Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (13:50): As a number of my colleagues have remarked, it also gives me no pleasure whatsoever to rise and speak in opposition to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2012. I will briefly reflect, as many of us have, on the circumstances that brought us here. In 2010, new Prime Minister Gillard delivered a speech on the question of boat arrivals and expressed the need to protect our way of life. Thereby, she bought entirely into this disingenuous conflation of two completely distinct issues, that of asylum seekers-refugees, people fleeing war, violence, ethnic cleansing in our region or other parts of the world-and border protection, as though these were somehow the same issue.
The conflation of those two issues was very effectively developed and deployed by a former Prime Minister, John Howard, and immigration minister Philip Ruddock. It has been extraordinary listening to contributions from the other side over the last 24 hours celebrating the fact that 'we are back; we were right and we are here again'. Prime Minister Gillard went on to say, 'I understand the anxiety in the community around boat arrivals' and it is on this foundation that the notion that refugees are a threat to our way of life, and that the anxiety around them is therefore justified, should even be talked up or encouraged. All subsequent Labor and coalition discussion on this policy has rested. The ALP has completely accepted the toxic and inaccurate premise of the debate set by the coalition. The premise goes virtually unchallenged within the public pronouncements of the major parties. It has been left to the Greens to make what seems to us so obvious to put that case into the public record.
The ethical thing for the new Prime Minister to have done would have been to show leadership on the issue. I think that is what former Prime Minister Rudd and his frontbench had attempted to do in the moves that they made when they came to power, to formally and legislatively reject the Pacific solution that was in place. Prime Minister Gillard could have continued down that course and she did not. By validating people's fear of this tsunami, as some coalition MPs have said, of illegal arrivals, this flood of people, the queue jumpers-and we heard that phrase again from the speaker before me-Labor have fallen into the trap predicated on an assumption that not only does the Australian public not know any better but also we cannot know any better. It preaches to a base and, I think, a completely wrong understanding of Australian culture and of the Australian tradition of the fair go. I think it sells us all short.
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting-
Senator LUDLAM: I am going to ignore you, Senator Macdonald, lest I say something that I will regret.
Senator Cash interjecting-
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Fawcett): Order! Senators on my left are reminded that senators have the right to be heard in silence.
Senator LUDLAM: The proclamations and the policies from the ALP and the coalition suggest that they believe a solution is something that frightens asylum seekers away from Australia. We have heard a great deal from both sides of the chamber on that premise in the last few days. The problems are that people flee their homelands, that the processes for application abroad are painfully and dangerously slow, if they exist at all, that other countries are ruthlessly cruel to refugees and that the heads of the smuggler rings take advantage of a ready supply of desperate people, to fleece them of their savings and offer them a cramped spot on a voyage that might kill them. Until the major parties publicly accept this entire picture and not just one convenient element of it, there will not be any solution.
We have always opposed Labor's Malaysia solution because it is a people-dumping proposal. Put quite simply, it is a live people trade of 800 asylum seekers-who are to be made an example of, to rot behind barbed wire, effectively forever, to other people who might be seeking to make a voyage-in exchange for 4,000 people, who had already been accepted as refugees, living freely but not particularly welcome in Malaysia. In August 2001, as senators know, that disastrous people-dumping scheme was rejected by the High Court in a case brought by David Mann of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre. Mann is the grandson of refugees who fled the Nazis-with the help of people smugglers. To him, the notion that people could reach Australian waters to claim asylum and then be sent to a third country where the human rights, on the balance of the evidence, would put them in very serious danger was morally and legally repulsive, and fortunately the High Court agreed. The decision not only rendered the Malaysian people-dumping project illegal; it also cast doubt on the legality of all offshore processing, including on Nauru.
For that reason, the Greens opposed Mr Oakeshott's bill, which effectively just stripped out what little protections exist in the current law, and we therefore of course oppose this bill. To support either would have marked a 180-degree turn on very long-held principles and policies, and it would have been an offence to reason in decency and a betrayal not only of the people who are seeking refuge here in Australia but also of the many Australians who trusted us with their votes knowing where we stand.
A real regional solution would involve supporting human rights abroad not only in the countries from which people originally fled-some that we have recently invaded-but also in those countries through which people pass on their way to Australia. That means overhauling Australia's overseas asylum application system so that it is no longer prohibitively slow, and significantly increasing Australia's humanitarian intake. Some of these recommendations of course were taken up by the recent expert panel and some of these recommendations, we hope, will not be lost in the appalling furore that has erupted in this parliament over the last few days.
The UNHCR's annual budget in Indonesia is around $6 million. If the government and the opposition are serious about saving lives, why not support the UNHCR in providing a safe pathway to asylum for genuine refugees. Of course most of the people who do find a way here are genuine refugees-as everybody knows and I think most senators on both sides acknowledge this-and are seeking to escape the kind of violence that we would not subject ourselves or our families to were it occurring here.
The word 'queue' is thrown around to depict boat arrivals as sneaky and unjust-or even unchristian, one of the strangest contributions to the debate that I have heard so far. In Indonesia, the wait in the queue to be resettled from refugee camps is 76 years. An immediate increase in UNHCR funding of at least $10 million from Australia would at least increase the capacity to assess asylum applications. This of course was rejected by the major parties.
