I rise to speak on the Migration Amendment (Regional Processing Arrangements) Bill 2015. The member for Cowan used words to the effect of, ‘This is a good time,’ or, ‘This is a good moment’. Respectfully, I disagree. I disagree very strongly. This is a shameful moment. This is a very shameful moment. This is the point in time when the House of Representatives seems set to agree almost unanimously that it is okay to legalise offshore processing retrospectively. This is a shameful thing.
Mr Deputy Speaker, excuse me if I sound like a broken record in this place but I am going to say it again: we are a fortunate and a clever country. We are a signatory to any number of international agreements. It is beyond time that we started acting like a fortunate and clever country! That we start acting like a signatory to any number of international agreements, not the least of which is the refugee convention. When someone comes to our shores and claims to be fleeing for their life we are ethically and legally required in this country to give that person protection, to hear their claim and to give them permanent refuge if their claim is found to be accurate.
Yes, if their claim is fraudulent, put them on the first plane back home. But the fact is that most people who come to our shores claiming to flee for their lives are found to be fleeing for their lives. We are bound ethically and legally—ethically as a good people and as human beings who should act like decent human beings. We are bound legally by all the international agreements that we have signed up to, like the refugee convention and, I would add, like the Rome Statute—and I will talk about that in a moment. When people come to our shores, we should give them protection. We should hear their claims and we should give them refuge. There should not be mandatory detention. There should not be offshore processing. There should not be tow-backs. There also should not be any form of temporary visa. If these people are making accurate claims—and most are—they should be given permanent refuge so that they can start their lives again, often with their families, in our fortunate, clever and rich country.
In other words, the regime that has been in place now for a number of years under a number of governments, and which will be agreed to again tonight by the government and the opposition, it is downright wrong. We should get rid of it! And when that is a difficult decision to make then we should be strong. And when it is controversial in the community we should be leaders and we should explain to the community what we are doing and why we are doing it. We should not be playing to the fault lines in the community. We should not be playing to racism and xenophobia and the other weaknesses in an otherwise great country. Where there are those weaknesses, we should be leaders and we should explain to the community why we are doing the right thing. We should explain to them how what they believe is wrong and how it can be so very different.
I refer to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Of course, much of the attention up until now, quite rightly, has been about our obligations under the refugee convention. But there is no doubt that we are also in contravention of the Rome Statute, which is the international agreement which covers crimes against humanity. The fact is that it is a crime against humanity to hold someone indefinitely in detention without trial, and that is what goes on in these offshore places. It is a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute to forcibly transfer anyone to a third country, and that is exactly what we are doing under offshore processing. It is a crime against humanity to hold people in inhumane conditions, and that is exactly what we are doing with offshore processing.
This is why I have made a formal complaint to the International Criminal Court and asked them to investigate the behaviour of this government. Moreover, I would encourage them to investigate the behaviour of other governments, because much of what we do in response to irregular immigrants is the policy of the Liberal Party and the Nationals and also of the Labor opposition. I think there is a case to be made at the ICC. I think they should look into the behaviour of a series of governments, starting with this one, when it comes to crimes against humanity. The fact is—and I am pleased the point was made here tonight; I think it might have been by the shadow minister—that there are currently more people displaced and on the move than at any time since the end of World War II. I am pleased that point was made. I believe the figure is now past 50 million people. The fact is we have a global humanitarian crisis and we should be responding to it in those terms. It is not a border security problem and, frankly, I am sick and tired—and I think a lot of people are sick and tired—of hearing people stand up in this place and make out that irregular immigration by boat is a security problem, that somehow these boats are full of terrorists or would-be terrorists. They are not. They are full of desperate souls, most of whom are fleeing for their lives.
Competent terrorists do not take the rickety road through the people smugglers in Indonesia. They fly out here in their own name with a fresh passport and enter the country legally. That is what happened with 9/11. Not one of the terrorists who were involved in 9/11 entered the United States illegally. It is downright mischievous and downright cruel and nasty for people in this place to be continually talking about these boats being full of evildoers. Even just a moment ago, the member for Cowan was talking about these people who are coming out to Australia and abusing women and children as if ordinary people in our own community are not doing such heinous things. It is wrong to be demonising these people. The fact is, most of them are fleeing for their lives. When we hear their claims they are mostly found to be accurate. It is interesting; when people come up to me in the street and they start talking about irregular immigration and they start complaining about what they call ‘illegals’ or ‘boat people’, I look them in the eye and I say, ‘Hang on, do you agree that if someone is genuinely fleeing for their life then it’s the right thing to give them protection?’ And just about every time—in fact, I think it might be every time—they say, ‘Yes, of course we should give people protection who are fleeing for their lives.’ It is about time the government and the opposition explained to the community that most of these people are fleeing for their lives and we should respond in exactly that way: give them protection, hear their claim and give them permanent refuge.
