We have the opportunity to do the right thing on migration legislation (27/06/2012)

11 January 2013

asylum-seekers2.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (16:01): I earlier observed in this House that I am the great-grandson of a boat person. He was an illegal immigrant who jumped ship in Albany in the late 1890s. Then, as now, the issue of immigration was a very vexed one in the then colonial parliaments of this country. Then, as now, there were great debates about how we manage the issue. It was in the midst of this same vexed debate that a group of backbenchers met in Parliament House this morning to discuss how we could move beyond the impasse that we currently find ourselves in. I participated in that meeting. I welcome the attendance of members from all sides of this House.

At the same time as we were meeting, another boat capsized off Christmas Island. Nothing could symbolise the potential impotence of this parliament more than that we could be having that meeting at that time with that event in progress and then move on to do nothing about it. Nothing could symbolise our authority more than if we took this opportunity to put the common good first. That is what the legislation introduced by the member for Lyne doesit puts the common good first.

I have had my own personal journey on this debate. There have been many times, both publicly and inside Labor Party forums, when I have expressed great concern about the issue of offshore processing. But nothing moves a person further in this debate than the sight of bodies floating in the ocean, as we saw late last year off Christmas Island. We saw this repeated late last week and have seen it on our TV screens ever since. I still believe that our priority, as a wealthy country in this region, should be to maximise the number of people whom we are able to lift out of misery. But I believe we need to do it in an orderly way which enables us to control our refugee program. I do not believe, as some in this place believe, that simply increasing the number of people we include in our refugee intake is going to stop people attempting to chance their arm, as the member for Chifley said in his earlier contribution to this debate. I do not believe that this will occur.

I do not believe that this will occur because, in my personal journey, I have come to realise that there are pull factors. It does not take a lot of thinking. This is a wonderful and fantastic country, so is it any wonder that people would attempt to chance their armput their lives at riskto come here, particularly when they are fleeing persecution in their own countries? There are pull factors. We must acknowledge that as a party and as a country, and we have done that. The legislation before the House today, as many contributors to this debate have said, balances all the relevant considerations and ensures that we have some control over the way we take refugees into this country.

Much has been said in the recent debate about the involvement of the UNHCR. To those opposite who have championed the right and the importance of the UNHCR as a prerequisite for their involvement in offshore processing, I say frankly that it is a recent affection. We all know that Nauru, the centrepiece of their refugee policy prior to 2007, was not a signatory to the UNHCR convention. So for them to stand up here, speaker after speaker, and say that this is the cornerstone, the entry point, for us to be able to vote for this legislation beggars belief.

To say that the absence of the UNHCR convention in Malaysia is somehow an absence of compassion on our side of the debate beggars belief when you have heard speaker after speaker on that side of the House say that a cornerstone of their policy is to turn the boats around. The place they are proposing to turn the boats around to is Indonesia which, as we all know, is not a signatory to the UNHCR convention.

There is a lot of doubletalk on that side of the House. We have an opportunity to do the right thing. I call on all right-thinking members of the House to do the right thing and support the legislation that is proposed by the member for Lyne. I believe it should enjoy the support of all right-thinking members in this place.