Dec 4, 2017

Debate on Senate Motion Regarding New Zealand’s Offer to Settle Refugees

Message No. 253, 29 November 2017, from the Senate was reported informing the House that the Senate had agreed to the following resolution:

That the Senate—

(a) notes that:

(i)      The New Zealand Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern, has continued to pressure Australia to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees who are currently in offshore detention;

(ii)     New Zealand will begin work to expedite processing refugees if, and when, the offer is accepted; and

(iii)    Prime Minister Ardern stated: “We made the offer because we saw a great need. No matter what label you put on it there is absolute need and there is harm being done’’; and

(b)     Calls on the Government to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees and negotiate conditions similar to the United States refugee resettlement agreement.

The Senate requests the concurrence of the House in this resolution.


MR ALBANESE: I rise to support this resolution from the Senate.

I do so and say to the Government that this is an opportunity for it to rise to the occasion. There are many things that this resolution is not about. This resolution does not stop offshore processing. This resolution does not assist people smugglers.

This resolution is consistent with getting an outcome. At the end of the day, the Government is responsible for outcomes, not just rhetoric. The PNG court determined in April 2016 what the closing date of the Manus facility would be.

In April 2017, the Government came to an agreement with the Government of Papua New Guinea that it would close. Yet, the UNHCR has indicated that the alternative facilities simply weren’t all ready at the time of closure.

What you also have is men who have been in detention for four and a half years with still no security as to what the future is for them.

People who commit crimes, serious crimes, are often not detained for that period of time. A majority of these people have been found to be refugees. That is, they have been found under our international obligations to be deserving of Australia’s care. It has been found that we have a responsibility to these people.

We simply cannot have the approach of the Minister, which is to say: “This is nothing to do with me. This is something to do with the Government of Papua New Guinea, nothing to do with Australia’’.

The fact is that you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. We on this side of the House take that approach. What we won’t do is just wash our hands of the responsibilities that Australia clearly has.

The Minister says that he won’t consider the resettlement option in New Zealand now. But he leaves it open for the future. He indicates that’s correct.

If not now, when? What is to be gained, apart from politics, in leaving these people in further uncertainty when the New Zealand Government – under both the conservatives, under the leadership of John Key, and now under the leadership of Jacinda Ardern – has offered to assist these individuals but also, frankly, to assist Australia?

If the Minister says we have no responsibility, if he doesn’t think that this is impacting on Australia’s standing in the world, then he is wrong. I say to him, with respect – he might disagree with that assessment; people can look at objective facts and come to different conclusions – but it is a fact, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, that this is impacting on Australia’s standing in the world.

It is also a fact that John Howard, a person he admires, led a government where John Howard, in spite of the rhetoric, said that the people who were on the Tampa would never settle in Australia and never settle in New Zealand – that they’d be sent home. The fact is that many of those people are today settled here in Australia as Australian citizens and many of those people settled in New Zealand.

Very clearly it would be possible for these people to come to an arrangement, which New Zealand has indicated would be possible, whereby they commit – they’ve said they would want to if they were settled in New Zealand – to stay there because they would feel welcome there because of the actions of the New Zealand Government and the New Zealand Opposition.

A good friend of mine, Father Dave Smith of Holy Trinity Church in Dulwich Hill, visited Manus Island a few weeks ago. It is interesting to look at the interviews that Father Dave, as he’s known, had with the people there.

This is someone who travelled there out of his view of what a Christian should do. I have disagreements with him on some issues politically, it must be said, but there is no question whatsoever of his genuineness. There are so many Australians who are looking for a genuine outcome when it comes to this situation. The fact is that a genuine outcome is settlement in third countries.

If the Government can say it’s OK for people to settle in the United States and that that wouldn’t provide a pull factor, but somehow New Zealand is not okay, then that is an extraordinary proposition. If the Minister doesn’t think that it’s possible to deal with the issue of the relationship of New Zealand visas into Australia, then I think he’s wrong there.

Quite clearly, with a little bit of leadership rather than ongoing rhetoric – and I disagree very strongly with some of the characterisations that have been made personally against the Minister. I don’t think that adds to the debate at all. I’m not seeking to do that here at all. What I am seeking to do is to say that these people, who have been in detention at what was intended to be a processing centre to then settle people in third countries, not in Australia, have now been there for four and a half years, and that is just too long. That is having an impact on their mental health as well as their physical health. It would for anyone.

When I was at my good, old Catholic school, one of the values that I was taught was about putting yourself in other people’s positions. I say to the Minister – put yourself in the position of those people. The Minister needs, frankly, to act with a little bit more maturity rather than the sort of knee-jerk: “Let’s hold these people almost as political hostages’’. That is unacceptable.

The fact is that these people need a solution. That is why we are prepared to support this resolution. We are trying to help the Minister find a way out of his predicament, frankly, because, at the moment, the way isn’t just to stay in a circumstance whereby he says: “’Oh well, this is all about Labor.’’ This is about the Minister. He has a responsibility. This resolution provides a way forward.