House debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Matters of Public Importance

National Security

3:16 pm

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

These people are now terribly concerned that they are going to be living side by side with people who are associated with those they actually fled from overseas. But what we have is a government that has very little concern for those individuals. The mayors have put their concerns very robustly through the media, and I don't doubt that they have put that in any forum that they possibly can.

It was also, I have to say, particularly disappointing that whilst I was in Sydney last week—I was meeting with the mayors face to face in Western Sydney, but also one of them actually came to meet with me in the Sydney CBD—there was actually a home affairs summit being held in Sydney. Community organisation could have been held so that the ministers who were addressing that conference could have spoken and met with the mayors. I'm sure that the mayors would have taken the opportunity to come in and meet directly with the ministers, but that was not available to them. So ministers could take the time to speak at a home affairs summit but could not take the time to actually meet with mayors who were representing their communities. I would have thought that many in this place would understand how important local government is when you're talking with communities, because they are the ones who are on the front line in delivering a lot of the support. They're very close to their communities and they deserve considerable respect for the work that they have undertaken. But that certainly appears not to have been the way that they have been treated by this government.

There are multiple questions that have been raised with me. They have been raised very publicly. The mayors themselves have also raised these questions, and any reasonable person, quite frankly, would be raising these questions, to which there has been no response from the government. Those questions include: What is the cost to the taxpayer of monitoring this repatriated cohort—if, in fact, they are being monitored? What are the details of any welfare and integration program access and delivery cost—if there are any? What is the chosen timing and location of this first cohort, and how was it determined? How will the government manage the situation when this group may well share a facility with those refugees who fled the devastating carnage that ISIS spread across Syria and resettled in safer communities here in Australia? That is a fundamental concern of those people who have fled from ISIS and were happily settled in Western Sydney.

Are there more to arrive? We did hear that there was a significant release of information, which is very concerning. I have raised my concerns about the level of detail that was discussed publicly about these supposed repatriations because they were supposed, at the time that I was first contacted about this—I responded to media requests myself in relation to these repatriations, but there was a level of detail being discussed publicly which is of concern. I was pretty happy to have it confirmed in Senate estimates by, I believe, the secretary of the Department of Home Affairs that Prime Minister and Cabinet would be looking into and investigating how that information came into the public domain. It is really concerning. It potentially put at risk those Australians going in to extract those women and children from the camps, and it puts future repatriations, if there are any, at risk.

But what we do know from that is that there are more women and children in those camps in Syria. The government needs to come clean on what it is going to do. Is it planning to repatriate more women and children? Where will those women and children go? The government should not be hiding behind national security. At least now that those women are in Western Sydney they should be speaking to the local mayors.


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