11 May 2011
Andrew speaks to the Government’s plan to reopen the Manus Island detention facility and exchange asylum seekers with Malaysia.
Mr WILKIE (Denison) (09:46): I rise today to say, ‘Shame on the government for its recent announcement to reopen the Manus Island detention facility and exchange asylum seekers with Malaysia.’ Manus Island was as much a part of the Pacific solution as Nauru. It was an abhorrent policy of the Howard government, not least because of the way in which it denied asylum seekers access to Australian legal provisions. Yes, it was one of many reasons that the number of boats carrying asylum seekers to Australia eased during the early part of the last decade, but it was at the expense of our obligation as a signatory to the refugee convention and, I would add, our country’s very heart and soul—the damage to which is still repairing. Processing asylum seekers again on Manus Island may well be conducted in a better way than during the Howard years but, in any case, it will still be at the expense of our treaty obligations to take in and protect asylum seekers, quickly assess their claims and provide them refuge if their claims are upheld.
But as bad as the Pacific solution was, and may well be again, the policy was at least supervised by Australian officials, who did their best to implement some safeguards. Sending people to Malaysia for Malaysian authorities to deal with abandons even that last skerrick of care and will effectively throw to the wolves some of the world’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people. Significantly, Malaysia is not a signatory to the refugee convention and would have no qualms about sending asylum seekers back to their country of origin. Frankly, the government’s decision to trade asylum seekers with a country which is not a signatory to the refugee convention, and one with the track record it has with asylum seekers, is in some ways even worse than John Howard’s Pacific solution. Well may political leaders say or think ‘We will decide who comes to this country and under what circumstances’, but doing so must never be at the expense of our moral imperative to always do whatever we can to help desperate people.
I call again on the government and opposition to stop treating boat people as a border security problem and start treating them as human beings, the overwhelming majority of whom are genuine asylum seekers. This is a complex problem requiring a sophisticated solution. We must do more to help rebuild source countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, more to support countries of first asylum like Pakistan and Iran, and more to help authorities in transit countries like Malaysia to deal with the people smugglers.