the best way to do that. We both believe in offshore processing. The people in the gallery, the people listening on radio and the people across this country scratch their heads and ask, 'If both of the major parties agree that this is the way to do it, why can't they sit down and fix it?'
It is incumbent on all of us at this time to remember what this debate is all about. In the last 12 months more than 300 people have drowned. On 15 December 2010, 50 people died off Christmas Island. On 1 November 2011, eight people drowned off Indonesia. On 17 December last year, 200 people drowned off the coast of Indonesia; 100 were subsequently washed up onto the beaches of Java, and 100 more still lie at the bottom of the Java Sea. On 1 February, 11 people drowned off the coast of Malaysia. Last week another 90 drowned—and now there is today.
Stopping this horror is within our grasp. But it requires legislation, so it requires all of us to work together. That means being willing to give a bit. It means being willing to compromise—to give a bit of ground to save lives—and to do what Labor and Liberal MPs did a decade ago after Tampaand after September 11, when we worked together to pass difficult immigration and national security legislation in this place. That is what the people of Australia expect of us now. That is what they are imploring us to do right now.
There are good people in this place on both sides of the chamber. There are people who want to do this. They want to pass this legislation today, and they want to reach an agreement to stop people drowning at sea. That is what we have the opportunity to do right now. To do that we have offered to establish a processing centre in Nauru. We have offered to implement the opposition's preferred location for offshore processing. We have offered to increase UN involvement in Malaysia. We have offered an independent review of temporary protection visas.
I ask members: remember Tampa; remember September 11. On both occasions the Liberal government came into this place and asked for special powers to deal with a crisis to save lives. The opposition—a Labor opposition—supported them. That is what we need to do now. We all support offshore processing. We support Malaysia; the opposition supports Nauru. Let's do both. As the Prime Minister said, 'The eyes of the nation are upon us.' While we keep fighting, more people will drown. Stopping this is within our grasp. We can vote for this legislation right now. I say to all members: it should not take another 300 people to drown for us to pass this legislation.
On this matter over recent weeks I have held my counsel. I have often been reviled for the policies I implemented on behalf of the Howard government, even by members in this place. I note that we are being asked now to implement measures that reflect some, if not most, of what the Howard government sought to implement.
The comments I will take up now are those which have it that the measures the Howard government implemented were with the support of the then opposition. Those who were there may remember that this support was not initially forthcoming. I went to see Kim Beazley, the then Leader of the Opposition, in his office to take him through certain changes that we made to the relevant legislation at that time. I can well recall his words that, with those changes, which incorporated certain fundamental human rights obligations on offshore processing, the legislation would have the opposition's support. This matter turns on the very question of whether or not you walk away from those obligations on offshore processing now. We are seeking in the amendments proposed to do no more than Kim Beazley demanded of us at that time.
I think that no-one in this chamber or in this country wants to see people die on boats at sea, from torture, from famine or from poverty. I think we all share a belief that everyone deserves the right—
Mr Haase interjecting—
Could I ask the member for Durack to please hold his tongue and to stop the usual yapping that we get up the back ,which he is well known for. This is a sensitive debate.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. No-one wants to see people die, whether it is at sea, whether it is from torture or whether it is from starvation. I think we all want to see people have the right to safety and to have their lives and liberty preserved. If they choose to flee because they do not get that safety in their homeland, then we have signed up to laws to ensure that they are treated with dignity and that their safety is preserved as they flee and seek asylum or refuge somewhere else.
What is clear is that the protection system which we have signed up to has some holes in it. It has holes in it big enough for boats to fall through. One has to ask: why is it that people are getting in these boats and risking their and their families' lives? One only has to look at the state of Indonesia and the Indonesian camps and the fact that some people have been waiting there for over a decade. The United Nations has two people there processing asylum claims for the whole of the country. The budget for the UNHCR in 2013 is going to be less than it was in 2011. We need to understand why people, who do not understand the system they are facing, look at their future and cannot see a safe pathway out and then take the ultimate step where they put their lives at risk. Over many years the debate on notice asylum seekers in this country has been characterised by negativity. There was talk under the previous government of 'queue jumpers' when in fact we know in many places there was no queue at all. We focused on people who were coming here by boat and ignored the thousands that arrived each year by air and the tens of thousands of backpackers and tourists who overstayed their visas and were the true illegal immigrants.
We have come to a point where it is seen that the only answer is offshore processing. I, along with many others, had hoped that in this parliament we might see a change in approach. The member for Wentworth said that politics is the art of the possible. We used to do things differently in this country. One only has to look back 30 years to see a regional solution that involved some onshore processing and some offshore processing and allowed up to 100,000 people to resettle in this country after the Vietnam War. We saw people coming by boat and said that that was an appalling situation and that we needed to do something to fix it. We worked regionally—we stopped the boats—and we allowed people to resettle here because we had the protection of the people who were fleeing persecution as the central factor. We did not try and demonise them; we did not engage in a race to the bottom. The key factor was their protection.
This morning I sat in a room with some people who I felt shared that glimmer of hope that we might use this opportunity again to craft what might be a real regional solution based on protection—a solution that would stop the deaths, that would uphold international law and that would protect people's rights. Instead we have a bill that rips up the refugee convention and would allow future governments to send people to Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. We are at a key moment. Do we lift the standard of debate, do we lift the standard of protections and do we uphold laws or do we trash the refugee convention and push down the standards of protection that apply in this region?
I conclude with one point: if we as an advanced, wealthy country with resources and as a country which has signed the refugee convention and committed ourselves to upholding human rights tear up the convention, how can we with a straight face ask our neighbours to comply with it? (Time expired)
There is one relatively clear question which marks the divide between people in this chamber today. It is this: when we have a choice between a solution which involves the protection, as far as we can achieve it, of human rights and a solution which does not provide protection, as far as we can achieve it, of human rights, what should we do? That is the simple, unadorned question that stands between the two sides of the debate in this place. If the answer to that question was not known before the High Court made its decision about the Malaysian solution, then surely it is known today.
The High Court is the supreme judicial authority in this country, unadorned by the political debate that takes place in this place and elsewhere around the country. The High Court said that protections of human rights should be afforded to people who come to this country in the circumstances which we are discussing today. That, colleagues, is the proposition that stands before this chamber today. It can be solved by the amendment which has been moved by the member for Cook. That amendment assures everybody in this country that, if a person is to be removed from this country through the processes being discussed, the only country that person will go to is a country which is a signatory to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. There are 148 such countries around the world, and we have the choice of whether or not we are prepared, as 150 people in this chamber representing 22 or 23 million Australians, to say that when there is a choice we can stand for human rights and we will make that choice. That is the question we all face.
I do not question the sincerity of anybody in this debate is this place. But people's reaction should not simply be emotional. This debate should be above politicking on the day. As the member for Wentworth pointed out, even if this bill of the member for Lyne passes today in the terms in which the Prime Minister has brought it on, it is unlikely to pass in the other place. So the question is: is this bill simply a result of political expediency on the day for political purposes rather than a result of this nation coming together as we on both sides of this chamber have been employed to do in a way in which we can stand for the dignity, freedom, liberty and the human rights of people all around the world?
We debate matters in this place day in and day out—matters of detail about taxation and a myriad things. It is very rare that we have the opportunity in this place to shine a light on the rights of individuals, especially the most unfortunate in the most vulnerable situation. If a law cannot protect the most vulnerable of our fellow human beings, then I say it is quite simply a bad law. We have a choice today of making a better law. Yes, it is a solution being proposed by the member for Lyne and the government. Yes, it is a solution. But we can make a better solution. We can stand up for human rights. We can stand up in difficult circumstances to respect the dignity of human beings in the most vulnerable and unfortunate of situations and say to them, 'There are 148 places around this world where you can be protected; there are a few in which you can't; and we are prepared on this occasion, whatever cost may be involved, to say that you deserve that protection.'
In adding to the sentiments expressed by all of my colleagues here this afternoon on the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 I make the point, which has been made again and again by those opposite as well as on radio and other programs over the last 24 hours at least that Kim Beazley indeed agreed with the coalition 10 years ago. He looked at what was being proposed by the prime minister of the day, and he agreed in the end that it was a way forward. In fact, the reason we are here today debating this issue again is that those opposite dismantled what Kim Beazley agreed to. Kim Beazley agreed 10 years ago, but we are here because the government today dismantled what he agreed to. It dismantled the position that Kim Beazley and those who were here at the time agreed on with the government of the day.
It is instructive to examine whether what Kim Beazley agreed to worked or not, because in the end we are all here looking for an effective solution. Did what Kim Beazley agreed to in 2001 work? I will recap some figures, because I often see commentators in the media saying that there is really no solution to this issue. Back in 2001, 54 boats and 4,137 people arrived. In 2002, 19 boats and 3,039 people arrived. That was when the decision was taken. The next year, 2002-03, saw no boats and no people arrive. In 2003-04 there were three boats and 82 people for the whole year who turned up on our shores. In 2004-05, again there were no boats. In 2005-06 there were eight boats and 61 people. In 2006-07 there were four boats and 133 people. In 2007-08 there were three boats and 25 people. In the space of the six years after this decision was taken, which Kim Beazley quite rightly supported, there were 18 boats in total, and in two of those years there were zero boats.
What have we seen since the decision that Kim Beazley supported was recanted on by those opposite, who dismantled the policy position supported by Kim Beazley and his colleagues at the time? In 2008-09 there were 23 boats, which far exceeds the total of the previous six years, and 1,033 people. In 2009-10 there were 117 boats and 5,600 people. In 2010-11 there were 89 boats and 4,900 people. In 2011-12 there were 106 boats. The evidence is there for all to see. There have been literally hundreds of boats, and it is expected there will have been something in the order of 19,000 people by the end of this year as a consequence of changing the legislation that Kim Beazley and the Labor Party supported 10 years ago. This is a fundamental issue. The policy, before it was dismantled, was effective; it worked.
What we are debating today is the opportunity to return to an effective policy if the Leader of the Opposition is given the opportunity to put that legislation before the House—or we can go to an alternative. What is on the table is really no different from months ago. (Time expired)
This has been a good debate so far on the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012, and it has been held in a very good spirit. I congratulate everyone on both sides of the House for the spirit in which this debate has been conducted. The important thing today is to go forward from this House with a bill that will pass the parliament. That is what we want—we want a bill to come out of here that will pass the parliament. The parliament is not just this chamber but also the Senate, and in the Senate the government does not have a majority. So it is very important, if this debate is to bring about progress rather than mere noise, that the bill which comes out of this chamber has a strong chance of passing the Senate.
That is why the amendment moved by the member for Cook is so important. What that amendment does is ensure that offshore processing takes place in countries which have the human rights protections guaranteed by the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. That is the key—getting a bill out of this chamber which can go through the parliament and which will allow the government of the day to establish more effective border protection policies. The Prime Minister and the government ought to be very happy with the amendments that have been moved by the member for Cook because the Prime Minister said during the last election campaign:
We want to deal with the countries that are signatory to the refugee convention.
She also said before the last election, during the campaign:
I would rule out anywhere that is not a signatory to the refugee convention.
What this amendment proposes to do is to restore precisely the position the Prime Minister had before the election. That is why this amendment would effectively put in place the bill that I sought to move before question time at two o'clock today. That is why this amendment is the basis on which the whole parliament can unite and our country can go forward. Without this amendment I fear that it will be a very divisive bill, for good reasons.
The Malaysia people swap, which the Oakeshott bill in its present form is designed to facilitate, is the kind of deal that no self-respecting country would make. What self-respecting country engages in a five-for-one people swap? No self-respecting country would so humiliate itself. Further, the Malaysian people swap is limited to just 800 and, given the scale of the numbers, 800 is simply not going to be effective.
Finally, the other fundamental problem with the bill as it currently stands—without the member for Cook's amendment—is that the boats will keep coming because the government has already indicated that women and children will not be sent to Malaysia. Frankly, how could they send women and children to Malaysia given the fact that human rights protections in Malaysia cannot be guaranteed?
Without the member for Cook's amendments, there is very little hope of any progress in this chamber or any progress in this parliament at this time. I say: let us not just have a debate today, let us have a solution today. The best way to get a solution out of this parliament today is to support the member for Cook's amendments. That would produce a bill that this parliament can truly unite around and that this country can be truly proud of. Without the member for Cook's amendments we may possibly get a bill through this chamber but that is as far as it will go. We will not have made any progress on stopping the boats, which has to be the fundamental objective of every member of this House.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak again on this matter. There are other members who wish to contribute to this important debate who will continue it. I concur with the Leader of the Opposition's description of the debate we are having because this is the debate we have been having now for some time, outside and inside this place. There will soon be an opportunity to resolve these matters, I trust, but I would add a couple of things to those that have already been said.
The minister made reference to a series of policies of the coalition. In particular, he referred to the issue of Indonesia. There is no doubt that Indonesia is a critical partner, as are the countries throughout our region, in addressing these horrible activities. The coalition stands strongly by regional measures to address this issue—of course we do, Prime Minister, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker Burke. Of course we support regional measures. We had regional measures in place when we were in government and those regional measures—most specifically, the Bali process of which the member for Lyne reminds us in this bill—had countries working together to address this problem.
The focus of the Bali process, when it was established, was border protection initiatives and matters of cooperation in policing activities, intelligence, interception and matters of that nature. They are things that I know the government supports. This is an area where there is very strong agreement when it comes to interception, interdiction, cooperation at sea and things of that nature. I note the Minister for Home Affairs is in the middle of handling another crisis of this kind—and our thoughts are with him as he does so. The process of preventing boats leaving Indonesia means that people remain in Indonesia. Our policy of seeking to intercept boats and return people to Indonesia is the same as stopping people from leaving Indonesia. We believe the best thing you can do in this area is make sure that no-one ever has a reason to get on a plane and fly to Indonesia or Malaysia in the first place. The next best thing is to make sure they never leave Indonesia in a boat. Last Sunday, if that boat had not left those shores, that tragedy would not have happened. We all understand that.
It is important that those who might think that by getting on a vessel they will find themselves getting to Australia need to know that that is not an outcome they can be certain of, and it should not be that the most horrific and tragic reasons are the reasons they come to that view. We have put forward measures that seek to address these matters that are happening at sea. We have long stood for them. The member for Berowra spoke earlier in this debate. He knows better than anyone in this place the moral burden that is carried by a minister. I am sure that the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship is equally aware of it. The member for Wentworth reflected on this, and I am sure it is true that the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and I do not go one day where we do not examine our consciences on this issue. You cannot but do that in a debate where there is a moral consequence and burden carried by every single decision made, either to strengthen borders or weaken them.
I think we all want to strengthen those borders, and there is an opportunity in this parliament today to pass an amendment that will enable, with the government's support, this bill—the bill put forward by the member for Lyne—to pass. There is an opportunity for the member for Lyne to support this amendment today that will see the bill that he has brought into this place supported by members of this House and, with the government's support, supported by those in the other place. We can leave this place this night with a piece of law that strengthens the government's arm against the evil of people smuggling. That is what is on the table today, and I would implore those opposite to support these amendments. I would implore those who have wrestled with their consciences on that side of the House over the Malaysian people-swap who are fully aware of the consequences for those who will find themselves transferred to Malaysia, and I implore you: provide them with the legally binding protections that the refugee convention provides, and please support the amendments.
Everyone in this House believes that we should conduct ourselves in a way which will achieve two outcomes: firstly, that we save lives at sea; and, secondly, that we offer safe haven and adequate human rights protection to those who have sought comfort in Australia. These are the two tests by which we should consider this: do we save lives, and do we offer safe haven with adequate human rights protections?
