Select Committee on the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru - COMMITTEES Report


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:01): This report on recent allegations relating to conditions and circumstances at the regional processing centre in Nauru was by a select committee. It was specifically set up in this chamber with the Labor Party and the Greens political party and one or two crossbench senators, and the Labor Party and the Greens, of course, had a majority of senators.

I was not able to get to those hearings. I would have participated because I have been involved in similar hearings in estimates and in other committees that the Greens and the Labor Party keep raising, but I could not go. They were set up on days when coalition senators in the main were not available so, by and large, there were some coalition senators there for some of the hearings, but most of the hearings proceeded without the coalition senators in attendance, which meant that the usual suspects all came along and got the usual Dorothy Dixer questions from Senator Hanson-Young and from a couple of senators in the Labor Party.

The select committee produced a report. It was a report that did not really disclose anything new. It just reconfirmed that the offshore processing centres in Nauru and at Manus Island were actually processing centres set up by the Rudd Labor government. For some reason, the Labor Party set the inquiry up—suddenly they were now very keen on inquiries—to attack these processing centres that they themselves set up. From evidence given, I assume at this inquiry—as I said, I was not there—they went through the same processes, the same inquiries, the same questions as in any number of other Senate inquiries and got all the answers. The answers were from officials who were around when in Mr Rudd's time.

The reason these processing centres were set up so poorly was first of all because the Rudd government dismantled what the Howard government had set up six pre-six years previously. And then right at the death, just before the election, Mr Rudd had this thought bubble that if he wanted to try and save the election he would have to do something about that tens of thousands of people illegally coming to Australia. So he eventually, after six years of being told by the coalition what he should do, decided that he would set up these detention centres. Of course it was done in such a rush that the officials charged with setting up those processing centres had no time to do them properly or to get the right processes in place, to get the right people in place. It was all done in a rush just to try and save the Labor Party's bacon before the 2013 election.

The consequences of the way those centres were set up are what you are seeing in the headlines now. They are not consequences of what is happening now; they are consequences of the way these were set up by the Labor Party with, I might say, the support of the Greens political party—not particularly on that issue and I do take that point Senator Hanson-Young always makes. It was the Greens political party that kept the Labor Party in government for long enough to do these sorts of things. They were not set up terribly well. There were problems but that was all because this was done as a thought bubble just before the last election in a political attempt to save the political hide of the then Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government.

We have this report. Senator Gallacher, who has just come into the chamber, was the chairman of that committee. They spent a lot of taxpayers' money, a lot of senators' time. They had witnesses travelling all around the country to come in and give the same-old same-old story that we have heard so many times before. As a result of the inquiry, what were the recommendations? Nothing that made any sense. What were the new discoveries that the two or three inquiries that had been set up to be conducted by people who knew what they were doing, people who understand how to fully investigate matters could not discover? The Nauruan police looked into these matters but, no, this committee sitting in Australia thought they could do better. As their report showed, they could not and there was very little real evidence of the sorts of things they had been complaining about.

But it does not stop there. The select committee, having spent all that time and money, could not get through, did not get the answers they wanted, could not quite connect their political rhetoric with the coalition government. They could connect it with the Rudd government, but that did not suit them. Having been incompetent enough not to have an inquiry that got some results, what did they do? They moved in the chamber this week to set up yet another inquiry into exactly the same matters being investigated by the Labor Party and Greens inspired additional committee reference into this particular matter.

Some of what happens in Nauru and Manus is sad. I understand not a lot of evidence has been extracted that supports a lot of the outlandish claims that have been made, but clearly things are not all A-1 in those processing centres. Again I emphasise to those who might be listening that that is solely as a result of the Labor Party government setting those up without proper consultation, process and planning. But for the umpteenth time a Senate inquiry is going to inquire into the same issues.

Senator Gallacher will say there have not been umpteen inquiries. If he had been at the estimates committee, which he does not attend, he would see that these questions come up all the time. We go through all of these. We question the department. We question the police. We question immigration officials. We have done that each estimates committees since this coalition government came into power.

We question the Australian Human Rights Commission, who had a great concern. Remember? They had a great concern when the coalition government took over: there were 200 kids in detention. The Human Rights Commission had this great concern which the Labor Party asked all these questions about. Two hundred children in detention is 200 too many, I agree, but when the Labor Party were in charge there were 2,000 children in detention, and did the Human Rights Commission raise an objection then? Did they set up an inquiry then? No, they did not. They waited for the change of government, when the Abbott government, had got 1,800 kids out of detention that the Labor Party had in detention. There were only 200 children left and there were reasons for that which have been explained at estimates committees, and the Human Rights Commission suddenly set up this major inquiry.

It has been addressed time and time again in estimates committees, this select committee and in another committee that has looked at the same matter. The Labor Party and Greens cannot get the smoking gun they are trying to put on the coalition government; they keep hitting a mirror and it keeps bouncing back onto the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, who were the real culprits in this.

Not satisfied with wasting taxpayers' money and the Senate's time on all those inquiries, they set up another inquiry this week, so we are going to go through the whole process again. Do you know when the reporting date is? It is in December 2016. As one of the members has said publicly, that is after the next election. What a farce it makes of the Senate committee system when you have this urgent inquiry—yet another one into Manus Island—but the reporting date for the committee is after the next election. What a farce—and what a blight these sorts of political inquiries are on the reputation of the once highly regarded Senate committee system.

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