Nov 9, 2016

Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (18:03): I will not be voting for this legislation. This is legislation which has no policy basis whatsoever. Neither the contributions of those opposite nor indeed the legislation itself indicate why the government believes this legislation is necessary. The previous speaker spoke about Labor’s position and what we said before the election. He should have a look at what his own government said before the election. They said that they had got the policy settings right. They said that they had stopped the boats. They said they had removed all of the incentives with regard to people smugglers. Yet now we have new legislation, which was not mentioned during the election campaign, that is all about politics and not about substance or policy. They should be better than that. This country deserves better than that. But what we have here is a government without an agenda, contriving division as a means to attack the Labor Party for political reasons. It is a government that is preoccupied with conflict when it should be looking for solutions to the challenges facing this nation. It prefers conflict to outcomes. The government’s justification for this bill is that the legislation will deter people smugglers. But you can be harsh against people smugglers without being weak on humanity.

What this government should be dealing with is the challenge of settling people who are now on Nauru and Manus and have been there indefinitely. Indefinite detention causes mental anguish. All of the experts say that that is the case. If we are aware that circumstances not of those people’s making are causing mental anguish then we as a parliament, as people concerned with our common humanity, have a responsibility to do something about it. What the government should be doing—and should have done well before now—is identifying those people and placing them in third countries so that those who have been recognised as genuine refugees are settled in accordance with the responsibilities that we have. Those people who are not genuine refugees should, of course, return to their country of origin. But this legislation goes much further than suggesting that people will not be settled here in Australia; it says that people will be banned for life from coming to Australia, whether it be as tourists, to visit relatives or as business representatives.

Last Saturday night I had the honour of attending the Ethnic Business Awards in Melbourne. The government was represented by the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop, the member for Curtin and Minister for Foreign Affairs. She gave quite a good speech to that event, lauding the major recipients. The recipient of the major business award was a former Iranian refugee. The recipient of the major small business award was a refugee—a boat person—who came from Vietnam. The fact is that the government, in its rhetoric, is reinforcing views in the community very deliberately that somehow anyone who seeks asylum is not legitimate, does not have a contribution to make. And the government must know that it is sending that message to the Australian community, which is perhaps why Pauline Hanson has been so supportive of this policy.

But they must know something else as well, because we on this side have been determined, in a bipartisan way, to support policies that genuinely deter people smugglers. But in question time, for answer after answer, they have been prepared to stand up here and send a message to the people smugglers that somehow there is not a bipartisan position in this parliament on deterring people smugglers—being prepared to send that message. It is consistent with a government that, when it is in trouble, reaches into the bottom drawer and brings out policies, such as this one, for which there is no mandate—policies that were never mentioned before an election that we have just been through.

They say there is a justification in terms of assisting the settlement of the people of Nauru and Manus, but we know that that is not true. How do we know that is not true? Because the conservative Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, told people it is not true when he told the people of Australia and, importantly, of his own country, New Zealand, that he would not cop a two-tiered citizenship for New Zealand citizens and that his offer to provide settlement for people on Manus and Nauru, which he has made and repeated a number of times, would be withdrawn if it was conditional upon granting a secondary citizenship status to those refugees. Therefore, it would be even more difficult to provide a solution to the major issue the government should now be dealing with, which is the settlement of those people—something they have a responsibility to do.

The fact is that the whole of this parliament has put forward a clear message, and that consensus is being breached by those opposite. How irresponsible of them: sending a message to the people smugglers that somehow this is not a bipartisan position but at the same time wanting to send a message to the Australian people that there is political gain for the government in seeking to create a political division where none should be. They are prepared to use these people as pawns whose human rights, dignity and mental health can just be taken and given away in order to secure the game of politics, which is what their plan is here.

The fact is that there is extraordinary dysfunction within this deeply divided government, led by a Prime Minister who is constantly looking over his shoulder to ensure that he is not abandoned by the hard right-wing members of his own political party. The polls are bad. Morale is down. The critics are circling. The Prime Minister needs a political circuit-breaker. The two things that they draw on is that they usually complain about unions and try to create a division and political conflict over the issue of asylum seekers. And that is what we are seeing here: no practical reason for this change. Its only purpose is to give the government an opportunity to attack the opposition.

A government that should be concerned with economic growth, should be concerned with job creation, should be concerned with future education, should be concerned with health care and should be concerned with nation building through infrastructure has, because it does not have an agenda on any of those issues, fallen back on this issue. Similarly, the inquiry announced by the cabinet to have a parliamentary committee inquiry into the conduct of the Human Rights Commission and antidiscrimination law in this country was, again, an attempt to create division and conflict in the community, to create a return to the old culture wars by putting people against each other. They cite, of course, the investigation into the cartoonist Bill Leak, claiming that 18C denies Mr Leak his freedom of speech. The truth is that in this country we do have freedom of speech. Whilst that cartoon might not be something I would have drawn, he had the right to do so. I think the complaint should be dismissed, and I have no doubt that it will not result in any consequences against Bill Leak.

I spoke to Bill Leak today, and I accept that he is someone who is going through some real anguish as a result of the complaint being made against him. I am certainly sympathetic with the view that, whether it is Bill Leak or the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo in France or cartoonists anywhere else, people have to have their right to be provocative from time to time and to be defended on that basis—not because you agree with them, but because artistic freedom is an important part of our democracy. So I do think that it is unfortunate. There is no doubt that section 18D of the act provides protection for fair comment, which is why the investigation will go nowhere. Indeed, if there is any problem at all here it is that the Human Rights Commission should have an extended power to be able to deal expeditiously with complaints that have no chance of being upheld or having any further consequences. That would of course be a positive thing, and I understand the Human Rights Commission itself has asked for that to occur.

But here we have the government again looking to have an issue where none should be. Proper leadership of the country is about creating unity and harmony and dealing with the issues where we have common interests. As I speak in this chamber, there is a count being conducted in the United States, which is a deeply divided country. We in Australia, particularly those of us in this parliament, have a responsibility to show leadership. But, from what we have seen from the Prime Minister—someone I know very well and I have known since before he was in parliament—he is not himself. The Malcolm Turnbull I met last century, before he was in parliament, would never have given the angry, full of vitriol answers that we have seen in question time when talking about the bill that is before us today, and we would not have had any of the hyperbole and the exaggeration that we have had from this Prime Minister. I think that is quite sad. I read an important analysis in The Australian written by Peter Van Onselen on the weekend. He wrote:

The re-emergence of the culture wars is a sure sign the current PM has lost control of the political narrative, not to mention his party’s right flank and the handle he would have hoped to have on the philosophical and cultural direction of the country.

When we talk about this debate, we need to start and end with this: when we talk about asylum seekers and refugees, we are talking about real people and we should not be doing anything in this parliament to cause pain to them simply for the sake of a perceived political advantage—and that is what this legislation is about.

Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

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