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Migration Amendment (Protecting Babies Born in Australia) Bill 2014

Speeches in Parliament
Sarah Hanson-Young 26 Feb 2016

Senator HANSON-YOUNG

I rise today to speak to the bill, which amends the Australian law to allow babies who have been born to those seeking asylum, who have been born in Australian hospitals and who have been issued with Australian birth certificates to be able to stay in Australia and have claims for refugee protection to be assessed here. The reason we need this bill is that the current government is currently considering deporting 39 little babies back from Australia to Nauru to be banished from any opportunity to be awarded a safe and secure childhood and future here in Australia.

This bill would amend the Migration Act to make it very clear that babies born here in Australia—in Australian hospitals and issued with Australian birth certificates—are not to be classified as unauthorised maritime arrivals. The reason we need this is because the government last year, in the haste of a High Court proceeding, moved legislation in this place to classify any child born in these circumstances to be recognised and characterised in the Migration Act as an unauthorised maritime arrival. This is just absurd.

These children, safely born here in Australia, arrived just like every other Australian born baby. Currently in Australian law, they are now classified as unauthorised maritime arrivals. These babies arrived into the world safely here in Australia. They were born in the safety of Australian hospitals, with the care and support of Australian medical staff. The idea that they are characterised as arriving by sea is illogical and absurd. Just on those basic points, we need this legislation to amend this ridiculous situation that is currently on our statute books.

We know, of course, that the Australian public is very concerned right now for 39 babies—young children—who are in this situation, whose parents came to Australia by boat. They were transferred off to indefinite detention on Nauru. Because of a number of reasons, namely the lack of appropriate medical facilities and safe avenues for giving birth on Nauru, the mothers were transferred back to Australia and the babies were born here on Australian soil.

These children are now the subject of a huge political debate in this country. Malcolm Turnbull wants to send these children back to Nauru. The Australian people increasingly reject that proposition. Increasingly, people are arguing that surely an Australian baby, born here, should not just be given the opportunity to have a childhood free of the abuse of detention but also the opportunity—if they are indeed to be found in need of protection and they are refugees—to able to be assessed here efficiently and to be integrated safely in our communities. These children deserve the right to a childhood. I argue that there is no future for a child in detention on Nauru.

As I have said, there are 39 babies who are currently here in Australia. Thirty-seven of those were subject to the recent High Court legislation, and two are not. The fate of being deported back to Nauru faced them all. One of those little girls is Baby Asha, who we have learned a lot about in the last few weeks. She is a little girl who was born in Australia and sent back to Nauru. She has had to live the first six to eight months of her life in a tent in a detention camp on Nauru. Because of the unsafe environment and because the provisions provided to that family for their young daughter were nothing much more than a kettle inside a tent, that child has—as a result of an accident—had to be transferred back here to Australia for medical assistance.

Senator Ian Macdonald

Please tell the truth.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT

Order!

Senator HANSON-YOUNG

That little girl deserves, now that she is in Australia, our protection, our help, our care and our support.

The other baby I want to mention in this debate today is a little girl who I am going to call Mia, for the sake of protection and privacy in this place; that is not her real name. Little Mia is now just four weeks old. She is the youngest and most recent child to be born in Australia who faces the fate of deportation back to Nauru. I met little Mia last Friday. She is in detention here in Australia with her family. As a little four-week-old baby she is incredibly small and underweight. Her mother is stressed, depressed and very anxious about the fate that awaits them in being sent back to Nauru. I told little Mia's mother when I saw her on Friday that there are many Australians who will do everything they can to ensure that her little girl does not have to live her childhood in detention on Nauru.

This piece of legislation is part of the attempt to ensure that children and babies like Baby Asha and little Mia are able to stay safely in Australia while their parents' refugee claims can be assessed efficiently and fairly. If they are found to be owed refugee protection they should be allowed to stay, and of course no-one is arguing that if somebody is not a refugee they should get to stay here. You assess their claims and process their applications and if they are not refugees then you send them home. But keeping a small child, born into this limbo of uncertainty, in the abuse of detention is simply inhumane and unconscionable. As we know, many experts have come forward publicly in various Senate inquiries in this place that are continuing to gather more and more evidence. They speak out bravely about the conditions on Nauru for children, women and families being unsafe and dangerous. We know that Nauru is no safe place for these children, and we have a responsibility as Australian law-makers to ensure that we do not see a law that banishes a child, by virtue of who their parents are, to indefinite detention in a place that is now renowned for being abusive and dangerous and one that harms children.

