On 19 July 2013 Australia's government—a Labor government—reintroduced a policy of offshore detention, making it clear that someone who arrived in Australia by boat to claim asylum would never settle here and instead would be forcibly transferred to an offshore prison. That policy has resulted in murders, rapes, child sex abuse, state sanctioned child abuse, institutional brutality, deliberate dehumanisation of innocent people and the destruction of countless lives.
The policy was arbitrary, it was illegal under international law and it was contrary to Australia's international obligations. It established Australia's offshore gulags. They were designed to harm people so grievously that those people would be forced back to the country that they fled from in the first place to face the persecution and the risks that they had fled from in the first place. It undoubtably qualified under international law as a system of torture. This is because it consisted of the deliberate infliction of severe harm on people for the purpose of coercing them and others into particular actions.
I hope those responsible for this system's design and implementation one day face the consequences of their actions. Charge them with torture, convict them of torture and lock them up for a while and give them a taste of their own medicine. That's what should happen to those people.
That Australia's offshore detention policy framework has been seized upon and promoted by fascists, Nazis and far-right political parties in Europe, even to the extent of using the very same words and the very same font as Australian government communications, tells us everything we need to know about its philosophical underpinnings and the kind of people it was designed to appeal to. Right now, as we debate this bill, the UK government is seeking to implement its own version of Australia's shameful policy. This is one of the most shameful exports this country has ever produced, and it has seen us go from an international human rights champion to an international human rights pariah.
Offshore detention has been a humanitarian calamity and has been one of the darkest and bloodiest chapters in our country's story. It is time we wrote the ending to that chapter, and this bill will help us do that. After 10 long years of offshore detention, it is beyond abhorrent that about 150 people remain in exile in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Every one of those people is suffering. Some of them are suffering grievously.
It is no exaggeration to say that the passage of this bill will save lives. It will save the lives of some innocent people who have been used as human billboards, who, like thousands of others, have been tortured in order to send a message to other people that they should not attempt to come to Australia by boat to claim asylum. This is the Senate's opportunity to make right a small part of the injustice, the lies and the degradations of the last decade.
This legislation does not require the government to settle people permanently in Australia, although that is the Greens' position, but it does require the government to offer to bring them to Australia to support them until a durable third country solution is secured. It is entirely consistent with Labor's policy platform, and on that basis there is no barrier to the Australian Labor Party voting for this legislation other than their own political courage. The fact that the Australian Labor Party sent every one of the 150 people who are still exiled in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to Manus Island and Nauru in the first place means every Labor senator today has a moral responsibility to vote to end their exile.
When Labor was in opposition, Labor senators and MPs were happy to support the Greens' medevac amendment. This bill gives Labor the chance to finish the job. It represents a compassionate and practical solution to the ongoing calamity of offshore detention. It provides a necessary step towards a durable solution for people who have been without one for nearly a decade now. It will offer people a chance at safety in Australia with the support and medical attention they need while awaiting resettlement in a safe third country. This is a critical step in ensuring that people who sought asylum in Australia and were treated so abhorrently finally get an opportunity at the dignity and respect they deserve, and a much-needed chance to rebuild their lives in safety and freedom.
The explanatory memorandum goes through the provisions of this bill. In short, it will compel the government to make an immediate offer of evacuation to all refugees and people who sought asylum in Australia who are still offshore in Papua New Guinea or Nauru—that is, about 150 people. It will compel the government to place all refugees and people seeking asylum who accept the offer into the Australian community and not into held detention, and it will compel the government to make available any medical assessments and treatments that people evacuated to Australia need.
There are many other provisions in this bill, and I urge senators to educate themselves about them by reading the bill and the explanatory memorandum. At the end of the day, there is one thing this bill will indisputably do—that is, save lives. It will actually save the lives of people who have now suffered for 10 long years. It will do that in a way that is completely consistent with the policy platform that the Australian Labor Party took to the most recent election. I could quote you chapter and verse, but time will prevent me from going right through all of Labor's policy positions that this bill is in line with, but Labor commit to giving permanent protection to those found to be owed Australia's protection. I make the point here that almost all of the people that this bill covers have been found to be owed protection. They have been found to be owed protection, and under Labor's policy they should be given permanent protection.
Labor promises that people in detention will be treated fairly and reasonably within the law and promises that people in detention will be provided an appropriate standard of care, including the provision of health, mental health and education services, to a standard consistent with that afforded to the Australian community. That is not being delivered to the people in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. I want to make it clear here: the people in Papua New Guinea whom the previous government, the LNP government, washed its hands of in a disgraceful abrogation of its duty of care still should be, and are, under Australia's duty of care. It is beyond shameful that a Labor government has refused to address the decision made by Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton and, instead, is carrying on like some kind of pale version of the LNP. It is beyond disgraceful. The people in Papua New Guinea have to be considered under Australia's care because we owe them a duty of care having exiled them—under a Labor government, I might add—so long ago.
