Culture

Andrew Wilkie Blasts The Liberal And Labor Parties, Calls Australia’s Refugee Policy “A Crime Against Humanity”

"We shouldn't be playing to racism and xenophobia and the other weaknesses in an otherwise great country."

Last night the government, with the support of the Opposition, rushed a bill through Parliament’s House of Representatives specifically designed to fend off an impending High Court challenge that could have ruled Australia’s offshore processing regime illegal.

The Human Rights Law Centre is challenging offshore processing in court on the basis that Australia doesn’t have the authority to detain people in other countries, or to put money towards that purpose. In response, the government has drafted up laws that explicitly legalise the funding of detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island, and made them retrospective to cover their tracks up to now.

Parliament is due to start its six-week mid-winter break, meaning that the government would have had a difficult time avoiding the court challenge if legislation were not passed this week. Apparently Prime Minister Tony Abbott called Opposition Leader Bill Shorten at “one minute to midnight” on Tuesday night to ask for the Labor Party’s support for the new bill and Labor was happy to provide it, albeit while calling on the government to stop its “appalling partisan politicisation” of refugee issues.

The only member of the House of Representatives to vote against the bill was Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie (Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt is on paternity leave), who railed passionately against the asylum policies of successive governments and called offshore processing “a crime against humanity”. It’s worth a watch.

Addressing a nearly-empty chamber, Wilkie said:

“Excuse me if I sound like a broken record in this place, but I’m going to say it again: we are a fortunate and a clever country. We are a signatory to any number of international agreements…When someone comes to our shores and claims to be fleeing for their life, we are ethically and legally bound to give that person protection, to hear their claim, and to give them permanent refuge if their claim is found to be accurate…If their claim is found to be fraudulent, put them on the first plane back home. But the fact is that most people who come to our shores claiming to flee for their life are found to be fleeing for their life.

“The regime that has been in place now for a number of years by a number of governments, and which will be agreed to again tonight by the government and the Opposition, is downright wrong. We should get rid of it. And when that is a difficult decision to make, we should be strong. And when it’s controversial in the community we should be leaders, and we should explain to the community what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We shouldn’t be playing to the faultlines in the community — we shouldn’t be playing to racism and xenophobia and the other weaknesses in an otherwise great country. 

“This isn’t ‘regional processing’. These are like the hulks of 200 years ago. These are where we send our unwanted to be unseen, unheard. These are the modern-day hulks where you put the people we don’t want to have around us. The fact is these are sovereign states, and we are sending people to these sovereign states, and that is a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute.”

In October last year Wilkie referred the Australian cabinet to the International Criminal Court asking that they be charged with crimes against humanity over their treatment of asylum seekers.

The bill is due to go to the Senate tonight, where it will at least face more opposition than it did in the lower house — but, with both Labor and Liberal parties on board, it’s still likely to pass.