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Migration Amendment (Visa Maximum Numbers Determinations) Bill 2013

Speeches in Parliament
Scott Ludlam 12 Dec 2013

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (10:25): I am pleased to be able to speak this morning to the Migration Amendment (Visa Maximum Numbers Determinations) Bill 2013 that Senator Hanson-Young has brought forward for consideration of the Senate. As Senator Hanson-Young outlined, the bill amends the Migration Act 1958 to allow the section 85 limit on visas to be disallowable. We have not said at any time that the minister should not be able to set these caps. Nonetheless, when ministers have discretionary powers within their portfolios to make these decisions without the need to put something to parliament, if it is a matter as grave as this-a decision to place an indeterminate freeze on a human being's livelihood-then we do not think that should simply be left to the discretion of the minister of the day at the stroke of a pen. So it is not the caps that we necessarily take issue with; it is the fact that those caps should be disallowable.

I commend Senator Hanson-Young not just for bringing this bill forward, because this is just a small piece of a much larger parcel, as other senators have identified, but for her determined opposition to inhuman policies that, as we have read over the last 24 hours, now amount to torture of human beings. And the government's highly politicised, very deliberate and systematic move to attempt to militarise the problem and to mischaracterise a humanitarian crisis as a military one is precisely the reason why you are failing, it is the reason the wheels have come off. It is a disgrace what is being done to the Australian Defence Force by hiding behind the uniforms of service men and women who signed up to defend their country, not to be dragged into the vile and politicised debate over some of the most vulnerable people on earth who, when they take the risk they know may well lead to the deaths of themselves and their children in order to come to this country, are faced not with an orderly and legal and legitimate processing regime but with gunboats, with slogans, with ministers standing in front of banners and with vilification. This is killing people, you know that it is, and that is why it is such a disaster that you continue nonetheless.

An organisation with the gravitas and record of Amnesty International has described the detention centre at Manus Island as cruel, inhuman, degrading and violating prohibitions against torture in its recent report. This is an organisation that exposes itself, by way of the resourcing of its members and volunteers and people around the world who care about issues like this, to some of the worst practices in the worst hellholes in the world. When it has accused an Australian government effectively of torturing people, it blows me away that coalition MPs can even show their faces in here and defend this practice this morning without some kind of apology. It is my strong view that what we are setting up here is an apology that will have to be made by a future Prime Minister, who will have to do what Prime Minister Rudd did in 2008, and, long overdue, stand and apologise on behalf of the entire country to a cohort of people who were abused with the consent of the executive and the government of the day. That is what we are setting up here-a situation where a future Prime Minister will need to apologise on behalf the country to the people who have been abused and damaged and lost through the government's misguided and quite violent asylum-seeker policies.

The centre at Manus has obviously been very difficult for journalists to access, but I congratulate Amnesty International and everybody around the world, and certainly in this country, who work in support of asylum seekers. Groups like the Refugee Rights Action Network in Western Australia, for example, do a mix of very determined advocacy, but also take themselves into detention centres to see what they can do. They get toys and books into the detention centres, form friendships with people who are inside and then do the best they can to look after them when they are out.

Groups like the ASRC in Victoria also perform really basic tasks like counselling people who have fallen through our detention centres and have come out traumatised with post-traumatic stress disorder. Their experiences in the detention centres have been laid on top of whatever it was that they were fleeing from in the first place, and it makes me feel ashamed to be Australian when I read that our worst fears have been confirmed, that the horror we are inflicting on people amounts to torture. It is something that obviously we have suspected for a long period of time. But all those who have opposed the policies of this government-and when the wheels fell off the ALP, the former government's policy when they followed now Prime Minister Tony Abbott into the gutter on asylum seekers policies-have remained defiant and stayed with the campaign all the way through.

This morning we are acknowledging that the implications of a freeze on protection visas are devastating. After the disallowance of TPVs went through last week, it looked like nothing more than a tit-for-tat tactic, a five-year-old child throwing his toys out of the cot, and there was a minister, looking around for some kind of political tactic to retaliate. But he did not choose a political tactic to retaliate; he chose to make the lives of human beings even more miserable. Well played!

These are refugees including women and children who are being detained in immigration detention, some for years-some for more than four years. Some are currently living on bridging visas with the right to work, and others subject to community detention who will never now be granted permanent protection in Australia. The freeze condemns these refugees to a life of fear and uncertainty.

