I rise to speak to the Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2019. I associate myself with the remarks of my colleague Senator McKim, who has laid out in no uncertain terms how damaging and toxic this bill really is. This bill amends the Migration Act 1958 to specify that a person does not pass the character test under section 501 and may have their visa cancelled or visa application refused if they have been convicted of a designated offence.
Organisation after organisation have stood up and opposed this bill: the Refugee Council, the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Law Council and many more. FECCA has pointed out the dire consequences for those who are deemed to fail the character test on arbitrary grounds—in particular, refugees and long-term permanent residents. FECCA states:
An individual may be removed to a country where they do not speak the language; where they have spent little time (or never lived); and where they have no familial, social or economic connections. Further, those who are unable to be returned to their country of citizenship, for example refugees and stateless people, risk indefinite prolonged periods of arbitrary detention.
This bill has been sitting around for two years. It passed the House of Representatives in September 2019. Before that, an identical bill had been introduced into the House in October 2019. You really have to wonder: why is the government finally bringing this on now? Even if you accept their argument that this bill is critical to protecting Australians' safety, how does this square up with letting it languish for three years? The only explanation I can think of is that bringing this bill on now, months out from an election, is pure politics. The government sees political advantage in having this debate now. We know that they rely on drumming up fear and anxiety about migrants and criminality on the eve of an election It's the oldest play in the book. They want to portray themselves as the ones who will be the toughest on borders, the toughest on migrants, the toughest on crime, and they are cynically and shamefully trying to spin all of this as a big problem.
Once again, you are playing with the lives of migrants as you use us as pawns in your political games, because that's all you care about: your political advantage. And you're sacrificing people already at risk—the same people you have dog-whistled against and dehumanised and demonised. But what more can we expect of this government?
During COVID, pandemic responses targeted and stigmatised communities in western and south-western Sydney with police operations, military presence and curfews, like no other community in New South Wales. The only people who were left out of pandemic support were migrant workers, temporary visa holders and international students. They were left high and dry in precarious employment and dangerous work situations because you did not lift a finger to help them. Why? Because they can't vote. Why? Because they don't look like you; they look like me. Why? Because you don't give a damn. But you are all fine with using international students as cash cows, harvesting their money when it suits you. You are fine with migrant workers doing the hard work that others won't do: driving taxis; being late-night workers at 7-Eleven; serving your food at restaurants; cleaning your buildings; working as security guards, providing protection at all hours. You take, take, take and you give nothing back in return.
The truth is, whether we have the blue passport or not, our citizenship, our belonging to this country is conditional. Our Australianness is conditional. It is conditional on us keeping our heads down and our mouths shut. It is conditional on us being grateful for being let in. It is conditional on agreeing with those in power. It is conditional on giving up our identity and assimilating. And even then you're not happy, and you want to grind us down even more by bringing bills like this to parliament. We have—and we should have—the same rights and privileges as anyone who lives in this multicultural country.
Here's another truth: multiculturalism in this country is just skin deep. It is measured only in the economic value migrants bring here through their business, their expertise, their skills, their food and their culture. Politicians use us as photo opportunities at our cultural festivals. They use us as voting blocs when they need us in elections. They come to Diwali, to Eid and to Baisakhi; they stand with us and make promises that they never fulfil. They never address the issues we face: exploitation at work, racism, unemployment. When those issues come up for us every single day, you are nowhere to be seen. You'll take our money, you'll take our hard work, you'll take our vote, but you won't listen to us. You won't give us a seat at the decision-making table either. You keep telling us to wait our turn, to get to the back of the queue. I'm afraid that I do have to look at Labor as well, because that's exactly what you are doing in Fowler, one of most multicultural seats in Australia. You do a lot of talking, but little walking. We are not here to be used, abused and marginalised. We deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Shame on you Liberals for bringing this toxic, destructive, damaging bill into the Senate.