Peter Khalil: I rise to speak in opposition to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016. I will go through, as methodically as I can, the rationale given by this government for the merits or otherwise of the proposed changes to the Migration Act. The migration amendment was announced by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration last weekend on Sunday, 30 October. Initially, the Prime Minister stated that the purpose of the bill was to send a clear message to people seeking asylum in Australia that the door is closed. Just following the announcement—almost immediately—Pauline Hanson was quick to remark that it was:
Good to see that it looks like the government is now taking its cues from One Nation.
At first blush, we all looked at the announcement of this proposed legislation and we saw, quite clearly, an overreach by this government and by this Prime Minister, who is so desperate to please the right-wing extremists in his own party and so desperate to please Pauline Hanson and One Nation. And, as we have seen, as the week has progressed, this, very sadly, has been the case. It is a desperate ploy. At the time, I noted that Minister Dutton had once again dragged ‘a pained and morally bankrupt Malcolm Turnbull along with him to blow a very loud dog whistle as a sop to Pauline Hanson’.
This so-called legislation is really nothing but a smokescreen for the abject failure of the Turnbull government, which for over three years has failed to find resettlement solutions for the refugees languishing on Manus and Nauru. Asylum seekers have been held in indefinite detention for too long because this government has failed to secure viable third country settlement arrangements. At the time, many of us argued against the nonsensical consequences and the base politics driving this government’s proposed legislation. I took a moment to reiterate what I said in my first speech a few months ago in this place: that Australia has a moral, ethical and legal obligation to find a comprehensive solution for the people on Manus and Nauru who are currently in indefinite detention and also to the current international and regional refugee crisis. Of course Labor stands ready, as our shadow immigration minister, Shayne Neumann, said earlier in this debate. We are ready to put aside and ignore the base politics put forward by this government and to find solutions for these refugees in a bipartisan manner—to end the indefinite detention, because that is what we all want to see.
I want to make the point that some of our most admirable Australians have come to Australia as refugees—people like Frank Lowy, Gustav Nossal, Hieu Van Le and my good friend Les Murray, the icon of football in this country. They have gone on to make huge contributions to this country. Their contribution is something to celebrate, and it should not be something that is caught up in the party politics that this government is playing. That is why the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, was so right to rebuke the government for caving in to the extreme far-right-wingers with this proposed legislation. He is also right to say it is ridiculous—ludicrous—that it may prevent someone who was a genuine refugee and settled in another country from ever visiting Australia in a legitimate capacity even years later. The Minister for Immigration stood in this place yesterday and confirmed the bill has a purpose to amend the Migration Act to enable the government to ban genuine refugees from ever entering Australia, on either a temporary or a permanent visa, for life. Section 4 of the bill proposes to insert the following into the Migration Act:
(2AA) An application for a visa is not a valid application if it is made by a person who:
(a) is an unauthorised maritime arrival under subsection 5AA(1); and
(b) after 19 July 2013, was taken to a regional processing country under section 198AD; and
(c) was at least 18 years of age …
These proposed sections have bizarre and ridiculous consequences. We have heard some of the examples, but what if someone resettled in New Zealand—a genuine refugee—became a New Zealand citizen, entered New Zealand politics, entered their parliament, became the Speaker of the lower house in New Zealand and came to visit you, Deputy Speaker Kelly, in a couple of years time? They would be barred from entry this country—the Speaker of the House in New Zealand. Some of the consequences of this are utterly bizarre, ridiculous and nonsensical. In the future, we could have US citizens who become start-up tech gurus and set up companies that have global success, and they would be barred from entry to this country. Some of these examples are so ridiculous that one would have to think twice about them before talking about them. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has argued that there is a ministerial discretion for this. So, every time one of these people from overseas seeks to comes here on legitimate business or as a tourist, it would require a minister to provide discretion. It is absolutely ridiculous.
The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has also said in this parliament that there have now been over 830 days since a successful illegal boat arrival. So why is it necessary to now send a further message—to add the draconian measures in this bill that I have just outlined—if the laws are currently working? What is the necessity of it? Then they moved on to the point that the legislation was connected as a precondition of the government entering into a resettlement solution with New Zealand. We have been given no detail. We have seen no detail about this. Our leader, Bill Shorten, sought information from the Prime Minister, as he said in his press conference the other day. But he was given no information. Of course, we all know that the conservative New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, belled the cat on that part of the rationale behind this bill by saying he could not envision a situation where a resettled refugee would gain New Zealand citizenship and not have to travel rights to Australia. He said:
We’ve got no intention of having separate classes of New Zealand citizens.
So he belled the cat on that part of the rationale for the proposed legislation.