There are three difficult choices we have to consider. The first has been onshore processing. The history is well known—that, when that option was taken away by the previous government, the numbers coming on boats, and therefore drowning, plummeted. We also know that when that option was reintroduced—for the best of purposes, from the best of intent, with the best of will, to ensure safe haven—we saw a 100-fold increase in the numbers of people coming to Australia. The consequence of that is the reason we are here today. Everybody knows that the consequence has been almost 20,000 arrivals and at least 500 lost at sea and, fearfully, potentially many more. So that option clearly and utterly and absolutely fails the test of saving lives at sea.
The second option which the government has proposed is Malaysia. Again, let us take it as in good faith and a genuine attempt. But it has a significant, fundamental failure. Not only does the bill that the government seeks to pass through the agency of the member for Lyne remove all human rights protections—let us understand that we are being asked to pass a bill that removes all human rights protections—but the reality of what is being considered as a destination in the camps of Malaysia is not adequate in its human rights protection. I have great respect for Malaysia, but the reality of what is being proposed is not adequate. How do we know this? We know this because the government has said it will not send unaccompanied minors to Malaysia.
Let us understand this. The government does not believe Malaysia is a fit and proper place, in terms of the current protections provided, to send unaccompanied minors. And that means that the government, in its heart of hearts, knows that the safeguards, the protections, the human rights conditions, are not adequate. And what is the consequence of not sending unaccompanied minors? There is a terrible perverse effect—that young people will then be put on boats and the trade will continue. The young people will be the lures to be sent to Australia so that family reunion can be commenced. This recognition of the human rights flaws in the Malaysia proposal leads, however, to an absolutely fatal flaw in the government's approach, and that is: it is a lure for the most insidious of all of the people smugglers to put young people on boats to send them to Australia. The trade continues. The human rights inadequacies are recognised by this decision of the government alone and, as a consequence, nothing will be solved. We will be offering neither safe passage nor safe haven. These two tests are failed on both counts in relation to the Malaysian solution.
That is why—knowing that this bill, with all the goodwill in the world, fails the two most fundamental tests you could possibly put for any legislation—we have offered amendments. Those amendments are very simple. They guarantee the human rights protections by reinstating and ensuring that a refugee convention nation is the benchmark—the test, respectfully, Prime Minister, which you set prior to the last election—and, as a consequence of that, we can ensure in the real world that either Nauru or Manus is operated under Australian circumstances, with Australian cooperation, with Australian standards, and human rights conditions can be protected and we can put in place again a lasting and enduring solution which will ensure that we no longer have safe passage issues and we also have— (Time expired)
I speak not only to members here but also to those beyond these walls. I put to them an important point. The reason I do it is because we all need to walk together on this issue, because all of us need to accept, in some way, shape or form, that there is a responsibility to act in the interests of more than just the people we see before us—to act also in the interests of those who are taken by the sea in making a desperate journey.
The point I seek to make is this: at any given point, there will be those in this place who will say there are between 20 million and 40 million people seeking refuge, right here, right now. And we proudly accept between 8,000 and 10,000 a year. We can lift that level. We can try and make a dent in that figure, but we will not go far. And at some point there will be those who seek refuge, knowing that they cannot get in here because we have reached the quota, in any given year, and will chance their arm. So the question before us is: do we allow people to make that dangerous two-day journey across these seas? We need to bear in mind, and I think it is worth reinforcing, that those people who seek to profit on the desperation of others do not provide free berths; they do not give someone a free ride. The people who get here have had to pay and pay dearly and then potentially also pay dearly with their own lives.
I have said elsewhere this is a debate about the unseen. As has been remarked previously, for every 100 people who make that risky journey there will be four who disappear. Nowhere in this country would we abide a situation where 100 people would be there, day in and day out, and four may just die—say, in a place of employment through the course of their employ. If they are on our shores, before our eyes, we do not accept that as a principle, yet we accept that the ocean can swallow up others seeking refuge. I served on the Joint Select Committee on the Christmas Island Tragedy along with the member for Stirling, the member for Wakefield, the member for Moreton and others, and that transformed my view on this permanently and said to me that we need to do what we can in terms of safety to prevent that journey.
There are those opposite who have sought to point out that many of us have reversed our position and have been prepared to embrace their strongly-held view of the world. And this is in a place where we are punished for reversing positions, where we are not given latitude to change our minds. We have done this with one pre-eminent objective: to save lives. I would change my mind if I knew that it would give comfort to those people and that they would not have to go through their last moments choking on their last breath because they saw people fighting on the shoreline. I would do that and I would change my mind—even though I believe that Nauru is effectively the Christmas Island of the Pacific and that all we would do by shifting people to Nauru is to have the same situation as we have currently on Christmas Island. But we are asked to not behave in a way that is accepted as the standard in this place, to just engage in bickering. We are asked to find a solution, again, to save lives.
In all conscience, I cannot accept and abide a proposition that says, 'We'll just go on with onshore processing, because onshore processing, as we have seen and those in the community have seen, is a failure. We cannot have people just come here and make that trip and risk their arm.
I also make this point to those in the Greens: there have been other big decisions in this place where people before us have taken this decisions, and you have sided with people you would not necessarily side with because you believe the option on the table is not pure. We paid a price for that then and we would pay a price now if they were not to think differently. (Time expired)
We have heard much about members' concerns about saving lives. Yes, of course it is a priority and that is of course what Australians around the country are wanting us to do: prevent the tragic loss of life. The reality is that, in order to stop the tragic loss of life and people drowning on the seas, there needs to be a policy that actually works. There needs to be a policy that is actually a deterrent to people smugglers. There needs to be a policy that takes away a product that is attractive for people smugglers to sell. There needs to be a policy that says that having an answer for 800 people is not a policy. The number of arrivals in the last few months makes a total mockery of this policy. If the government is fair dinkum about wanting to stop the trade of people smugglers, what is their solution? What is the answer after the 800 quota is filled?
I am sure members on the other side are genuine when they say they believe that they espouse the progressive tradition of Australian politics. And where are some of those progressive politicians on the other side who have spoken against sending asylum seekers to nations that are not signatory to the refugees convention? They have been vocal and they have been out there; Madam Deputy Speaker Burke, you are one who has expressed concerns on a number of occasions, and I commend you for doing so. There is not enough of that in this place. There is not enough of members being able to speak their mind and saying what they really think. We have had the member for Fremantle also express her concern about the so-called Malaysia solution.
What have we got here? We have got a bill that deliberately removes the protections in the existing legislation. We also have a prime minister who has said, 'I would rule out anywhere that is not a signatory to the refugee convention. We want to deal with countries who are signatory to the refugee convention.' So what has changed? We are trying to assist the Prime Minister and facilitate her in keeping this commitment, at least, to rule out countries that are not signatories to the refugee convention. These amendments moved by the member for Cook have been not only well drafted but also thought through. They are a solution to appease different views about how to deal with the growing problem, as it has become under this particular government, of an increasing number of asylum seekers. What do the Australian people want? They want a government that is able to control the country's borders. They want a government that can stand up and say: 'We are a national government. We are responsible enough, we are smart enough, we are flexible enough and we are not too proud to adopt practical policies that work.' It is time to put politics and ideology aside and to adopt practical solutions. You, the government, are responsible for finding a solution. If that means, as the previous speaker was saying, that at times it is important to admit that you are wrong, then so be it. The Australian people are sick to death of feeling powerless in a country where they think that the government has lost all control and become an absolute sideshow and circus. This feeling is exacerbated when we see tragedies on the high seas. The Australian people want an end to this disaster. They want an end to the mismanagement that has seen asylum seeker management go from $85 million to $1.2 billion. They are demanding a grown-up government that is flexible enough— (Time expired)
I encourage all members in the House to support the very thoughtful, sensible and honourable amendments that the member for Cook has brought to this legislation. We have not had the opportunity to discuss the opposition's amendments; we are faced with the bill of the member for Lyne which in large part reflects the government's earlier legislative proposal. We are seeking to include in it amendments which are really quite straightforward. They say that, if unlawful arrivals who end up in our care are to be placed somewhere else for processing or somewhere else while their claims are assessed, they should be able to have the protections that would have been afforded to them had they been in Australia's immediate care. The amendments embody a simple idea of a continuum of care. It is a simple idea which, the High Court found, the government's so-called Malaysian solution did not meet. The High Court said basically that Australia signed up to these responsibilities and that, if we choose to transfer people offshore for processing, we do not all of a sudden pass over any need to maintain those responsibilities.
What the member for Cook's amendments are about—and I was quite interested to hear from the member for Chifley on the unseen—is to make sure that in relation to the unseen, which in this case is people who have arrived unlawfully being processed offshore away from our sight and away from our immediate control, we uphold the responsibilities and the protections which we would have to uphold if they remained in our immediate and direct care. I would much rather be debating the full package needed to stop the tragedies.
I pay my enduring respects to and would like to lessen the work of the men and women of the ADF who have been deployed on Operation Reflex and to those customs officials and courageous Federal Police and other government officials who have to arrive at the site of tragedy to do work which—we can only imagine—is as challenging to the body and the soul and as soul-destroying as you could possibly think. The best way to lessen their work is to stop the boats. A discussion around what is needed to stop the boats would be an extraordinarily good use of this parliament's time. It would pay respect to the member for Berowra. I admire his courage, his wisdom and his compassion in putting together policies which did just that.
As I said, the member for Chifley's made some remarks about the unseen. The package that the member for Berowra oversaw implemented by the Howard government effectively brought the boat movements into our country to a trickle. When the Howard government left office there were four—just four—people in immigration detention as a result of their having arrived unlawfully on a boat. We had stopped the boats because we had stopped the need for that tragic journey. I think it is important for everybody to realise why people take these risks, why stopping the boats is important and why we need to take away the incentive for people seeking asylum to embark on this dangerous journey which places them at risk. We need to take that incentive away not just because of the tragedy that we would hope would be avoided but also to deal with the unseen. I remember defending the Howard government's position and I said, 'I speak for those asylum seekers who do not have the resources, the wealth or the freedom to leave where they are to transit through regions in our vicinity in order to get into a position to pay a people smuggler to get on a boat to get to our country.' Those people are the unseen. The disincentive they face by not having those resources and those comparative freedoms to embark on this incredibly dangerous journey deserves a conversation as well as those who are able to arrive with a tailwind for their processing and a tailwind for their prospects to gain a place in the big-hearted program of Australia which sees us settle and proactively support 13,000 humanitarian visa recipients. If you are not able to get that tailwind, and you face a headwind because you do not have the resources to make the journey, that is itself a tragedy.
We should be stopping the boats. We should be focusing on the unseen, not just those who make this horrendous boat journey but also those who never have the option to do so. But above all we should make sure that where we pass those in our care to others to look after we do not turn our back on our responsibilities. (Time expired)
I commend all the speakers who have made contributions to this debate—a debate which is extremely serious. When I look at this debate, I look at my own position 12 months ago and what my views were 12 months ago and where they are today. Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, you might ask what has changed those views. In the last 12 months we have seen the tragic disaster of Christmas Island a few months ago. We saw the tragic scenes on our TVs this weekend of young men who had found themselves in a boat that had capsized and who had lost their lives. At first we did not know how many had survived, and the majority we believe have not been found. As for the few people who did make it and who we did see on TV, I looked at their faces. Being a father of two young men myself, I think this is a tragedy which we have to do whatever it takes to stop. I think what we have here before us today in this chamber, a bill by the member for Lyne, is a first step. To sit here as members of parliament, as we do every day when question time is on and when we are debating bills, and to do nothing about this subject is absolutely wrong.
I think each and every one of us has a duty to do whatever it takes. We have the utmost duty as elected members and representatives of our communities to ensure that we do not see the tragic scenes which we saw on our TVs over the weekend, which we saw on Christmas Island a few months ago and which we saw again today—the tragedy and the rescue operations that are taking place at this very moment.
To sit back and argue over whose policy is better, and at the same time ensure that nothing is done about it, is wrong. We have certain policies on the table which have been put there today and to which we should at least give a go. We have a duty to give them a go and to ensure that we are doing whatever we can to prevent further drownings.
I know that everyone in this House was moved when they saw those scenes. We heard earlier the member for Stirling talk about his firsthand experience. Many other members in this House have been moved as well; they have heard discussions in committees and heard firsthand of the tragedies.
This morning, more than 40 members of this parliament met. We met not as politicians but as people. We had a consensus in that room; we wanted to see this issue move forward. We wanted to see the deadlock broken. If nothing else, we are discussing it here today. But to discuss it is not enough; we need a solution at the end of all of this. I urge all members to give the member for Lyne's bill a go and to support it, because by supporting it we are implementing something that will be a deterrent for people smugglers. It will also ensure that we are doing something. To sit here in our positions on both sides of this House and not move is, as I said, wrong.
As I speak right now, there are rescue operations continuing on Christmas Island. I urge everyone in this parliament to think about the people who are being pulled from the sea right at this moment while we are here. They are afraid, injured and desperate, and that is who we are here for today. These people are human beings. These are people like our children, our brothers or our sisters.
I think it is time for both sides of parliament to stop playing politics and to ensure that we get a bill through which will prevent more tragedies taking place. We have an utmost duty as elected members.
The issue of refugees is overwhelming the world at the moment. As long as there are disasters, wars and hunger, there will be refugees. I think the best way to deal with this issue is through a regional solution in our area, and I think that this bill has all the marks of a regional solution. (Time expired)
On 30 September 2010, the then Attorney-General, the member for Barton, in a second reading speech on the human rights bill, was talking about the need to have greater understanding in Australia of human rights in Australia. He was talking about the respect that we must have in Australia for human rights for Australian citizens. He also talked about the recognition of human rights issues in legislative and policy development. On this government's attitude to human rights for Australian citizens, he said:
The government believes that Australia can, and should, live up to its obligations under these important treaties, not simply because this is the right thing to do but because the principles that are contained in those documents provide a protection against unwarranted, unjustified or arbitrary interference in the fundamental rights enjoyed by all individuals irrespective of their colour, background or social status.
He was talking about what we expect for Australian citizens. Yet this amendment moved by the member for Lyne, which would include the government's ability to implement the Malaysia solution, walks away from Australia's obligations under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. This parliament is being asked to walk away from the very human rights protections that the member for Barton so eloquently applied to Australian citizens.
I remind members opposite that the High Court found that the so-called Malaysia solution was illegal because the human rights protections which are guaranteed under the UN convention, or the guarantees that were contained in the paragraphs that were inserted by the coalition government into the Migration Act, could not be guaranteed. There is no getting around that finding by the High Court. Yet we are being asked to walk away from our obligations as a party to the convention.
There is one amendment before this parliament which enshrines the protections and the human rights obligations that we as a party to the refugee convention owe to people who come into our care and for whom we therefore have a responsibility, and that is the amendment of the member for Cook. A bill containing his amendment is that only bill that can pass this parliament. It is the only bill that can get through the House and the Senate. We can leave here, and on our side we will have compromised. The word compromise has received so much focus in recent days. We have compromised, for we will support the government's bill with our amendment. We cannot compromise on the issue of human rights, and no one in this parliament should be compromising on the issue of human rights and walking away from the UN convention on refugees. We cannot compromise on this issue, and no-one should ask us to do so. We should not compromise on human rights, and on this side we will not.
