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Second Reading Speech Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (9.58 a.m.)—I completely refute the statement that Australia has played a negative role in the settlement of refugees. Australia leads the world with its settlement and compassionate programs, and the Labor Party are vile and contemptible in trying to paint the picture in any other way.

Let us have a look at what the Labor Party did when they were in office. They established a program of humanitarian care. There was no refugee test or UNHCR test; there was something that the minister declared to be of interest to the Australian government. They did not observe any international covenants or processes; they took anybody that the minister designated as important under the special humanitarian program. That is not a humane program. That is a political program.

This government has looked around the world for those most in need and taken people in large numbers. Proportionately we have one of the largest programs in the world for the size of our nation and for our capacity to settle refugees. I am proud of the programs that we have introduced because they are based on need. I invite members of the opposition to have a look at what is happening outside Australia’s borders and to have a look at the human rights issues in Indonesia—and they are not perfect, I acknowledge that. Let us have a look at Darfur and Sudan and see whether or not you are willing to compare the people that Australia is bringing from those nations to the boat people who happen to get here because they have paid somebody or because they are inventive enough to get hold of a canoe and paddle to Australia. There is a huge difference between these two classes of people, and if we lose sight of that then we lose sight of a humanitarian program to support those in most need around the world. I think this opportunistic approach to what is need and to refugees is just a wrong and an inhumane approach.

The reports I have from international organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide are that, in Sudan, 1.6 million people have been displaced, 20,000 have fled to Chad and 70,000 deaths have occurred since February 2003. That is just in one area. If you look at the surveys of what has gone on in those places, you will see that in September last year the World Health Organisation revealed that between 6,000 and 10,000 displaced persons were dying each month in the camps. These are refugee camps—humanitarian refuges—and people are dying in them at the rate of 6,000 to 10,000 a month.

Are the Labor Party serious when they say we need to give preference to people who can get here by boat or pay someone to come to Australia? There is a huge difference between the needs of those people and those dying at those rates in what are supposed to be places of refuge—they are called refugee camps—for people who are displaced. Why are they dying? They are dying of malnutrition, of disease and because the armies of the Sudanese government are bombing refugee camps—something that has never occurred before in the management of displaced people. The targets are actually the refugee camps.

The stories are particularly appalling, and the UN has documented them. Female displaced people risk being robbed, abused, threatened, beaten with whips and gang-raped as they undertake the traditional female task of seeking firewood. Sudanese authorities deny these reports, often claiming that their soldiers are disciplined and follow strict sharia. That is absolutely proven to be wrong. The Australian Labor Party, rather than deal with the issues that confront the world and that should confront Australia, would rather play games with people who can get into canoes and who can seek a better way of life in Australia.

If I were in their position, I admit I would do everything to improve the way of life for my family. I would want to escape from an area that was oppressive. I would want to escape to something that offered me greater economic prospect. I would want to seek a better way of life. But that is not the same as being a refugee. A refugee, according to the United Nations, is very specific, and the way in which they should be managed is also specific. If we are going to stray outside that, we will go back to the old days of a Labor minister declaring areas of special humanitarian need, declaring on a political basis without any objective test what areas in the world we are going to take people from, with neither rhyme nor reason. That is the way you lose community support for immigration. That is the way you lose community support for refugee programs. That is the way you despoil and wreck the rationale, the compassionate basis, that should be the very root of our immigration policy.

That is the game the Labor Party want to play. They want to go back to those days where the minister declares areas of interest—no rationale, no reason: ‘Get here on a boat and we’ll declare you a different class of refugee to the type of refugee that the international community is looking at.’ This government has a fine record of compassionate support for refugees. I do not want to see that change, because I think it is impeccable, I think it is reasonable and I think it needs to have a solid basis. We are not talking about a solid basis here today; we are talking about changes to the act that will allow those who can approach Australia a different class of refugee status. They will have hot and cold running lawyers to attack Australian law.

Tell that to the people in the camps in Sudan. Tell them that they will have right of appeal by Australian lawyers flying into those camps to defend their claims! They will not see a lawyer; they will not even see a review. There will be one interview and the decision will be made about whether they come to Australia or not. That is not a fair way of treating people who claim to be refugees: two classes of asylum seekers—one in need and dying in camps; the other strong enough to paddle a canoe or to pay someone to bring them here. They are two different types of people, and they would be treated differently if the Australian Labor Party had its way. It wants to say, ‘If you can arrive on Australian shores, you’ll have hot and cold running lawyers and, not only that, you’ll have numerous appeals through the courts—but, if all that goes wrong, let’s put the ombudsman onto them as well, for the sake of parliament.’ Tell that to the people in Sudan! Tell that to the people in the camps suffering around the world. Tell the genuine refugees we are taking that we will send the ombudsman there to see whether or not they have had a fair deal. You are creating two classes of refugees—a completely intolerable situation when you look at the humanitarian need of the situation.

The government has changed its processing to deal with people who do come onshore, but this proposal is aimed to keep people offshore, deal with them as objectively as possible, search out real need, establish the true refugees and then allow them onshore, with settlement or settlement in a second or third country. What the Australian Labor Party appears to skate over and ignore completely is the international convention on the settlement of refugees. The first goal of settlement is to create a political solution to the conflict and settle people back in their own land. That is the No. 1 goal of the United Nations, endorsed by Australia. The second goal is to have them settle nearby so they may return easily to their country of origin and reclaim their homes, their farms and their land. That is the second option adopted by the United Nations. This is sensible stuff. This is common sense. This is the way refugee management should be handled. The international community recognises it, but it appears that the Australian Labor Party does not want to recognise it. It wants to make up a whole bunch of new rules as we go ahead about how refugees are dealt with worldwide.

