10 September 2012 

Andrew supports a Greens’ motion to place a 12-month sunset clause in the Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012.

Mr WILKIE (Denison) (17:17): I second the member for Melbourne’s amendment to the member for Cook’s amendment to the member for McMahon’s motion on the instrument of designation of the Republic of Nauru as a regional processing country. I expect the government to support the member for Melbourne’s amendment, because only 10 weeks ago the government supported my amendment that put a 12-month sunset clause in the member for Lyne’s bill at that time. I make that point again. Just 10 weeks or so ago, the government strongly supported the idea of putting a sunset clause in the member for Lyne’s bill which would have seen offshore processing resurrected. So there is no reason whatsoever why the government would not agree to support such a move again today. It would be remarkable if the government were not to support the member for Melbourne’s amendment. If the government does not support the member for Melbourne’s amendment, it means that the government’s actions of some 10 weeks ago were at best hollow and at worst misleading. So I hope that the government will come in here and support this amendment and that this amendment will succeed.

This will be another test of the government’s moral compass. We all easily recall how five years ago, at the 2007 federal election, the Australian community overwhelmingly rejected the policies of the Howard era, and in particular the Howard-era Pacific solution. Yet somehow the government finds that it is acceptable, just five years later, to frankly show contempt for the 2007 election result. In 2007 the Australian community overwhelmingly rejected the Pacific solution, so it is inexplicable how, only five years later, the government is set to reintroduce the Howard-era Pacific solution.

Given that the government, 10 weeks ago, saw the need to have a 12-month sunset clause in the restoration of the Pacific solution, it would be inexplicable if it turned around and rejected it now. A 12-month sunset clause has an inherent value, in that it would keep this deeply unethical and illegal Pacific solution within certain bounds. It is unethical because, when people come to our shores, we really should give them protection, hear their claims and give them refuge. The restoration of the Pacific solution is unlawful and illegal, because clearly, as a signatory to the refugee convention, we have a legal obligation to do as I have just described—when someone comes to our shores, we should give them protection, hear their claims and, if their claims are found to be accurate, to be justified, we should give them refuge and let them share this country with us. We should not put them on a plane to some microstate in the distant Pacific or put them on a plane to an island off Papua New Guinea.

I make the point again: to do so would be unethical and would be illegal, and it was flatly rejected by the Australian community at the 2007 federal election. It is one of the reasons that the Labor government was elected. I think that the Labor government would be showing contempt for the decision at the 2007 federal election by restoring the Howard-era Pacific solution. Twelve months would be more than enough time for this government to come up with a much more sophisticated solution. Quite frankly, the events of the last couple of months have been a missed opportunity. We did not need to go back to the Howard-era Pacific solution, the solution that was so loudly rejected at the 2007 federal election. We had an opportunity to come up with a really sophisticated policy matched to the complexity of the irregular immigration issue. We had the opportunity to come up with a solution that stopped treating this as a border security problem and started treating this as a humanitarian crisis, because first and foremost that is what this is. It is a humanitarian crisis. The overwhelming majority of people who are coming to Australia by boat are, and they have been found to be, genuinely fleeing persecution. It is a humanitarian crisis, and on a global scale it is a humanitarian crisis of almost unfathomable size and complexity.

What this government should have done—and it should have done it with the support of the opposition, mindful of the rejection of their policy in 2007—was to come up with a very complex solution which, for a start, looks to deal with the situation in source countries. It should have come up with a solution that is built on reconstruction aid—not war-fighting aid but reconstruction aid—in particular in Afghanistan but also in Iraq. That would be how we would most effectively, most ethically and most quickly help to restore stability in those two countries.

It should have been a solution that seeks to help countries of first asylum. We give next to no aid to countries like Pakistan and Iran, yet both of those countries are host to millions of refugees. No wonder so many refugees try and move on from Pakistan and Iran and so many seek to come to Australia, because the conditions in those two countries of first asylum are so dreadful. That is not a comment about the regimes or the governments in those countries. It is a fact of life that those two less well-off countries are overwhelmed with millions of refugees. I am sure that they do the best they can—although I would add that Iran could lift its game mightily and for a start actually recognise that these people are refugees and let them join the workforce and enjoy the benefits of the state, which they are currently not allowed to do in Iran, of course.

Australia could encourage those countries to look after their refugees better and give them the resources they need to help look after those refugees better. They would be more likely to stay there and to join this so-called queue that everyone keeps talking about, a queue that would be even more attractive if we had a much bigger humanitarian intake in this country, which of course is part of the solution. I would be appalled if this government or the next government were to just cherry-pick the recommendations of Angus Houston’s committee—just cherry-pick the attractive things like the restoration of offshore processing and the Pacific solution. I would be appalled if it did not also embrace recommendations such as a significant increase in our humanitarian intake.

Our sophisticated solution also needs to help transit countries—countries like Indonesia, of course, but also other transit countries like Malaysia and Thailand, and there are other places. In fact, some of these asylum seekers have passed through a number of transit countries by the time they get to Australia. We should give those countries the resources to look after the refugees that are in their country and encourage those countries to look after their refugees better; encourage them, if they are not already a signatory to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, to become a signatory to the refugee convention; and give them the aid to help those refugees so that, again, they are less likely to move on and more likely to front up at the Australian high commission or embassy and apply for asylum in Australia. They are more likely to do that if they know that we have a much increased humanitarian intake. They would know that they have a much greater chance of finally finding a place of safety for themselves and their family.

Also—and perhaps this is where I might, with all due respect, diverge perhaps a little from the Greens—I have a very hard, harsh view of what we should be doing with the people smugglers. At the end of the day, the only people who are doing anything illegal here are the people smugglers. We should be doing everything we can—and I do not believe we are doing enough—to crack down on the people smugglers, in particular the ones that are based in these transit countries, such as Indonesia. We should be applying a much greater effort from a law enforcement point of view, from an intelligence point of view and from the point of view of cooperating with the governments in these transit countries, in particular Indonesia.

These are all of the many components of a sophisticated approach or a sophisticated response to the irregular immigration issue and the humanitarian crisis that we confront. I make the point again that 10 weeks ago and then a few weeks ago there were missed opportunities. This government, supported by the opposition, could have developed and be starting to implement now a sophisticated response to a humanitarian crisis, instead of continuing to regard this as a border security problem. It is not a border security problem. It is a humanitarian crisis. There have been missed opportunities, and I think that is a terrible shame. As I go about my business, countless people, not just in my electorate but elsewhere, have approached me and expressed their disappointment that, while this government’s predecessor was elected in 2007 in large part on a promise to dismantle the draconian Howard-era response to irregular immigrants, we find ourselves back there five years later.

To recap, I do expect the government to support the member for Melbourne’s amendment to the member for Cook’s amendment. If the government does not support this amendment, it means that the government’s actions of some 10 weeks ago were at best hollow and at worst quite misleading. This is a test of the government’s moral compass. I call on the government to support this amendment, to understand that, if they are going to go back to the Howard-era Pacific solution, there must be a 12-month limit on it. That is more than enough time to come up with the sort of sophisticated response to this issue that I have talked ever so briefly about. We will find out very shortly. Very shortly we are going to have another test of the government’s moral compass. I hope that they do the right thing by the Australian community, that they do support this amendment and that they do ensure there is a 12-month sunset clause in the final bill.

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