Speeches

REFUGEE WEEK 2020

June 17, 2020

 

This week is Refugee Week. Australia has welcomed over 900,000 refugees since 1947, and we should continue to welcome and provide safe haven to people who have escaped persecution and unimaginable tragedy. But since the Liberal government was elected seven years ago, we've seen a policy of indefinite detention and serious ill treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. In my first speech in the House, I said:

"I doubt we can afford the ongoing cost to our national psyche of subjecting men, women, and children to years of punitive indefinite detention."

Since then, we saw this House and the Labor Party and crossbenchers work very hard to get medevac laws legislated, only to have them dashed from under us by this government. In my electorate of Cooper, refugees who were brought here lawfully for urgent medical treatment, which many of them still have not yet received, are detained Mantra hotel. Soe cannot consume solid foods and have stomach infections because of parlous decline of their teeth over the last seven years. Throughout the COVID crisis, little effort has been made to ensure they do not contract the virus.

I have met with the men in the Mantra. I have seen firsthand the damage we are doing. I am able to communicate with them via their phones, giving them what little hope I can, but even that might be made impossible if this government gets their way. I have written to the minister and have made every effort possible to free them from that place where they have now been locked up for over seven months. Many were on Manus or Nauru for seven years before that. We know refugees and asylum seekers who are detained are sick because of their indefinite detention, not knowing when the nightmare will end. They have committed no crime. It is not illegal to ask for asylum. Unsurprisingly, their physical and mental health continue to deteriorate, exacerbated by being locked on one floor of the hotel, with virtually no access to fresh air and outdoor areas. Recently, one of the men attempted suicide.

The government have the power to release the men, where appropriate, into community detention. There are people in the community who are willing to help these men if they are, indeed, released. They have the power to make sure they have access to medical treatment, and there are many people in the community who are willing to provide medical treatment. Most importantly, they have the power to resettle these men in safe, permanent homes. I call on the government to act justly and with humanity. Do all three of these things. These men are at breaking point. I doubt they can take much more.

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