Migration Amendment (Protecting Babies Born in Australia) Bill 2014 - SECOND READING


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (09:51): I do not think too many people will be listening to this debate but I do see some children in the gallery who may have been influenced by Senator Hanson-Young's penchant for and ability with emotive words. I say to young people and those who are listening that almost everything Senator Hanson-Young said was wrong, a mistruth and a misinformation of the actual facts.

I want to make a few comments on the Migration Amendment (Protecting Babies Born in Australia) Bill 2014. I think for a start the bill is wrongly titled. It should be the 'Migration Amendment (Supporting the Business of Criminal People Smugglers) Bill 2014 because that is what this—and the way Senator Hanson-Young carries on—does. It gives the criminal people smugglers, who have been put out of business by the coalition government, some hope that their lucrative business will return. We heard in evidence at a Senate inquiry recently that the price being paid to criminal people smugglers to get into Australia is four times the average annual income of a person of that country. Huge amounts of money are being paid to criminal people smugglers to get illegally across Australia's borders and into this country.

That last speech was full of racial and racist overtones to a degree that I have never really experienced in this place. Senator Hanson-Young is suggesting that just because the people of Nauru do not live in the leafy suburbs of Adelaide, as Senator Hanson-Young has done, and just because they do not have private wealthy schools to go to, like Senator Hanson-Young did, these Nauruans are second-class people. The people of Nauru live in their country in a civilised way. They have many facilities and services. They are safe and they are secure. Since the Labor government reopened Nauru and arranged for transferees to be sent there the Australian taxpayer has put an enormous amount of money into schools and hospitals in Nauru for the benefit of all Nauruans and all those who live there.

Senator Hanson-Young kept talking about detention centres. She knows, as well as I do but chooses to misrepresent this, that there is no detention centre on Nauru. On Nauru it is an open gate place where people can come and go as they please. Nauru has very good hospitals that are continually improved by the Australian taxpayer. It is an open facility. Transferees are not held there in detention. Yet Senator Hanson-Young said—what?—10 times in her speech that they were in detention. She knows that is wrong because she has sat in the same estimates committees where people have been questioned and have told the truth.

Transferees on Nauru have access to the modern medical clinics that were recently built for $11 million. Care is provided. Senator Hanson-Young said that they get no care from Australian doctors and nurses. Well they do get care from Nauruan doctors and nurses and Australian doctors and nurses who are there. What Senator Hanson-Young has been claiming is completely false. Care is provided by general practitioners, registered nurses, psychologists and counsellors. Surgery is available there. Transferees at the Nauru Hospital have access to that. All children in Nauru, both those of transferees and local children, have access to education services through the Nauru education system.

Senator Hanson-Young may point at the Republic of Nauru and say that they are second-class citizens, but I do not believe that. The people of Nauru live there and have lived there happily as civilised human beings for a long time now. Transferees have access to a full range of programs and activities, including English language classes. They have regular communications and access to the internet, which I might say the Australian taxpayer pays for. There is significant scrutiny and independent oversight into conditions and treatment of transferees in Nauru and other regional processing countries.

Senator Hanson-Young had so many mistruths in her contribution that it would take me much longer than I have got to go through them all. One thing Senator Hanson-Young said was that there have not been any convictions by the Nauruan police. Sorry, but the Nauruan police are well trained. They are as good as Australian police officers. To suggest otherwise is the sort of racist comment that you would not expect to hear in this chamber. Why haven't there been convictions? Perhaps it is because the police have done their job. They have interviewed witnesses and looked around for evidence. Perhaps the real fact is that there has been no credible evidence of the sorts of illegal acts that Senator Hanson-Young talks about.

Again Senator Hanson-Young made some emotive comments about Baby Asha and Baby Mia. I do not know how Baby Asha happened to be in the condition she was in, but I saw in yesterday's Courier-Mail that the police have interviewed the mother in regard to the harm suffered by the child. There were comments by some refugee people asking why the father had not been interviewed by the Queensland police. Of course, the Queensland police are unable to do anything because it was an incident that happened not in Queensland but in another sovereign country—that is, Nauru. I see from reading The Courier-Mail—and I do not know what the facts are—that the Queensland police have sent a report to the Nauruan police about how the baby came to have those injuries.

Senator Hanson-Young said that the mother was stressed, depressed and anxious. Well, Senator Hanson-Young, you do not think it is because these people allegedly came from a war-torn country where their life, health and liberty were at risk in the country of their origin? You do not think that might have contributed to her stress and anxiety? Not only were they apparently in this war-torn country where they were under severe stress from the danger of being imprisoned or killed, but then they paid a lot of money—I do not know where they get the money, but they got a lot of money: as I say, four times the average annual income—to pay to a people smuggler. They have to find a lot of money. Who knows where they get that from? But perhaps that causes some stress. They then have to take the arduous journey from their country in an aeroplane—a commercial airliner. Who pays for that I do not know. It is not cheap. As those of us who travel know, it is not cheap to travel internationally. They get to Indonesia. They then pay the criminal people smugglers four times the average annual income to try to get into Australia. So you do not think those sorts of things might cause some stress and some anxiety to the mother, and not the fact that they are now living in a safe and secure place in Nauru?

Again I say: those of us with racist tendencies here might say that Nauru is a subculture or a second-class nation. I do not say that. I say that the transferees who are there, who apparently feared for their life and their safety in their country of origin, are now in the Republic of Nauru, where they do not fear for their life or safety. They have health and medical services that, I will guarantee, they never had access to in their country of origin. So you just have to put a bit of reality and truth into this debate.