If the government votes against the member for Cook's amendment, it will have refused to compromise. There will be no solution and the government members will, quite unbelievably, have walked away from the UN convention on refugees. I cannot believe that members opposite will do that. Australia became a party to the convention on refugees in 1954. The convention came into being in 1951, and just a couple of years later Australia embraced the UN convention on refugees.
We embraced in 1973 the protocol of 1967. For 58 years we have upheld the values and the principles that are inherent in that convention. As the member for Barton said 'the principles that are contained in these sorts of documents', he was not referring to the convention on refugees but to the human rights conventions under the United Nations, which provided 'protection against unwarranted, unjustified or arbitrary interference in the fundamental rights enjoyed by all individuals'. We say that this includes the individuals who as asylum seekers come under our care and responsibility.
The Prime Minister knows that the implementation is important because, deep in her heart, she knew that the UN convention on refugees was important when she announced the East Timor solution and when she announced— (Time expired)
I earlier observed in this House that I am the great-grandson of a boat person. He was an illegal immigrant who jumped ship in Albany in the late 1890s. Then, as now, the issue of immigration was a very vexed one in the then colonial parliaments of this country. Then, as now, there were great debates about how we manage the issue. It was in the midst of this same vexed debate that a group of backbenchers met in Parliament House this morning to discuss how we could move beyond the impasse that we currently find ourselves in. I participated in that meeting. I welcome the attendance of members from all sides of this House.
At the same time as we were meeting, another boat capsized off Christmas Island. Nothing could symbolise the potential impotence of this parliament more than that we could be having that meeting at that time with that event in progress and then move on to do nothing about it. Nothing could symbolise our authority more than if we took this opportunity to put the common good first. That is what the legislation introduced by the member for Lyne does—it puts the common good first.
I have had my own personal journey on this debate. There have been many times, both publicly and inside Labor Party forums, when I have expressed great concern about the issue of offshore processing. But nothing moves a person further in this debate than the sight of bodies floating in the ocean, as we saw late last year off Christmas Island. We saw this repeated late last week and have seen it on our TV screens ever since. I still believe that our priority, as a wealthy country in this region, should be to maximise the number of people whom we are able to lift out of misery. But I believe we need to do it in an orderly way which enables us to control our refugee program. I do not believe, as some in this place believe, that simply increasing the number of people we include in our refugee intake is going to stop people attempting to chance their arm, as the member for Chifley said in his earlier contribution to this debate. I do not believe that this will occur.
I do not believe that this will occur because, in my personal journey, I have come to realise that there are pull factors. It does not take a lot of thinking. This is a wonderful and fantastic country, so is it any wonder that people would attempt to chance their arm—put their lives at risk—to come here, particularly when they are fleeing persecution in their own countries? There are pull factors. We must acknowledge that as a party and as a country, and we have done that. The legislation before the House today, as many contributors to this debate have said, balances all the relevant considerations and ensures that we have some control over the way we take refugees into this country.
Much has been said in the recent debate about the involvement of the UNHCR. To those opposite who have championed the right and the importance of the UNHCR as a prerequisite for their involvement in offshore processing, I say frankly that it is a recent affection. We all know that Nauru, the centrepiece of their refugee policy prior to 2007, was not a signatory to the UNHCR convention. So for them to stand up here, speaker after speaker, and say that this is the cornerstone, the entry point, for us to be able to vote for this legislation beggars belief.
To say that the absence of the UNHCR convention in Malaysia is somehow an absence of compassion on our side of the debate beggars belief when you have heard speaker after speaker on that side of the House say that a cornerstone of their policy is to turn the boats around. The place they are proposing to turn the boats around to is Indonesia which, as we all know, is not a signatory to the UNHCR convention.
There is a lot of doubletalk on that side of the House. We have an opportunity to do the right thing. I call on all right-thinking members of the House to do the right thing and support the legislation that is proposed by the member for Lyne. I believe it should enjoy the support of all right-thinking members in this place.
One thing that this House must remember is that there are serious criminal actions here at play: the people smugglers, who deal in the worst kind of trade. Since 2007 there have been 336 boats arrive—19,427 people, and I do not think anyone can count the number of people who did not make it to our shores, who drowned or perished or whatever.
I have met with many of the fine young men and women who have manned our ships and gone out on missions to detain and rescue and, sadly, to recover bodies. The stress that they go through, even though they keep a very brave face, is immense.
It is often said that leadership takes courage, but it also requires consistency in approach. The amendments that the coalition are putting up to support our three-plank policy—observing UN conventions and signatories to UN conventions as offshore processing centres, the TPVs and turning the boats around where practical—are a consistent approach. We have been consistent on that since day one.
The former speaker said that we had had this recent sign-up to the conventions of the United Nations. I have to say that what we have seen here on the other side is the abandonment of principles supporting the United Nations. I have a reasonably long memory. I sat in this House during the debates on Tampa and the associated bills. Members opposite—whether it was the member for Lyons, the member for Jagajaga, the member for Melbourne Ports or the member for Reid—all stood up, the Left wing, and condemned the Howard government; number one for offshore processing and number two for not observing the principles and rights expressed under the United Nations human rights convention.
We are not asking the Prime Minister to be inconsistent with her approach or commitments that she has given. In fact as the Leader of the Opposition said, when the Prime Minister was on the Howard Sattler program on 6PR just days before the election she said, 'I would rule out anywhere that is not a signatory to the refugee convention'. Now, we ask her not to rule it out—we do not ask her to change her view, we ask her to remain consistent to her view. Since 26 September Nauru is a signatory to the convention; Malaysia is not. The High Court in its determination has already expressed all of its reservations and concerns about the treatment of people that would be there, because there is no protection afforded under the United Nations Human Rights Convention.
There are a number of speakers from the other side who have expressed concerns: the member for Chisholm and the member for Fremantle amongst others. We ask them to observe what their core faith is. If their core faith, and I have heard it expressed over the years, is to support aspects of the United Nations, and in particular the human rights convention on refugees then they should adopt the coalition's amendment to this bill.
I just fear that we are going to go through a process here where there will be no change. I fear that the boats will keep coming, I fear that there will be more losses and I fear that people will suffer unnecessarily. We are not actually asking the government to change dramatically what its position was way back from the time of Tampa. We are saying, 'Come a little way; put back into place the policies and principles that stopped the boats'. We are saying to them, 'Observe that your adherence to the United Nations human rights convention is perhaps one of the best principles to apply'.
So stick to your guns, Prime Minister, and stand by your quote to Howard Sattler on 6PR, where days before the election you said you would not entertain sending anyone to a country which is not a signatory to the United Nations human rights convention. To do otherwise would just give further evidence to your statements on the carbon tax, where you made one statement before an election then did another thing. You made a statement about sending people to countries that were not signatories; we do not want you to change that now.
Three years ago my joint migration committee unanimously advised the then government on fair conditions for the treatment of asylum seekers. We had unanimous coalition support for the fair treatment of asylum seekers and for some of the centres in which they were incarcerated. I was, and the committee was, wrong not to include offshore processing in our conclusions.
The drowning at sea of these poor people, abused by their people smuggler exploiters and by the xenophobes of talk radio has made me think again. Enough is enough! Unlike the ideologues of the Right or the Left, I believe that the majority of this parliament must face the practical situation in which we now find ourselves. We must adjust our policies to deal with these realities. We cannot stick with the blinkered policies of the past.
If you noticed, member for Hume, I began with a mea culpa, where I said that I cannot stick with my own blinkered policies of the past.
In the last 10 years in the Senate, between 2002 and 2012, when it came to matters of national interest Labor voted 154 times with the coalition. We ask the coalition to do this once in this House in the national interest and to help prevent the further drownings of these poor people by adopting the member for Lyne's legislation. My activities in the last days, as those of many other members, have been prompted not only by my own conscience but by the courageous stand of the member for Moore, a decent man, whose ethical stance has sparked our consciences.
The member for Wentworth and others have talked about balance, and he has made some sincere references to the UNHCR and to Malaysia. Of course, he in the past, unlike so many on the other side, has made clear stances for human rights in Malaysia and has adopted the UNHCR. In research that I did for previous speeches on this topic I noticed that apart from Senator Brandis and the members for Flinders and Wentworth almost no-one on the other side had ever quoted the UNHCR conventions on refugees prior to this debate. But they use them now in this debate as a cloak for not taking any action, because it is a policy suggested by the government.
Of course, UN conventions adopted by Cuba, Russia, Syria and even China, are never obeyed or supported by those countries and never implemented. UN conventions are good, but they are not perfect. What has the government done with Malaysia that should make people who are sincere supporters of human rights think that we should support this resolution of the member for Lyne that includes both suggestions of the coalition on Nauru and our suggestions on Malaysia? The minister has undertaken with the Malaysian government the right of these people to legal status, their right to employment, their right to education and their right to work. These are conditions not granted to refugees in Malaysia prior to the minister's deliberations and negotiations. They are not abandoning human rights, and any of you who want to stick with Cuba and Syria over UN human rights conventions and say that these conventions are not good enough are in the wrong camp as far as human rights are concerned.
This is a regional solution, unlike the ideological purity of the member for Melbourne, and I am very proud to support it. I conclude by quoting a strong critic of this government, the Australian's foreign editor, Greg Sheridan, in an article criticising the Leader of the Opposition's stance on this Malaysia option, which—he is right—is part of the suggestion by the member for Lyne in his support for the Bali declaration and his suggested legislation. The foreign editor of the Australian said that the Leader of the Opposition:
… is in danger of performing a too-clever-by-half political judo trick on himself, making sure that if he does become prime minister he will not have the legislative and administrative tools to fulfil his pledge to "stop the boats".
It is not good enough for Abbott to enjoy the government's pain.
This is a terrible mistake he is making in disarming the nation—
he is talking about Australia—
and potentially any future government he runs—in this critical policy area.
The member for Lyne has advanced a practical solution which is a compromise. Enough is enough. We practical people—and there are many decent people on the coalition side of politics—have to come to the realisation that we must combine both policies of both parties. (Time expired)
The government has announced that it will support the member for Lyne's bill, and the coalition will also support the member for Lyne's bill, with one important amendment: that the offshore processing country which is designated by the responsible minister be a signatory to the refugee convention. The coalition does not support the Malaysian solution. While there is much to admire about Malaysia, for it to be at the centre of this government's border protection policy would be a mistake. The Malaysian solution involves a trade and exchange in human beings with a country that has not ratified the UN refugee convention and associated protocols. By contrast, Nauru is a workable option and has consistently been our policy.
We have devoted enormous resources to the interdiction and rescue of boats. We are asking our Navy and Customs personnel to pull bodies out of the water. We are putting immense pressure on the Navy and Customs to be on constant standby and constant alert and in a state of continual readiness. While we would always willingly commit to the safety of life at sea, the current state of affairs is just not sustainable. It is the job of every MP to debate this legislation and to examine their conscience. That is a good thing, but in the process of that debate is it not also our responsibility to make sure that we come up with the very best policy instrument to stop the boats, stop the drownings and stop the pain? That is why I speak in support of the amendment to the member for Lyne's bill moved by the opposition spokesperson, the member for Cook.
While there is no hierarchy of need when it comes to claims to refugee status, and it is not the right of anyone in this place to say that one person is more deserving than another, we must observe the reality of all those individuals and families who wait patiently in refugee camps around the world for their chance to come to Australia, New Zealand, Canada or the US. My view is that temporary protection visas need to be part of any solution. I met many people in my electorate over the years of the Howard government who were here on temporary protection visas. In fact, the first TPVs were to the Kosovars—from Kosovo—who came to my home town of Albury-Wodonga. I met Hazaras from Afghanistan. Their circumstances were difficult. Many of them felt in a no-man's-land, cut off from their homeland far away, separated from family and uncertain of their future or when the Australian government might indicate that it was safe to go home. Some of them were sent home. Some of them stayed. They were tough times for those of us who represented those families and communities. They made connections with the small rural towns in which they lived, and representations were constantly being made on their behalf for special consideration. Those of us who supported the Howard government's approach were on the receiving end of some pretty poisonous invective, but if I compare the situation then with the situation now I would much prefer, from a humanitarian perspective, those days to these days. Since this Prime Minister took office, 196 boats and 12,877 people have arrived, and countless others have been lost at sea along the way.
Much is made of the way that things ought to work—push factors, pull factors, the UNHCR and so on. Yes, it would be so much better if the world acted together and took an approach to the worldwide flows of refugees that embedded the principles of humanitarianism, secure borders and generosity. Yes, we are a generous country. But Australia can only do what we can do in terms of the legislation we enact in this place. The coalition has been consistent. What the coalition promises and proposes today by way of our reasonable amendment to the member for Lyne's reasonable bill is actually the best way forward, and I urge members to consider it seriously.
I rise in this debate to support the Oakeshott bill and argue against the amendments. I do so as minister for territories. Having visited Christmas Island, I know the impact that the tragedy that was so movingly spoken to by the member for Stirling earlier today has affected that community. There is a need for us to understand their circumstances but most of all to understand that the tragedy of the circumstances that have happened over the last week requires this parliament to take action. It requires this parliament to understand the importance of getting a bipartisan solution on this, because that is the only way this will go through this parliament. Let me go to the amendment first. The requirement for the coalition that the country receiving be a signatory to the convention has never been a consistent view of the Liberal Party—never. It was not a requirement when, as part of the Pacific Solution, Nauru was used by the Howard government. I remember, as leader of the Labor Party when we hosted CHOGM in this country, I urged to the Prime Minister of the day to be arguing signatories at the CHOGM meeting, because many of the countries in the pipeline of the refugee movement were in fact Commonwealth countries. I argued to the Prime Minister that he should take this issue to CHOGM to try to underpin a regional solution based around the convention. He rejected it. He said it was not necessary.
As the argument that signatories to the treaty somehow guarantees human rights, I think the member for Melbourne Ports made this point before: it does not. Some of the signatories to the refugee treaty are Afghanistan, Bolivia, Botswana, Colombia, Mozambique, Serbia, Somalia and Uganda. Does anyone seriously over there suggest that these people sent to those countries would have their human rights protected?
We do hold strongly to the position of the importance of the human rights issue, and that is why in terms of the Malaysia solution, even though it was a country that was not signatory to the treaty, we bent over backwards to get treaty-like recognition—not signatories to the treaty but nevertheless the guarantee. This is what the UNHCR had to say about the solution:
The Arrangement and its implementing guidelines contain important protection safeguards, including respect for the principle of non-refoulement; the right to asylum; the principle of family unity and best interests of the child; humane reception conditions including protection against arbitrary detention; lawful status to remain in Malaysia until a durable solution is found; ...
The critical test of this Arrangement will now be in its implementation ...
In other words, the UNHCR was saying to this parliament, 'We are prepared to give it a go.' The problem with this parliament is that those who sit opposite are not prepared to give it a go. The very thing they say their amendment will protect, on all the evidence, is not consistent with anything the Liberal Party has ever stood for on this issue, it does not guarantee it even if it does happen, and we have bent over backwards in terms of the Malaysian solution to ensure that those human rights issues are indeed protected.
I also want to take issue with the members for Berowra and Goldstein in terms of our position in the Tampa circumstance. It was not true that we insisted just on the human rights dimension before we agreed to the amendment. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, came into this parliament at question time that day and said, 'We support the government's action,' in terms of the military having been sent in. The problem is that that action was not legal. The problem was that the government of the day had to legislate to make it legal and in going to the exercise of making it legal they were prepared to obliterate much of Australian protection. For example, a provision in the early bill was that the law overrides all other laws in operation in the Commonwealth. It excluded the operation of the legislation from the jurisdiction of the High Court. That is what we objected to, and that is why you had to bring in a second bill, which we supported. But that in no way introduced the Pacific Solution. It was to cover your rush to action, it was the illegal circumstances of it and the Pacific Solution, as you know, we had many disagreements with. (Time expired)
I rise to support the amendment lodged by my friend and colleague the member for Cook.
