Yesterday, in the Senate, Asylum Seekers took centre stage.
Bob Carr, Foreign minister, actually used the word “disastrous” to describe the invasion of Iraq, perhaps without that illegal war, championed by George Bush, John hoWARd, and Tony Blair, there might be less refugees in the world.
Here is part of what was said, edited for clarity:
Senator BOB CARR (New South Wales—Minister for Foreign Affairs) (11:27):
As the Senate debates this bill, there are 43 million displaced people around the world, including more than 10 million refugees. There are nearly two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and one million more in Iraq. There are 1.5 million refugees who have fled Iraq, although I suspect that figure is higher—I remember estimates of four million refugees being forced out of Iraq, or displaced within Iraq, by the disastrous American invasion of March 2003. Some 140,000 people have fled Sri Lanka. To date, as we watch the civil war in Syria, 80,000 refugees have fled that conflict. They have gone to Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, all ill-equipped to check this refugee flow. They have gone to Turkey as well.
I have long held the view that Australia made a bad decision in the 1930s not to issue visas left, right and centre to the Jews of central and eastern Europe who wanted to flee, especially after Kristallnacht in October 1938. The energy that larger numbers of Jewish refugees would have brought to these shores and to our nation would have been extraordinary. Nonetheless, I am proud that Australia is so generous. After the United States and Canada, Australia has the largest humanitarian intake with around 14,000 this year and almost 70,000 in the last five years. We spend $405 million to support humanitarian emergency and refugee programs globally. We are acknowledged as a generous nation.
The truth is, you cannot have safer borders and you cannot have humane treatment of what we call in bureaucratic language ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ without having an effective disincentive to those who ply the evil people-smuggling trade. The arrangement made between the government and Malaysia is such a disincentive.
Having spent a scholarly life, over half a century, studying Malaysian society, culture and politics, I know those shortcomings far better than most. Even so, there is a good case to be made for the ‘Malaysian solution’.
It provides the most workable, humane, long-term sustainable approach now on offer. It is a policy that stands somewhere between saying no to everybody and yes to everybody who shows up here.
The Malaysian plan would effectively recognise the international nature of a problem—of a cynical exercise in which Australia stands at the end of the line of a game of pass the ‘hot potato’—and would regionalise the practicalities of its handling and management.
At the core of the amendments before us today is a simple but powerful proposition: we can break the business model of the people smugglers and we have a duty to do so. Offshore processing is an essential element to stopping the people-smuggling trade and this amendment is essential to achieve that objective. This problem is not static. If rejected by the Senate, the solution will be returned to by a future Australian government. The behaviour of people smugglers is constantly adapting. The problems that send people onto the high seas will continue to appear in the regions to our north. After the High Court decision—one of the most questionable and curious High Court decisions in memory—arrivals tripled—
After the High Court’s decision, arrivals tripled from 314 in October to 895 in November. The inescapable fact that the coalition and the Greens continue to ignore is that the Malaysian solution is the only proposal we have which has any hope of cracking the people smugglers’ business model. All the available information from asylum seeker communities in source countries and those who arrive in Australia confirms conclusively that the absence of a clear deterrent is seen as an open door to Australia.
We saw that when we announced the Malaysian arrangement last year: the number of arrivals dropped because people smugglers waited to see if the arrangement would be implemented. It was not; and, when the government’s legislative amendments were blocked, the people smugglers returned to their business with renewed vigour. And why wouldn’t they? That is a clear demonstration of how effective the arrangement would be if the government has the opportunity to implement it. The arrangement would ensure one thing—that none of those transferred would be eligible for resettlement in Australia. When transferred to Malaysia, they would be processed by UNHCR and be subject to UNHCR’s normal resettlement program, with no special treatment and with no guarantees about the eventual country of resettlement. That contrasts sharply with the Nauru experience, where processing for resettlement is by Australian Immigration. Where? Primarily in Australia. With Malaysia, none of those transferred would be eligible for special treatment on resettlement. With Nauru, just about all of those processed there end up in Australia. How’s that as an effective policy!
I hear critics say that towing vessels back to Indonesia would work. Do they not understand that such a policy would drive people smugglers to sabotage their vessels at the time of interception to avoid being towed back? Threats to tow back endanger not only those on the vessel but also the brave Australian officials whose job it is to protect our borders. What a policy that is, to tow the boats back! It would produce a crisis in our relations with our most important near neighbour, Indonesia. It would reduce Australian-Indonesian relations to an ongoing squabble about returning boats to crowded Indonesian ports, to a single transactional issue. In a post-2014 Indonesia—that is, a post-President Yudhoyono Indonesia—it is likely to have even more of an inflammatory effect then it is likely to have now. But that is the opposition policy. The opposition policy is to tow the boats back. It is primitive. It is unworkable. It is inhumane. It is no alternative.
I hear people say that, under the arrangement, Malaysia cannot provide those transferred with appropriate protection. They should read the text of the arrangement and its associated operational guidelines, which are freely available in the public domain. They should read the article by Professor Kessler, an academic expert on Malaysia, that I quoted from earlier. He said:
These arrangements are not perfect … But they are workable. So why resist implementing them?
He also says in that article, by the way:
Abbott’s reasons and strategy are clear. On immigration, as on all other matters, he wants, by a chosen strategy of finely targeted obstructionism to all government initiatives … to make the country ungovernable. That is half of his strategy. The other half is then to spend the rest of his time jeering that the government is demonstrably hopeless, that it simply cannot govern. Whose doing is that? Abbott is on a sure winner.
The commitments in the text of the arrangement are not hidden away from scrutiny; they are there for all to see and to hold the Australian and Malaysian governments to account. The arrangement makes clear that those transferred will be treated with dignity and respect, in accordance with human rights standards. They will be accommodated in the community, be allowed an opportunity to work and be provided with minimum standards of care if they cannot. Those are serious commitments entered into by a government serious about stopping this trade, and they are supported by the UNHCR. That answers the arguments of anyone who wants to question the humanity of the Malaysian arrangement: they are supported by the UNHCR, whose integrity and commitment to refugee health and wellbeing cannot be doubted or challenged. They are serious commitments.
I hear critics say that processing people offshore in Nauru is better and proven policy. But creating a new Christmas Island in a foreign country is not enough—not when the people smugglers know that anyone sent to Nauru for processing will almost certainly end up in Australia, exactly where people smugglers promised to deliver their valuable customers. What sort of disincentive is that? The amendments before the Senate today provide the only effective disincentive available to Australia. It is essential that a clear message of deterrence is sent to people smugglers, and this amendment would do it.
The Australian people want humane treatment of people fleeing their homelands on the high seas. They want humane treatment, but at the same time they want an effective border policy. They want an effective border policy, but they do not want to see any loss of life. In a world of less than entirely satisfactory answers and solutions, this is the best option. No option will work without it containing, at its core, a powerful disincentive to the businesses that are driving this flow of sad and threatened humanity.
BILLS Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012 Second Reading