Thursday, 28 June 2012
Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012; Second Reading
Yesterday's vote was a milestone vote in the House of Representatives, with the crossbench and the government coming together to support a private member's bill to the end the impasse on asylum seekers. In the midst of two recently capsized boats and tragic deaths at sea, this milestone represented a compromise by the government which was not taken lightly but was taken to save lives. There is now only one bill that can pass the parliament before we rise and that is the one we are debating here, the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012.
We cannot continue to allow people to risk their lives and lose their lives at sea. In the midst of these two recently capsized boats and many lives lost, we have an obligation as a parliament not to go into the winter recess for six weeks without coming to a solution on all sides with this issue. Six weeks is too long and the opportunity exists right now to resolve this.
The government's legislation is a strong compromise on all sides. It is a private member's bill sponsored by the member for Lyne, with an amendment from the member for Denison, that brings together both Labor and coalition offshore processing approaches. It is a genuine attempt to end the politics, to have a true compromise, and it is the only bill that can be passed by the parliament today. It is not a time for narrow-minded views or placing politics above the lives of people.
This compromise bill has a number of protections built into it. The bill requires the minister for immigration to, within 14 days of declaring an offshore assessment country, put a request in writing to the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration to provide a formal statement of their views of the arrangement, including the arrangements that are in place to provide appropriate treatment to those people transferred. In making a decision to declare an offshore assessment country, the minister must have regard to whether the country will not expel or return a person taken to that country where their life or freedom would be threatened on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, and the country will make an assessment, or allow for an assessment, of whether the transferees are refugees as defined under the refugees convention. A transfer may not occur in the absence of a written agreement with the receiving country, and the declaration would be made by legislative instrument.
The bill also requires the minister to table a range of materials pursuant to the arrangement, including a copy of the designation, a copy of the written agreement, a copy of the statement of the minister's reasons for thinking that it is in the national interest to designate an offshore processing country and a statement about the minister's consultations with the UNHCR and IOM, including any formal statement received from those organisations. The minister must, as soon as practicable after 30 June each year, provide an annual report to the parliament on efforts to counter people-smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crime under the Bali process.
We have seen goodwill coming from some members of the opposition but sadly too few. Those on the other side who understand the situation and understand we need to have a compromise unfortunately do not make up the majority, and we find ourselves confronting a barrage of both hypocritical statements and negativity—as we do with so many matters. I would like to address some of the hypocrisy that is flying around the senior ranks of the opposition at the moment. In July 2010 the shadow immigration spokesperson, Mr Scott Morrison, said in relation to the UN convention:
This was a document drawn up in a very different world. I think it's important that the Convention does not become a tool for people smugglers to impose their clients on nations in a way that is unhelpful for the way those nations want to run their own immigration programs.
Scott Morrison also said on Lateline on Monday:
It was never our issue with ... Nauru as to whether they were the signatory to the Refugee Convention
In August last year the opposition leader was asked if they would prefer Nauru to sign up to the refugee convention, and he responded:
Look, this business of requiring that they sign the convention is simply a furphy that's been raised by the Prime Minister.
Now, because of convenience, the opposition heavies are pleading that the reason they cannot support this legislation—a private member's bill that has the support of the government and two Independents—is that these countries have not signed up to the UN convention. It seems obviously hypocritical and an argument of political convenience. Instead, we should be looking to work together to ensure that we can legislate today for a response and a solution to this life-threatening problem.
To set the record straight I would also like to address some of the untrue and misleading statements mentioned by Senator Abetz this morning. Senator Abetz's first misleading claim was that the Malaysia solution has failed based on the number of arrivals since it was first announced. This is extremely disingenuous. The Malaysia arrangement was never implemented—the High Court stopped it. That is why we are at the place we are at now and contemplating this legislation. The legal advice is that, given the High Court case, there is no prospect of any offshore processing being pursued without legislative change, so we will only ever give the Malaysia arrangement and Nauru, together, a chance to work if this bill passes through the parliament. To claim that the Malaysia approach has failed because of the number of arrivals is directly misleading—it has never been implemented—and the very legislation we are now contemplating would allow that arrangement to be put in place and the solution to be implemented.
The second claim Senator Abetz made was that if the Malaysia arrangement were implemented people smugglers would send children and families. Again this is misleading. While the Australian government would be sensitive to the individual circumstances of asylum seekers, the government is clear that there would be no broad exceptions. This is a tough approach, certainly, but if the government were to make broad exceptions then you would see how the people smugglers would be able to adapt to that. This is exactly what happened when the former government introduced temporary protection visas. TPVs denied family reunion rights to asylum seekers, so we saw people smugglers putting more women and children on boats. Those are the facts of the former government's policies.