But firstly let me thank the Prime Minister for updating the House on the military involvement in the high seas to the north of Australia. Let me thank HMAS Maitland and her ships company of 21 for the work they are doing right now in terms of rescue and assistance. Her motto is 'Invincible' and I am sure the ship and her company are living up to that. I am not to sure if the P-3 C has returned to base, but let me also thank the pilots and crew for that. I ask the Minister for Defence if he could pass on the thanks I think of the whole House for the work that our military are doing in incredibly difficult circumstances in the north of our country.
Can I say I find myself in agreement with the Minister for Defence Materiel this afternoon when he said that in 2001 both sides joined together under difficult circumstances to put together tough but humane measures. He is right. Both sides did join together. Both sides did come together and vote on a raft and suite of measures that worked. There is no question they worked. In the last six years of the Howard government only about three boats a year were arriving. In fact, in last weekend only a few weekends ago more boats and more people seeking asylum arrived in that one long weekend than in the last six years of the Howard government.
When the Howard government lost office there were four people in detention—just four. It was the raft of measures, as the Minister for Defence Materiel quite rightly pointed out—a raft of measures—that worked. Since November 2007 when the current government came to power what we have seen is over 336 boats come and almost 20,000 irregular maritime arrivals. I sat here for years and years listening to the government substantiate and justify the dismantling of that raft of measures, justifying the fact that it was not pull factors that were bringing to our shores in leaky, rickety boats; it was push factors. For years and years that spin continued that it was push factors.
I think today it is all laid bare, as it has been for a while. The member for Throsby made the point himself, to his credit, that there are substantial pull factors at work. It is pull factors that have drawn people to our shores. It is the government's dismantling of that raft of measures that have pulled people to our shores. Since Prime Minister Gillard came to office on 24 June, there have been 196 boats and 12,877 people have risked their lives coming here. Since the Malaysian solution was signed, 101 boats and 7,519 souls have made the journey to come here—over 1,000 month. The 800 subscribed to in that deal has been overwhelmed at a rate of 800 per 2½ weeks. The Minister for Defence Materiel made it clear in previous addresses to the House that four per cent of people are tragically losing their lives in that dangerous crossing across our northern shores, with 20,000 people having made the journey since this government came to power. That is upwards of 800 souls lost in terrifying circumstances. It does not have to be this way.
I support the amendment of the member for Cook. I support it because I simply cannot in good conscience subscribe to the idea of and vote for sending people to a country where there are no protections. The amendment is a sound. When the previous government used Nauru for offshore processing, those protections were enshrined in law. Taking those protections out of Australian law means that only a subscription to the UN resolution and the 1951 agreement will provide the necessary protections. So I agree with the Prime Minister's statement that she made on radio on 6PR with Howard Sattler prior to the last election. I agree with the Prime Minister's statement wholeheartedly. She said, 'I will not be sending people to countries that haven't signed the UN Convention.' I agree with her, and the parliament today should agree with her.
I participate in this debate this afternoon having been in the parliament for a long time and having been through the children overboard and Tampa debates.
As my comrade the member for Hotham said this afternoon, you need to put this in historical context. The Labor Party did not agree to the broad sweep of proposals which were put forward by the Howard government initially. We certainly did not agree with the excisions of all the islands off the Australian coast. Christmas Island—for those who do not know—is part of my electorate. I had grave reservations about supporting, as we finally did, the legislation put through by the Howard government. Now I have the thought of how the people of Christmas Island need to deal with another issue relating to asylum seekers: people who have lost their lives, and suffered dreadfully as a result of making that dreadful boat journey.
I was in Christmas Island last year at a commemorative service for those who lost their lives in December 2010. There is no question about the horror of that incident. How could we not be concerned at the sight of young children dying in their parent's arms in the sea? Yet we have this debate today, a discussion about how we might move closer together, when the only people who are attempting to move at all are the government.
Earlier this week you would have seen the Leader of the Opposition go on national television saying that his observations were that this was not about bipartisanship but about what policy should be. He had made up his mind at the beginning of the week; he was not moving anywhere. So what have the opposition done? They are proposing, in effect, an amendment which will mean only one thing: we either the cop the opposition's position or there is no position. If we do not support the opposition's position here this afternoon, they have told us here in the chamber that they will oppose any bill which is passed through this place into the Senate. They have not made any genuine attempt to discuss in any realistic way any proposals to change their position.
The private member's bill we have here this afternoon provides us all with a capacity to move. We have shown our willingness to move. We have indicated our intention to move, but the people on the opposition benches have decided that they just cannot. I say to those people of principle who are on the opposition benches: think very carefully about what you are doing. Even if we had a discussion which said, 'Let's come part of the way,' the government has moved a substantial way, recognising the opposition proposal for Nauru and looking again at temporary protection visas but saying that most definitely we will not participate in turning boats back. This afternoon we have had the unctuous behaviour of some talking about the UNHCR and the protection of individuals and then turning around and saying, 'We will not support what might happen in Malaysia because it is not a signatory to the convention, but we will turn boats around to Indonesia even though they are not a signatory either.' The hypocrisy involved in that statement is obvious for all to see.
I turn to the issue of those people who are doing this work for us, those brave men and women from the Australian Navy and the border protection teams who are working on these vessels. Last week the HMAS Larrakia and the HMAS Wollongong pulled 90 souls out of the water, some after long periods of immersion. Can you imagine the horrible sights that would have confronted these young naval personnel as they pulled these people onto their boats? That in itself should be sufficient to say to us that we need to do something real; that in itself should say to all of us that we have to be genuine in trying to move across the divide. Yet there seems to be no intent by the opposition to move a centimetre. I say to members of the opposition: you have an opportunity to show us that you are genuine, that you are fair dinkum and that you will move by supporting the proposal before the House. (Time expired)
When this debate started more than two hours ago, I looked up at the gallery. It was filled with schoolchildren, and I thought to myself, 'What would they be making of this debate?' I wanted them, despite the sometimes acrimonious nature of this difficult debate on border protection, to know one thing: Australia is a humane and generous country. Immigration is part of the Australian success story. In this country about a quarter of the population was born overseas. About nine million Australians have at least one parent born overseas and about seven million Australians have two parents born overseas. People such as Victor Chang, Frank Lowy and Sir John Monash are all the product of migrant Australia. In fact, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were both born overseas, and I myself am a product of immigrants.
In fact, Australia is one of the top three countries in offshore resettlement. During the nearly 12 years of the Howard government, immigration doubled in this country. Let me repeat that: during the nearly 12 years of the Howard government, immigration doubled in this country. In 1996-97 there were 73,900 people in our migration program and 11,900 in our humanitarian program. When John Howard left office in 2006-07 there were 148,000 people in our immigration program and over 13,000 people in our humanitarian program. John Howard took the public with him. John Howard's strong border protection policies helped take the public to a point where they accepted a very generous immigration story.
This is the point of our amendments today. We want a strong border protection policy. We want something that works. We believe in the migrant Australia but we also believe in an issue of state sovereignty—namely, protecting our borders. We have a tripartite approach to border protection—that is, temporary protection visas, offshore processing and turning the boats back when it is safe to do so. These are all policies that worked in the 12 years of the Howard government to the point that, when John Howard left office, there were only four unauthorised arrivals in detention and just 300 unauthorised arrivals had come in the preceding five years. Compare that to what has happened since 2007 when Kevin Rudd, the member for Griffith, came to office. We have had 19,000 unauthorised arrivals, more than 500 tragic deaths at sea and massive cost blowouts and—importantly—8,000 people have been denied offshore resettlement in Australia because of the large number of unauthorised arrivals.
We oppose the Malaysian solution because Malaysia is not one of the 148 signatories to the UN convention on refugees. There are 148 signatories, but Malaysia is not one of them. The High Court ruled the Malaysian solution invalid, and now we are being asked in this place to support a bill which will see the Malaysian solution implemented. On the coalition side we are committed to good policy that works. We want consistency and credibility in our border protection policies. We do not want to worsen our relationships with important neighbours such as East Timor, Malaysia and Indonesia, as has happened on the government's watch by not having an effective border protection policy in place.
I know that my colleagues the member for Lyne, the member for Moore, the member for Pearce and many others in this House are all committed to the same goal—namely, a humane and generous approach to immigration—and also to a strong border protection policy. The Malaysian solution is not it. The coalition's amendments are a step forward because they mean that we can have offshore processing in one of the 148 signatory countries. (Time expired)
Maybe I see the world in very simple terms here. We hear a lot from both sides of this House on the word 'compromise'. I point out to the member for Kooyong that, just as he does not support the Malaysia solution, I do not support Nauru either. I will find walking into this chamber and voting for Nauru to be quite a terrible thing to do, but I am going to do it because I think that finding an answer in this House, with both sides compromising, gives us the least worst option we can find. There is not a good option here. When war breaks out and people flee in fear of their lives, there are no good options anymore except peace. We cannot bring other countries peace in this House, but what we can do is find a way to play our part to help in this global problem of huge proportions.
There are an estimated 15 million asylum seekers in the world today who have already been processed by the UNHCR and another 25 million or so displaced people that we know of. I see figures that put it at 100 million more than that. We are talking massive numbers. Of the 15 million registered refugees, one per cent gets resettled in third countries—just one per cent or one in 100. So if there was this mythical queue that people talk about, it would be 100 years long. We know that the queue actually moves around—as new places of conflict arise, the queue moves—but, if there were a queue, it would be 100 years long.
It is that long because there are very few countries in the world which can take people from third countries. We, Australia, are one of 12 countries who can do so. The US takes about 100,000, Canada and Australia take about 15,000 from third countries, and then there are another nine countries that take anything between a couple of hundred and 1,200. So there are three significant contributors to taking people from camps, where people sometimes stay for 15 to 20 years. That is the major role that Australia plays in the refugee dilemma around the world.
We are one of the few countries who can do it, and we can do it because we do not share a border with a conflict zone. If we were Pakistan and we had 1.8 million Afghanis crossing our border, we would not be talking about permanent refugee status; we would be talking about housing people for the short term. If we were Malaysia, with 270,000 asylum seekers in their borders, we would not be talking about taking people from third countries. But we can. The reason I support the Malaysia deal and will vote for Nauru as well is that I think that role we play in taking people from third countries is incredibly important. It is a role that we should take very seriously, and we should grow. As long as the Australian people start to worry that our refugee policy may not be taking the people that are most in need, and as long as the Australian people start to lose faith in our refugee policy because of people arriving by boats and the incredible attention on it, we lose that capacity to grow that very important part of our program, which is the taking of refugees from third countries through the UNHCR. For that reason—with, I have to say, great difficulty—I will support the Malaysia deal, and I will walk into this House and vote for a bill which also reinstates Nauru.
I would take the opposition's commitment to international conventions more seriously if they could explain to me why it is not okay to send people back to Malaysia for processing through the UNHCR, because Malaysia is not a signatory to the refugee convention, but it is okay to turn a boat back to Indonesia, which is also not a signatory to the refugee convention. The contradiction there is quite profound: it is not okay to send people back to Malaysia for processing through the UNHCR, but it is okay to turn a boat around and tow it back to Indonesia for whatever purpose, presumably not processing through the UNHCR, even though both countries have the same position in relation to the refugee treaty. Again I would ask the coalition to acknowledge that we on this side are really compromising on this. This is a genuine compromise for me. I would ask you to do the same. (Time expired)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this very important debate that we are having in the House of Representatives today. I wish to speak in support of the opposition amendments, proposed by the member for Cook, which would ensure that no asylum seeker could be sent for offshore processing in any country other than one of the 148 countries that has signed the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It is a very important compromise that the opposition is offering to the government.
I have been in this parliament for 19 years. I have sometimes been called a moderate, a member of the small 'l' liberal faction of the Liberal Party, and I have been proud to stick to my principles for those 19 years on some fundamental issues. I have often been asked by people to support views that would make the treatment of asylum seekers more lenient and more supportive, and that would ensure that women and children are got out of detention. In the Howard government, I was one of the members of parliament who, with the member for Pearce and the member for McMillan, and other members in this House, supported the former member for Kooyong in his campaign to ensure that women and children were not kept in detention but released into the community.
One of the reasons I am so fundamentally opposed to the government's Malaysia solution is this: in a nutshell, if the Malaysia solution becomes law, the people smugglers will know that the best people to put on boats to send to Australia will be women and children, because the government—and I assume it is being honest about this—has said that it will not repatriate women and children amongst the 800 going to Malaysia. That can only mean one outcome. The outcome will be that women and children will become the gold standard for people smugglers and for the desperate families that try to make the perilous journey to Australia. The women and children will be the gold standard for people smugglers. Their parents, their fathers will be asked to send women and children, knowing that they will not be repatriated to Malaysia, and knowing that under the family reunion provisions of the laws of Australia those women and children will be able to apply for family reunion to bring the fathers, or the mothers and fathers, to Australia under our laws. I do not want to be responsible for this. I know I speak for our side of the House, and I know I speak for many members of the Labor caucus when I ask: who wants to be responsible for women and children being the gold standard, sent on rickety, unseaworthy boats to Australia so that they can then apply under family reunion provisions in Australia to be reunited with the fathers or the mothers and fathers of those families?
As terrible as the tragedies are that we have experienced today, and last week, in the seas to the north-west of Australia, as horrific and as tragic as those events have been—and they are the reason we are debating this bill this afternoon instead of having question time—it will be even more horrific and it will have to weigh even more on the consciences of members of the Labor Party and the members of the crossbench if, in future, predominantly women and children are on those boats because people smugglers know that women and children are the gold standard to send under the Malaysian solution proposal.
The Malaysians solution is the worst of all possible worlds. It is the worst policy because it makes women and children the most attractive option for people smugglers to send to Australia on boats—potentially to their deaths. I do not want to be responsible, and I certainly will never vote for the Malaysian solution. I will never vote for the worst possible outcome of all worlds. By voting for the amendments moved by the member for Cook, we will ensure that offshore processing occurs and that it only occurs with the protections that are inherent in all those countries that have signed the UN convention on refugees. (Time expired)
The member for Fadden earlier in the debate referred to the Orion aircraft, which, in response to the terrible tragedy that we have seen off our coast today, is on its way there or on its way back from there. Those men and women who fly the Orions of 92 Wing fly them out of my electorate. I have flown with them on a mission over the seas to our north. Those service men and women are very professional. They are glorious in their commitment and duty to this nation. Their courage should be reflected in the speeches that we give here today. At the end of this debate, this House will be either a house of courage or a house of the damned.
I remember, like the member for Stirling, being on the Christmas Island tragedy committee. I remember the testimony of border protection staff, of the Navy, of the Christmas Islanders and of the Federal Police about the terrible events of that day. I remember the testimony of the doctor who said that she had run out of body bags on the island and that they had had to wrap people in black plastic. These are terrible things, terrible events. Since I served on that committee, I have urged my party, whenever I could, to adopt unpalatable but necessary policies to save lives—to prevent risk to the lives of people who make these boat journeys and to those who respond to them. We must remember that there is a risk to the lives of ADF personnel, Federal Police and border protection staff.