Senator Hanson-Young says many experts have given evidence to the Senate committees. Well, they have, and Senator Hanson-Young attends most of them. I happen to attend all of them, because I am chairman of that committee and I have to. But we find, when you get the real evidence and it is questioned by senators, that a lot of the rhetoric that Senator Hanson-Young, the Fairfax press and the ABC go on with is simply lies. Remember a few weeks ago there was the five-year-old child who had been raped? Remember that? It ran in every news bulletin on the ABC, the Fairfax press made a big thing of it, and Senator Hanson-Young did not make a speech where she did not mention it. Of course, when we had the right people there to ask, they showed in just one sentence that that was wrong, inaccurate, a misstatement of the facts and completely erroneous. For someone like me, who because of my role as chairman of this committee has to sit through all this evidence, I have to say that is the norm, not the emotive language and the emotive mistruths that Senator Hanson-Young and the ABC tell about these sorts of activities.

If we are interested in the safety of refugees, which we all are, and we know that they come from a country which is war torn and where they are under threat to life and liberty, then ask this question of yourself: would it be better to live in those countries or go to a place like Nauru, where there is safety, there is security, there are schools, there are hospitals and there is someone providing food and clothing for those people? Where would those refugees rather be? Back in their home of origin or on Nauru, where they are safe and protected? As I say, I find it racist in the extreme to allege that Nauru is somehow a second-rate country which does not have decent policemen, decent doctors, decent schools and good and health and education facilities.

I started my contribution by saying the bill was wrongly named. It should have been named the Encouragement of the Business of Criminal People Smugglers Bill. Let me just give you the facts of this. There were a lot of children in detention during the Labor regime in this country, which the Greens supported. At the height of Labor's policy failure in 2013, there were 10,000 people held in detention, including 1,992 children. The Labor government was forced to open 17 new detention centres to deal with this influx of illegal arrivals. This, of course, resulted in the taxpayers having to fork out an additional $11 billion in border protection funding. The coalition government came back to power, and we have returned the situation to where it was in the Howard years. There have been over 500 days now without the arrival of an illegal boats. There have been zero deaths at sea, compared with 1,200 deaths that we know of under the former regime. We know of 1,200 deaths; we suspect there were a lot more than that. At the moment, because we have taken the people smugglers' business away, people are not getting on leaky boats and making these dangerous journeys, and as a result of that there have been no deaths at sea.

Senator Hanson-Young keeps talking about children in detention. As I say, she was not so concerned when 1,992 children were in detention in the Labor years. There are now, Mr Acting Deputy President—and I want you to listen to this—80 children in detention, and most of them are there because their parents are still under some investigation. That is why they are there. It is this government's intention and goal to get rid of all of the children out of detention, and we will do that.

Senator Hanson-Young: You're a liar.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Senator Hanson-Young—apart from the unparliamentary expletives, which I do not worry about coming from her. We will get the children out of detention. But where was Senator Hanson-Young when 1,992 children were in detention? Where was the Human Rights Commission when there were almost 2,000 in detention? Sure, it is a big thing now that we have got rid of most of them and only have 80 left, and we are going to get rid of them. But I wonder about the honesty and sincerity of those who would criticise our government for having 80 children in detention when, under a previous government, there were almost 2,000.

Under all governments, Australia has had a very proud record in taking in refugees. Per capita, we have one of the highest refugee intakes of any nation in the world. Last year, the coalition government announced a very generous humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, which includes 12,000 permanent places for Syrians and Iraqis, particularly those in oppressed minorities. We have increased humanitarian assistance. We will be assisting over 240,000 displaced people affected by the conflict in Syria and Iraq. So we have nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, as a nation, we have everything to be proud of in our record in looking after and assisting refugees.

I emphasise that these are the coalition's policies. However, to give credit where credit is due, the Labor Party, although they are pretty slow learners, eventually understood that you have to address the problem at its root. Although I did not have a lot of time for Mr Rudd, at least he, when approaching an election, made the call that they had to go back to the policies that actually worked. Of course, it was Mr Rudd who did the deals with Nauru and Papua New Guinea for the current arrangements. Time and time again, officials have told me at estimates that, because those arrangements were put in place in such a rushed way, there were things that were not properly addressed—things that would have been properly addressed had they been done more calmly. But, as I said, credit where credit is due. Labor at last woke up to the fact that you need to address the problem at its source. That has saved the lives of so many people and will continue to do so.

I again ask the question: if it is unsafe in your own country of origin, if your life and liberty are at threat, what is better: staying there or going to a place like Nauru? Nauru is a place with health services, education services and a police force. I notice a headline in The Age—the article itself did not actually refer to this further—likened Nauru to a Nazi gulag. I understand that the centre on Nauru is now an open centre. Nobody is restricted there; they can come and go as they like. There are now lifeguards on the beach at Nauru. There are playgrounds. According to officials who gave evidence last week, most of these transferees are now housed in hard-walled accommodation. Senator Hanson-Young would have you believe that everyone is living in a scouting tent or something. That is simply wrong and untrue, and she knows that, because she heard the officials say that most of the transferees are now in what they call hard-walled accommodation. It is three-bedroom, air-conditioned accommodation with a separate bathroom, separate lounge and dining rooms and a separate kitchen. I have to say it is a standard of accommodation that many Australians who pay their taxes to support our border protection policies do not have themselves. They are three-bedroom, air-conditioned units. Many Australians do not have that, but the evidence shows that these transferees on Nauru have that sort of accommodation, not the flimsy tents that Senator Hanson-Young would have you believe. This debate needs some reality and truth. I hope I have been able to indicate in some way what the real facts are on Nauru.

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