Bandt Parliament debating a rubbish bill to remove phones from refugees

Mr Adam Bandt (Melbourne—Leader of the Australian Greens) House of Representatives Speech: Bill-Migration Amendment 2020: The utter hypocrisy of the 'freedom brigade' in the government is on show yet again. They're always the first ones to swear that they'll be going to the barricades to defend an individual's right to freedom and to say that government should not act to take away people's liberties. And then, the first chance they get, when they've got people under their control who they have a duty of care towards and who have committed absolutely no crime, what does the government do? It acts to take away their basic liberties.

The right to communicate with other people, for someone who has not committed a crime and is not in detention for having done anything wrong, ought to be fundamental. But what does the government do? The government says: 'Well, we've got these people that we lock up in hellholes, in detention facilities. We know that indefinite mandatory detention is unnecessary, but we do it anyway. We know that that causes people to get to the point where they harm themselves. It causes mental health problems. It causes people to despair.' The government knows all of this. It creates these systems of torture in this completely unnecessary system of mandatory detention—a system of mandatory detention that, of course, is supported by the Labor Party as well. And then what does it do, having created this system that it says it's so proud of? When the people who are in detention, not having done anything wrong—and I stress that point: not having done anything wrong—have the temerity, in the government's eyes, to then contact someone on the outside or perhaps try to broadcast what the conditions inside are like, what does the government do? The government moves to take away their individual liberties.

Adam Bandt: This bill, the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020, gives extraordinarily wide-ranging powers to the government to say that people who are in immigration detention, people who have come here seeking our help, may no longer have the right to effectively communicate with the outside world. The government is so fond of saying to everyone else—everyone who is on welfare or is subject to their other laws—that, if you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to hide. So, as the government says all the time, why wouldn't you be willing to have some sunlight shone on you? Why wouldn't you allow some intrusion into your life? But, when you try and do the same to the government and say to the government, 'If you've got nothing wrong, why are you trying to hide it?' the government crack down with the strong arm of the state. This is an assault on individual liberties by a government that is high on power. When it struggles in the polls, what does it do? It pulls out the old conservative playbook and says, 'How can we attack refugees and asylum seekers any further?' Having locked them up to the point where people, in some tragic instances, threaten to or actually do take their own lives, and having driven Australian asylum seeker policy to the point of cruelty where it's applauded by people like Donald Trump, the government now wants to hide from any exposure of what is happening and wants to restrict the rights of people who are doing nothing more than seeking freedom and seeking help.

What do we know? We know that people who are in immigration detention have done nothing wrong. They have committed no crime. They have been convicted of no crime. The people who are in immigration detention are entitled to the due process of law. The government routinely denies them that. We saw that especially with children, where the government has had to be dragged kicking and screaming. Every time the government has released a child from detention, it was preceded by court action. Eventually they realised that that was unsustainable and they turned around and changed their policies. But, every time an individual's breach of liberties is exposed, the government has had to be dragged kicking and screaming.

The ability of people to record and talk to people in the outside world about what is happening is vital. These people, who've done nothing wrong, should have the right to be able to communicate with people who can help them—not only help them advance their case, as they are entitled to with the due process of law which the government continues to deny them, but connect them with their friends and support networks as well, because being in indefinite mandatory detention can break people, and that's why it's so utterly wrong that Labor and Liberal continue to support it. This policy is a policy of cruelty that breaks people. One lifeline that people have is the ability to maintain connections with the outside world, and that relies on devices like phones and on other devices as well, and now the government is saying that the minister should have the right to take those away. Well, on what basis? Have these people been convicted of any crime? No, they haven't; the minister should just have the power to take any item that's deemed to be prohibited away.

Not only is there going to be a capacity to remove those but there are going to be capacities to come in and search people—to search people's property and also their persons—in order to determine whether they've got any of these prohibited items. And it's not sworn police officers who are going to be doing this. It'll be people who are often untrained. It'll be security guards, coming in and exercising greater powers than police have, in many instances, and persecuting these people even further. This will diminish not only the empowerment but also the rights and the mental health of people in our immigration detention facilities. It is no wonder that the bill has been criticised for contravening a large number of internationally recognised basic human rights. But that is the government's intention.

The government does not care about individual liberties, except when it thinks there are a few votes in it. But, when it comes to actually upholding human rights, when it comes to actually upholding the rule of law, this government is the first to throw individual liberties on the scrap heap, and we are seeing it here yet again. Just imagine if they tried to say, with respect to other people in the country on the mainland, 'You haven't done anything wrong, but I am going to give an untrained security guard the right to come in and search your home and take away your phone.' That is basically what the government is doing here, to someone who has done nothing wrong but is under the government's care. And these are people to whom we owe a duty of care, not this kind of assault on their liberties, on their health and on their rights that we are seeing.

So this bill is not amendable and should be rejected. It is a continuation of the bipartisan policy of cruelty towards refugees and asylum seekers. We should be debating how we could end mandatory detention and hold people for the smallest amount of time possible that you need to, to perform health and security checks, and then allow them to live in the community while their claims are processed, which would be increasing our humanitarian intake. We know that there are so many assaults on rights and liberties going on around the world that Australia, as a democracy—albeit a democracy that gets threatened every time one of these bills gets passed—is a place that people seek to come to, and we've got the capacity to take more people, to lift our humanitarian intake. That's what we should be debating.

Instead, as is always the case, we see this anytime the government is struggling for an agenda or struggling for a recovery plan or looking for a diversion from the fact that it has overseen absolute tragedies in aged care or that it has got no plan to get young people back to work or that we're seeing women losing hours of work at incredible rates and the government has then gone and attacked child care. The government has got no plan to deal with the recession and certainly no plan that's not going to make the climate crisis worse. The only plan they've come up with at the moment is one that involves extracting more gas when we know that we're in the middle of a climate emergency and that gas is as dirty as coal. When the government have got no plan, what do they do? They pull out the playbook and turn around and attack people who need our help. This government is expert at punching down. And this is another move from the government, a government bereft of any agenda, to just punch down because they have got no positive alternative for the people of this country.

There comes a point where there is only so much hurt that you can do to people, and that is the case for people who are in immigration detention, in mandatory detention, at the moment. They have already been put in a legal limbo that means that they don't know when their case is going to be resolved, and, even though they might have a perfectly legitimate claim, they could end up waiting here for an extraordinarily long time indeed. And now the government is turning around and saying, 'We're going to deny you the right to even contact people in the outside world.'

The government, through this bill, admits that it is so ashamed of what it is doing to people in immigration detention that it will now no longer let them tell the rest of the world what is happening inside immigration detention. Well, government, if you've done nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide and you should have nothing to fear from people who are in immigration detention having the right to possess the same kinds of items that the rest of us in the outside world have, including items that allow them to communicate and connect with people in the outside world and that, in many instances, may be the difference between having a healthy life and being extraordinarily unhealthy, to the point where they may tragically choose to attempt to take their own life, as we have seen in too many instances in immigration detention. This is a matter of people's health. For many people, it will be a matter of life and death. It's a matter of fundamental human rights and liberties. This bill should be opposed.

Source: Transcript and Image Parliament of Australia Website 

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