The member for Melbourne talked about the 1970s and our response then—and we should not forget that, because it is instructive. Some 70,000 people came here, but a mere 1,700 of them came by boat. The rest came out of the camps in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand. They came out here because we increased our intake by a vast degree—not by a mere 25,000 but by tens of thousands. If the member for Melbourne wants to advocate that sort of response, he should put a number on it—and it is a number bigger than 25,000 if he wants to stop the boats; I think it is something more like 100,000. I think he has a responsibility to do that.
There is little nice that can be said about the opposition's chocolate-wheel of arguments. They have come in here with every argument under the sun, many of them inconsistent with their past policies and many of them inconsistent with their public utterances. They have an obligation to be courageous and to be bipartisan, and they have missed that opportunity.
It seems to me that it is going to be a great contest in this House to break this partisan deadlock. It will take courage, it will take iron and it will take will for representatives to do that, because people are going to have to change their position. Some people are going to have to defy their parties and some people are going to have to examine their consciences. We have already done that in the Labor Party. We have had very painful caucus debates. Basically, this House is either going to reflect the professionalism, courage and dedication of 92 Wing and the Border Protection Command and their border protection staff or it is going to be a house of the damned.
Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak in support of the Morrison amendments. Prime Minister, I talk to you from a background of disadvantage, a background of knowing what it is like when you are in a position in which your strength is not the fact that you have got the information. Your leadership at times has been strong. You have been resilient in dealing with many of the factors in the work that you have done. But what I ask today is that you consider the compromise. The compromise that we have here for fellow human beings is absolutely critical. You as our leader of this nation have the opportunity and the capacity to make an incredible difference.
I know, Prime Minister, that points of political scoring do occur, but on this issue I think the lives of people are far more important than a position where we compromise the rights of people who deserve those rights. I understand the way in which we deal with issues within our political structures. But there are times, too, when I hear members in this House talk of a compromise, particularly the 40 who would came together this morning, looking for what they thought might be a compromise, without the political impositions that would impede their intent to have a solution agreed to in this chamber today.
Member for Chifley, your comments were quite touching in terms of appealing to the humanistic element of all of us in this chamber. Certainly, Prime Minister, in terms of your leadership, I would ask that you do the same. It is not a case of taking away the rights of any individual. In the words spoken earlier by the member for Curtin, in reflecting on the previous Attorney-General's comments, it is a case of us having the focus and the capacity to defend the rights of any individual who comes within the sphere of influence of Australia, our leadership and our parliaments.
I appeal to you, Prime Minister, that you give serious consideration to a compromise. I believe from the qualities that you have displayed in your resolution in making some of the tough decisions that you have made that you now have the capability of applying the same here. I know that you have a position, and I respect that. But I ask that you give serious consideration to the amendments before the House so that the rights of those people who travel here, who take the risk to come to this country, are considered, and that if through an offshore process we make a decision to send them to another country that we collectively commit to the protection of the rights of these people who seek a life in this nation. Nobody in their right mind would not want to come here, because we have so much to offer. But we also want a process that protects our borders. At the same time, we also want to show the compassion that is needed to ensure that we guarantee the safety of anybody who traverses the oceans to come to this land. Prime Minister, I know that decisions are tough at times. I know that there are political agendas. But this time I appeal, as the first Indigenous member of this chamber, to your kindness and consideration and for you to look at the truth of the way in which we strike a common accord to afford people those privileges that I think are absolutely critical and vital. They are privileges I would not want to have relinquished if I were in their situation. I would hope that we would look at the amendments to protect those who are most vulnerable, to protect those who seek a better life, but at the same time ensure that our standards and our obligations to protect our borders are equally in place. Prime Minister, I appeal to you to give serious consideration to the Morrison amendments so that we reach a solution that is for the good of this country and for the good of those who come across the borders.
There are moments in time in this place when you know that a debate has shifted. I think that today we clearly face one of those moments in time. Members across the chamber have reflected on how personally their views on what has been a particularly vexed issue have brought them to this point in time in this place at this time. It is true, as others have reflected, that, sadly, how we manage the movement of displaced people in our region has not always been a vexed issue in this place, and we have had bipartisanship in the past.
We have had a vexed, difficult debate for many years now on this issue, and not just between the parties but within the parties. That is some of the conversation that we have heard. For me, December last year was a turning point. I have two young adult sons, and I have often entered this debate talking to people about how I would feel personally if my sons were under threat, under danger of their lives, and what actions I would take to get them out of that place and into a place of security and safety. It has always been a reflection in the back of my mind when I have come to these issues—and they are hard issues for everyone.
Last December, what reflected in my mind—and they are the voices I hear in this chamber today—were the 90 souls who ended up at the bottom of the ocean. We have faced the same thing this past week. They are the voices; they are the hopes for the future that will not be realised, which we carry as a responsibility as we approach this debate today. Our opportunity in terms of addressing the broader issues around the movement of people in our region and finding a framework that will manage that in the most humane way will be an ongoing debate, I have no doubt. But for me the priority has to be to stop people getting on boats that sink in the ocean.
Everyone here, I am sure, feels the goose bumps on their flesh when they listen to news reports and wait to hear the outcomes of those news reports, as we do today. I think that the government has put forward a program that is a significant compromise for many across all parts of this chamber, and I think it has a real possibility to stop us facing those news items and awaiting the outcomes of those events on another day.
It is, as many have said, a difficult position to arrive at. There are a few times in difficult debates where we do get to a point where we know we have a chance to have a shift. That time is here and now. This is the opportunity to make that shift. Please do not walk away from it. I think that the government has put forward a proposal in supporting the member for Lyne's motion that is a good and honest attempt to find that place. Please support it. Please take action now. Please do not walk away from that opportunity.
I particularly want to acknowledge in the few seconds I have left, as some others have, the work of those in our Customs and Border Protection patrol—all of those people who face this potentially on a daily basis—and pay my respect to the fact that I cannot even begin to encompass on their behalf what they face. But I do want to put on the record my great respect for the work that they do and our ongoing support for the work that they do. Let's just make that work a whole lot less.
If I lived in any other country in the world, I would do anything—almost anything—to get me and my family to our great land. But I can be thankful that my grandparents and my great-grandparents made that effort several generations ago. I recall the story of my wife's grandfather, who arrived in Australia at the end of the First World War as a young man by ship. It was not until he was in his eighties that he sought to obtain an Australian passport to return to visit England. Despite living and paying taxes in our country for almost 60 years, when he went to get that passport our government said, 'We have no record of you' and they asked, 'How did you get into Australia?'. He said that when the ship arrived in Circular Quay he simply walked off. There was no-one there and he went on his way.
But the world has changed in close to 90 years. Today, there are millions, perhaps 15 million, in refugee camps around the world, and there are many millions more that would take the risk, that would risk all, to come to Australia. I think of the over 10 million Coptic Christians in Egypt and the uncertain future that they face. So our first decision as a nation is to determine: do we have open borders or do we attempt to have some type of organised process? I believe that every thinking Australian understands that we need to have an organised process. The question is: what should that be?
With respect to the debate we are having here today, we have been in this position before. We all know the history, but I think it is worth repeating. Back in 2001 we had more than 5,500 people make the dangerous sea voyage, attempting to come to Australia. Boats were lost at sea and lives were lost. In an attempt to try and introduce an effective deterrent, the Howard government implemented what was known as the Pacific Solution. After this policy was introduced, there was only one arrival in 2002 and the low level of boat arrivals continued throughout the entire Pacific Solution period. When the Howard government left office, it is worth remembering that there were just four people in detention. Many of those in the current government dined out on the Howard government's border protection. Taking the high moral ground, they preached a policy of kindness and compassion claiming the opposition policies were too harsh and sought to vilify those policies of the Howard government. We have all seen the tragic results of that mistaken policy.
Today our nation is looking for leadership. A true leader would come into this parliament, stand up and say, 'I have made a mistake. It was a policy error to undo the policies of the Howard government and I will reinstate them in full.' We could leave this parliament tonight knowing we have achieved something. A true leader would stand up and say, 'If I cannot get my legislation through parliament, if I cannot get it through the Senate then I will call an election.' That is what a true leader would do. But, instead, this government seeks to support the implementation of what is effectively the Malaysia people swap solution, a policy that would see our proud nation resort to trading in human beings—trading 800 human beings for 4,000 others in Malaysia. Is this what the modern Labor Party truly stands for today?
We need to think through the effects of this policy. Under the Malaysia people swap deal, the government has stated it will not send women and children to Malaysia. Let us think through what will happen. We have seen how ingenuous the people smugglers are. They will simply fill the boats with women and children. So if we think the tragedy we have seen today is terrible, just imagine how much worse it could be if those boats were filled exclusively with women and children—because that is what this policy will do.
In considering the amendment moved by the member for Cook, I would ask members of this government to recall the words of the Prime Minister back in July 2002: 'I would rule out anywhere that is not a signatory to the refugee convention.' That is simply what the member for Cook's amendment seeks to do. I know there are many on that side of the House whose conscience is troubled by this. I call on you to put your party politics aside and support the amendment moved by the member for Cook.
As made clear before, the Greens have a fundamental opposition to this bill. Nothing that has been said during the course of this debate has changed that. We will not be supporting this bill whether or not it is amended. On the topic of this amendment specifically, the Greens take the view that the principles of the refugee convention ought to be paramount. That is how we guide our approach to refugee policy and our approach to this bill.
Underpinning the principle of the refugee convention is that when someone lands on your doorstep seeking assistance, you do not ship them off to a third country. That is where this amendment has an internal inconsistency. On the one hand it purports to promote the benefits of the refugee convention yet on the other it undermines the fundamental principle. It is especially the case in our region where we are the most wealthy and developed country when one looks around our immediate neighbours and looks at the places that these boats are coming from. For us to say that although other countries may have, in good faith and because they want to improve their standards, signed the refugee convention that it is legitimate for us to take someone, turn them around and send them back to countries that have far less capacity to deal with this issue than us is fundamentally inconsistent.
If it is the case that this bill can be limited by time so that it falls dead at some time then that is something we will look at. But this amendment as it stands is not one that upholds the principles of the refugee convention.
In the last week we have seen, with today, two great tragedies. It is the reality that no one in this place welcomes the death of anyone, particularly not defenceless women or children, or anybody, on the high seas. Nobody wants that. What is at stake today is a very simple matter. On this side we stand with the UN Convention on Refugees; on that side they are willing to throw it away. I think it is bizarre that those that are members of the Friends of the UN in this place—mainly on the other side—are willing to stand by the Malaysia solution, throw all that long-term support away and suddenly say—like the member for Hotham said before—that there is no confidence in those that have signed it. There is no confidence in the convention itself. I think that is a tragedy. The main tragedies are the deaths of innocent people who have died at sea.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Navy and Customs personnel that have risked their lives and continue to risk their lives right now at this very moment, last week and on every one of over 300 occasions where a boat has made it to Australia and where Navy or Customs have had to go out and pick up the boat. This was not always the case. There was a time when the boats had stopped. More boats arrived in one long weekend here under this current government than arrived in the last year of the Howard government.
We have seen a couple of people on the other side have now moved away from their support of the Rudd government and the Gillard government's position on offshore processing. The reality is that what actually worked, what actually stopped the boats was the Howard government's policy. The Malaysia solution is not offshore processing; it is offshore dumping. Temporary protection visas were very important in that those that arrived illegally could not apply for family reunion. Finally, there is the turning back of boats where possible, but not as is said in the throw-away lines by those on the other side about towing people back to Indonesia, from whence they came. The reality though is that those who come by boats do not suddenly miraculously appear in Indonesia.
If you come from Afghanistan, for instance—no-one underestimates the fact that Australia is a great place to live and a lot of people want to come here, but people have to fly into Indonesia. So they have to move through the airport departures lounge and the airport arrivals lounge. I struggle with the view that people feel that their lives are at risk at the airport as they pass duty-free. Contrast to those who remain behind the barbed wire in refugee camps around the world. By having this policy, that this government changed and that has failed comprehensively, what we are doing is taking away the opportunities for refugee resettlement from those who are behind the wire in refugee camps. While people may call me a racist or uncompassionate, I have been to one of those refugee camps and I have seen the little kids in rags as they stand there hoping for a better future but being held back by a country that has to process those who have the money to pay to bypass the system, to fly through those airport departure lounges and to pay to get on the boats. What a contrast that is to those who are stuck behind the wire in refugee camps.
If we need compassion, if we want to focus our humanitarian program we should do it where it really counts, for those without two bucks to rub together. That is what we should do, but in every way what is now required is to create the disincentives and put back in place the policies that are required to stop the boats. There is only one way—the opposition's way, the Morrison amendments' way. I endorse that and I think that those on the other side should as well.
I would like to speak briefly to the proposals that are before the parliament today. This has been a very interesting day for our parliament. I would just like to thank those people from across the political spectrum who took the time earlier today to come together and sit down and discuss this issue with a view to further discussions at a later time.
This is not the way in which I thought the day would unfold—not that I dictate the way days unfold—but it has put people in very difficult positions. There is urgency, there is no doubt about that. Obviously the boat that capsized today has brought both sides to the table to promote their agendas, but the thing that disappoints me a little bit is that there is still the smell of politics hanging over today's proceedings. I wonder if the boat had not capsized whether we would be in here or whether we would have gone into a slightly broader process in coming to some sort of consensus. But I thank the more than 40 MPs who came this morning, particularly those whose ideas probably were not welcomed by their own sides of politics, including the member for Moore, the member for Pearce, the member for Riverina and the member for O'Connor. The contribution that some of those people and others have made in the past few days in particular is noteworthy, including Steve Georganas and Rob Oakeshott. There is no doubt that has been a contributing pressure factor, but obviously the recent capsizing of another boat has compounded upon that and hence we have gone into the fairly rushed debate today.
What is coming through loud and clear to me is that no solution is going to be perfect. I see people obviously wrestling with their own consciences in relation to how they try to deal with this. There are demands in the community for it to be dealt with in some way. There are political positions that are being taken by various groups and, in the main, I respect those positions. There has also been the political positioning taken by some that has delayed outcomes in the past and delayed constructive debate across the political spectrum to find solutions. If the amendment gets up today we still have a process that is not perfect; if the Oakeshott bill gets up, it is not perfect either.
Whether either of these things gets up, and one will most probably, it is important to say—and this is where I agree with Andrew Wilkie's proposal—that regardless of what happens today we do need to review the outcome of the process. It would be well worthwhile to have a group of parliamentarians—it may be a group similar to this morning, or another group altogether; I am not trying to dictate the terms of that—from across the political spectrum work on the longer term processes that may be required. In listening to members today, and irrespective of which one of these two options gets through the lower House—and then there is the debate as to whether it gets through the Senate—I think there is still a lot of work to be done. So I encourage the bipartisanship that has been displayed—genuine concern about genuine issues—and propose that we take it beyond today and try to improve on whatever outcome comes through the parliament in the next hour or so.
I join the member of New England in lamenting that this is a political question, though in one sense I do not think that we should shrink or resile from that. This is a political question, we are in politics and we are here in the parliament to debate the best answer and solution to this very serious problem. I do not see any problem in putting different points of view or in articulating our case for what might be better.
I come from the school of political philosophy that says that sometimes you have to be tough to be compassionate, and being tough can be a more compassionate approach in dealing with some matters. Under the Howard government a tough approach to ensuring our borders were secure ended up being more compassionate. When Kevin Rudd came to government we heard a lot about how we could be both tough and compassionate. I have the benefit of having sat through the last parliament listening to that. We saw that government unwind the system mechanism by mechanism, bill by bill, and say that the system had been so evil and that it had really done wrong to people. The government said that Australia was being harsh, cruel and unusual and that it could get to a point where allegedly we could be somehow both tough and compassionate.
