Parliamentary speeches

Questions for new Home Affairs Minister

June 16, 2021

This is a government of tactics and not strategy, of reaction and not decision, of politics and not policy—much less purpose—and of cruelty and not compassion. After eight long years the administration of the Home Affairs portfolio fundamentally speaks to this. The question for the new minister is: how can she? She has said that compassion comes in many forms, but can she show it in any form to Australians stranded overseas, to Australians who have been the victims of racial abuse and attacks, and to a four-year-old girl in hospital in Perth? Can she show competence in administering her portfolio, which has never been more important than it is right now as we look to re-engage with the world and emerge from the pandemic? I have a series of questions that go to many aspects of her portfolio, as do my colleagues, and hope she'll be able to answer in this forum or afterwards.

I will talk about the very recent decisions made by the government, including the decision made by Minister Hawke to reunite the Murugappan family. We welcome that, but it must be the start. It can't be regarded as an excuse for so many years of neglect. I ask the minister: what further steps will be undertaken by her or the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, who doesn't appear to be here yet, to ensure that this family are where they belong—in Biloela? Perhaps government members can say their names, including Tharnicca.

When it comes to the humanitarian responsibilities of the Australian government—and I note the recent comments by the minister—what is proposed in respect of New Zealand's generous offer of resettlement, which has now been on the table for eight long years? Perhaps the minister can also advise us about the extraordinary confusion and concern that relates to the heavy-handed administration of the so-called fast-track processing of people seeking asylum. Where is the evidence in this statement that regard is being had for the recommendations of the Halton review or the constitutional responsibilities of this government when it comes to quarantine? Perhaps the minister can reflect on the comments of the former Minister for Home Affairs in relation to the Victorian proposal for purpose-built quarantine, which I note it is too late for but which has ultimately been accepted by this government.

I ask the minister to reflect on the fact that there are still more than 30,000 Australians stranded overseas, many of them in India. Australians in India are threatened with jail simply for wanting to come home—to meet the promise this government made to them as citizens. It was a promise reiterated by the Prime Minister when he said that every stranded Australian would be home by Christmas.

In the area of multicultural affairs—and I do hope the minister will be here—I note that the lessons of last year appear not to have been heeded. Last year this government did not listen to the voices of multicultural communities when it came to public health messaging. This year the same problem has been replicated when it has come to advertising the vaccination rollout. We know there has been no meaningful campaign across the board, but, given the appalling performance of the government in respect of vaccination more broadly, it is particularly concerning that no effort has been made to look at the particular issues within particular communities and to harness the strength and expertise found within those communities, as so many other governments around the world have done.

Through the pandemic, on this side we have recognised that there has been a disturbing upturn in right-wing extremism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism more generally. What has been done by this government? We note that the Race Discrimination Commissioner has put forward a framework, which is a starting point. What is the government going to do with this framework? What is the government going to do with citizenship processing delays? What is the government going to do with the 330,000 people on bridging visas who have been left in limbo? What is the government going to do about visa privatisation? There has been $170 million wasted, and core functions of government are simply not up to scratch. After eight years it's a sorry record for this government. It's time for the minister to start correcting it.