I have spent, as I suspect many of us here have-and I know that Senator Hanson-Young certainly has-a measure of time in some of these detention centres. We have seen the situation gradually become more and more degraded and worse and worse until we are forced to confront the realisation that conditions inside detention centres offshore and onshore are not degraded and vile by accident. They are like that deliberately. We are trying to persuade people who have fled war zones and risk of torture and killings and disappearances-as are still occurring in Sri Lanka-that they are better off staying in those circumstances than they are fleeing to the protection of Australia. One of the people interviewed in this Amnesty International report, a 43-year-old gentleman from Iraq-he is my age-said:

I have lived in war zones with bombs and explosions. I have never experienced what I am experiencing here with the uncertainty that we face. If we had died in the ocean that would have been better.

This means, Senator Cash, you are getting close to your policy objective of being more terrifying and worse than a war. Is that really what you are setting out to do? If it is, you should just jump up and say so. I suspect people like me would probably breathe a sigh of relief that you are no longer pretending that it is in the best interests of the people you are looking after, who have fled and exercised their international legal rights to seek asylum, to have you then say that it is for the best, that we are trying to prevent drownings at sea.

I do not think you are, and it pains me to say that. If you go back over the last few years, I figure that there was a genuine will within this parliament, at least for a period of time, to try to do everything that could be done to prevent deaths at sea. The Australian Greens believe, obviously, that the best way of doing that is to provide a safe pathway for people. But I do not think that is what the coalition has ever been about. It has been about turning a humanitarian emergency into a national security one, because that is where you think you are on safe ground. Parade the gunboats, parade men and women in uniform to provoke fear in the community and then rescue people from that fear. It is disgraceful. It is a very old political tactic. It is not something that I think should be pursued any further. What I hope for the most is that you will see just how badly that tactic is failing when you try to convert a humanitarian crisis into a national security one. There is no doubt at all that your tactics will fail. But this is not merely a political question, because lives are at risk and people's futures are at risk.

As at May 2013, there were 1,731 children still locked up in Australian detention centres, children who have arrived as asylum seekers, who have already experienced severe traumas. So you might want to think about your apology, about the future apology that a Prime Minister will need to make to those children who committed no crime either in Australia or in the countries they fled from. The only thing that they appear to have done wrong, whether they came here with their parents or not, is to arrive at a time when the politics of people fleeing and seeking refuge is as degraded as it has ever been, certainly in my political memory.

The reason I think that Minister Morrison has chosen this tactic, as I said earlier, is because he wanted some way of maybe mitigating the humiliation that he might have felt about the TPV disallowance last week. But temporary protection visas do not work as a deterrent. I would have thought, as those of you who were in government during the Howard years at the time of the SIEV X disaster would know very, very well-viscerally in fact-just how poorly TPVs fail as a deterrent and as a policy instrument. In 1999 when they were introduced, they did nothing whatsoever to stop the flow of asylum seekers by boat. In fact, it probably had the reverse effect. In the two years prior to the introduction of TPVs, 1,078 people arrived by boat. In the first two years following the introduction of TPVs, 8,312 people arrived by boat. And you know this well: by denying family reunion, more women and children were then forced to take the perilous boat journey to Australia.

But it is as though we are operating in fact-free environment where, as long as you front up and be a little more hairy-chested today than you were yesterday or the day before that, you will be able to get the headline that you are strong on border protection and stronger national security. While behind the scenes, people are traumatised and now camped in situations that amount to torture in the detention centres where it is actually very, very difficult to get an independent and objective view of what is going on there.

The centre at Manus has obviously been very difficult for journalists to access, but I congratulate Amnesty International and everybody around the world, and certainly in this country, who work in support of asylum seekers. Groups like the Refugee Rights Action Network in Western Australia, for example, do a mix of very determined advocacy, but also take themselves into detention centres to see what they can do. They get toys and books into the detention centres, form friendships with people who are inside and then do the best they can to look after them when they are out.

Groups like the ASRC in Victoria also perform really basic tasks like counselling people who have fallen through our detention centres and have come out traumatised with post-traumatic stress disorder. Their experiences in the detention centres have been laid on top of whatever it was that they were fleeing from in the first place, and it makes me feel ashamed to be Australian when I read that our worst fears have been confirmed, that the horror we are inflicting on people amounts to torture. It is something that obviously we have suspected for a long period of time. But all those who have opposed the policies of this government-and when the wheels fell off the ALP, the former government's policy when they followed now Prime Minister Tony Abbott into the gutter on asylum seekers policies-have remained defiant and stayed with the campaign all the way through.

This morning we are acknowledging that the implications of a freeze on protection visas are devastating. After the disallowance of TPVs went through last week, it looked like nothing more than a tit-for-tat tactic, a five-year-old child throwing his toys out of the cot, and there was a minister, looking around for some kind of political tactic to retaliate. But he did not choose a political tactic to retaliate; he chose to make the lives of human beings even more miserable. Well played!