I do not think that it is wrong for members of parliament to search their consciences and make a decision about on which side they fall on various issues. On border protection you can be a compassionate person and say, 'My view is that we should accept everybody that comes here, open the borders and let people in,' or you can say, 'No, I prefer to have offshore processing and have people come through an orderly program in a different place.' Those are both valid points of view. But a government that attempts to do both ends up doing neither. That is what we had from the Kevin Rudd government, and that has been the approach taken by this government for a long time. They have attempted to do both and have ended up doing nothing except, in my view, take a non-compassionate approach to this issue.
The member for Wakefield said we are being inconsistent. The member for Parramatta said 'Please—please—compromise.' But if the Labor Party were genuine about compromise and about finding a political solution, we would have had genuine political solutions being proposed and genuine dialogue and discussion. The member for New England is right to say this is a wholly political question, because we do not have that genuine discussion, dialogue or compromise in this chamber today. The member for Berowra was exactly right when he said that how we handle this hinges on human rights concerns. The current government when it was in opposition rejected, on the basis of human rights concerns, the Howard government's bills. The amendment that the coalition is moving today is on human rights and humanitarian concerns—the same principles applying to both governments—yet we have accusations of inconsistency and lack of compromise.
Of course we do not want to see people drown when they come on boats in dangerous situations in which their lives may be in peril, but all of us have known this has been happening for years. We have known about what the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called an evil trade which will lead to more deaths. I recall him saying how evil and bad these people smugglers are. He also said that something had to be done years ago. But nothing very meaningful has been done. Nothing very meaningful has been proposed. There has been a lot of political debate and discussion but no action.
We need to think about the risks that our services and border protection personnel face every day: the dangers they face when boats are set on fire or there are accidents in dangerous seas and the very real strain and stress that they face every day in a system that is groaning. We also need to think about the fact that we spend $1 billion to administer 19,000 arrivals every year. We all know that there is a problem here. Why are we here right now discussing this? We are here because there has been a series of disasters and more disasters are happening. We have all known about this for some time.
The job of a government is to govern; it is not the government's role to subcontract that to the opposition. In the act-react cycle this week in this parliament we have seen the opposition proposing bills and the government reacting. Today we saw that again, and it is not to the betterment of this place for the government to rush in and have scenes in this chamber when we are all looking around and wondering what the hell is going on. It would be better to have a measured, reasoned and detailed approach to something for once—to really come forward and say 'Let's have a compromise.' We need to sit down and say, 'How can we work this out?' But that has not been going on today.
This legislation is wholly inadequate, which is why we have put forward an amendment. The amendment is to improve the quality of this legislation. But let us not fool ourselves that we are coming up with some kind of comprehensive solution, that one side is moral and the other side is immoral or that if you go to a meeting you are compassionate and if you do not you are not compassionate.
It has been a very, very important revelation for the Australian people that there could be coherent and passionate debate in this chamber. I hope that this debate will continue. It is obviously not up to me to restate the positions of both sides, but it has become pretty clear that this debate is about two irreconcilable policy areas: on the one hand the human rights issue, which we are defending, and on the other side a determination to stick with the Malaysia solution. That gives us a fairly simple framework within which to conduct this debate. I will cover some of the moral inconsistencies this debate is grappling with and then talk about some of the realities of source countries that have not been addressed. Then I will talk about where we can potentially go from here in the way of solutions.
One of the great frustrations of the Australian people is this debate, which has moved to policy prominence the arrival of boats from overseas. The top 3 reasons that we would be talking politics around a barbecue on how the government lost its way two years ago is what happened in 2008 and 2009 when the Australian government slowly, like the young Dutch boy in the parable, picked away at the dyke. That is right—the protections that had been put in place in the years before were slowly unravelled, and we waited for the inevitable. As in the parable, suddenly what has happened over the last few months has brought home to the Australian people the horrible reality not only that there was there no willingness on that side of the chamber to address the problem but also that now, in a time of crisis, this government is learning that it may not be able to address the problem legislatively.
A bill that could have been brought here to be debated has been sitting for months and months. There is only one thing that this side of the chamber has stood for and that is to listen to the High Court's decision on section 198 of the act which covers human rights. We on this side will protect the rights of people who are resettled. We are the side of politics that is doing that today. Let no-one standing on the other side forget that if there is one thing that holds up this legislation—be it from the government or handed to the member for Lyne with a little dill and dressing to pass it off as an independent bill—and that the same issue stands: we have a government fundamentally unable to let go of its Malaysian deal. That side of the House, when in opposition, placed human rights above all things. This was the great Australian Labor Party tradition, and I now wonder about the sorry carapace that is left on that side of the chamber, because the one thing that the government is prepared to trade away is the very thing that the opposition is standing firm on. No political party in any civilised Western democracy should ever pass up human rights as a way of getting an expedient political solution. I remember a mate of mine Jay Ryan, from San Francisco, who used to say, 'Always prefer a punt to a sack,' and that is exactly what the government is doing on human rights so that it can get a quick solution. The Australian parliament should never do that. That is why we will stand firm.
Let us now examine how they have worked very hard on the government side of the chamber to narrow this debate down to a squabble between two irreconcilable ideologies. Actually, that is not the case at all: this is a Labor Party that stood up for human rights once. Whether we take the utilitarian approach or the Catholic social theological approach we look after those who are most vulnerable. But the Labor Party has lost sight of that. With the first arrival that appears on our shores, it forgets about the situation in source countries. The previous speaker made that so clear. If we go to Afghanistan and see the suffering, then we must consider equally those vulnerable people who cannot get onto a commercial flight and fly to South-East Asia as we do the ones who arrive. They deserve equal consideration. I think that that is a thoroughly reasonable proposition.
We spend five per cent less on border processing in Quetta in Pakistan than we do on last-gasp situations here in our northern oceans. We have simply forgotten about and lost the opportunity to do cross-border processing. There is no dialogue with these nations. Remember also that half of all arrivals come from democratically-supported governments. Those source countries have democracies. Most of their problems are internecine and sectarian. That is not what the treaty was set up for, yet we could be working with those countries at source. But there is no talk of that from this government.
Let me remind everyone: we are a Westminster democracy. If a government cannot negotiate with the crossbenchers or with the opposition and get a bill through the Senate, then today we are debating nothing more than a zombie bill. It is the walking dead bill that was killed off in the Senate. What we need to do is find some ground for the government and— (Time expired)
When faced with the decision of the High Court last year there were two possible responses. One response was to address the issue, which the High Court had identified, that the Malaysian people-swap deal was quite simply illegal under Australian law. Under Australian law there were protections for people who were seeking asylum. That is why I support the amendment to the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 as moved by the member for Cook and the shadow minister.
This is a good amendment. It means that Australia and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship can use any of the signatories to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. There are over 148 signatories. I find it extraordinary that the Labor Party—the party of Evatt and Chifley, the party of Gareth Evans—has so little regard for the United Nations and their agencies and for a multilateral convention which is administered by one of the UN agencies. The Labor Party used to be the party that supported the United Nations and that supported multilateral treaties.
There has been some historic revisionism about the events leading up to 2001, and I remember very well the first border protection bill that John Howard brought into this chamber. The then Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, did not support it and the Labor Party did not support it. One of the issues then, as it is now, was the protection that was there for refugees. This is an issue which all countries face—Europe faces it, the United Kingdom faces it and the United States faces it—and the one thing that differentiates Australia is that up until 2007 Australia had shown a solution to the issue of people smuggling and strong policies in the area of border protection. One of the problems with what the incoming government did in 2007 was that it started to pick at the regime that was there when it came to office. There were only four people in detention centres, but as the government picked at it the thing began to unravel.
We have heard talk about a regional solution. The idea is not new. The Howard government was represented at the original Bali conference in February 2002. In this debate we should remember the tremendous cooperation we have through members of the Australian Public Service and, particularly, the Australian Federal Police, and the excellent work that they do right across the region to combat people smuggling.
Labor now supports offshore processing. We have always believed on this side that offshore processing is an important element of the deterrent to people smuggling. That is why we had Manus Island and Nauru. One of the things we see now is a government which is floundering about. In the lead-up to 2007 one of the things the member for Griffith talked about when he was trying to position the Labor Party as a party that could deal with these issues was the layers of the onion. He talked about how we needed to manage national security and how we then needed to manage the economy and how we needed to do those two things before we could do anything else. That was to reassure people that the Labor Party could manage these issues. What we have seen now is over 300 boats arrive during the Labor Party's watch. We now have a desperate government seeking desperate measures.
The solution has to be the reintroduction of temporary protection visas. The solution has to be offshore processing. The solution has to include the protections that are there in the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. We have a strong migration program and we have a strong humanitarian re-settlement program, but it needs to be an orderly program, and this government has lost control.
I first have to apologise to the Leader of the House. I indicated that I would not seek the call unless provoked and all I have proved is that I am easily provoked. But I could not let some of the more recent contributions to the debate on this legislation, Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012, go without response. It is a bit rich for those that sit on the other side to lecture us about the processes of the Australian Labor Party. The position that we are in tonight shows that the Australian Labor Party—a broad church—can reach a position of compromise. What those opposite are proposing to us is that we should move even further to join with a force that has not in any way moderated its position. That is my concern.
I pay a little tribute to the member for Boothby because he—somebody from the other side—finally mentioned the Bali process. I am not critical of the Deputy Speaker and the second Deputy Speaker for allowing a second reading debate to be revisited on consideration in detail but, if this had been a true consideration in detail debate, we might have looked at the clauses of this bill. While I am happy to refer to the bill as the Oakeshott bill, we might have reminded ourselves that it actually has a title and in that title is 'Bali process'. It is based on involving countries that are party to the regional cooperation framework. That is clause 198AA on line 29 of page 6—a true consideration in detail observation.
No. Malaysia is one of the countries but there are over 40 countries that could be classified like that. If the member for Dawson could, for once in his life, listen to a debate and not prattle on I will refer him to the next page because—oh my gosh!—this is not enough of a multilateral agreement; we get referred to the UN. We go over the page to clause (4):
(4) Within 14 days of designating a country under subsection (1), the Minister must, in writing, make a request to each of:
(a) the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and
(b) the International Organization for Migration for a formal statement of the views of each of these organisations in relation to any arrangements that are in place, or are to be put in place, in the country for the treatment of persons taken into that country.
You talk about the conventions; this bill actually contains action. Shock, horror! The fact is, as mentioned by the member for Boothby, the Bali process was a creation of the Howard government. Goodness gracious! We picked it up when we were elected. We have run with it. It is multifaceted. It looks at ways in which we can assist those countries that are either source countries, transit countries or destination countries. While there have been some good contributions tonight I remind the House that one of the best contributions that has been made in this place about people movement and asylum seekers was made by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He understood what confronted us. We should not look inward. This is not just our problem; it is a problem that we share. This bill might have its defects but it is an attempt to bring together a process that can assist.
I may or may not have attended a meeting earlier today but what I did do was notice that there was a lot of agreement around the Bali process and a longer term solution. It might surprise people on the other side that there have been discussions amongst moving tribes in the Labor Party about how we should handle this long-term, but we have a short-term problem. If we can at least come to agreement on it in some way, with some variation of this bill, we will show that to the rest of the world and the region. I support this piece of legislation as a conclusion that will do something. (Time expired)
I am pleased to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 and in doing so bring to the House the reason we are here. The reason we are here is that border protection to our north has broken down and become dysfunctional. At the outset I congratulate everybody because this debate has been very civilised. Not only this urgent debate but debate on this whole issue over the last few days has been civilised—other than the irrational and out-of-control comments by the member for Isaacs who should withdraw them and apologise. I will move on.
In 2007 the member for Blaxland, Jason Clare, was on a committee trip with me to Geraldton. I said to him, 'Do you realise the trouble you people are in regarding border protection?' It is ironic that he is now the minister in charge. At the time he said to me, 'It's not an issue; it won't be an issue.' It is an issue and this is why it needs to be taken so seriously. It has come home now. The rest of the world is watching us. Our electorates are watching us and they are watching the way in which we deal with an issue which is so sensitive.
Yesterday, when I was on Capitol Hill with the member for Eden-Monaro, we treated this issue sensitively. When I got back to my office I had a number of emails generally supporting my point of view but there were some who said, 'I'm from your electorate and I've got a different point of view.' That is fine. That is the great thing about this democracy we have in Australia. I know that there are many divergent views out there but we are trying to reach a solution where we can stop the boats.
We did stop the boats. The Howard solution was something that brought me into parliament. In 2001, we received 5,516 boats. That is when the Tampa arrived. I was elected in 2001 in the only electorate in Western Australia to change hands. After 2001, there was one boat in 2002; 53 people in 2003, 15 in 2004; 11 in 2005; 60 in 2006. What happened in 2007? Double. Now we are reaching the point where the arrivals will probably outstrip the number of people that we bring in on our humanitarian program. We bring 14,000 people to this country annually on a humanitarian program, and we are about to usurp them.
I support the amendments that the member for Cook has moved. The Labor Party cannot on the one hand say they want countries with human rights obligations that have signed the conventions and then say, 'We've changed now. We want to send them to a country that doesn't have these conventions.' I bring to your attention an article in the Herald Sun of 2 June last year by Geoff Chambers in Kuala Lumpur entitled 'Refugees brutality claims: torture in Malaysia', which says:
Refugees in Kuala Lumpur's suburban slums say they have been tortured in Malaysia's detention centres.
It goes on and says:
Gruesome personal accounts include claims of beatings with rattan canes and whippings a fate that could await the 300 refugees the Federal Government intends to send to Malaysia as part of its controversial detainee swap.
It goes on about human rights groups criticising the tactics, but they are supported by Malaysian law. I would like to be able to table that, but I know I would not be permitted. In yesterday's Australian an article entitled 'Malaysia solution is a death sentence: lawyer' says:
A Former Iraqi soldier was tortured by police in Malaysia to obtain a confession that he planned to arrange for asylum-seekers to reach Australia, according to a leading human rights lawyer in Kuala Lumpur.
This is where people on that side want to send them. Can I appeal to people on that side who have made it their mantra in this House to support human rights, people such as the member for Melbourne Ports, the member for Calwell, the member for Banks and the member for Fremantle. As a colleague from Western Australia, the member for Fremantle spoken on human rights issues. I have been on delegations with her when she has made human rights her No. 1 objective. On this issue I would be most surprised if she were comfortable in voting for a bill that sent people to a country that abrogated their human rights. I encourage people like the member for Fremantle to think carefully before they support the Oakeshott bill, but do support the amendments that we are offering to this House.
I have sat here for the last three or more hours and listened to debate from both sides of the House, and there has been much compassion. I believe that there is much goodwill in this House from both sides. Today we can truly make a momentous decision. Today can be the day that we come together. Today can be the day that we make a decision that no other single loss of life will occur at sea. I therefore support the member for Cook's amendments. I have had the incredible privilege of working in this House and working with the member for Berowra when I was here as a member of the Howard government working as a parliamentary secretary dealing with refugee and humanitarian settlement programs and in my current role as a shadow parliamentary secretary.
