Local, Independant and Effective

Indi says "We can do better" on asylum seekers

Posted November 14, 2016

 

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (15:22): Unlike my colleague on the other side, I will not be supporting the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016. Primarily, I will not be supporting this legislation as I believe it fails the principal test of good legislation: it fails the test of equality, the principle of treating everybody equally. It is poor legislation because it is discriminatory, and it seems to be hugely unfair. It is poor legislation because it is almost impossible to implement. It fails the test of being righteous legislation. It is legislation based on fear and punishment. Its focus is on creating a deterrent to and a punishment for third parties without a balance of reward, rehabilitation or any long-term humanitarian approach. Secondly, my reasons for not supporting this legislation—and they are no less of a priority—are that the overwhelming sentiment in my community and in my electorate is that I do this.

In my professional judgement, I do not believe this legislation will be of long-term benefit to the people of Australia. I have listened to my electorate. I have engaged with professionals in this area, and I would particularly like to acknowledge the advisers from the Prime Minister's office for their briefing. I have read extensively on the topic, I have consulted widely and I have turned to my conscience. In particular, I need to say to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection that I am making my own decision on this matter. I do not believe that this legislation will be of long-term benefit to the people of Australia and I say to the minister: it is not because of the Greens, it is not because of Labor; it is because the people of my electorate and I think it is bad legislation.

But, in reference to the minister, I acknowledge that our governments and previous ministers have had no easy task in addressing the flow of people seeking asylum in Australia. I acknowledge that this government and previous governments have worked hard to address this issue. I acknowledge that the boats have stopped, that the children are out of custody and that many refugees are being settled in Australia. But I also acknowledge that this has been done at great cost—in money, in trust, in relationships and in reputational damage. I believe we can do better, I believe we should do better and I believe that we as a nation are better.

Over the past two weeks, the people in my electorate have inundated my office with calls and correspondence against this particular amendment, and tonight I proudly represent their views in this place. My community tell me that they, the people of Indi, believe that Australia can do better than this, and over a hundred people have directly contacted my office with their concerns about the proposed amendment. One local Indi business owner sums up the sentiment in my electorate, concisely:

In short I find this policy appalling. We are a better society than this. I cannot believe that this policy will succeed.

The people in my electorate tell me that the ends do not justify the means. We have just heard from the member for Fairfax, and all he could do was say, 'We need to be cruel, we need to be unkind, we need to be unjust, we need to punish a third party, because that is all we can do to solve this other problem.' Basically he was telling us that the ends justify the means. There would be no person in this parliament, I do not think, who could actually stand up and say they believed that. We are a country that is clever enough to have good means to justify good ends.

The people in my electorate are saying to me, 'Cathy, remember that the standard that you walk past is the standard you accept.' The standard that we would walk past in this instance is a standard of unjust behaviour. It is cruel behaviour, it punishes a third party, and I do not believe it is going to solve the problem. If we walk past it, if we accept it by passing this legislation, that becomes the standard that we as a parliament aspire to.

Another member of my constituency said: 'Cathy, Michelle Obama—she had it right. Why don't we as a nation, when they aim low, aim high? Why as a nation can't we do that? Why can't we be our best selves in this situation? Why do we seek the bottom common denominator of punishment, of hurt, of cruelty?'

Mr Keenan: Because it works.

Ms McGOWAN: It works?

Mr Keenan: Of course it works.

Ms McGOWAN: Yes, murdering people works!

Mr Keenan: We have a border protection policy that works—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): Order! The member for Indi has the call.

Ms McGOWAN: I acknowledge the comments from the government. It is true it works, but as I say: at what cost? And do the ends justify the means?

Together with the Independent member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, I will be moving an amendment to this legislation. We are calling on the government to drop its plan to ban asylum seekers from ever coming to Australia and to instead develop a sophisticated response that deals with the situation in source countries, transit countries and countries of first asylum, because I believe we can do better. I believe we as a nation are better than this. We are an innovative nation—we are creative, we are clever—and we are a just nation. But, in this amendment bill, I see no evidence of policy that is creative, innovative or just. The major parties have a dogged focus on breaking the people-smugglers business model, and this provides very little room for public discourse about the bigger picture, about a better approach.

Clearly, it is not satisfactory to have thousands of asylum seekers remain in Indonesia, desperate for an unlikely opportunity to come to Australia. As long as they stay in Indonesia, they will continue to look to Australia as their final destination, even as this government remains resolute that they shall have no chance of coming here. How are we keeping these people connected with their home countries or, at least, with the countries of their initial sanctuary, aiming to provide the opportunity for a safe return or resettlement? The minister says this policy is based not on fear but on sending a message to people smugglers. I disagree with him. All we see from the government are increasingly harsh laws that are against people seeking protection. We are getting crueller and crueller and crueller. I ask: what is the government doing to target the people smugglers directly, instead of targeting asylum seekers by proxy?

I call on the government to outline a plan for a policy of migration to this country. How can we bring more compassion into government policy without encouraging the false hope peddled by those who prey on the vulnerable and the desperate?

I am not naive about the problem. It is real and we need to act, but I do not believe this is the best solution.

Australia has a long history of accepting refugees for resettlement, and over 800,000 refugees and displaced people have settled in Australia since 1945. Many of them have come to my community. Many of them have settled happily and become prosperous people in my electorate. I think the government is so focused on the people smugglers' marketing tactics it has forgotten to talk to Australians about maintaining this country's reputation of welcoming refugees at their time of greatest need. I call on the Prime Minister to share this government's long-term plan for migration policy—a plan that I believe he has to have been thinking about, that is innovative, that is creative, that will be effective, that will be just and that will be compassionate.

The government's migration policy has to have an impact. The minister notes how it has stopped the flow of boats to Australia' since 2013, they have managed to close 17 detention centres and they have removed children from detention. This is all admirable. The minister hopes these new laws will mean the government can cut deals to empty the offshore detention centres, but the question they have not answered is: what happens next? I support the government providing no room for equivocation or doubt about our country's migration policy position. However, it is incumbent on the government to show leadership and take a stronger role in the region to find a resolution compatible with Australian values.

The global refugee crisis is both a humanitarian challenge and a border security problem. With an estimated 65 million displaced people worldwide, the problem is too large for Australia to tackle on its own, but equally we cannot ignore our international responsibilities. Any response that will require a genuine regional solution involving most, if not all, south-east Asian countries will include Australia and New Zealand. I know we are working in this area; we just need to do more. Any solution must involve the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Australia's response to asylum seekers needs to be consistent with all of our international treaty obligations, including the Refugee Convention, the Rome Statute, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

I believe we can do better. I believe we as a nation are better. My community believes we are better. I so want us to be better. In bringing my speech to a conclusion, I will quote from a famous international, Pope Francis. He said, 'Frightened citizens build walls on one side and exclude people on the other.' Pope Francis also said the best antidote to fear is mercy. He said:

Mercy and courage also are needed to respond to the huge wave of refugees, migrants and displaced people all over the globe.

Mercy and courage: I agree with him. Oh, to be in a parliament where mercy, courage and justice were the hallmarks, not punishment and fear.

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