It is indisputable that the detention of a child damages them. Every paediatric expert in this country who has visited Nauru and has treated children in detention knows that detention itself harms children. This is supported by the evidence collected by this Senate through its inquiry into the conditions in Nauru and the medical expertise and evidence put forward to the Human Rights Commission's report, . The immigration department's own Chief Medical Officer only two weeks ago said there was no doubt that detention is not good for children. The government's own advisers make it very clear that detention harms children.

In 2015 alone there were over 100 reported cases of self-harm on Nauru, including, sadly, children. Dozens of allegations were made in relation to sexual assault and abuse, including, sadly, towards children. And while we have these statistics—and these are of course the ones that have been reported—not one conviction has been made by the Nauruan police. So not only is it unsafe for these children, mothers and families to be in detention on Nauru but also there is no justice for them when something goes wrong. Of the children on Nauru, 50 per cent do not attend school. That is the evidence put forward by the department's own contractors at various Senate estimates and other inquiries.

It was interesting to read earlier this week some polling that was done in relation to Australians' attitudes to who they trust on this issue. Politicians and government officials are, not surprisingly, considered to be the least trustworthy when it comes to the issues facing children in detention. However, the people the public trust more than any others on this issue are the doctors—the medical experts. Overwhelmingly, the Australian public is starting to see that, if a doctor is saying that a child should not be sent to Nauru, it is about time the federal government listened.

Over the weekend, of course, we saw the President of the Australian Medical Association, Professor Brian Owler, be very clear in the AMA's condemnation of children being in detention and children being sent to detention on Nauru. The AMA has stated again that the detention of children is akin to state sanctioned child abuse. Those are incredibly strong words from that medical organisation.

Why do we have this situation where even Malcolm Turnbull, as the Prime Minister of this country, who said that no-one wants to see children in detention, is now turning a blind eye to the deportation of children back to Nauru and where children remain—a four-week-old baby girl remains—in detention? The reason is that those who support the detention of Baby Asha, little Mia and the 37 other babies born here in Australia, given Australian birth certificates but given no rights or compassion—the reason for their detention, for those who support it—is that we must do this in order to stop the boats. How absurd for a government to argue that, in order to stop the boats, we need to keep children locked in detention, in harm, in an abusive environment.

I do not believe at all that that is the only option available for saving lives at sea. If Malcolm Turnbull or anybody else in this government thinks that the Australian public and doctors are going to continue to buy the idea that we must harm these children and that their harm is simply collateral damage for a broader government policy, they are really misreading not just the complexities of this policy, not just the complexities of this issue, but the desire for compassion and care in the Australian people. It is not the only option. It is not the only way you protect people. And it is morally bankrupt to argue that a child deserves to be abused in order to protect other children. It is illogical; it is morally bankrupt; and the Australian public are waking up. They are absolutely waking up to this farce of an argument.

We do have the ability. This bill refers only to those babies born here in Australia. We have the ability to protect these children. If the argument is that giving four-week-old Baby Mia the opportunity to live a childhood free of detention, free of harm and free of abuse will open the floodgates to boats, if that is seriously the argument that this government wants to mount, it just proves how insincere, how blinded and how irresponsible this government really is. No-one can seriously argue about giving Baby Mia the opportunity of a childhood free of harm and free of abuse—that this child, who is already here in Australia, born in an Australian hospital, delivered by Australian doctors, should be classified as an arrival by sea. It is absurd. It is absolutely absurd.

There is a larger debate, of course, about what we do to ensure that the people who are detained on Nauru and Manus Island are looked after and that they are given the opportunity to have their claims assessed effectively, efficiently and with fairness and, if they are found to be refugees, given the opportunity of a future. That is a broader discussion and a broader debate, one that we must have in this place, but that is not what this bill today does.

This bill simply says that a child who is born in Australia in an Australian hospital is considered to be just like every other child delivered in the normal way and has the opportunity to have their claim assessed here in Australia. People may argue, and the government will—we will hear Senator Macdonald stand up shortly and say—that, if we give Baby Asha or Baby Mia the opportunity of a childhood, that will send a signal to people smugglers. That is what the government will say.

