Aug 30, 2001

Adjournment: Illegal Immigration: MV Tampa

ADJOURNMENT Illegal Immigration: MV Tampa


30 August 2001


Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10.55 a.m.)—I was very proud to be elected to the House of Representatives on 2 March 1996. I have not been too proud of this parliament in the last week. At the end of the day, the issues we are debating come down to race and religion, and I believe the debate diminishes us as a parliament and as a nation. It was one thing to have Pauline Hanson as an Independent sprouting words and pressing reactionary buttons in the community. It is another thing to have a government and a Prime Minister that are prepared to do that as well. I would rather lose my seat than engage in the sort of divisive conduct that we have seen from this Prime Minister.

Last night a bill was presented to the parliament, a bill for which no notice was given to the opposition, a bill for which there was no explanatory memorandum; a bill which sought to override decades of laws in this nation without any public or community debate. That bill would have overridden all other laws without qualification, including international maritime laws and Australian criminal and civil laws. It allowed unreviewable, absolute discretion for Australian officials in removing vessels from Australian territorial waters without giving any consideration whatsoever to whether those vessels are seaworthy or any consideration whatsoever to the health and safety of people who may be on board. It provided no guidance as to when, how or why a decision on a vessel would be made. It provided no definition of `reasonable means’ or `reasonable force’. It was so broad that it would allow the exclusion of Australian citizens on Australian vessels without any avenue of parliamentary or judicial challenge or review.

As the leader of the Labor Party said last night and on AM this morning in opposing this bill, we need `cool heads and generous hearts’. I am firmly of the view that we do need leadership, and leadership is not about responding to every poll. Leadership is about doing what is right.

Government members interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE—Leadership is about humanity, caring for people and being prepared to take a stand, as the leader of the Labor Party has done in opposing this bill. This is not a refugee crisis—400 people on a boat do not represent a crisis. This is a political crisis for us as a nation, which has been brought on by a desperate Prime Minister.

Unfortunately members of the Liberal Party are interjecting during my speech. At their caucus meeting this week, the new member for Aston suggested that we drop bombs either side of boats as they approach Australian territory. That is the level of debate that has been brought on by the conservative parties. In his speech in the parliament, the Prime Minister referred to Australia’s response to the Indo-Chinese crisis. Well, Prime Minister, you are no Malcolm Fraser! This was a nation in which we had bipartisan support for tolerance and compassion on these sorts of issues. What we need is a comprehensive solution, and the government’s legislation would not provide that. You can push this boat out to sea but, unless it has somewhere to go, what will happen? The problem will remain. And does it become a yoyo: going out to sea and back again, going out to sea and back again? This is an issue that requires a comprehensive solution based upon the law and based upon decent humanity. (Time expired)