National Conference - Labor's refugee policy

17 December 2018

Delegates, comrades, friends, I want to thank you, all of you. We can be proud of one of the most progressive Labor policies on refugees and asylum seekers we have seen for a long time.

It has accompanied a big shift in community sentiment amongst the Australian people, and I want to acknowledge the Kids off Nauru campaign, the Grandmothers against Kids in Detention, Mums for Refugees. So many activists young and older who’ve worked hard to have that conversation with the Australian people, but I want to especially acknowledge Labor for Refugees for their tireless efforts and their commitment. I also want to thank my colleagues in the parliamentary Labor Party who have worked so hard, who have listened and who have acted.

To Shayne Neumann: I’d like to say that we’ve come on a long journey to this point today and I thank you for what you’ve done to help us get here.

If I reflect on where we started even less than a year ago, I can see mountains have moved, and I want to thank our leader Bill Shorten whose words this morning cemented a more humane approach and direction, not only here but regionally.  We’ve heard throughout this session the advancement this policy makes and that under a Labor Government that lives of refugees and asylum seekers will be better. So much better than it is now, but we cannot let this conference pass without talking about Manus and Narau.

Labor will not let people languish in indefinite detention, that is not what Labor is about. We will strive as Peter Khalil saidand I hate to use it again but it is wonderful – we will strive for that light on the hill, which basically means that we will strive to make people’s lives better. As I’ve said before, we don’t always get all the way to that light, but we strive every day to get closer and closer.

Whilst I know that this motion is not perfect, and many may argue that. It does get us closer, and it is an important statement because we need this on the record from this conference. We cannot continue to sit by while this government tortures people on Manus and Nauru with indefinite detention and it must be condemned. Enough is enough, the cruelty of Dutton and Morrison is intolerable.

The exhibition, all that we can’t see that is here at this conference, is the culmination of all that we know of the pain and suffering of people on Manus and Nauru. We’ve heard it from Medicines Sans Frontiers, from the AMA, from children’s advocates, and from NGOs. I called an emergency meeting with three days notice in my own electorate, and 80 people turned up on a Sunday morning to express their pain and concern about what is happening on those islands.

This government can and must act immediately to take up offers from New Zealand. They can and must immediately hasten resettlement to the US. They can and must prioritise other resettlement options in conjunction with this. They can, and must support the medical evacuation of all medical refugees who need treatment to Australia with their families.  And they can and must support people seeking asylum and refugees when they are here in our community, amongst us. Comrades, they can and they must restore hope because it’s the absolute loss of hope that destroys people,  that breaks them.

Labor if elected will do this. We understand this is a crisis. We will make it an absolute priority to settle refugees who are on Manus and Nauru into safe and permanent homes. We will ensure all refugees and asylum seekers are treated with respect, their dignity is maintained, and they are kept safe. That is their human right. It is not too much to ask and this is our commitment to them.

I’m so proud to stand here today and say that I recommend this resolution to you.