Migration Legislation Amendment (The Bali Process) Bill 2012

Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (15:35):  I speak not only to members here but also to those beyond these walls. I put to them an important point. The reason I do it is because we all need to walk together on this issue, because all of us need to accept, in some way, shape or form, that there is a responsibility to act in the interests of more than just the people we see before us—to act also in the interests of those who are taken by the sea in making a desperate journey.

The point I seek to make is this: at any given point, there will be those in this place who will say there are between 20 million and 40 million people seeking refuge, right here, right now. And we proudly accept between 8,000 and 10,000 a year. We can lift that level. We can try and make a dent in that figure, but we will not go far. And at some point there will be those who seek refuge, knowing that they cannot get in here because we have reached the quota, in any given year, and will chance their arm.
So the question before us is: do we allow people to make that dangerous two-day journey across these seas? We need to bear in mind, and I think it is worth reinforcing, that those people who seek to profit on the desperation of others do not provide free berths, they do not give someone a free ride. The people who get here have had to pay and pay dearly and then potentially also pay dearly with their own lives.

I have said elsewhere: this is a debate about the unseen. As has been remarked previously, for every 100 people who make that risky journey there will be four who disappear. Nowhere in this country would we abide a situation where 100 people would be there, day in and day out, and four may just die—say, in a place of employment through the course of their employ. If they are on our shores, before our eyes, we do not accept that as a principle, yet we accept that the ocean can swallow up others seeking refuge. I served on the Joint Select Committee on the Christmas Island Tragedy, along with the member for Stirling, the member for Wakefield, the member for Moreton and others, and that transformed my view on this permanently and said to me that we need to do what we can in terms of safety to prevent that journey.

There are those opposite who have sought to point out that many of us have reversed our position and have been prepared to embrace their strongly-held view of the world. And this is in a place where we are punished for reversing positions, where we are not given latitude to change our minds. We have done this with one pre-eminent objective: to save lives. I would change my mind if I knew that it would give comfort to those people and that they would not have to go through their last moments choking on their last breath because they saw people fighting on the shoreline. I would do that and I would change my mind—even though I believe that Nauru is effectively the Christmas Island of the Pacific and that all we would do by shifting people to Nauru is to have the same situation as we have currently on Christmas Island. But we are asked to not behave in a way that is accepted as the standard in this place, to just engage in bickering. We are asked to find a solution, again, to save lives.

In all conscience, I cannot accept and abide a proposition that says, 'We'll just go on with onshore processing, because onshore processing, as we have seen and those in the community have seen, is a failure. We cannot have people just come here and make that trip and risk their arm.

I also make this point to those in the Greens: there have been other big decisions in this place where people before us have taken this decisions, and you have sided with people you would not necessarily side with because you believe the option on the table is not pure. We paid a price for that then and we would pay a price now if they were not to think differently. (Time expired)

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley

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