House debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Grievance Debate

Asylum Seekers

6:16 pm

Monique Ryan (Kooyong, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

This morning I had the great honour of meeting three extraordinary young people: Thanush, Ismail and Betelhem. They came and sat in my office, shook my hand and thanked me for my time, the same way that every other meeting since I came to parliament has begun. But this meeting was different. Even just sitting in their presence was profound.

For a long time, the government of Australia kept Thanush, Ismail and Betelhem a hidden secret. They were flown out of the country, housed in makeshift camps and referred to by numbers. They were detained first on Manus Island and Nauru and then in hotel rooms, forced out of sight of the Australian public with the hope that they would be out of our minds. But here they were, Thanush, Ismail and Betelhem, sitting in my office.

They came to give the ongoing impacts of Australia's offshore detention regime a human face, their human face, and to do everything in their power to bring the refugees who remain trapped on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea, who they call their brothers and sisters, here to safety. They came to see me because they know that the people of Kooyong stand with them and have sent me to represent Kooyong's call for humane treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum. I heard that call from the people of Kooyong almost every day as I sought their support to become their member during the recent election. Many of the volunteers who generously gave their time to the campaign are about as passionate as you can get about the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. I was inspired in particular by the indefatigable Grandmothers for Refugees, who for many years have gathered outside the former member for Kooyong's office, pleading with him to hear their passionate advocacy. I hear them. I'm in parliament for them.

This morning, Betelhem, who came to Australia from Ethiopia, urged me to call on the government to immediately evacuate all people on Nauru and PNG. She said: 'It has been 10 years. People need a life, and rest, and peace.' Thanush, who fled Sri Lanka, told me: 'Ten years ago this brutal policy was introduced, and still—still—we are in limbo. I cannot find a house, because most people want a permanent visa, and most workplaces reject my applications because I have a temporary visa. I can't see my family, because this visa won't let me.' Ismail, who fled Somalia nearly 10 years ago, has been free for just four months after seven years on Manus Island and two years in the Mantra and Park hotels. He said that his brothers on PNG can't wait any longer, and that's why he can't rest until they're also free.

Together they asked me as the member for Kooyong to call on the government to immediately enact three simple things: to immediately evacuate all remaining refugees currently held offshore in Nauru and Papua New Guinea and allow them to live in the community while Australia sorts out the third country they're supposedly being resettled in; to allow the people who are here, waiting in limbo for their asylum claims to be heard, the right to work, to earn an income, to pay taxes and to contribute to the communities that they're part of; and to give permanent protection to the 31,000 people who have been in this country for close to a decade and make up what has been referred to as the legacy case load of the failed and shameful 'fast-track' processes of the previous government. Close to 20,000 of these people are on the arbitrarily punitive temporary protection visas and safe haven enterprise visas, which hold people in a cycle of constant uncertainty, unable to begin to rebuild their lives as members of our communities and, most cruelly, kept separated from their families, with no prospect of reuniting in sight.

For a decade, Australia's refugee policy has been one of punishment, punishing people who ask for our protection by detaining them indefinitely. Australia's refugee policy has been one of deterrence, a concept appropriated from criminal sentencing, reducing human beings to cautionary tales—to living examples of the suffering that Australia would exact from anyone else who might come to us for help. For too long, Australia's policy has been cruelty—abject brutalisation and cruelty. This must end.

The 47th parliament of Australia has an opportunity to end this shameful chapter of our nation's history. We have an opportunity to transform Australia's response to the global refugee crisis by increasing our humanitarian intake by 50 per cent, speeding up the processing of asylum seekers' claims so that they aren't left in limbo for years, and providing safe corridors for people fleeing conflict and persecution. We have an opportunity to prepare for what could be a new global humanitarian crisis: people being displaced from their homelands by the impacts of climate change. We have an opportunity to put an end to offshore processing and indefinite detention and to give a new beginning to the 30,000 people stuck on precarious temporary visas, welcoming them with permanent protection. We have an opportunity to meet the people who come to our shores seeking safety with dignity, compassion and fairness.

I'm proud to be one of a record number of members of parliament who are here not as members of a major party that has been responsible for Australia's policies of cruelty and humiliation but as Independents sent directly by their electorates to try and dismantle these policies and give refugees the chance to rebuild their lives here with us in Australian communities. While I am here representing the people of Kooyong, I'll do everything I can to help give protection, freedom, safety and humanity for refugees and for people seeking asylum.