If you as a government cannot find a better way of managing people smugglers than abusing children, get out of the way and let some other people get on with doing it properly. It is absolutely unconscionable that we abuse children in order to allow the government to stand in front of a sign that says they stop the boats.

Senator IAN MACDONALD

I do not think too many people will be listening to this debate but I do see some children in the gallery who may have been influenced by Senator Hanson-Young's penchant for and ability with emotive words. I say to young people and those who are listening that almost everything Senator Hanson-Young said was wrong, a mistruth and a misinformation of the actual facts.

I want to make a few comments on the Migration Amendment (Protecting Babies Born in Australia) Bill 2014. I think for a start the bill is wrongly titled. It should be the 'Migration Amendment (Supporting the Business of Criminal People Smugglers) Bill 2014 because that is what this—and the way Senator Hanson-Young carries on—does. It gives the criminal people smugglers, who have been put out of business by the coalition government, some hope that their lucrative business will return. We heard in evidence at a Senate inquiry recently that the price being paid to criminal people smugglers to get into Australia is four times the average annual income of a person of that country. Huge amounts of money are being paid to criminal people smugglers to get illegally across Australia's borders and into this country.

That last speech was full of racial and racist overtones to a degree that I have never really experienced in this place. Senator Hanson-Young is suggesting that just because the people of Nauru do not live in the leafy suburbs of Adelaide, as Senator Hanson-Young has done, and just because they do not have private wealthy schools to go to, like Senator Hanson-Young did, these Nauruans are second-class people. The people of Nauru live in their country in a civilised way. They have many facilities and services. They are safe and they are secure. Since the Labor government reopened Nauru and arranged for transferees to be sent there the Australian taxpayer has put an enormous amount of money into schools and hospitals in Nauru for the benefit of all Nauruans and all those who live there.

Senator Hanson-Young kept talking about detention centres. She knows, as well as I do but chooses to misrepresent this, that there is no detention centre on Nauru. On Nauru it is an open gate place where people can come and go as they please. Nauru has very good hospitals that are continually improved by the Australian taxpayer. It is an open facility. Transferees are not held there in detention. Yet Senator Hanson-Young said—what?—10 times in her speech that they were in detention. She knows that is wrong because she has sat in the same estimates committees where people have been questioned and have told the truth.

Transferees on Nauru have access to the modern medical clinics that were recently built for $11 million. Care is provided. Senator Hanson-Young said that they get no care from Australian doctors and nurses. Well they do get care from Nauruan doctors and nurses and Australian doctors and nurses who are there. What Senator Hanson-Young has been claiming is completely false. Care is provided by general practitioners, registered nurses, psychologists and counsellors. Surgery is available there. Transferees at the Nauru Hospital have access to that. All children in Nauru, both those of transferees and local children, have access to education services through the Nauru education system.

Senator Hanson-Young may point at the Republic of Nauru and say that they are second-class citizens, but I do not believe that. The people of Nauru live there and have lived there happily as civilised human beings for a long time now. Transferees have access to a full range of programs and activities, including English language classes. They have regular communications and access to the internet, which I might say the Australian taxpayer pays for. There is significant scrutiny and independent oversight into conditions and treatment of transferees in Nauru and other regional processing countries.

Senator Hanson-Young had so many mistruths in her contribution that it would take me much longer than I have got to go through them all. One thing Senator Hanson-Young said was that there have not been any convictions by the Nauruan police. Sorry, but the Nauruan police are well trained. They are as good as Australian police officers. To suggest otherwise is the sort of racist comment that you would not expect to hear in this chamber. Why haven't there been convictions? Perhaps it is because the police have done their job. They have interviewed witnesses and looked around for evidence. Perhaps the real fact is that there has been no credible evidence of the sorts of illegal acts that Senator Hanson-Young talks about.

Again Senator Hanson-Young made some emotive comments about Baby Asha and Baby Mia. I do not know how Baby Asha happened to be in the condition she was in, but I saw in yesterday's that the police have interviewed the mother in regard to the harm suffered by the child. There were comments by some refugee people asking why the father had not been interviewed by the Queensland police. Of course, the Queensland police are unable to do anything because it was an incident that happened not in Queensland but in another sovereign country—that is, Nauru. I see from reading —and I do not know what the facts are—that the Queensland police have sent a report to the Nauruan police about how the baby came to have those injuries.