Then, of course, we have seen media reports in the last few days that the government is in the final stages of negotiations to offer permanent resettlement to most of the almost 2,000 refugees on Manus and Nauru. Fantastic—let’s see the details of that. Why would the government not come to the opposition, without going into base politics, and talk about bipartisan efforts to resettle the people of Manus and Nauru? I assume they have the right intentions, that they want to see these people resettled—why would they not be talking to the opposition about a bipartisan approach to those negotiations? Reports have stated that several countries would likely be involved, the United States and Canada among them. I suggest to those opposite that the Trudeau government in Canada or a likely Clinton administration in the United States would probably take the same position as Prime Minister Key.
I noted earlier the government’s abject failure to resettle the people on Manus and Nauru, after more than three years. The perfect example of this is their efforts with Cambodia. On 26 September 2014, Australia and Cambodia signed an agreement providing for the relocation of refugees from Nauru to Cambodia. In April of this year, Cambodia’s top government spokesman admitted that Australia’s agreement to resettle refugees from Nauru has failed and that his own impoverished country does not have the social programs to support them. Australia, this government, gave Cambodia $40 million in aid for signing the agreement and has spent another $15 million to get only five refugees to the country. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in April that three of the five refugees who arrived in Cambodia under this deal have returned to their countries of origin and the two remaining in the capital, Phnom Penh, are deeply unhappy and also want to quit the country. It has been an utter failure.
Asylum seekers have been held in indefinite detention for too long because this government has failed in its duty to secure viable third country settlement arrangements as it said it would. As the shadow minister for immigration, the member for Blair, has rightly asked, where has the government, where has the foreign minister, been in regard to these negotiations? I hope there are negotiations in place and that there is the potential for resettlement, because that would be a great result for the people of Manus and Nauru.
The next government rationale for this proposed legislation is sham marriages. They have had about three or four in the space of one week. We had the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection saying sham marriages were the reason for this legislation. He quoted media reports that refugees have undertaken sham marriages in order to obtain an Australian visa as a justification for the lifetime ban. This is despite no-one on Manus or Nauru having actually applied for a partner visa. There might be a handful of cases of sham marriage, but Australia already has robust laws which deal with sham marriages. Section 240 of the Migration Act 1958 already makes it an offence to arrange marriage to obtain permanent residence. It is already there. Section 240 states quite clearly:
A person must not arrange a marriage between other persons with the intention of assisting one of those other persons to get a stay visa by satisfying a criterion for the visa because of the marriage.
So it is unnecessary, and it is not a rationale for this lifetime ban when we already have the laws in place to deal with sham marriages. The penalty, of course, is imprisonment for 10 years. It is clear that this is nothing more than wedge politics, nothing more than base politics, designed to appeal to the worst prejudice and fear in our community. This has been demonstrated by the minister for immigration’s pronouncements just last night. On Sky News the minister for immigration, Peter Dutton, again attempted to rationalise this bill—I think this was the fifth rationale; I have lost count. He said:
“In this day and age when you’ve got people running around the world pretending to be refugees, who are not refugees, but are involved in terrorist activities, or are involved in terrorist organisations, you cannot afford to have people coming across your borders when you don’t know who they are.”
So the minister is now conflating terrorism with refugees. I have worked in national security and I have committed most of my professional life to defending Australia and defending Australians and their security. I know of the great work that the intelligence agencies do, that our security agencies undertake, quietly and unheralded. I know about the strong vetting they undertake to ensure Australians are kept safe. It is absolutely disgraceful that the minister for immigration on Sky News last night was running around talking about refugees being terrorists and that we do not know who they are. Well, we do know, very well. The security agencies and the intelligence agencies of Australia do a fantastic job in making assessments on security and vetting anyone who comes into this country.
The justification for this bill, the rationales that have been provided, has been a frantically moving message since the initial announcement last weekend, on the 30th. It is an absolute disgrace that the government has tried to spend the entire week changing its rationale to justify what is a nonsensical proposal. This issue is very close to my heart, and I am quite passionate about it. As the son of migrants who fled Egypt to escape a region engulfed by war, I appreciate the yearning for a life of peace, security and opportunity. Their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of millions of migrants who have come to this country to help build Australia—not just its physical environment but to add to the diversity of its culture, the generosity of its people and the depth of its humanity—is important to me and the dog whistling that has gone on by this government is an absolute insult to the many millions of migrants who have made this country what it is.
I am committed, as Labor is committed, to Australia’s role in the world as a good international citizen, making a difference to people’s lives across the globe. The Labor Party is absolutely committed, as Bill Shorten has said, if we were to win government, to negotiating with the UNHCR to resettle the refugees on Manus and Nauru in safe and secure countries. We are committed to doing this because it is the right thing to do, and we will move swiftly to do it. This is bad law, and we oppose it because it is bad law. For the reasons I have outlined, there is no substantive rationale to change the current laws, which by the government’s own admission are working. It is base politics. It appeals to the lowest common denominator. It is a desperate play by a desperate government whose model for government is governance by diversion and distraction. On that basis, I oppose this bill.