Early last year a Hazara refugee in the Leonora detention centre told a journalist this:
The people of Australia must understand we are not criminals, we are homeless. If peace in Afghanistan come back, we can't stay (in Australia) because we love our country, we all want to help our nation. If Afghanistan have peace - no body come across a big ocean with 99 per cent chance of death for 1 per cent chance, in small boat come here and many Afghani died in Malaysia to Indonesia trip, this ocean ... All Afghani people take risk and our life risk because they want to work here for peace ... Their life in danger - because of this they cross the ocean to reach here and want protected in Australia.
That is something I think that has been so completely lost in this debate. How dangerous and how serious does your deterrent have to be? If you want to break the business model, so-called, of the people smugglers, you need to be scarier than drowning, war, ethnic cleansing and torture, and more of a deterrent than the things that these people are justifiably fleeing from. We all know that that simply will not happen.
These processes that are combined with the oppressive and dangerous conditions in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and other states from which people arrive here seeking refuge provide the customers for the so-called business model of the people smugglers. Instead of making the alternative more accessible so that people do not climb onto these vessels in the first place, the major parties' approach is to make the smugglers' path undesirable by making the destination scarier than war, ethnic cleansing, torture, systematic rape and violence that these people are fleeing. The major parties believe a successful policy is one that makes refugees believe that they are better off facing repression in Iran, violence in Afghanistan or persecution in Malaysia than they are by reaching Australia's waters by boat. We have reached a point where this is how Labor and the coalition define success and history I believe will see it differently.
Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (16:13): Prior to question time, I had been speaking on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2012. In closing, I have some comments to add by way of context. We get so rapidly lost in this debate and it has been chased down into a dark corner. Once in a while it is worth pulling back to take a look at what is happening in the world that we are part of. In 2010, the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters by boat was about 6½ thousand. But that very same year, the UNHCR estimates that there were 43.7 million forcibly displaced people in the world. That includes refugees but also internally displaced persons-those in camps or those on the move.
I repeat: 43.7 million people are forcibly displaced in the world. So 0.014 per cent of them came to Australia by boat. After visiting Australia this February, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, urged Australians to appreciate the scale of the humanitarian crisis that they are trying to contend with and the very small-not inconsequential but, on a global scale, small-nature of our role in it. Against the setting of 57,000 people reaching Malta and Italy by boat in 2011 and another 100,000 asylum seekers reaching Yemen by boat, Mr Guterres said:
It is very difficult for me as High Commissioner, who has to deal with the whole world, to be convinced that 6000 is a very important problem.
I understand that in the psychology of Australia, the collective psychology, this is an important problem ... but you need to understand also the global perspective.
He called for moral leadership and he said the risk of a populist approach by politicians was that vastly exaggerated fears 'all too easily manifest into statements and acts of xenophobia against foreigners-be they refugees, migrants or others'. That sounds familiar, doesn't it?
It is not to say that for these 6,000 people the high commissioner referred we are not primarily responsible, once they start making their way here, to make sure that they are protected, to make sure that they are not risking their lives. And if they have set out on these voyages in unseaworthy vessels with crews who are not always competent to pilot the boats in the first place, it is a primary responsibility to make sure that they are not abandoned, that distress calls are relayed immediately to emergency services, in this case the naval personnel, both here and in international waters and the Indonesian authorities. That is our responsibility. We have put a number of propositions forward. Senators Milne and Hanson-Young have detailed exhaustively what we believe should happen now without recourse to this parliament, without even being involved in how degraded this debate has become, because these things do not require legislative effect to happen now and we can be providing much safer pathways for people who do make these voyages.
While the government jumps on implementing the findings of the Houston report, or the very narrow interpretation of what those findings were, I want to recall that six months ago the inquiry into the immigration detention system made a number of findings that have simply been ignored and set aside. Just in March this year, that inquiry recommended that asylum seekers be detained for no longer than 90 days. And a majority of the joint committee found that asylum seekers who pass initial health, character and security checks should immediately get a bridging visa or be moved into community detention. One of the reasons for those findings is that indefinite detention is damaging to mental health. People are killing themselves in our immigration detention system; they are self-harming; they are sewing their lips together. They have nowhere to go, they have no idea when they are going to be released, and it is making them mentally ill. This is now a very well understood, if we are concerned about saving lives. I will not throw accusations across the chamber that members on this side do not care. Everybody cares. Nobody wants to see people drowning. I think one of the things we should have done a long time to ago was to turn down the temperature in here. Nobody wants people to die, but nor do I think anybody in their right mind wants people to go out of their minds in indefinite detention behind barbed wire, for no crime, for undetermined periods of time-and it could be forever-as a deterrent effect for those left behind. It is not only morally bankrupt, but the logic is not there. It is not going to work.
The question that I will rest my contribution on is: what happens in six or eight months time when we have got people behind cages in Nauru, on Manus and around the region, and the boats keep coming? What is going to happen when the bumper sticker that Mr Abbott has been trading under falls off the bumper? We will then realise that we have been having the wrong debate. We must protect people who try and make these voyages. We must remember why they make them in the first place. Most of all, we have to lose this delusion that locking people up is going to be more of a deterrent than the things that they are fleeing.
This debate will have to be reopened, it will have to be resumed, if this bill does not fix anything. We have stumbled down a very dark rabbit hole on a false premise that border security is somehow related to how we treat desperate people fleeing desperate circumstances. It is not just about upholding international legal obligations, although of course that is very important. But if it is not going to work then why are we doing it? If it is just a headline for today or tomorrow then not only are we selling out and doing an enormous disservice to the people who come here but it is doing damage to how we perceive ourselves as a country. We are better than this. I will be voting against this bill when we put it to the vote later this afternoon.