House debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Matters of Public Importance

National Security

3:41 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I have plenty more to come. If you look at the complete politicisation of the issue by the mayors who were quoted, I just think it's pathetic. I had written to the previous government about returning these children—these Australian citizens, these children—from the Al-Hawl camp. I'm not, of course, in any way justifying what their parents did.

I have a daughter, Amelia Freelander, who works for Medecins Sans Frontieres. She has visited all their clinics around the world. She's based in Europe. This is a little bit of what she told me about the al-Hawl detention camp in Syria: 'In 2021, 79 children died in the al-Hawl camp, the vast majority killed by violent acts. The majority of the rest died because of preventable illnesses. Boys as young as 11 were removed from their parents, never to be seen again. Girls in their early teenage years were taken from parents and married off without their consent. The camp is violent and unsafe, 24 hours a day. As I've already mentioned, the leading cause of death was violent crime in children. I've heard stories of children suffering severe burns, left in agony and refused medical care until they died. Most children have poor growth, poor nutrition, skin infections, parasitic infections, iron deficiency and B12 deficiency. They are severely psychologically traumatised; their learning is severely impaired. They are exposed to physical and psychological violence every day, seven days a week. Their parents are all similarly traumatised.' The women, of course, did the wrong thing, but many of them were barely children themselves. These are Australian citizens.

The way this issue has been politicised by those opposite is shameful. The way it's being politicised by the local mayors is shameful. I have not had one complaint from my community about this. Our local council fails to do its duty to its ratepayers, yet it can make these spurious claims without any evidence whatsoever. There's no evidence. I have not received one email, one letter or one visit to my office from any of my constituents, and I am embedded in my community.

This is really sad. These are children. I am a paediatrician. I cannot see those kids—any kids—be exposed to that, without trying to fix it. To see what's happened today really does raise a lot of questions in my mind about the motives of those opposite—not all, I recognise that. I know many would not have wanted this MPI to be presented, but what's happened has happened. We know that the previous government did nothing to support these kids. I've spoken to a number of security experts. They feel it is better that the children are brought to a place of safety, that they are brought up here and not left in an environment of continual trauma and continual indoctrination to become a possible greater danger to Australia in the future—those that don't die from this environment.

As has been mentioned previously, the previous government, in 2019, did repatriate some children. The reason they have brought this matter on today is unclear to me. I've put my point of view. I think all of those of good faith in this parliament would want Australian children brought up in safety.


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