Australia has had a very proud history. We have had 700,000 refugees come to this country and have accepted them since 1945. Today there have been many contributions about conventions, particularly the refugee convention, and I just want to highlight what that convention was about. In 1951 that convention related to the status of refugees. It is a key legal document in defining who is a refugee, what is their right and the legal obligations of the state. Australia signed on to that convention on 22 January 1954. Every year under our obligations to that convention—and we take those obligations very, very seriously—approximately 13,500 people are settled under the humanitarian convention. A large number of those are women at risk and in 2010-11 about 12.7 per cent of that number were women at risk.
There will always be civil wars, there will always be racial intolerance and there will always be persecution of those with different beliefs in many countries in the world. That is why the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that at any one time there are approximately 43 million people forcibly displaced around the world—27 million of those are internally displaced people, 15.4 million are refugees and approximately 850,000 are asylum seekers.
We have had a long-held policy of good settlement programs in this country. A few months ago I met with Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who said that Australia had the best settlement programs in the world. So we have an incredible settlement program, we settle refugees, we provide housing, we provide language classes, we provide Centrelink support and we provide pathways for refugees to contribute and be a part of the Australian family. But what we are here about today is their pathway. I believe that we have a real chance today to come to some solution.
Australia has always supported the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and its activities all around the world in settling refugees. I have visited many refugee camps around the world. I have seen the look on the faces of people on the Thai-Burma border who are waiting for that magical interview with the UNHCR so that they can come to Australia. I see the torment of people who have come here and are used and abused by people smugglers. Every day people smugglers who engage in illegal activities deny each and every one of these people offshore a genuine place in Australia's humanitarian program. On Sunday I took part in World Refugee Day and I will never forget the faces of a large group of young men I met. I was humbled by their courage and their journey to this country.
Today is a day that we can get together. Today is a day that we can pass a bill that will make sure that there is not one single tragic life lost at sea. The tragic events of last week and the news today are gut-wrenching and heartbreaking for all of us in this House. We have an opportunity today to work together to process asylum seekers in a country that is a signatory to the United Nations refugee convention. There are 148 countries to choose from. We cannot send them to Malaysia on a swap deal. They are people, they are not commodities that can be swapped. Today is a chance when we can say that we can make a real difference. Today is a chance to say, 'Stop this loss of life at sea.'
I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. As we gather this evening, I think it is important that we keep in mind the context of how we got ourselves into this situation, how we got into this mess, and reflect on what has happened in the past as we try to build a better future for people who seek asylum in this country. It is true that this government did inherit a system of border protection and controls that was working, and it legislated to have it unravelled. I do not make that comment out of any triumphalism or to apportion any blame. But it is a simple fact that the previous system was working and we deliberately legislated in such a way as to allow the system to unravel.
I do acknowledge that there is a need for action and there is a need for urgency in this situation. The events of the past week have brought it home to this place, but certainly there have been other terrible incidents where people's lives have been lost at sea. So I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate, and I believe that we do have the capacity in this building, among members on both sides of this House, to come up with some solutions that we can all live with. I doubt that we will come up with a solution that will be perfect, but I think we will be able to come up with something we can all live with. Unfortunately, the legislation before the House, put forward by the member for Lyne, is not something that we on this side can live with, so we have put forward some amendments which I strongly support.
This debate is very welcome and is long overdue, and there is a need for some leadership in the way we manage this issue. I have had the opportunity over the past decade to watch this debate unfold from two different perspectives: one as a member of the public, and I watched and listened as John Howard was vilified for his so-called Pacific solution. I heard the left-wing media commentators and others describe him as inhumane, racist and mean-spirited, but under that suite of policies people were not drowning at sea in unseaworthy vessels trying to make it to Australia. So I do question those who lectured and pilloried the former Prime Minister and the member for Berowra: exactly what was inhumane about their policy when we look at the situation we have today where hundreds of people have died in recent years and more than 20,000 unauthorised arrivals have sought to make it to Australia in dangerous conditions?
The second vantage point from which I viewed this debate was in this place as a new member of parliament. I watched as the Rudd and Gillard governments sought to unwind those previous policies. The underlying principle for me in the way I have approached this debate and the way I try to consider how we should go forward is clearly to first do no harm. I think there is a lesson in that for all of us. The Rudd government, in its efforts supposedly to find a more humane approach, actually put the asylum seekers in a worse position and gave the people-smuggling industry an opportunity to flourish, and they have taken up that opportunity with a great deal of vigour.
I cannot support the legislation before the House, because it does provide for the government's so-called Malaysian solution. Today we have heard a lot of people on this side talk about the lack of human rights protections under the Malaysian solution. I think there are some real practical reasons why the Malaysian solution will not work. Quite simply, when we have got up to 1,000 unauthorised arrivals each month and the Malaysian solution involves swapping 800 unauthorised arrivals with 4,000 refugees from Malaysia, there is simply a practical problem there. The people smugglers themselves will flood the market. They will flood the market, achieve the first 800, swamp the Malaysian solution within a couple of weeks and we will be back where we started from.
The other issue I am concerned about is that I believe the people-smuggling industry is very conscious that this government lacks the resolve to solve the problem. When the Rudd government changed the legislation, they recognised the opportunity, recognised that this government did not have the resolve to pursue some of the policy options that were pursued by the previous government, and I fear that this situation will not be solved under the current arrangements of the Gillard government either.
I do support the member for Cook's amendments. I think his approach to restrict the offshore processing arrangements to countries which have signed the refugee convention is very practical, and I congratulate him on doing that. I think the protection of human rights for people at their most vulnerable time is critically important. I could not sleep easily knowing that I had voted for this Malaysian people-swap deal, so I will be voting against the member for Lyne's legislation.
The member for Wakefield; goodness me, I could go on all day! That is one of the very few light notes in this debate.
The issue of asylum seekers and boat people has been a deeply troubling issue for Australia for a long period—over 10 years. As an outsider, when we were looking at round 1 in the times of Tampa and the Pacific solution, I found it difficult enough as a Liberal to accommodate the Liberal position, I must say. I actually visited a resident of Baxter detention centre in that period, at the behest of a friend who was a regular visitor there. He was a fine gentleman; he was Iranian. He would have made a great Australian, I do not have much doubt. But in fact he was found not to be a genuine refugee and he returned to Europe. Therein lies much of the heat of this argument about who are genuine refugees, who are not genuine refugees and on what basis they come to Australia.
There are a few things I would like to say. The Grey electorate was one of the epicentres of the protest movement during those years in the early 2000s. The Woomera detention centre—which, I might add, is still there and could be used—is mothballed. The Woomera detention centre and the Baxter detention centre—which has now been largely dismantled and the remnants handed over to the Defence Force—became the protest centre for Australia every Easter. I wonder now how some members of the government feel about their allies from that time, who used to come up and fight with police, throw rocks and demonstrate outside Baxter detention centre because of the great evil done by John Howard and Philip Ruddock, the member for Berowra, who spoke so powerfully here alongside me earlier in this debate and exposed the truth and the hypocrisy of the arguments put forward on the government side. I wonder where those protesters are now. Where are those hundreds of people that flocked to Baxter and fought with police so they could get on national television? Where are they now? There are more people in detention in Australia now than there were then. but those demonstrators, those people of the far Left decried the Howard government for their inhumane actions—that is the way it was described—and assaulted the Howard government on a daily basis for what they proclaimed was the inhumane Pacific solution. As a Liberal who was uncomfortable with that policy, I came to respect the policy because it worked. It stopped the boats. There were no more boats. There were 300 people in six years.
The hubris of the government—the conceit when it thought it could play with those rules and not make a difference—is almost indescribable. Now the government have turned the full 180 degrees and they ask us to dismantle the human rights that Kim Beazley insisted on when the Liberal government sought the opposition's support when the Pacific solution was introduced. It is difficult to believe that some of the Left who proclaimed such strong support for human rights and values can ask us in Australia to turn our backs. We will send 800 people under the government's proposal to Malaysia, unprocessed with no guarantees on their futures at all. In return we will get 4,000 people who undoubtedly will deserve a new chance in Australia. But there is a system already for them to come into Australia. This is a bridge too far. I told you it was difficult enough in the first place for me to support the old policy, but this asks us to go much further and make the world a harder place. I support the amendments.
I rise to speak on this Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012, moved by the member for Lyne dealing with the continuing arrivals to our north. I stand with my colleagues in opposing this bill because the approach is flawed. I suggest to the House that the approach put forward by the member for Cook is a far better approach and a compromise approach. It is not the approach that we would seek to put in government. That has been very well articulated over a very long period of time by the Leader of the Opposition.
It was an approach which was used by the Howard government successfully. As the member for Grey pointed out so well just before, it was a policy that was belted from pillar to post by those in opposition at the time. It was an approach which we saw in the 2001 election led to all sorts of accusations about the motivations of the coalition, particularly the then Prime Minister and the member for Berowra, who spoke brilliantly earlier today. It was an approach that came about through a compromise in this very chamber in 2001 when the Tampa arrived. The Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government said earlier today that it was wrong to say that they had opposed in opposition and then they had backed the government's approach.
In fact, as the member for Berowra quite rightly pointed out, the provisions that the government now seeks to remove were the provisions inserted by the then Leader of the Opposition to deal with the humanitarian issues that the Labor opposition at that point in time was so concerned with. One issue has not been addressed by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship or the Attorney-General: how will this bill be dealt with in respect of the High Court ruling, which made it very clear that sending a person back to a country had to be bound by international law?
I accept the words of the member for Lyne that this does not identify Malaysia specifically. But what it does do, of course, is allow Malaysia to go ahead, and that is what we cannot accept. We cannot accept the stripping of all humanitarian rights out of the bills in Australia when we do not think that is necessary to achieve the outcome we all seek. The outcome we all seek is for the boats to stop coming and for people to be prevented from putting themselves in those risky circumstances, because the business model of the people smugglers will be destroyed.
We are not the only ones who say that the minister's approach on this is flawed. In fact, it was the member for Griffith earlier this year who made it very clear that he thinks this approach is flawed. He said:
I also have always had a view that something called the East Timor solution wouldn't work, and can I say those sorts of things need to be looked through very carefully before you simply take a walk on the policy wild side ….
In a separate press conference in February 2012 he also said:
…in my absence often, and then announced and implemented, often without my knowledge, in the case of various decisions like the Malaysian solution, for example, and then off they went only to discover that they didn't work.
That is the problem. Does anyone believe that this government could get it right? This government took apart the successful regime put in place by the member for Berowra when he was the Minister for Immigration, this government proposed the East Timor solution without talking to the East Timorese in the first place, this government proposed the Malaysian solution without being able to get through the High Court. That is why we say to those on the government side, to the minister at the table: deal with these amendments in a way that is genuine compromise, because at the moment the deal on the table is: you come and talk to us about a compromise on our arrangements. It is not a compromise at all, it is a political threat to try and win some political advantage, and they should not do it. They should be talking to us, they should listen to the people who successfully implemented policies that worked last time—those of the member for Berowra, the policies put forward by the Leader of the Opposition and the policies put forward by the member for Cook. Accept our amendments, Minister, and we will have a bipartisan solution.
I again commend all members of the House who have participated in this debate for the quality of the contributions. Can I also say how buoyed I am sure all of us are at the considerable success that the rescue effort to our north has had. It seems that well over 100 people have been plucked from the water and what might have been a disaster on the same scale as the one we saw last week has been at least substantially averted.
It is important that the potential for disaster a second time in a week concentrate the minds of this parliament, and that is precisely what we have seen over the last few hours. Can I again say to the parliament that the only way to have real progress from this debate is for this chamber to pass a bill that has a reasonable chance of passage through the Senate as well. Any bill that we pass that has no hope of passing the Senate is not progress; it is just more stalemate.
I have to say that there is no way that the Malaysia people-swap will ever pass the Senate. Quite apart from the fact that it is limited to just 800—and we have seen almost 8,000 illegal arrivals in the time since it was first announced—the way the government has indicated it will act should the Malaysian people-swap be agreed to by the parliament guarantees that the boats will keep coming, only they will be boats full of women and children who the government has said will not go back to Malaysia under the people-swap arrangements. The Malaysia people-swap, I say respectfully to members opposite, will make a bad situation worse. That is why the coalition will never support it. That is why it will never pass the Senate.
In order to try to ensure crossbench and other support for the amendments moved by the member for Cook, I have been prepared to offer to the crossbenchers an increase in Australia's refugee and humanitarian intake from current figures to 20,000 a year within three years. We are prepared to offer that compromise to crossbench members of parliament because we want to get a solution from this debate. And why shouldn't we be prepared to offer to people overseas who want to come to Australia the right way rather than the wrong way more opportunity to do so? Isn't that what a descent and humane country would do?
That is what I have been ready to offer the crossbenchers in an attempt to get the only workable legislative solution through the House of Representatives today. What that will give, should it be supported by this parliament, is humane offshore processing plus, over time, a larger intake. It will in fact provide a legislative basis for precisely that which the Prime Minister supported before the election, when she said that she supported—belatedly—offshore processing but only at countries which have signed the UN refugee convention.
I know that there are many members opposite who are deeply, deeply unhappy with the Malaysia people-swap. I know that there are many members opposite who do not like offshore processing at all, let alone offshore processing in a country whose standards are not ours and that lacks the protections given by the UN convention. I appeal to members opposite to consult your consciences, as we on this side have been consulting our consciences over the last few days, and support legislation that really can be carried by the whole parliament, including the Senate, and take us forward not just keep us stuck. (Time expired)
The Australian people have just witnessed an extraordinary press conference from the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for immigration, and this House has just witnessed an extraordinary contribution from the Leader of the Opposition. Everybody would like to see more refugees come to Australia. I stood before the Labor Party National Conference in December and said that the Labor Party should aspire to have more refugees settled into Australia. I said that we should aspire to have 20,000 refugees settled into Australia. That was a resolution that passed that Labor Party National Conference. It was welcomed by everybody, except the opposition—and the shadow minister for immigration had quite a bit to say about the aspiration of bringing 20,000 refugees into Australia. He said it was 'a desperate plan to a divided party for a failed Malaysia people-swap'—a desperate plan.
We on this side of the House have a genuine desire to see more vulnerable and desperate people have the chance for a better life in Australia. But we know that those opposite do not, because they have told us so consistently. The shadow minister for immigration has consistently said that we should not increase our refugee intake. The Leader of the Opposition is not proposing to increase the refugee intake to 20,000 because he thinks it is the right thing to do—because he does not. He is proposing it in a desperate dash for the numbers, because he knows the support is not on their side of the chamber this evening. They are so desperate that they will make this pledge to increase the refugee intake to 20,000. They have not said how they will implement it. They regularly point out that they are not the government. When will this be implemented if they are not the government?
We all want to see more people having the chance to be resettled in Australia—that is the government's policy—but it should not be part of a deal to try and get the numbers to defeat a measure which would stop people coming to Australia on the dangerous boat journey that they currently undertake.
The Leader of the Opposition said we need a bill passed through the House tonight which has reasonable passage through the Senate, and I agree with him, but whether a bill has reasonable passage through the Senate is up to him, because it would have reasonable passage through the Senate if he instructed Liberal senators to vote for it. That is the case.
I want to deal with a couple of other elements that the Leader of the Opposition has raised. He has pointed out that increasing the refugee intake is now, apparently, Liberal Party policy, done on the run in his office over the last couple of hours in a desperate measure. We have good settlement services in Australia for resettled refugees—they are recognised as the best in the world—but they do not come cheaply. What the Leader of the Opposition has just done in order to try and secure couple of extra votes in this chamber is to dedicate his party to an extra $1.3 billion of expenditure over the next four years. This is not about human lives and it is not about money; this is about a measure to try and get more votes which has not been thought through.
