Thursday, 28 June 2012
Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012; Second Reading
I rise today to speak in opposition to the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012. This bill is, unfortunately, not the solution to saving people's lives. This bill does nothing to protect the many very vulnerable people who are desperate for safety and protection for their families. Whilst I understand the motivations behind many of the reasons why people in the other place, and probably here as well, want to pass this legislation into law, the reality is that what this bill does is remove the only avenue for protection that people at extreme risk in our region face.
What this bill does goes in complete contradiction to the refugee convention that Australia so proudly signed up to and helped draft in 1951. We have had an extremely important role in our region of giving people protection when they need it. We have had an extremely proud history of showing leadership in our region. When numbers of people escaping Indochina and Vietnam needed our assistance, Australia stood tall and said to our regional neighbours, 'Let's get together and work out how we can deal with the needs of our fellow human beings.'
We do need a better way. The current situation where people have to risk their lives on a boat to seek protection should not be the only option they have. People like Hussein, who was five when the Taliban raided his village: his parents, his sister and his brother were all killed on that day in 2000. He had only one remaining adult relative, an uncle. After years of trying to hide from the Taliban, they fled to Pakistan. They could not stay there for very long, he said. He was still there with his uncle. His only other sister who had survived the raid married a fellow in order to flee the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan and move to Iran. That was her gateway to safety. When his sister got to Iran she sold everything she had. He said: 'My sister sold all of her jewellery, everything she had, to save enough money for me to get to Australia. She knew that I had to get out. I could not stay safely with my uncle.' Hussein goes on to say that it was a long trip. He had to go through China, to Thailand and then to Malaysia. None of those countries would accept him as a refugee. In Malaysia he had to hide because he was there illegally. He tried signing up with the UNHCR but they told him that it would be a very, very long wait. He would not be given safety.
He boarded a boat and came to Australia. He was one of the 500 people we detained for up to three months last year while we debated the Malaysian solution. He was terrified. He was a 15-year-old, on his own, without his family; his parents had been killed. He was an orphan, locked up for three months on Christmas Island with the threat that he would be sent back to Malaysia. Hussein, thankfully, is now living with a family here, in Australia—in Brisbane. He is going to school, he is studying English, and he is going to make one fine Australian.
These are the lives of the people we are playing with. This bill does nothing to protect Hussein or anyone in his position. This bill puts him in further danger. This bill says that, if you come to Australia seeking protection, our government will basically send you wherever it wants. We know that this government says that it will use this bill to send people back to Malaysia, where we know the awful treatment that asylum seekers face in that country. We do need a better way. We have to work with our regional neighbours to lift levels of protection. Hussein should not have had to continue to run. He should have been able to find safety at the first port of call. That is what we need to be working towards.
We need a regional solution. It does not happen overnight; I understand that. What this bill will do is undermine all efforts to implement something that is based on the principles of the law. The refugee convention was drafted because of the awful experience that the world suffered during World War II. We learnt that when people arrive on our doorstep we have an obligation to help them. Australia has a remarkable opportunity to lift the levels of safety and protection and so do more for people like Hussein when they reach Thailand, when they reach Malaysia and if they reach Indonesia.
I have heard some people talk about the fact that simply to lift our refugee intake is not enough; it will not stop boats from coming—and that is probably right. But it will go a long way to giving children like Hussein a safer option. It will go a long way to showing good faith in our region if we want Malaysia or Indonesia to do more to protect and offer safety to those people who arrive in their country. We have to be realistic: the number of people whom Malaysia manages is far greater than the number of people who finally reach Australia. We have to be working better with our neighbours on protection standards. And we also have to be working better with particularly Indonesia when it comes to stopping people in the first place from having to board the boats departing from their ports. It is clear that the cooperation between Australia and Indonesia is far poorer than the standard it needs to be if we are to save people's lives.
