By SENATOR SARAH HANSON-YOUNG
If the Labor Party still has a soul, it should be searching through it with a fine-toothed comb right now.
This week we saw the Government perform a complex and remarkably hypocritical double backflip (with pike) when it introduced legislation that Minister Bowen himself called “a stain on our national character” just four years ago while in opposition.
Excising the entire continent of Australia from the migration zone sounds extreme, and it is.
It is basically a move designed to withhold the international right to claim refuge in Australia from the handful of people who manage to make a perilous journey by boat all the way to our shores.
By making this change, the Government will be able to exile anyone who makes it to Australia to indefinite detention on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Under John Howard, parts of Australia were gradually excised from the migration zone but, because of a number of brave Liberals who stood by their conscience, he was never able to force legislation through the parliament that would delete the whole country from the migration map.
In a shameless and brazen display of hypocrisy, it is now the Labor Party who is copying Howard’s failed legislation and excising the mainland from the migration zone, despite slamming it in 2006.
At the time they said it ‘offends our decency’, that it ‘mocks the parliament’ and that it was ‘shameful and xenophobic’ as well as ‘ludicrous, harsh, indecent, inhumane, unfair and gutless’.
They were right, of course, but it seems nothing will dissuade Labor from implementing the legislation now as it competes with the current Opposition in a desperate race to the bottom on immigration policy.
This worrying change in immigration policy standards, where the old parties constantly attempt to outdo each other when it comes to punishing vulnerable refugees, is both bad for the people who get caught up in the resulting inhumane detention network and bad for the quality of our national debate.
While the two old parties are committed to policy changes that are so powerfully negative, it consumes the public debate and leaves very little room for the more humane and rational voices to be heard.
Labor and the Coalition are trying to dupe the Australian people into thinking there are only two options; ‘bad’ (punishing and deterring people) or ‘worse’ (people dying at sea), but the Greens and human rights and refugee experts like Amnesty International and the UNHCR know there is another option that is humane, safe and legal.
We could give these vulnerable refugees access to that quintessentially Australian idea of ‘a fair go’, we could give them protection and, importantly, we could save their lives at sea by offering a safer option than coming by boat.
It is disappointing that the excision is just the latest in a raft of bad immigration policy decisions being made by the Government.
The Greens have always been clear about our reasons for opposing the punitive offshore processing regime; it is costly, it permanently damages already vulnerable people, it is in direct contravention of Australia’s international obligations and, as we have always said, it doesn’t stop people from seeking refuge.
The only way to reduce the number of people who come to our shores by boat is to offer them safer pathways to seeking asylum in Australia.
We need to bring refugees directly from Indonesia and Malaysia; we need to actually enact the recently announced increase in Australia’s humanitarian intake that the Greens fought so hard for.
Over the last six months the Government has brought only 51 refugees from Indonesia to Australia, despite the fact that there are thousands of people waiting to be resettled who currently see a boat journey as their only option.
In these conditions, telling people to ‘wait their turn’ is tantamount to telling them to wait out the rest of their lives in a refugee camp limbo.
How many more boats of desperate refugees, fleeing war and persecution, will have to arrive before the Government admits it got this wrong?
How many more fragile minds will be ruined by the inhumane conditions of indefinite imprisonment in Labor’s half-baked and unsafe offshore detention camps?
I have met many people who have been caught up in Australia’s detention network and, when you see the real world effects of the terrible decisions that are sometimes made in Canberra, it is hard to stand by and let it continue.
The thought of families and unaccompanied minors being sent to Nauru and Manus Island because of the Labor Party’s plan to excise the entire continent of Australia form the migration zone is deeply distressing.
Amnesty International’s refugee spokesperson has said Labor’s plan is nothing short of absurd
“It flies in the face of our human rights arrangements,” he said, “and shame on those who support it.”
The Labor Party left its conscience at the door when drawing up this policy and it is worrying to see the ‘progressive’ members of the party, such as Doug Cameron, standing idly by and allowing this shameful piece of legislation to go ahead.
Senator Cameron is now talking wistfully about bringing “some guidelines and some structure” to Labor’s offshore processing regime, despite being remarkably silent when the party was actually drawing up the policy to send refugees offshore and voting down every amendment I moved to try and fix it.
The Labor Party is now prepared to excise the entire continent of Australia from the migration zone and, quite frankly, our country’s reputation as the land of the fair go can’t endure much more.