These are refugees including women and children who are being detained in immigration detention, some for years-some for more than four years. Some are currently living on bridging visas with the right to work, and others subject to community detention who will never now be granted permanent protection in Australia. The freeze condemns these refugees to a life of fear and uncertainty.

I have spent, as I suspect many of us here have-and I know that Senator Hanson-Young certainly has-a measure of time in some of these detention centres. We have seen the situation gradually become more and more degraded and worse and worse until we are forced to confront the realisation that conditions inside detention centres offshore and onshore are not degraded and vile by accident. They are like that deliberately. We are trying to persuade people who have fled war zones and risk of torture and killings and disappearances-as are still occurring in Sri Lanka-that they are better off staying in those circumstances than they are fleeing to the protection of Australia. One of the people interviewed in this Amnesty International report, a 43-year-old gentleman from Iraq-he is my age-said:

I have lived in war zones with bombs and explosions. I have never experienced what I am experiencing here with the uncertainty that we face. If we had died in the ocean that would have been better.

This means, Senator Cash, you are getting close to your policy objective of being more terrifying and worse than a war. Is that really what you are setting out to do? If it is, you should just jump up and say so. I suspect people like me would probably breathe a sigh of relief that you are no longer pretending that it is in the best interests of the people you are looking after, who have fled and exercised their international legal rights to seek asylum, to have you then say that it is for the best, that we are trying to prevent drownings at sea.

I do not think you are, and it pains me to say that. If you go back over the last few years, I figure that there was a genuine will within this parliament, at least for a period of time, to try to do everything that could be done to prevent deaths at sea. The Australian Greens believe, obviously, that the best way of doing that is to provide a safe pathway for people. But I do not think that is what the coalition has ever been about. It has been about turning a humanitarian emergency into a national security one, because that is where you think you are on safe ground. Parade the gunboats, parade men and women in uniform to provoke fear in the community and then rescue people from that fear. It is disgraceful. It is a very old political tactic. It is not something that I think should be pursued any further. What I hope for the most is that you will see just how badly that tactic is failing when you try to convert a humanitarian crisis into a national security one. There is no doubt at all that your tactics will fail. But this is not merely a political question, because lives are at risk and people's futures are at risk.

As at May 2013, there were 1,731 children still locked up in Australian detention centres, children who have arrived as asylum seekers, who have already experienced severe traumas. So you might want to think about your apology, about the future apology that a Prime Minister will need to make to those children who committed no crime either in Australia or in the countries they fled from. The only thing that they appear to have done wrong, whether they came here with their parents or not, is to arrive at a time when the politics of people fleeing and seeking refuge is as degraded as it has ever been, certainly in my political memory.

The reason I think that Minister Morrison has chosen this tactic, as I said earlier, is because he wanted some way of maybe mitigating the humiliation that he might have felt about the TPV disallowance last week. But temporary protection visas do not work as a deterrent. I would have thought, as those of you who were in government during the Howard years at the time of the SIEV X disaster would know very, very well-viscerally in fact-just how poorly TPVs fail as a deterrent and as a policy instrument. In 1999 when they were introduced, they did nothing whatsoever to stop the flow of asylum seekers by boat. In fact, it probably had the reverse effect. In the two years prior to the introduction of TPVs, 1,078 people arrived by boat. In the first two years following the introduction of TPVs, 8,312 people arrived by boat. And you know this well: by denying family reunion, more women and children were then forced to take the perilous boat journey to Australia.

But it is as though we are operating in fact-free environment where, as long as you front up and be a little more hairy-chested today than you were yesterday or the day before that, you will be able to get the headline that you are strong on border protection and stronger national security. While behind the scenes, people are traumatised and now camped in situations that amount to torture in the detention centres where it is actually very, very difficult to get an independent and objective view of what is going on there.

On behalf of the Australian Greens and those of us who are fleeing the building to spend time with loved ones over the holiday season and take a break: we will not forget the plight of those who came to Australia seeking a better life, for whatever reason, fleeing some of the worst regimes and situations anywhere on earth, who are locked up behind razor wire with or without their children, not knowing whether their family are safe or whether or not they will be protected, for whom the idea of Australia as a beacon of democracy, human rights and wellbeing in the region has been exposed as a cruel joke.

I wish everyone in this chamber well. Take time over the break to reflect on the impact that the policies, bills and measures that we pass in here have on the lives of real human beings. I am proud to stand with those in the community who utterly reject the policies of this government as they have tripped from failure to disaster, from one scandal to another, while hiding behind the uniforms of the ADF. We will not rest until these policies have been reversed and we have a policy that respects international law, that respects human rights and that respects the individual aspirations of the people who seek refuge here when there is nowhere else to go.

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