Extracted from Senate Hansard, 25 June 2012

Asylum Seekers

Senator MILNE (Tasmania—Leader of the Australian Greens) (15:28): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Sport (Senator Lundy) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today relating to asylum seekers.

In doing so, I express the condolences of the Australian Greens to the families and friends of people who lost their lives in the tragedy that occurred off the Australian coast last week. Much has been said about that incident, and of course many people now, as they sit around their kitchen tables, are asking: how on earth did this happen, and what are we going to do about it?

I think the appropriate response from the parliament is to sit down and work out what we are going to do about it—to actually recognise that Amnesty International and the UNHCR have been calling for some time for all countries in the region, including Australia, to redouble efforts to find a regional solution, to find safe pathways for asylum seekers and to offer better protection to «asylum» seekers. They are things which the Greens absolutely stand for and on which we stand with Amnesty International and the UNHCR. We have said that we want Australia to increase its humanitarian intake from 13,750 to at least 25,000. We have said that we want a regional solution and that means expanding the reach of the refugee convention in the region and for Australia to support more money going into supporting the UNHCR, particularly in Indonesia, where at the moment only two people are able to work in processing. So we need a lot more support for the UNHCR.

I also asked Minister Lundy whether offshore processing actually undermined regional cooperation and discouraged other countries from signing the refugee convention. The minister took issue with my suggestion that offshore processing was illegal, but that is the fact of the matter. The High Court found that the Malaysia plan put forward by the Gillard government was illegal and went against Australia's obligations under international law to look after our «asylum» seekers and refugees. It was found to be illegal, which is why there was an effort to try to get around the High Court. That is precisely what is wrong with the bill that has been put forward by the member for Lyne, Mr Oakeshott. It rips up the refugee convention and it would allow governments to send people to anyone who was a signatory to the Bali process, recognising, of course, that Iraq and Afghanistan were also signatories of the Bali process. So it actually undermines international law, the point here being that if you want the rest of the region to sign up to the refugee convention you cannot have Australia running away from the refugee convention. That is a very strong point and is why offshore processing undermines international law, not reinforces it.

The other question I asked the minister—she did not respond to it but it will increasingly become a matter that the government will have to respond to—was the issue of what constitutes a safe pathway. What is the responsibility of safety of life at sea in terms of principles and actions? I wonder whether the same actions would have been taken if a cruise ship had been in the same place as the vessel that was detected last Tuesday, or if one of the round-the-world race yachts had been in that area at that time—because it is in the Indonesian search and rescue zone even though it is outside Indonesian waters—and it was reported that that vessel needed assistance. What if the cruise ship The World with some of the richest people on the planet on board had gotten itself into trouble in the same place? I do not think we would have sat by and just monitored the situation until the disaster had occurred and people were in the water and then informed the Indonesian government that Australia was going to take charge of the situation. We should have taken charge of the situation and anticipated the disaster once we identified the situation.

That is why I take strong exception today to remarks made by a former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Alexander Downer, who went back over the territory of the SIEVX sinking. He said that he is offended by the claim that the Howard government deliberately did nothing to save those asylum seekers. The same question has been asked over and over again: is the tracking station off North West Australia monitoring and following the vessels? If so, at what point will they act?

Question agreed to.

x-url: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/chamber/hansards/52a7506b-a85c-4b40-9001-99a23ed63fe4/toc_pdf/Senate_2012_06_25_1149.pdf

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