House debates

Monday, 22 October 2018


Immigration Detention

7:55 pm

Photo of Mike KellyMike Kelly (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence Industry and Support) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to take this opportunity tonight to respond to the huge amount of correspondence I have received in my electorate office in relation to the situation of the children on Manus and Nauru. I'm sure many other of my colleagues in this chamber will have received similar volumes. It's quite ironic that, on this day when we have spent a lot of time catching up with history and dealing with the heinous situation of children over the decades, with our hearts aching to bursting over their stories, we have a situation right now where we have responsibility for children who are not receiving the attention and support that they need. That's happening now. So, well that we reflected on the situation today, but my constituents are demanding that we take action to resolve this situation.

The amount of information that has come out from respected medical institutions and practitioners and people involved in dealing with these children is now overwhelming. It's at least rung alarm bells that this situation has to be dealt with seriously, and we need independent medical advice and support to resolve it and then deal directly and quickly with these children in these situations. We've had the AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, writing to us all. We've had Medecins Sans Frontieres making its reports.

We've been concerned about this situation for a long time now. For five years we have seen this situation evolve. It was never meant to be this way. It had been the intention to clear out those people on those two locations in very short order under Labor's plan, and the fact they're still there is really outrageous and a stain on our nation. We initiated a Senate inquiry in 2016 because of the serious allegations of abuse and self-harm and neglect that were emerging from Manus and Nauru, and still none of those recommendations from that report have been implemented.

In the course of the last few years, Labor's been evolving a policy to respond to this problem at heart, so dealing with the situation of establishing offshore processing centres at point of first landing for these people, but also the situation of how we respond to people who are in facilities. Having an independent children's advocate is one of the measures that we have delineated in that suite of policy measures. But we're also concerned now to deal with this situation as a matter of urgency. So we will be putting forward legislation which addresses that need. In particular, we have seen that we have an independent health advice panel that only intermittently deals with these matters. Our proposal would be to have that panel operating full time and presenting regular reports on those issues; to have independent medical advice provided directly to the minister, with the minister being obliged to act on that; and that these reports and the minister's dealings with these matters be transparent and open to the public, with the caveat that privacy issues be protected. We would also prioritise and make a matter of primacy the recommendation of treating clinicians, and the health of the child would be the primary consideration. We want to retain the option for medical transfer to third countries. It's not necessarily the case that Australia has all the medical answers for what situations might exist there, and certainly places like Taiwan and Singapore offer opportunities for that medical treatment.

The situation, quite simply, is this: these are children. If we had a human face to these kids, I do not believe that there would be an Australian in this country that would hesitate for a moment to agree that these children must be removed immediately from this situation. The fact that we can't see their faces is a problem. But it should not, nevertheless, allow us to escape our responsibility for dealing with it and dealing with it now. It's wonderful to speak fine words and recognise the situation that we did today. But we have an opportunity now, and it should not be political. We have the opportunity to work across this chamber in a measured, calm, calculated way to deal with an emergency. I would call on all members of this chamber to raise their voices in their party rooms—as three outstanding members of the Liberal Party have done—and to join with us to produce a solution to this situation that we can hold our heads high about, that we can be proud about. It has to be done now.

House adjourned at 20:00

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Wicks) took the chair at 16:04.