The Leader of the Opposition also said there is a cap of 800 on the Malaysia arrangement and that is why the opposition cannot support it. There is a cap of 800, even though the Malaysian government has made it clear they would be happy to talk about further transfers after that. But any measure has a shelf life; any measure has a cap. Nauru had a maximum capacity when it was implemented of 1,200, just 400 more than the Malaysia arrangement. You could have a maximum of 1,500 now. The shadow minister dealt with that yesterday when he said, 'Oh yes, but the people will be moving through.' Where will they be moving through to? They will be moving through to Australia, due to the fact that there would be no meaningful deterrent in place.
The Leader of the Opposition says that women and children would not be sent to Malaysia. This is something he has made up in recent hours in a desperate attempt to try and win this debate. We have been through this. He knows what I have said about the measures that will be in place for vulnerable people, with discretion applied.
Let me go back to the point I made today: does the Leader of the Opposition seriously for one second suggest that the implementation of the Malaysia arrangement, together with the opening of a detention centre at Nauru, would not save lives? Does he seriously suggest that? He cannot seriously suggest that. And, if he cannot seriously suggest that, there is an obligation on the opposition not to try these desperate measures at the last minute but to pass this legislation unamended.
There are people sitting around this country tonight watching this on television and there are people listening to it on their radios, because this is our parliament at work tonight. This is not a night for bravado, machismo and pounding of the dispatch box. This is a night for grace, it is a night for sober reflection, and it is a night to consider carefully the measures that are in front of us this evening. I regret that the minister in his statements has misjudged, I think, what the Australian people are expecting of this parliament tonight and the way in which we should be conducting this debate. This debate today has seen some of the finest speeches that I have witnessed in this place. That is something which is a credit to members around this parliament and I look forward to that continuing as the contributions continue.
This parliament is at work tonight seeking to break a deadlock. That is something that has been said repeatedly by people around the country, and that is what we are trying to get done here as an amendment has been put forward to try and break that deadlock. Beyond that deadlock, there are other matters—particularly, that members on this side of the House have sought to seek support for the measures in this amendment from those who sit on the crossbench. Those measures include what was referred to by the Leader of the Opposition: an increase of the refugee and humanitarian intake to 20,000 people within three years. Those opposite know full well my great concerns about the ability to achieve that sort of target in that sort of time frame. The members who have been part of discussions will know that one of my greatest concerns about achieving that is that we do it in a way that the settlement services program can support it. If you increase this intake too quickly, then you can collapse the settlement services support system. Members on that side of the House know that as well as members on this side of the House.
Three years is a sensible time frame to work towards that target. The minister believes that that target is appropriate as well. That is something that we can work on together. It is something that has troubled me in the past and, in a bid to try and break this deadlock, it is something I am willing to work towards, but with the condition that I have provided: that we work through it constructively through a multiparty committee of this parliament and work through the details with those who provide these services on the ground, so we can be confident that we can hit that target and provide those places—and afford those places—and do it in a way that does not jeopardise the important settlement services that are provided currently to thousands of people who rely on those services to enable them to become great Australians. We have seen thousands upon thousands of great Australians come through our refugee and humanitarian program. Both sides of this House support strongly our refugee and humanitarian program. We have differences over issues relating to border protection and we are seeking to try and resolve those differences in this House tonight with that measure, and so we put that forward.
We have also said that we would support the flagged amendment from the member for Denison to have a one-year sunset clause on the provisions that are before the House tonight. We have said, and it is current coalition policy, that we will support the UNHCR monitoring and running these processing centres, should it agree to do so. We have said that we would have a benchmark of 12 months for processing people that go through such facilities to process their claims. This is what is being asked of members on that side of the House. What we are asking of the members of the crossbench is to support the amendment, so that the amendment we can have that comes out of this place tonight—
Government members interjecting—
I will speak over the interjections of members opposite, because I am not sure if that is the sort of tone that members opposite generally want to have in this debate as we put these measures forward for them to consider earnestly. You can consider earnestly these measures, and I am calling on all members to do so. These measures ensure that that the bill can pass this House of Representatives and, with the government's support, the Senate. This will ensure that we leave this place with what the Australian people are asking of us—a bill that has legally binding humanitarian protections that satisfy the demands of Australian standards; a bill that provides for offshore processing in 148 countries and our working together to further improve our refugee and humanitarian program. I call on members to support it.
In supporting the amendments to the bill, I think we should perhaps all go back to first principles for a little while and just look at what is really etched in our psyches. Whether we are Christians, Muslims or Buddhists, etched in our psyches is the defence of women and children and the care and protection of the vulnerable. Even in the period since the Second World War, we have seen all sorts of migrations of displaced persons from country to country, including right down to the more recent years in Vietnam. Now we find ourselves in this current circumstance. We ask what our response should be to this defence of women and children and care of the vulnerable. Why do people come to this country? Do they come to this country because they want to escape terrorism, blinding and grinding poverty and starvation? Is it because they want the freedom to practice their religion and political beliefs? They know that if they come to Australia they will have a good standard of living. They will have freedom of religion. They will have freedom of association. They will have freedom of the press. They will have freedom of assembly. They will have all the sorts of things that many of them have been denied. So this country becomes a very attractive target.
There is a dichotomy here: on the one hand is the care of the vulnerable and, on the other hand, is how you regulate to get people out of one situation and into another. In the middle, you have those who trade in people, the people smugglers. As the folklore about Australia spreads throughout the Indian subcontinent, South-East Asia and the Middle East, we become a very attractive target. We are generally agreed in this place on what should happen.
The sticking point that this whole debate has come down to is the Malaysian situation. I find it very difficult to accept this Malaysian situation. I think deep down the government has a similar problem. If the government were sure that the Malaysian situation would satisfy our needs in Australia on this matter, why would they have excluded women and children from it? They are clearly disturbed by aspects of it. Then you come to this extraordinary situation of: we will take 4,000 of yours if you take 800 of ours. You can dress that up any way you like, but that is trading in human flesh. That is using a social, human dimension to achieve a political outcome, and it should be unacceptable to both sides of this House. Trading in human flesh is the most loathsome thing—and that is what it gets down to. At the end of the day, there are only 800 who are going to be catered for.
There are lots of imperfections in what we have done thus far with our various programs to accommodate people who have come to this country; but, by and large, the offshore processing has been the answer. And you heard the figures today—I will not go over them again—during the Howard years. We did stem that tide. When the tide was stemmed, the smugglers were not operating, the boats were not coming and the people were not drowning. I think we should go back to as close as that as we can. Places like Nauru and Manus Island offer that possible solution, and for that reason I support the amendments.
This morning, over 50 members of this parliament met here with a genuine desire to explore a way forward to break the stalemate that has prevented this parliament from agreeing to legislation to improve the way we manage our responses and our responsibilities to asylum seekers who make the risky journey here by sea to find a safe haven. I would like to thank those members and particularly the member for New England and the others in this place who facilitated the meeting this morning and for the good will in which they went about that.
There was considerable good will in that meeting. The meeting agreed to a joint communique to the coalition leader, the Prime Minister, the leader of the Greens and all the Independents in this place. We hoped that the communique would move the leaders in this place and in the Senate to come together to forge an agreement that could be supported by this parliament—by this place and by the Senate. If we cannot forge that kind of agreement then this matter is not going to be resolved and we are going to see more people needlessly die. Soon after we emerged from that meeting the news came through that another boat had capsized, that a rescue operation was underway and that some lives had been lost. At the centre of what we wanted to achieve was the protection of human dignity and human life. I do not think anyone in this place disagrees with that proposition. The Australian people have an expectation that we will take responsibility for managing the borders of our country, because it does cause fear and that has to be acknowledged. Governments have a responsibility to take measures to protect our borders. But that is not mutually exclusive to us finding a way to manage the asylum seekers who reach our shores and the asylum seekers who are coming to our Asian region being dealt with humanely and decently.
It is clearly evident that if we continue to go along the way we are—the government came in after our meeting and proposed to put what is known as 'the Oakeshott bill', which is basically just returning to the Malaysian solution—we know that the Greens party cannot support that. I have spoken out against that in this place previously. I cannot support it. I cannot support it because I do not believe that it is a durable way forward. It is only a bandaid approach and we have to stop governing in this country on this matter of great import by using bandaids or, as someone said in the meeting this morning, bumper sticker slogans. We just cannot keep doing that.
We looked at the amendments that have been put forward by the opposition, and they do not sit terribly well with me. I know they do not sit well with everyone, but we are not going to find a perfect solution to this; we are just not. We are not dealing with perfect conditions, so we have to make some compromises somewhere along the way. But I think it is far better to send people to countries who are signatories to the United Nations convention on refugees and to have some other safeguards. So with goodwill I have tried most of this day to negotiate with colleagues in this place to support the opposition's amendments and to put into place some other safeguards around those. I do not wish to take up the rest of my time— (Extension of time granted)
This will be important progress if we can as a parliament come to an agreement to accept the opposition amendment to have processing done only by countries that are signatories to the convention, along with these other measures, which are that we increase the number of asylum seekers we take. That does have to be managed, because they have to be resettled in this country, but it deals with some of the push factors. What is happening is that people are sitting in Malaysia, Indonesia and other places and they know that they are not going to get an opportunity to be resettled within years. So of course they are going to negotiate with people smugglers so that they can get on with their lives. These people also live with the fear of being returned to countries like Afghanistan and almost certain death for some of them.
That is why we worked with the Greens and other members today to try and come up with these amendments. The Leader of the Opposition entered into these negotiations in good faith. Other amendments were that there be a time limit on the processing of asylum seekers in those countries that have centres, because that is another push factor; that we would have those assessment centres endorsed by the UNHCR if, of course, they are agreeable—these things have to be properly discussed and negotiated; that there be a benchmark of 12 months maximum for assessing asylum seeker claims—again, this is another push factor; and that we would establish a multiparty working group to work through some of the myriad complex issues.
This is not a simple matter; this is a very complex matter that we are dealing with. We have a lot of wisdom in this parliament on these benches. As the member for New England, Tony Windsor, said, 'Let's stop being politicians just for a day and be parliamentarians.' There is a lot of goodwill; there is a lot of knowledge, and we can draw on incredible knowledge within our country on these issues as well. So I and, I know others, would like to see a multiparty committee set up to look at some of the more complex aspects of this whole immigration policy.
I implore members of goodwill in this parliament tonight to work together so that we can pass the opposition amendments to this bill. I think the public expect that we will be responsible and that we will try to work through these matters with goodwill. At the heart of this is a genuine attempt and a commitment to safeguard some very vulnerable people that we all want to see resettled, so this has been negotiated with good faith today. I am sorry that I have not been able to be more successful with some of my colleagues, but I will not stop trying. I do not have that long in this place, but I will continue to give it my best shot because I know many of us feel so deeply. As my colleague Scott Morrison, the shadow minister, said, he has heard some of the best speeches we have had in this debate tonight. I would implore us to come together to move forward and not to move backwards on this and not to support a piece of legislation in this place that will not get support in the other place. Let's give this matter the best chance to move forward and get a piece of legislation that the whole of this parliament can agree to today.
(1) Page 2 (after line 2), after clause 3, insert:
4 Application of amendments
(a) the amendments (including any repeals) made by this Act have effect only for a period of 12 months from the commencement of this Act; and
(b) any Act amended by this Act has effect after that period of 12 months as if the amendments had not been made.
In a previous life I was the chairman of the Information Oversight Committee, the intelligence body at the time responsible for coordinating intelligence on irregular immigration. I was also the Office of National Assessments representative on the Operations and Oversight Committee, which was the body at the time which had oversight of disruption operations against people smugglers, in particular in Indonesia. What became abundantly clear to me at that time, seeing all the information I was seeing, was that irregular immigration is not a border security problem. It is not a border security problem that can be dealt with with temporary protection visas, mandatory detention, offshore processing, the excision of Australian islands and so on.
What I saw was a highly complex humanitarian problem, a problem that required an equally complex solution. The solution needs to seek to deal with the situation in source countries, and give much greater assistance to countries of first asylum, such as Pakistan and Iran. The solution must also involve much greater cooperation with the authorities in transit countries, in particular intelligence cooperation and police cooperation to try and crack down on the people smugglers who are, after all, the only people who are doing anything illegal when it comes to irregular immigration confronting Australia. Unsurprisingly I do not agree with offshore processing and in particular I do not agree with the so-called Malaysia solution.
I do not agree with that in part because I do not think it is a particularly effective measure and also because Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, so there are scant safeguards in place should we send asylum seekers to that country. I do not want to support the member for Lyne's private member's bill. But in some ways my concern with that bill is irrelevant, because my understanding is that the member for Lyne has the numbers to see that bill succeed in the House tonight. So the best I can do is at least to put in place some safeguard to limit the damage that might be done by that solution.
I am moving this amendment that would, in effect, put a sunset clause into the member for Lyne's bill, so that any measures that might be decided by the parliament would only have a life of 12 months. In other words, we would all have 12 months to come up with a better solution and, in particular, to leverage off the sort of sentiment, interest and ideas that bubbled up this morning when something like 40 or more members of parliament met to try and find a way through this impasse. Having a sunset clause is good. It limits the member for Lyne's reform, and it gives us an opportunity, importantly during the term of this parliament, to come up with a better solution. With a sunset clause of 12 months only, this government, this parliament, this opposition will have to work together to find some sort of compromise and enduring solution.
I move this amendment and I seek the support of the House for it. But I must confess to finding myself in a diabolical ethical dilemma, because in moving this amendment and seeking the support of the parliament I have reached an agreement with the government that if the government is to support the implementation of a sunset clause I am then obliged to support the bill, which I will do.
I rise to say to the member for Denison, and more broadly to the House and the parliament, that the government will support the amendment moved by the member for Denison. The government will do that not because we agree with the member for Denison's reasoning as he has just outlined—we obviously take a very different view of the merits of the agreement with Malaysia and the merits of the government's approach. But that is as it may be, and people have contributed to this debate from a variety of perspectives. Many of them have said that over the past few months their views have changed. Many people have been on a journey where their views have become quite different from those they held six or 12 months ago. That is to be respected.
I respect the fact that the member for Denison has entered into this debate in a spirit of wanting to see something done, though he does have a different view from the government about what should be done. But the government will accept this amendment because we do not believe that there is anything to be feared by parliamentary scrutiny and parliamentary engagement in 12 months time. In 12 months time, after the sunset clause, this parliament and Australian people will have had the opportunity to see these policies in operation. They will be able to judge for themselves, and in those circumstances, next time we debate these issues in the House of Representatives, that debate will be held in circumstances where people will not make claims about these policies; they will be able to see their effects. Consequently, as a government that is seeking to implement change, we believe that there is nothing for us to be concerned about in parliamentary scrutiny in 12 months time.
I also think that that engagement with the parliament in 12 months time may give members who have expressed such goodwill in this debate a period of time in which they can work together and perhaps bring some of their own ideas to the table. Many have talked about the need for better regional processes, and we are very open to that discussion. Many have talked about the need for our great country to take more genuine refugees, to take people in greater numbers from offshore camps around the world. That is the position of the Labor Party. That is our platform position and it is something we have long been committed to. I anticipate that over the months in between, that discussion will be had in this parliament and will mature in this parliament as a result. So we will be supporting the member for Denison in this amendment and we thank him for his understanding about supporting the government's need to act in what are very difficult circumstances. I take this opportunity to thank the many members who have spoken in this debate today, some of them with very great emotion. I thank them for their contributions.