30 May 2011 

Andrew seconds and supports a motion condemning the so-called Malaysia Solution.

Mr WILKIE (Denison) (10:15): I second the motion. If someone comes to Australia seeking asylum we have a responsibility enshrined in the refugee convention, to which we are a signatory, to give them protection, to quickly assess their claim and to provide refuge if that claim is upheld. This legal responsibility applies regardless of how asylum seekers reach our shores and should be applied equally to those who arrive by boat as to those who come here by aeroplane.

Our real responsibility goes much deeper than our legal obligation as a signatory to the refugee convention, because we also have a pressing moral obligation to render all possible assistance to asylum seekers in a genuine spirit of goodwill. It is regarding this moral obligation that the federal government is doing the wrong thing by planning on trading asylum seekers with Malaysia, so much so in fact that the Labor Party has now lost the moral superiority it once had regarding Australia’s response to irregular immigration. This troubles me because the Labor Party’s approach to asylum seekers was a not insignificant consideration some nine months ago when I was struggling with the decision of who to give limited support to in this place.

Frankly, to establish a trade in people fleeing violence and persecution is an abomination. Yes, it may well help to deter asylum seekers from attempting the risky voyage to Australia, but it is wrong, so wrong in fact that I detest it even more than the so-called Pacific solution engineered by the Howard government and still favoured by the opposition. At least on Nauru and Manus Island there were Australian officials to ensure that some safeguards were maintained.

How on earth can conditions in Malaysia be tough enough to deter asylum seekers to Australia but safe enough for the Australian government to claim that refugees’ human rights will be protected? They cannot. For a start Malaysia has not signed the refugee convention and nor has it ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It has not even signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As the United Nations human rights commissioner has pointed out, any deal with Malaysia simply offers no protection if the refugee and torture conventions have not been ratified by that country.

The government has a political problem, not an immigration problem. Rather than joining the opposition in singling out asylum seekers who arrive by boat for special punishment, the government should have the courage to inform the community about the facts. Asylum seekers are not breaking any rules. The majority are genuine refugees. And far from being swamped, the number of people arriving by boat in Australia is small compared with the much more worrying number of these overstayers arriving daily by air.

So I call again on the government and the opposition to stop, take a deep breath and focus instead on developing sophisticated responses to irregular immigration into Australia that much more effectively address the conditions in source, first asylum and transit countries. Remember, this is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis and not a border protection problem.

Australia receives just two per cent of the industrialised world’s asylum claims. These are some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable human beings on the face of the planet. Let us not sacrifice the modest advances made in our treatment of asylum seekers in the last few years in the pursuit of political self interest. In particular, let us not start trading asylum seekers with a country that often treats such people as criminals, forcibly returns them to danger, routinely relies on the lash of the cane and even resorts to the barbaric death penalty.

The bottom line is that this deal with Malaysia is a shameful public policy that is inconsistent with our international obligations. It must be abandoned. That is why I have seconded the motion condemning the deal put forward by the member for Melbourne and that is why I will vote in support of it.

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