Senator Hanson-Young said that the mother was stressed, depressed and anxious. Well, Senator Hanson-Young, you do not think it is because these people allegedly came from a war-torn country where their life, health and liberty were at risk in the country of their origin? You do not think that might have contributed to her stress and anxiety? Not only were they apparently in this war-torn country where they were under severe stress from the danger of being imprisoned or killed, but then they paid a lot of money—I do not know where they get the money, but they got a lot of money: as I say, four times the average annual income—to pay to a people smuggler. They have to find a lot of money. Who knows where they get that from? But perhaps that causes some stress. They then have to take the arduous journey from their country in an aeroplane—a commercial airliner. Who pays for that I do not know. It is not cheap. As those of us who travel know, it is not cheap to travel internationally. They get to Indonesia. They then pay the criminal people smugglers four times the average annual income to try to get into Australia. So you do not think those sorts of things might cause some stress and some anxiety to the mother, and not the fact that they are now living in a safe and secure place in Nauru?

Again I say: those of us with racist tendencies here might say that Nauru is a subculture or a second-class nation. I do not say that. I say that the transferees who are there, who apparently feared for their life and their safety in their country of origin, are now in the Republic of Nauru, where they do not fear for their life or safety. They have health and medical services that, I will guarantee, they never had access to in their country of origin. So you just have to put a bit of reality and truth into this debate.

Senator Hanson-Young says many experts have given evidence to the Senate committees. Well, they have, and Senator Hanson-Young attends most of them. I happen to attend all of them, because I am chairman of that committee and I have to. But we find, when you get the real evidence and it is questioned by senators, that a lot of the rhetoric that Senator Hanson-Young, the Fairfax press and the ABC go on with is simply lies. Remember a few weeks ago there was the five-year-old child who had been raped? Remember that? It ran in every news bulletin on the ABC, the Fairfax press made a big thing of it, and Senator Hanson-Young did not make a speech where she did not mention it. Of course, when we had the right people there to ask, they showed in just one sentence that that was wrong, inaccurate, a misstatement of the facts and completely erroneous. For someone like me, who because of my role as chairman of this committee has to sit through all this evidence, I have to say that is the norm, not the emotive language and the emotive mistruths that Senator Hanson-Young and the ABC tell about these sorts of activities.

If we are interested in the safety of refugees, which we all are, and we know that they come from a country which is war torn and where they are under threat to life and liberty, then ask this question of yourself: would it be better to live in those countries or go to a place like Nauru, where there is safety, there is security, there are schools, there are hospitals and there is someone providing food and clothing for those people? Where would those refugees rather be? Back in their home of origin or on Nauru, where they are safe and protected? As I say, I find it racist in the extreme to allege that Nauru is somehow a second-rate country which does not have decent policemen, decent doctors, decent schools and good and health and education facilities.

I started my contribution by saying the bill was wrongly named. It should have been named the Encouragement of the Business of Criminal People Smugglers Bill. Let me just give you the facts of this. There were a lot of children in detention during the Labor regime in this country, which the Greens supported. At the height of Labor's policy failure in 2013, there were 10,000 people held in detention, including 1,992 children. The Labor government was forced to open 17 new detention centres to deal with this influx of illegal arrivals. This, of course, resulted in the taxpayers having to fork out an additional $11 billion in border protection funding. The coalition government came back to power, and we have returned the situation to where it was in the Howard years. There have been over 500 days now without the arrival of an illegal boats. There have been zero deaths at sea, compared with 1,200 deaths that we know of under the former regime. We know of 1,200 deaths; we suspect there were a lot more than that. At the moment, because we have taken the people smugglers' business away, people are not getting on leaky boats and making these dangerous journeys, and as a result of that there have been no deaths at sea.

Senator Hanson-Young keeps talking about children in detention. As I say, she was not so concerned when 1,992 children were in detention in the Labor years. There are now, Mr Acting Deputy President—and I want you to listen to this—80 children in detention, and most of them are there because their parents are still under some investigation. That is why they are there. It is this government's intention and goal to get rid of all of the children out of detention, and we will do that.

Senator Hanson-Young

You're a liar.

