House debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Matters of Public Importance

National Security

4:01 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

When the whip on our side showed me what today's matter of public importance was, I asked if I could speak on it. It may sound a bit weird to have the federal member for Bendigo ask to speak on a matter like this, but I wanted to for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to say a few things about the women who are being brought home and make a few comments on the children, as others on my side have. But I also wanted to make a few comments about the tone in which this has been brought before the parliament.

Many may not know this, but I was born in Western Sydney, in Wentworthville. I'm a Western Sydney girl. My mum, a ten-pound Pom, grew up in Mount Druitt. It is the story of so many Australians. Western Sydney is such a dynamic, awesome part of our country that so many people have a connection to. That's what I think disappoints me the most about this matter of public importance—suggesting that people living in Western Sydney today are different than the rest of the country. These are people who for generations have lived in Western Sydney, people who recently arrived in Australia and now live in Western Sydney, and people like me, who started in Western Sydney and became the federal member for Bendigo.

Shame on the government for trying to single out such an awesome part of the country—sorry, shame on the opposition for trying to single out such an awesome part of the country and say that they are different. They have the same concerns, worries, hopes and aspirations as the rest of us. I think about what my mum would say now if she knew about this matter of public importance, and I think about the stories that she continues to tell me today about the neighbourhood in which she grew up, at Mount Druitt, a proud part of our country.

The children being brought here are innocents who have been growing up in absolute squalor. Our responsibility as a parliament, and as Australians, is to ensure that all Australian children have the same opportunity and deserve the same go. It is our responsibility to bring them here, just like the previous government did. I remember, when they repatriated the first women and children from the Syrian campus, thinking, 'Finally, the government'—the government back then—'have found their heart and realised that they have a responsibility to ensure that these Australian children can grow up.' These were young children who had no opportunity in the camps where they were. The government were taking some responsibility for Australian children. I can remember one family and the hope on the grandfather's and great-grandfather's faces, and the joy and the tears, when their family had been returned, knowing they now had a chance. I remember the way they embraced the granddaughter, who was pregnant and a child bride.

These women—we don't know their full story. We don't know how they ended up in Syria. What we do know about is the reports that have come through from other parts of the world where they've repatriated women. Many of these women, these ISIS brides, were coerced, were tricked. They may have left here not fully knowing what was happening over there. They were married at 15, 16, 17, 18. It is a life that nobody would want to see a daughter or granddaughter go through. We don't know their trauma or their experiences. When they come to Australia, home, they may start to receive help. We do not have matters of public importance debates on people who have experienced torture, people who've experienced trauma, people who have may made a wrong decision, people who may not have known the decision they were making, people who are now wanting to restart their lives. These women deserve our support, compassion and understanding. These women deserve a moment for healing and a chance to rebuild their lives in a country that they are part of.

I really respect and admire the decision that the Minister for Home Affairs has made and the spirit in which she has made it, taking on board the recommendations of our national security agencies. I do acknowledge the reason why it's taken a bit of time to get here is that they did want to make sure these women posed a low risk, and that is what has now been found.

To the women, to the 13 children they bring with them, to their families: I'm so relieved that you will now be able to come together and start to heal from your experience. I cannot imagine what you've lived through, but I am proud that you will be coming home to a country that truly wants to see you find a place here, where you can be raised, live free and have hopes for the future, like all of our children.


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