Wednesday, 23 November 2022
Matters of Public Importance
I rise to speak on this matter of public importance about the government's rushed decision to settle families of ISIS soldiers in Western Sydney without proper consultation with that community. At the outset, I note there have been some comments raised from those on the other side today about whether or not this was an appropriate matter of public importance to be brought by our side. I think many of the points that will be in my speech are not so much around whether or not it is appropriate to bring back Australian children into this country. It is about the process that has been followed. It's about the seeming lack of communication from the office of the Minister for Home Affairs and from the government department that she oversees on this issue. And the fact today that we have at last had some explanation as to the reasons why this decision was made is in fact proof that this was a matter of public importance that was appropriate to have been brought today by our side.
I also say at the outset, particularly as a mother: I do not want to see Australian children held in these camps in the circumstances that we have heard described. That is why my comments today are more around the process from the Minister for Home Affairs, the lack of consultation with the people, with the communities to which these Australians are being repatriated, and the process that has so far been followed, or perhaps not followed. These are around issues of national security. It is a deeply complex issue and, in view of that, it required probably more consultation and more communication because of the nature of the complexity of the problem.
In that regard, I acknowledge the work done by my local Liverpool City Council mayor, Ned Mannoun; Campbelltown City Council mayor, George Greiss; and Fairfield City Council mayor, Frank Carbone, and I thank them for that work. Collectively, these local government areas represent over 560,000 residents, including constituents in my electorate of Hughes in the suburbs of Voyager Point, Holsworthy, Wattle Grove, Hammondville and Moorebank. On 9 November those councillors wrote to the Prime Minister to request a meeting to discuss the resettlement of the relatives of Islamic State fighters. In the letter they were quite clear about what they were seeking. They said:
These families have lived alongside Islamic State fighters for over 7 years after turning their backs on Australia, and at no stage have they spoken out against the actions of ISIS.
Your Government has listened to the repatriated families views but have not taken time to consult with the communities affected by this decision.
So this was not about traumatising already traumatised children. This was three councillors activating and advocating for their community, requesting a meeting and requesting an explanation of a complex government policy. The Prime Minister has, rightly, attended in person recently and met with victims of floods in New South Wales. Therefore, I ask why it is that both the Prime Minister and the home affairs minister are above face-to-face meetings with concerned residents of Western Sydney on this very important issue. The people of south-western Sydney deserve respect. They deserve to be listened to. They've asked legitimate questions and are simply asking that those legitimate questions be answered by the minister responsible.
Regarding repatriations to Western Sydney, Australians are entitled to understand two main things. What, if any, safeguards has the Minister for Home Affairs put in place to ensure that none of these Australian women or children have been exploited by ISIS and that none of these children have been placed in situations of irreparable harm? The job of the Prime Minister and the home affairs minister is to keep Australia safe, to keep Australians safe and to reduce risk to our national security. I call upon the minister to meet with this community.