The third option, according to the United Nations, is a country of settlement remote from the area, where people will be safe. Australia often gets into the situation where we take people from all around the world as part of our refugee program of 13,000. It is a big program, I would remind the House, for the size of this nation: year in, year out, we take 13,000 people. It does not matter what the economic circumstances are in Australia, we take them. That is our compassionate program, that is our internationally sound program and that is why we can hold our heads high in international fora. Year in, year out, we take 13,000 people, based on these principles: (1) can there be a political settlement?—often there cannot be; (2) can there be safe settlement in a nearby country? I have read to the House the circumstances of refugees from Sudan who fled into nearby countries, dying at the rate of 6,000 to 10,000 a month and then being bombed for the pleasure of the Sudanese government. That is how safe those settlements are. The third option is the least preferred option, according to the United Nations—this is not an Australian conservative government making these rules; these are the United Nations rules on refugees. The United Nations said, ‘Only if those two measures can’t be met should we consider third country settlement some distance from the source of the conflict and the reason for people becoming refugees.’

How are we going to look at these so-called asylum seekers, these refugees that come to Australia by boat? We are going to give them first-class accommodation. There will be water, schooling for the kids, electricity and regular food. There are no threats to their lives, no bombings, no starvation, no ill-health, good medical services—everything that they could want for their safety, security and good health. Compare that with what is going on in the camps, where people have one interview: ‘Yes, you’re in to Australia,’ or ‘No, you’re not.’ What do these people get? They get security, safety, care, good health, good food and a good existence, compared with, in many instances, where they have come from, but not what they ultimately desire.

What they desire is settlement in Australia. Who would not want to settle in Australia? I do not blame them for that; I cannot criticise them for that. I would do that myself for my family, to get a better way of life, but I can understand why any story would be invented, why any tale would be told to achieve that. Compare the situation of a tale told, or a story invented, to the factual reality of what is occurring around the world that you want to turn your back on in order to rescue who you think are genuine people. They may or may not be genuine. Let us have an objective test and put them up against the rest of those claimants and see how they stack up. That is the way we should make the decision and that is the way the government is making the decision, with all of these added things thrown in: hot- and cold-running lawyers, safety for the children, schooling and clean water, which allows people to live a healthy life and one reason why there has been such a large increase in longevity around the world. They can live in those circumstances, have review after review and have lawyer after lawyer. They can even send the Commonwealth Ombudsman to check whether it is real and then we will make a decision about whether they should be settled here or elsewhere.

There has been some protest about whether people should be settled here or elsewhere. There seems to be a theme running within the Labor Party that, automatically, whatever their condition they should come and settle here. That is not the way to run a refugee program. If you want to call it something else, call it that and be honest about it. But this is not a refugee program. With refugees, you look for the best outcome for those families and, sometimes, it just happens that settlement is not Australia. Sometimes it is New Zealand, sometimes it is elsewhere in the world, but this government has always done everything possible to ensure the safety and security of those people whom it has found should not settle in Australia.

Why should people be in detention? The simple fact of the matter is that every country that has tried to let them go has found that they never turn up again. Tony Blair tried it and lost 98 per cent of everybody he said could move around in the community. Britain has since adopted many Australian rules and laws regarding the handling of refugees and asylum seekers. People have tried that process. I ask the opposition and my colleagues: what would you do in those circumstances? If you were let go and you thought that you had a chance of escaping and not being found again, that people were confused by your appearance and your name, wouldn’t you take that chance? Wouldn’t you seek to escape the officialdom that will declare whether you are a refugee? If you could disappear into the community and say, ‘I am now a resident of the country in which I am seeking to gain residency,’ wouldn’t you take that risk? Of course you would. It is human nature. You try to get the best you can for yourself and your family, and that is what this is about. It is about preservation, aspiration and a new lifestyle. That is what people are on about. The problem is that we need to sort out who is under the hammer, whose life is under threat—those who have faced torture, whose homes have been bombed, whose houses have been burnt down and who have had traumatic experiences. One only has to read some of the stories, both from the UNHCR and other agencies, to realise how serious the circumstances are.

A report prepared in July this year by the United Nations Refugee Agency says the insecurity in the rule of law—the very thing that we seem to be debating here today—in these areas of refugee population has changed dramatically: It states:

On one hand, refugee-populated areas may be the target of direct military attacks …

… … …

A number of different examples can be cited in this respect: attacks on Sudanese refugee settlement in northern Uganda …

Outside Sudan, in Uganda, people have been attacked by the Sudanese army. That is what we are looking at. You cannot compare that with people paddling their canoes to Australia; these are quite different things. We ought to be focusing on these things if we are going to call it a refugee program and a settlement program for refugees. If you are going to reinstall the special humanitarian system, call it that. Let us see your policy. Let us know what you are on about. I do not believe you are really saying that. I believe the Australian Labor Party wants to play games with this issue. Not having a policy is a privilege that oppositions have. The United Nations Refugee Agency report goes on to describe ‘incursions by the armed forces of Burundi into refugee-populated areas neighbouring Tanzania, intended to apprehend combatants and “subversives” living amongst the Burundi population’ in refugee camps.

I do not think the Labor Party or my colleagues have a case. I will go into bat every time for those people whose lives are at risk, whose children are being tortured and raped, whose homes have been destroyed and bombed, whose crops have been destroyed, whose cattle and livestock have been taken by invading armies. That, to me, is a refugee program. This program that the government has put in place is a type of refugee program. People are being given extraordinary support and assistance to make their claim—a claim that is not given to anybody else. The only reason they are given this claim is that they can pay somebody or paddle a canoe—one or the other. In anything that I have read about refugees, whether from the United Nations or from anywhere else in the world, those are not among the criteria that are necessary to establish the needs or the refugee status of anybody.

Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 10th August 2006
Release Date: 10 Aug 2006


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