Tuesday, 2 February 2021
May I say, it's great to be back in Canberra for another year, 2021, representing Territorians. The Territory, as I like to keep reminding all members in this place, is an amazing and incredible place, full of incredible people from all walks of life and from all over the world. In the Territory we care about people. We are great hosts. Just ask those thousands of Australians who are being repatriated through the Howard Springs camp. We are great hosts, but we are not happy when the wrong thing is done on our soil.
The week before last, I paid a visit to an Iranian refugee family who have been in immigration detention for almost eight years. Reza Golmohammadian, his wife, Mojgan, their adult daughter Farnaz, who's 32, and son Ali, who's 21, are at the Mercure hotel at the Darwin airport. They've been there for almost a year. Back in Iran, Reza worked in import-export, and his wife was a travel agent. His daughter, then in her early 20s, worked at a dolphin park, and Ali was a schoolboy. The family are committed Christians. They fled Iran in 2013 and spent years living in tents in immigration detention in Nauru. They were finally granted genuine refugee status and are now awaiting third-country resettlement in Canada, but with the global uncertainty due to the pandemic it's unclear when this will actually happen. The family were brought to Darwin for medical attention on 28 February last year. They haven't received much medical attention in that time. They are still waiting for medical attention. They have been locked up for far too long.
As we have heard from many Australians who have been through quarantine in the past year, including from Australians repatriated from overseas who are in the Howard Springs facility as we speak, being cooped up in a hotel room for two weeks doing COVID-19 quarantine is not fun. You are cooped up in a small hotel room. This family has been having that experience. They have been cooped up in a small room for almost a year, with no end in sight. They are struggling. My constituent Lorna MacIntyre, who is their friend and advocate, said:
Their lives consist of eating, sleeping, and watching television with no activities, excursions, or visits allowed. The only time that they leave the facility is for limited medical appointments. As a result of this confinement, they are all feeling despondent and depressed.”
Of course they are! This indefinite detention is not what we should be doing to people in our care, genuine refugees. I met with Reza and his daughter, Farnaz. She was in tears. She and her brother, Ali, share a very small room, and Ali is despondent and depressed watching TV all day. Back on Nauru, once the family were found to be genuine refugees and had a bit more freedom in the camp, Ali was part of the emergency response unit. He was motivated. He had some responsibility. He had some hope. Now he has been in what is essentially isolation for a year in Darwin. Reza needs to see a dermatologist for a growing mark on his face, and Farnaz needs a knee operation. It's why they were brought to Darwin. But they still haven't received the medical attention they were brought there for.
What also struck me on my visit to this family was that Serco, the operator of the facility, haven't had the common human decency to provide the parents, Reza and Mojgan, with a double bed. They are in a small room with bunk beds. What kind of sick organisational culture thinks this is a decent or right thing to do? Ali has had difficulties with his knee and can't climb the ladder of the bunk, so instead he's sleeping on a mattress on the floor. This sounds like something pretty basic. Is it really beyond us as Australians to offer them, these genuine refugees, this small courtesy? This sort of petty action is cruel and totally unnecessary. Reza's son, Ali, had his 13th birthday in detention on Nauru. He has now just marked his 21st birthday in a small room in Darwin. Ten of his years have been lost to indefinite detention. It's a terrible loss of a young person's potential, when he could be contributing to the community. They feel like these years have been wasted and time is passing them by. Farzan has been in detention since she was 24. She is now 32. If she wants to have children, what options are there for her while she languishes in detention? It's heartbreaking and it's un-Australian. What's worse, it's unnecessary to put this family through this treatment.
Reza, the father of the family, is a proud and cultured man. As I mentioned, they are a Christian family, and they are gutted that Serco won't treat them with respect. The family asked to go to a Christmas church service, but that was disallowed. There are all these examples of unnecessary cruelty. Usually those who are detained have a birthday cake for their birthday. But Farnaz, who turned 32 in December, wasn't given a birthday cake because, apparently, it was a public holiday. Not only was it not a public holiday; there were still Serco staff there. In the Australia that I love, people would have chipped in, gone and got a cake and said, 'Happy Birthday'. That's the Australia that I love. The Territorians that I love are not happy with the way people are being treated unnecessarily on our soil. I'm giving voice to those Territorians today who are unhappy with this situation and are deeply saddened by the treatment of this family and others by the Australian government.
I wrote to the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, about this case, asking that the family be permitted to attend church as they had requested, and that was refused. I also raised the issue of the family moving into community detention, and this was ignored. I again wrote to the minister following my visit with the family, raising their treatment, noting the recent release of a number of refugees into community detention in Melbourne. I'm yet to receive a response. The family are hoping to get to Canada, where a group of Australian expats have raised $50,000 Canadian to help with the resettlement. They are the sorts of Australians I love—who actually are about people and aren't unnecessarily inhumane. We know it's within the power of the government to release this family—who are genuine refugees—into community detention. That would be a good option while they get their medical treatment and as they wait to go to Canada—and I'm talking to the Canadian High Commission about how we can speed that up.
Reza has written to me telling me that the family has seen the news of those who have been released in Melbourne and Brisbane—which is a good thing. He said:
We know most of them either from Christmas Island or Nauru. All of the previous movements are either from Melbourne or Brisbane.
He said that he is afraid that his family's voice isn't being heard and said, 'We so much want to be outside' after almost a year in those small rooms. So I'm giving that family a voice today. I'm giving Territorians, who are sickened by the treatment of this family and others at the hands of Serco and the Australian government. I just hope that we can show them more humanity before it's too late. I'm very proud of Territorians, and we all would like to be proud of our federal government. I hope they to the right thing.