If we want to deal with this global humanitarian problem, we need to stop thinking of it as a border security crisis or a border security problem. What we should be doing is putting in place a sophisticated policy to try and deal with this global problem starting with trying to calm things down in source countries and doing what we can to create peace in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, for example, what did we do in Iraq? We started a war that has gone on for 12 years that has created the circumstances for the rise of Islamic State and turbocharged people movements out of that part of the world. Instead of settling it down, all we have done is stirred it up, and then we wonder why there are so many people on the move. We should have a policy that gives genuine and effective assistance to countries of first asylum. What assistance do we give Iran, for example, that is host to millions of Iraqis and people on the move from other countries? What assistance did we give Iran? We set up a security relationship with them. How about we start giving them some aid and some know-how and steering them in the right direction and helping the Iranians to care for the millions of Iraqis who are currently in Iran? What assistance do we give to Pakistan? Next to none. What assistance do we give to countries like Bangladesh where people are coming across the border from Burma? We give these countries of first asylum next to none. And what about transit countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia? Sure, we cooperate to get the people smugglers, and I have no objection to that, but what other assistance do we give them to help them care for and effectively and humanely resettle the tens of thousands of displaced people in these transit countries?
This is not a security problem. It is a global humanitarian crisis. Being in breach of the Rome Statute, forcibly transferring people to third countries like the Republic of Nauru or Papua New Guinea and then dressing it up as some sort of regional processing arrangement that—I see in the title—is misleading in itself. This is not regional processing. These are like the hulks of 200 years ago. This is where we send our unwanted to be unseen and unheard. These are the modern-day hulks where we put the people we do not want to have around us. The fact is these are sovereign states and we are forcibly sending people to those sovereign states. That is a crime against humanity in accordance with the Rome Statute.
What is going on here with us trying to pre-empt an interpretation of the law by the High Court is, in my opinion, fundamentally undermining our system of democracy. The role of the court is to interpret the law and then our job—the community’s job—is to say, ‘Okay, we’ll follow that interpretation and we’ll do things differently because we respect the finding of the court.’ But what is the government doing tonight? With the cooperation of Labor Party it is saying, ‘Oh heavens, we’ve got a problem with the law, so we are going to pre-emptively and retrospectively change all of the laws.’ In other words, ‘We’re going to cook the books.’ Instead of letting the High Court have a look at the law, interpret it and make a judgement which we can respect, we are going to cook the books and keep changing this law until we can find our way around that troublesome High Court—instead of respecting what its role really is.
This is a shameful day. It is a really shameful day. Whether it be national security policy or our response to asylum seekers, it is more shameful and more troubling because it is done with a virtual consensus in this place. I know there are people in this place who would agree with much of what I said tonight. I ask respectfully that, when I call for a division, they join me. That is what I think people should do. I have enormous respect for the people in this place who share my views, and I have no doubt that the member for Fremantle is going to express some concerns with what is going on here as well. I understand the limitations that are on party members, and it is unfortunate.
I do not blame the party members in situations like this; I actually blame the parties, for having such a tight control of their members. Frankly, when it comes to issues like this, whether it be the Liberal Party or the Labor Party, it would be the grown-up thing to do, the right thing to do, to let their members follow their consciences and represent their communities tonight. If there is a division in a little while—I hope there is; I will certainly try and make one happen, the fact is that some people will vote quite at odds with the majority wishes of their community. I do not blame them for it, because they are hamstrung by their parties. I blame the parties and the party system; they really should let their members follow their hearts and represent their constituents.
I make the point again: this is a shameful day. We are one of the most fortunate—maybe the most—fortunate, rich, clever and decent countries on the planet. We are a signatory to any number of international agreements. We signed them in good faith. The men and women who agreed to sign them and ratify them at the time did so genuinely. They saw the value in those agreements. Way back when we signed the refugee convention, the men and women who led this country then saw the value and the importance in that agreement.
Some years ago, when we signed up to the Rome statue, the men and women who agreed to do that saw the value in it. Our predecessors agreed back then that to hold someone indefinitely without trial, effectively in a jail, would be wrong, and that it would be so wrong that it would meet the definition of a crime against humanity. The people who signed the Rome statute knew back then that forcibly transferring someone to a third country should be regarded as a crime against humanity. The people who signed the Rome statute realised then that to hold people who are effectively in our care in inhuman conditions would be wrong. We betray the men and women who signed up to those agreements—we betray them badly—by now saying: ‘It doesn’t matter. We know better. We can do things differently. We can have offshore processing.’
I make the point again that these are not regional processing centres. A regional processing centre is something that is set up and run by many countries to deal with a regional issue. These places are set up by the Australian government; they are funded by the Australian government; they are run by the Australian government. The phrase ‘regional processing arrangements’ in the title of this bill is downright misleading and it should be removed. It should be called any number of things. It is ‘offshore processing in other countries’. It is ‘forced deportation to a third country’. It is a crime against humanity. And the things should be shut down.