Minister For Immigration, The Hon Chris Bowen On Asylum Legislation (02/07/2012)


CHRIS BOWEN: Deputy Speaker, the Australian people are watching this Parliament.  The Australian people are asking the question: will this Parliament put aside partisan, political divide to save lives?

This Parliament should, today, say yes. We will put aside politics of the ordinary days, we will put aside partisan point scoring and we will act to save lives. Deputy Speaker –

[The Member for Higgins interjecting]

 The Member for Higgins. I will not truck anything during this debate and there is a vote at the end of it. The Minister has the call.

BOWEN: Deputy Speaker, there are people who have criticised the Malaysia Agreement. There are people who will continue to criticise the Malaysia Agreement as being too harsh.

There are difficult decisions for governments and ministers and parliaments to make.

There is nothing as harsh as dying on the sea. There is nothing as harsh as saying to people that you must risk your life to come to Australia in order to receive Australia’s protection. There is nothing humanitarian about that approach and there is nothing as harsh as saying that we will let that position continue.

Now, the Opposition says it’s the job of the Government to govern and they are right. It’s the job of every Member of Parliament to look inside their consciences and act in the national interest.

Now, there has been a legitimate debate now for many years about what works and what doesn’t; about what would be effective and what wouldn’t be; what is fair and what isn’t.

The Opposition says Nauru would work, that a detention centre on Nauru would work as a disincentive. We disagree. By itself, simply people being processed and then transferred to Australia after receiving refugee status, we say, that would not work. We say that would not work. We say the Malaysia Arrangement would work.

They disagree. The Opposition, Deputy Speaker, disagrees. But we say this, Deputy Speaker: is there one single Member of this House who could argue with any conviction, with any responsibilty, that implementing the Malaysia Arrangement and a detention centre at Nauru could not save lives? Is there one Member of this House who could argue that? I would submit there is not.

And if every Member of this House accepts that implementing Malaysia and Nauru together would save lives, there is an obligation to vote accordingly. There is an obligation to act in the national interest. There is an obligation to put people’s lives before partisan politics.

Now, the Opposition says they have had a consistent view for many years, but the view that an asylum seeker can be transferred to a country that is only a signatory to the Refugee Convention is a new one. Nauru was not a signatory to the Refugee Convention when the policy was implemented by the previous Government and my colleague, the Shadow Minister for Immigration, when asked whether it would be a pre-condition that Nauru is a signatory, he said on the 27th of July:

“No, it is not. It is not a pre-condition that Nauru is a signatory to the Refugee Convention. Nauru is a participant of the Bali Process.”

And of course, the Member for Lyne’s Bill makes clear that transfers could only occur to nations that are signatories to the Bali Process.

The Opposition says you cannot transfer somebody to a country which is not a Refugee signatory, but their policy, repeated just then by the Opposition spokespeople, is to return boats on the high seas to Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. They say it’s okay to turn a boat around to a non-signatory country, but it is not okay to send people by plane to a non-signatory country. The House will forgive me for questioning, Deputy Speaker, the consistency of that approach, and to me that says one thing: there can be, on behalf of the Opposition, no consistent and coherent opposition to this Bill.

I conclude my remarks, Deputy Speaker, with a quote from a Prime Minister:

“In commending this Bill to the Parliament, I say again to the Opposition, their representatives in this House and also to the other place, that it is in the national interest that this bill go through tonight.”

That was not this Prime Minister; that was John Howard, in August 2001, appealing to the Opposition to support the Bill which allowed Nauru – which allowed Nauru. The then-Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, acted in the national interest, said that he did not agree with everything that the Government was proposing, that he did not support the Government in all elements, but he recognised the Government’s need and obligation to act in the national interest. I call on this Opposition to do the same.