Senator IAN MACDONALD

Senator Hanson-Young—apart from the unparliamentary expletives, which I do not worry about coming from her. We will get the children out of detention. But where was Senator Hanson-Young when 1,992 children were in detention? Where was the Human Rights Commission when there were almost 2,000 in detention? Sure, it is a big thing now that we have got rid of most of them and only have 80 left, and we are going to get rid of them. But I wonder about the honesty and sincerity of those who would criticise our government for having 80 children in detention when, under a previous government, there were almost 2,000.

Under all governments, Australia has had a very proud record in taking in refugees. Per capita, we have one of the highest refugee intakes of any nation in the world. Last year, the coalition government announced a very generous humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, which includes 12,000 permanent places for Syrians and Iraqis, particularly those in oppressed minorities. We have increased humanitarian assistance. We will be assisting over 240,000 displaced people affected by the conflict in Syria and Iraq. So we have nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, as a nation, we have everything to be proud of in our record in looking after and assisting refugees.

I emphasise that these are the coalition's policies. However, to give credit where credit is due, the Labor Party, although they are pretty slow learners, eventually understood that you have to address the problem at its root. Although I did not have a lot of time for Mr Rudd, at least he, when approaching an election, made the call that they had to go back to the policies that actually worked. Of course, it was Mr Rudd who did the deals with Nauru and Papua New Guinea for the current arrangements. Time and time again, officials have told me at estimates that, because those arrangements were put in place in such a rushed way, there were things that were not properly addressed—things that would have been properly addressed had they been done more calmly. But, as I said, credit where credit is due. Labor at last woke up to the fact that you need to address the problem at its source. That has saved the lives of so many people and will continue to do so.

I again ask the question: if it is unsafe in your own country of origin, if your life and liberty are at threat, what is better: staying there or going to a place like Nauru? Nauru is a place with health services, education services and a police force. I notice a headline in —the article itself did not actually refer to this further—likened Nauru to a Nazi gulag. I understand that the centre on Nauru is now an open centre. Nobody is restricted there; they can come and go as they like. There are now lifeguards on the beach at Nauru. There are playgrounds. According to officials who gave evidence last week, most of these transferees are now housed in hard-walled accommodation. Senator Hanson-Young would have you believe that everyone is living in a scouting tent or something. That is simply wrong and untrue, and she knows that, because she heard the officials say that most of the transferees are now in what they call hard-walled accommodation. It is three-bedroom, air-conditioned accommodation with a separate bathroom, separate lounge and dining rooms and a separate kitchen. I have to say it is a standard of accommodation that many Australians who pay their taxes to support our border protection policies do not have themselves. They are three-bedroom, air-conditioned units. Many Australians do not have that, but the evidence shows that these transferees on Nauru have that sort of accommodation, not the flimsy tents that Senator Hanson-Young would have you believe. This debate needs some reality and truth. I hope I have been able to indicate in some way what the real facts are on Nauru.

Senator KIM CARR

In recent weeks, in the wake of the High Court's ruling on offshore processing, public sentiment has, understandably, been focused on the plight of the 237 refugees in this country who have been affected by the ruling—in particular, the 38 babies. I think fair-minded Australians have been angered by this government's inaction in resolving these people's future. Labor shares that anger and sense of frustration. But while public attention has been focused on the 237 refugees, we should also remember the 2,063 men, women and children whom the government has left languishing on Nauru and Manus Island. By failing to resolve the question of settlement in third countries, the government has left these people without any hope for the future. All of them have a compelling reason to be afforded a safe and decent future. The pressing issue now is what is to be done to resolve the plight of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island. They deserve the dignity of resettlement, not the misery of indefinite incarceration.

Under the Abbott-Turnbull government, Australia has abdicated its responsibility to not harm these people. That is why Labor has been calling on the government to resume talks with the UNHCR and urgently secure a resettlement deal. The government has failed abysmally to develop a meaningful plan for resettlement. Its most notable achievement has been to waste $55 million on a botched deal with Cambodia, which I understand has seen four people moved to Cambodia. Apologies—it is not four; it is three, which is a remarkable productivity spend, isn't it? During the past two years, there have also been media reports that the government has held talks with authorities in the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan. All the while, asylum seekers are languishing in detention centres on Nauru and/or Manus Island.