The third claim put forward by Senator Abetz was that Nauru worked. It did not. The overwhelming majority of those found to be refugees were resettled in Australia, and Nauru offers nothing more than being like Christmas Island, only further away. That said, in the spirit of compromise the government is prepared to establish a centre on Nauru as part of the legislative package—but only because it will be part of a regional framework involving the arrangement with Malaysia. Nauru, within that arrangement with Malaysia and the regional framework, can be part of a genuine regional solution to managing irregular migration. To say that Nauru worked is patently untrue, but it is a crutch that the opposition have lent on again and again. When tested by our effort to get support for compromise, they back away from it at a hundred miles an hour and then resort to the first disingenuous argument I mentioned before, about the UNHCR's status.
The fourth claim was that TPV's work. This is plainly wrong as well. Temporary protection visas did not stop the boats. Thousands more arrived after TPVs were introduced and, tragically, the percentage of women and children on boats increased after they were introduced. The coalition is fond of saying that TPVs took the sugar—that is, permanent protection visas acting as some kind of incentive—off the table. People smugglers would not be able to market a permanent visa to asylum seekers, so the theory went. The reality, however, of the experience of temporary protection visas is that more than 95 per cent of TPV holders who were irregular maritime arrivals went on to get permanent visas to live in Australia. Why? Because they were genuine refugees. This outcome hardly suggests that TPVs could be perceived as an effective deterrent.
The fifth claim I would like to challenge is that the coalition had some genuine compromise plan of increasing the humanitarian program to 20,000. That is no compromise at all. We have already said that we want to move to an intake of 20,000. This was just one of the many issues discussed at the Labor Party National Conference. Furthermore, at the time Labor outlined our target of 20,000, the coalition condemned us. On ABC NewsRadio, on Thursday, 1 December 2011, Mr Scott Morrison, the opposition spokesperson for immigration, said:
Well the Minister has gone from a five for one swap to a thirty for one swap to take to the National Conference. I mean, the last time we increased to that level at 20,000 was when we had a genuine Indo-Chinese refugee crisis right on our back door. Now they’re the sort of circumstances when you entertain those sorts of increases.
The reality is that this cynical proposal was about getting the coalition backbench to vote for the coalition's amendment.
There are two major proposals on the table—Malaysia and Nauru—and we are prepared to do both. The only genuine compromise is one which involves both of these solutions. That is what a compromise bill is. The Senate will also recall that our Malaysia arrangement included an increase in the humanitarian program by 1,000 per year. So this putting forward of the 20,000 as some sort of coalition compromise is not in fact a compromise—it is a backflip and a catch-up, and disingenuous in the context of the current debate.
I believe the Australian Greens also need to be held accountable today. They should not be able to absolve themselves of the responsibility to come to the table and be part of a compromise to get this bill through the Senate. I remember vividly their non-negotiating stance on the CPRS, the original bills which would have seen a price on carbon implemented well before this coming Sunday. If the Greens had been willing to come to the table and compromise back then, we would have had an emissions trading scheme implemented and fully established by now. But, because of their intransigence in that debate, this country was set back in taking action on climate change. I would not like to see the same approach of intransigence and refusing to compromise on this bill. I acknowledge that the Greens are not comfortable with the Labor government's approach but, given the implications and the current political dynamic, I urge them to reconsider their position. It is most important that we do legislate today and see this bill through. This is the only chance we have, as I mentioned, before the winter recess.
I also take this opportunity to respond to other statements made by the Greens today in their second reading contributions and in relation to their second reading amendment. Firstly, the Greens party have said we have only been taking some 60 refugees per year out of Malaysia and Indonesia. Actually we have taken over 1,500 this year alone. Over the past 10 years we have taken over 5,000. I think that misunderstanding is indicative of the complexity of these issues.
Secondly, the Greens party also say that we should increase our intake to 20,000. With 43 million displaced people around the world—and I think it is important in all these debates to remember that we are talking about a relatively small proportion, in fact quite a minute proportion, of the challenge the world is facing—that is not an answer on its own. However, we have indicated to the Greens that, if we are able to implement the Malaysia arrangement, we will be in a much better position to contemplate increases to our refugee intake.
Thirdly, Australia and Indonesia already share intelligence and cooperate closely. To imply otherwise is, again, just incorrect. It is done in a low-key and effective way, as you would expect with intelligence sharing. Finally, it is offensive to suggest that Australian agencies need our SOLAS obligations further codified and that, in the absence of such additional codification, they are not giving their all in maritime rescue situations. I felt it was important not only to challenge the misleading and inaccurate statements made by members of the opposition but also to call the Greens to account over their foreshadowed opposition to this incredibly important bill.