We need to be talking to Indonesia. Australia has to take a much stronger role in talking and working cooperatively with one of our closest neighbours. Indonesia has consistently and increasingly said for the last 12 months that it does not have the resources to deal with this issue. I call on the government today to have urgent talks with Indonesia. It is something that can be done today. This bill will not pass this parliament and it should not, because it entrenches danger; it does not promote safety. But we can be having urgent talks with Indonesia.
What does Indonesia need from us to make people safer in its ports? We need to give funding directly to the UNHCR in Indonesia and in Malaysia to help them assess people's claims faster. There are only two officers who work for the UNHCR based in Jakarta to manage all of the claims for asylum seekers. We need to give urgent funding to the UNHCR to assess people's claims, and with the commitment that we will help to negotiate resettlement. Not everyone will come to Australia but we have to show good will in taking far more people than we already do. We can pull in our other regional neighbours and our other resettlement countries.
We talk about this issue in this place as if we are isolated from the rest of the world—and we simply are not. This is not just Australia's problem, and we are not going to fix it by taking away from our law the basic principles that we believe people should be treated by. This bill deletes an entire section of our law which says that we agree with the principles of the refugee convention that we helped draft so many years ago. This bill says that, by deleting our commitments in our own law to the refugee convention, we no longer care that people should be treated in a way that gives them protection and safety as a general principle of law. How on earth are we meant to get other countries in our region to stand by the principles of treating each other and the most vulnerable, the most at risk, with humanity, if we say that we do not even want that to exist in our own laws anymore?
I have listed a number of things we could be doing immediately, such as providing funding to the UNHCR, which can be done today. We spend as little as $10 million on funding these programs and services in other countries, particularly in Indonesia, for these assessments. We can be doing far more than that. We are about to spend almost $3 billion on our detention network in Australia. Some of that money should be urgently directed to the efforts of the UNHCR in Indonesia and Malaysia.
We need urgent talks with Indonesia about intelligence and resourcing. The Indonesian government, and various minister, have continued to say that they need our help. Let us help them so that together we can actually save lives without undermining protection efforts. Australia should be bolstering protecting and not undermining it. We should be providing safer options, not creating more dangerous ones. Unfortunately, that is what this bill does.
The Greens will be moving a second reading amendment that deals with these immediate issues: increasing targeted resettlement from Indonesian and Malaysia to increase our humanitarian intake up to 20,000; increasing funding directly to the UNHCR to get through these assessments and allow the UNHCR to provide some safety net for the very vulnerable people, who are frightened and desperate, waiting in Malaysia and Indonesian; and, we need to be undertaking the most high-level diplomatic conversations with Indonesian to deal with the issues of intelligence and resourcing, so that boats are not leaving port in the first place. If they do leave port we need to make sure we respond in a timely and urgent manner to any emergency, regardless of who is on the boat or the reasons why they have departed the port.
There are no simple solutions to what is a humanitarian issue, but there are things we can be doing, and doing better. This week I have had a number of conversations with agencies and individuals who are working in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand about what this legislation would mean for their work in the long run—urgently, and in the longer term. They are very concerned that, if Australia continues to reduce its protection and reduce its ability to work with solutions that are underpinned by international law and the basic principles of treating people with dignity and humanity, they will never get to the point with our neighbouring countries, and in their nations, of being able to offer the protection that we know people need.
This all might sound very big and complex. That is because it is. We are dealing with human beings who have fled for the fear of their lives. As an asylum seeker, fleeing by its very nature is disorderly. It has never been an orderly process. In countries like Australia, we are so lucky. We are not confronted day in and day out with worries about the safety of our children, our mother, our father or our brother or sister. We can speak freely about issues without being targeted by the regime of the day. You can get an education and study things and disagree with the government, because that is the democracy we live in. People who are fleeing circumstances where they do not have the same lucky country that we live in do not take that decision lightly. It is a disorderly process. But a country like Australia, as lucky as we are, can try to offer a safer pathway. It may not always be an orderly one, but it can be a safer one, and we also can light the way for our neighbouring countries.