A Labor government would make working with the UNHCR its priority in devising a resettlement plan. Labor would increase Australia's funding of the UNHCR to $450 million over four years, making this country one of the top five contributors to the agency. A Labor government would take the initiative of forging an agreement with countries in the region to deal with the flows of displaced persons in a humane way because we are willing to take a comprehensive approach to the plight of asylum seekers—a problem which will not be resolved in any other way. It will not be resolved by leaving people in permanent limbo under offshore processing arrangements. It will not be resolved by a piecemeal approach either. The actions that this government has pursued are not driven by compassion and there is no due regard for their unintended consequences.

This bill, the Migration Amendment (Protecting Babies Born in Australia) Bill 2014, has not been to the Labor Party caucus because it was introduced very late in the piece, but I can comment in general terms on the principles that underpin our approach on these issues. I might deal firstly with the essential point of the bill, which is to amend the Migration Act so that a child born in Australia to asylum-seeker parents could not be classified as an unauthorised maritime arrival, to be sent offshore to a detention facility. The proposed change departs from the principle that Labor has consistently upheld—that is, that children should inherit the immigration status of their parents. This means that, if a parent is defined as an unauthorised maritime arrival, then it is appropriate that their children, wherever they are born, have the same status. The principle applies throughout the immigration scheme, with a single exception: a child born in Australia to a permanent resident becomes an Australian citizen. The reason for this principle is considered important, in that it ensures that family members will not be separated because they have different immigration statuses. We do not want to create a system whereby a particular group of people are given preference or treated differently, and adhering to this principle is entirely consistent with upholding and respecting the rights of children.

The title of this bill, I would suggest to its proponent, Senator Hanson-Young, is in fact misleading. Labor has always argued that children should be protected from abuse and other potential harm. But according them full protection has not hitherto been understood to require giving them a different immigration status from their parents, and no-one wants to see children in detention.

That is why Labor are urging the government to continue the work we began in government to move families out of detention and into the community as soon as humanly practicable. We absolutely support the principle that children should not be in detention for as long as that takes or, for that matter, any longer than is required for the necessary health, identity and security checks. It is important that families be kept together wherever possible. That of course means ensuring that asylum claims are processed quickly so that no-one has to languish in these facilities indefinitely, without hope of resettlement. And, while children are in detention, awaiting processing, appropriate care must be provided to ensure their physical and emotional wellbeing. They must have access to the best health care, to education and to social support services. While Labor have supported offshore processing, we have never, ever supported the brutalisation of people as an act of deterrence, and we have certainly maintained that position throughout this whole conversation. People are entitled to live in safety, and the government must ensure that their safety is not threatened. It is shameful that the government has so often failed in this regard.

It is simply unacceptable that the government still refuses to allow transparency and independent oversight of Australian managed, Australian funded offshore facilities. Australians should know what is being done in their name and how their taxes are being spent.

Labor is committed to protecting the interests of children within the immigration system and to institute a strong, independent voice to advocate for the interests of children who are seeking asylum. The Labor Party, at its conference last year, resolved that a Labor government would appoint such an advocate, who would be independent of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. This children's advocate would be given whatever resources or statutory powers are necessary to be able to do the job and to pursue the best interests of asylum-seeking children. These powers would include being able to initiate court proceedings on a child's behalf. This change would not restrict the ability of other interested parties to take court action against government decisions—nor would it reduce the minister's obligations in regard to unaccompanied noncitizen children. The independent children's advocate would also have access to all unaccompanied minors in detention and in the community to ensure that their rights are protected.

Labor recently supported legislation in this place that would have the effect of removing children from detention within 30 days. We supported this with certain caveats, including a requirement that the bill be returned to the House of Representatives for a vote early this year. That means the Turnbull government is facing a moment of truth. The way the government votes when this bill is presented to the House will be a clear indication of where it stands on the treatment of children in detention. If the government really wants to remove children from detention as soon as humanly possible, it should support that bill.