It's critical in this debate that we hear some of the voices of the actual people, who are suffering and who have suffered under this disgraceful policy framework. I want to place some of those on the record now in a de-identified way. Firstly, here are some words from Shariff, who is a refugee in Nauru who is awaiting urgent evacuation to Australia. I might add, doctors in Nauru and an Australian specialist have recommended Shariff be transferred to Australia for treatment. That still hasn't happened, disgracefully, and it has been a decade since Shariff has seen his family, including his two children. Shariff says:
It is important to get evacuated because we do not get any treatment here in Nauru.
… … …
At the moment I cannot imagine being able to think about resettlement, I can only imagine after I have treatment.
Here is Rajah, a Tamil refugee held in Nauru who is in excruciating pain, which is increasing each day. Rajah says:
Take one minute for us and think about our feelings and our families. We are separated from our children, siblings and parents. It is not easy. If we have done anything wrong, tell us.
Nur Mohammed is a refugee recently transferred to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment. He says:
Australian immigration forced me to Nauru, and I did not want to go, but for 10 years I followed the rules.
… … …
I want to see justice for my friends in Nauru and PNG. Open your hearts and minds and do something.
Those are some of the many case studies that the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee heard about during the inquiry, the report of which was tabled in the Senate yesterday.
I want to diverge slightly and refer to one further submission to that inquiry. This was the only submission the inquiry received, I might add, that called for this bill to be rejected by the Senate. That, completely unsurprisingly, was from the Department of Home Affairs. It is beyond belief that those rampant hypocrites in the Department of Home Affairs would dare try to use the Convention on the Rights of the Child as an argument against this bill. I mean, please! These people have been torturing children on Nauru for a decade. They oversaw a system of deliberate, state-sanctioned child abuse on Nauru, and then they have the barefaced gall to argue against this bill in their submission using the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Give us a break! I mean, seriously! These people who deliberately tortured children have no right to be quoting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Get back in the bin, you absolute monsters! You absolute monsters, get back in the bin. You're a disgrace!
The 150 people left stranded in Nauru and in Papua New Guinea are the small remnants of the thousands who were exiled in the first place. They are innocent people who face murder, who face rape, who face child sex abuse, who face medical neglect, who face deliberate dehumanisation and who've witnessed the destruction of so many lives. They are innocent people who reached out a hand to our country and asked for our help, and they were treated disgracefully and abominably. They were used like the corpses that used to be impaled on the walls of medieval cities to send a message to other desperate people that they should not try to enter. Those who remain stranded today have been suffering for 10 years, and they are still suffering today.
We've got an opportunity today to take a small step towards ending some of that suffering. Many have chronic and critical health conditions that need urgent treatment that is not able to be provided in Papua New Guinea or Nauru. There is simply no point in extending their suffering. It achieves precisely nothing. It is simply brutality for the sake of brutality. Surely, colleagues, we are a better country than that. Well, we're about to find out.
I'm pleased to be speaking on the Migration Amendment (Evacuation to Safety) Bill 2023 today, the private senator's bill on amending the Migration Act. I rise and speak on this bill as Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. I've had the opportunity to discuss the bill with the senator who has moved this bill's second reading and to receive a wide range of evidence from stakeholders and the department. Over the course of the inquiry, we received over 150 submissions about the bill and the issues it seeks to address. On the record, I want to thank the organisations and individuals who took the time to make a submission to the legislation inquiry. I understand that views on this issue are deeply held and strongly felt across the community and across the parliament.
At the last election, the now Prime Minister spoke of the need to be strong on borders without being weak on humanity. Being strong on borders without being weak on humanity—it's an important balance, and it's one that we are getting right in government. It's one that only a Labor government can get right, which is why we have already followed through on our election promise to provide a permanent visa pathway for existing temporary protection visa holders and safe haven enterprise visa holders. And—perhaps inconveniently to the mover of this bill—since the election the number of displaced people on Nauru has more than halved.
Why would that be an inconvenience?
Through you, Acting Deputy President, I'll take that interjection. What I'm going to do today is stand here and calmly state the facts, the policy and the actions that our government is taking. What I'm not going to do is to grandstand, speak over other senators and allow other senators to draw this debate into an exercise in making viral social media videos using emotive language.
Senator McKim, on a point of order?
Yes: improper reflection on another senator. Firstly, Senator Green has said that somehow people being removed from Nauru is inconvenient for me. That is a personal reflection which is not true, and I ask her to withdraw that. Secondly, she has stated very clearly that my outrage is confected and for the purpose of delivering social media content. It's not confected; it is genuine and appropriate. I ask her to withdraw that as well.
On the point of order, respectfully, senators across the chamber sat through the language that was used by the senator who moved this bill. There were no points of order called. I appreciate this is an emotive debate, but there is no point of order.
Thank you; I'll rule on that. I don't believe there was a point of order, but it may assist the Chamber if there was anything that you could withdraw. But it's up to you.
Long debate text truncated.
Date and time: 10:01 AM on 2023-03-08
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 12
Total number of "no" votes: 24
Total number of abstentions: 40
Related bill: Migration Amendment (Evacuation to Safety) Bill 2023
Adapted from information made available by theyvoteforyou.org.au