Jul 25, 2019

Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019 – Third Reading – Thursday, 25 July 2019

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (10:46): The fact is you can be strong on borders without being weak on humanity, and that’s what this legislation is about. Why do we support this legislation? We support it because of our commitment to basic humanity. That basic commitment says that if someone is sick then you should look after them and give them care. It is a basic proposition that says that these people are our responsibility. It’s a basic principle that you shouldn’t just turn your back on suffering. That’s why we worked, and tried to work, across the parliament—and particularly worked with the crossbenchers—to achieve this outcome last year.

The fact is that the only person undermining border security at the moment is the minister with his rhetoric. He sends a message each and every day, at every opportunity, that somehow legislation such as this undermines our national security and undermines our border security, when, in fact, he knows that this is not true. Then again, this is a minister who is an expert at inflammatory rhetoric. It’s not surprising that, on other issues that are being debated in the national political arena at the moment, such as a voice to this parliament for First Nations people, the minister has stuck with the line that it’s a third chamber. Even the member for New England has reversed that position but, then again, he did walk out on the national apology. We should always remember that that was his response there.

The minister knows full well that the border argument is nonsense. The legislation passed by this parliament only applies to the people who were already, at the time of the passing of the legislation, on Nauru and Manus Island. Anyone who arrives by boat, or attempts to arrive by boat, simply isn’t eligible and isn’t relevant for this legislation. It’s as simple as that. That was a sensible proposition to ensure that—if there was any doubt about it—this legislation could not provide a pull factor. That is why this is simply not a fact from the minister.

The way that the minister told it, the moment the medevac legislation was passed, the horizon would be full of an armada of boats. Remember that?

They were all going to be here within days. Everyone on Manus and Nauru were going to be here and there’d be an armada on the horizon. We had the infamous media conference on Christmas Island. The palm trees at Cronulla Beach would’ve done the same job. They could have gotten some little plastic red crabs and pretended it was Christmas Island, if they wanted to do that.

Mr Snowdon interjecting

Mr ALBANESE: Warren, the member for Lingiari, could have provided it, because it’s in his electorate of course. But they had that extraordinary press conference in order to create fear and promote division. Of course, none of their rhetoric has matched the reality. We’re now in July, some seven months after the legislation was carried, and what have we found? We’ve found that, of those people who have been brought to Australia to receive medical assistance, less than 10 per cent of those have been brought under this legislation. More than 90 per cent were brought without this legislation. Ninety were brought here under this legislation, but pretty close to 1,000 people had been brought here already.

The minister’s own rhetoric is that the boats that have attempted to come here since this legislation was carried have been from the north. They haven’t been from the north; they’ve been from the west. They’ve been from Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka had a devastating terrorist attack over Easter. In the wake of that there have been some boats arriving here. I don’t know the motivation of people, because I’m not privy to that. The government, of course, is privy to that, and so are journalists briefed by the government about these national security issues for political partisan purposes. What I do know is that those asylum seekers have been returned. That’s the government’s policy. That’s Labor’s policy. That’s not an issue for this legislation whatsoever.

Maybe the minister could actually have a read of his policy just to jog his memory about it. He could take up the Prime Minister’s dictum of, ‘How good is reading your own policy?’ Maybe that would be a good thing. When you have 1,000 people brought here by the government and only 90 going through the medevac process, it’s hard to see why the government is putting this position forward. Even for someone who appears to struggle with basic facts as much as this minister, the legislation is very clear. It’s very straightforward. It allows for the minister himself to appoint the committee that makes the decisions about medical evacuations. Really, the minister’s position on this is a vote of no confidence in himself because he appoints the committee that makes the decisions and he says that’s a disaster, so the minister is calling himself a disaster in terms of his position. You would think that that had escaped his knowledge, but the legislation is working. It works as it was designed. A number of the objections have been upheld by the committee when the issues have been raised. Given that his committee has been a success, the minister shouldn’t be coming here with this legislation. He should be giving himself a little pat on the back for doing so well. He could even practise his smile. Remember that? How good is the smile? Cheer up, son. It’s not that bad; your legislation is working.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr ALBANESE: You are. This mob over there are the most miserable winners of an election I’ve seen. They should cheer up. But instead of that, what we’re seeing is a government acting on its only instinct. The member for Warringah’s gone—replaced by a much better version, it must be said, who gave a terrific first speech in this place—but his spirit lives on, this determination to oppose things. This minister is even opposing himself now. They’ve gone to the next logical step of saying no to everything. Now they’re saying no to this legislation, which the minister is in control of because he appoints the committee and presides over these processes.

I say to the parliament that they should reject this attempt to undermine this legislation. We should be proud of the fact that we’ve carried legislation in a difficult area that’s making a difference, which is consistent with the government’s own policies because it does nothing to undermine our borders, and it is very important that that occur.

This is all about politics. They sat around in their tactics committee and they worked out, ‘What have we got for the agenda for the third term?’ They’ve said: ‘We’ll just oppose the Labor Party. We’ll work out where we can have a little wedge and that’s what we’ll advance on.’ You can’t do that for three years.

This legislation should be rejected. It will undermine legislation that is working, that’s consistent with the framework, that doesn’t provide any pull factors and that’s providing health care for people in need. That is something that is just basic decency, basic humanity, and that’s why the parliament should continue to support the medevac legislation.