But under this government there has been a very sharp demarcation between what we what told we were going to get under Mr Turnbull and what has actually happened. The Abbott government's hard-edged, backward-looking, reactionary views were well known. They dominated, they characterised, the work of the government. Mr Turnbull, on the other hand, has a carefully cultivated image as a man who is tolerant, who is urbane, who is interested in the big questions of our time, who is a policy moderniser, as he said. We have seen Mr Turnbull, for years, try to kid people that he was different from the right wing of his own party, that he was perhaps intellectually superior to the right wing of his party and, more recently, that he was a champion of new politics. Remember all that, the new politics that we were going to get? He told us that things would now be different and that the future was about a new style, a new Zeitgeist. I remember when he criticised the Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University because he was not bouncy enough in his optimism. We now know that the approach that Mr Turnbull took has been a fraud—a complete fraud. This broad, intelligent, public face of inclusion has been demonstrated to be a farce. On so many issues, whether it is refugees, same-sex marriage, climate change, the republic, tax or social justice, what do we see? We see a Prime Minister who is missing in action. We see a Prime Minister who has abandoned all the things that he carefully cultivated about being the new man in politics and who has resorted to the old politics which have dominated conservatives in this country for so long.

We now know that even the strongest conservative urgers and barrackers in the financial press, in intellectual circles and amongst the shock jocks are now questioning, in a fundamental way, what this government is all about. In fact, asked the question on 8 February in its editorial: what is the point? What is the point of Malcolm Turnbull's government?

I was surprised to see that the flag carriers for conservatism in were offering the ultimate insult to the Turnbull government by suggesting that the Malcolm of today should not be confused with the other Malcolm—Malcolm Fraser. There could be no greater insult in the conservative lexicon than to suggest that someone is like Malcolm Fraser. He was a person who wasted his time. That is the reasoning these days. Malcolm Fraser was a person that missed opportunities, and they are now saying that that is exactly what Malcolm Turnbull is all about.

We know that Malcolm Turnbull has made a great claim of being a new man. We fully appreciate—and what is becoming increasingly clear—that he is an expert when it comes to the politics of fraud. But now that the public is waking up to it, he is panicking. Deep panic has been running through this government because he knows that he has been found out. He is a waffler and he has been found out to be a person who is, essentially, a placeholder as a Prime Minister. He wants us to gaze upon his magnificence, but he is really doing nothing. It provides an excuse for him to tread water and allows him to be a blowhard. He is desperately in search of an electoral strategy but not a strategy to transform this country. He has no clear view about the future of this country other than high-blown rhetoric which is not backed up with action.

He has now committed himself to the policies of his predecessor in all the areas that I have mentioned, whether it be the treatment of refugees, social inclusion, social justice, climate change issues, science or the importance of new knowledge needed to understand the great problems of our age. On the republic and same-sex marriage it is a complete joke. There could be no more obvious example of it than his attitude, where he has no policy framework, on taxation or a capacity to lead this country forward. So he is now hysterical about the fact that Australians have woken up to his smarmy waffle. The high hopes that somehow politics would be different have now been discovered to be a fraud. We now have a government that is essentially adrift. It is desperately in search of the next polling report so that it can seek some sort of election strategy rather than attempt to deal with the fundamental questions that this country faces.

I am concerned that this government, when it comes to questions such as those raised in this bill, needs to look for new approaches that go to the heart of the issue. There are people who are being taken into custody by Australian authorities under Australian law and who have been left to languish without any serious effort by government to do anything about their plight. We recently introduced a private member's bill to impose mandatory reporting of child abuse and to force the government to reconsider the approach that we are taking about people who are in facilities funded by the Australian government. The need to amend the Migration Act to impose an unequivocal obligation on staff and contractors in detention facilities to notify Border Force commissioners of child abuse is one such measure that can be taken to improve and make humane the administration of policies in this area. The government has to manage these programs much more effectively than it has. The government has to be committed to ensuring the humane treatment of people that are in our care. It is simply not satisfactory to allow the dehumanisation and brutalisation of people to be used as a policy weapon, as an act of deterrence, against people.

There can be no question at all that, when it comes to the issue of people being put in the hands of people smugglers, there is no compassion in encouraging people to face the dangers of the sea as an act of desperation. Labor's policy is one of fairness and compassion. It is one that reflects the realities of the situation but acknowledges that we do have obligations to treat people properly and ensure that we do not have brutalisation of people in our care. We must make sure that these fundamental rights are protected. While we are not likely to follow the same position of the Greens, who do not recognise the realities of what is happening with these people-smuggling syndicates, we are not going to support policies that allow the brutalisation of people that are in detention as a result of the laws of this parliament.

Senator LUDLAM

I move:

That the question be now put.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT

The question is that the question be now put.

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