Tuesday, 20 March 2018
Parliamentary Delegation to Papua New Guinea
by leave—I present the report of the delegation to Papua New Guinea in November last year and seek leave to move a motion to take note of the document.
That the Senate take note of the document.
I first of all thank the members of the delegation, which included my fellow senator Senator Kimberley Kitching and also Mr Ken O'Dowd, the member for Flynn; and Ms Cathy O'Toole, the member for Herbert. I particularly thank Julia Agostino, the delegation secretary. I thank officers from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and representatives from the Crawford business school at ANU for some pre-delegation briefings. I particularly thank His Excellency the high commissioner, Mr Bruce Davis, for the support from him and his staff to the delegation during the trip.
Papua New Guinea is our closest neighbour. It's one that I always feel we have an obligation to. It was once a colony of Australia and it is a mere seven kilometres across the water from my electorate, which is the state of Queensland. So we have a lot in common with the people of PNG, and we've worked hard as Australians over many years to bring benefits and progress to that particular place.
The delegation was privileged to arrive on the day of the most important thing that has happened in Port Moresby for a long, long period of time, and that was the Rugby League World Cup match between Ireland and PNG, which I'm delighted to report that PNG won. That was a great introduction to PNG and to many of the ministers who we met who were attending that very significant match as guests of the high commissioner. I have to say that PNG comprises many hundreds of different tribes—700 or 800 different tribes and 800 or 900 different language groups. But to me the thing that joins PNG together as a nation is their Rugby League team. When that happens, they are all on the same page.
We were privileged to meet not only a lot of parliamentarians but also significant administrative people in PNG. I particularly want to mention just a few. There was our meeting with the Speaker of the parliament, the Hon. Job Pomat, who curiously is the member for Manus. He was able to give us some information not only about the running of the parliament and how his role as Speaker works in that parliamentary assembly but also about his own electorate of Manus, and I often wish that Senator McKim had been there to get the real information on that island.
We attended a very productive meeting with the Women in Leadership lunch, went to the National Museum and Art Gallery, and went up to the Western Highlands provincial administration, which was a real eye-opener. It was interesting to see the real progress being made in some areas, and I particularly want to mention the Mul-Baiyer District development administrative office and Mr Mark Kamjua, who is doing wonderful things in that part of the Highlands of PNG. It was interesting to go to a Westpac innovation hub and see people lining up to actually open a bank account. It was of great interest, of great trauma almost, and very surprising for us Australians to find that many people didn't have a bank account and that the actual activity in opening a bank account was almost an once-in-a-lifetime event.
We met with the Mount Hagen Chamber of Commerce. We went to Coffee for Connoisseurs, a great commercial organisation. There was a group of people gathered outside the fence of this place we were at and the crowd approached the gate. We thought,' Gee, there's trouble here.' What it was, they were demanding that we come and speak to them. As Australian politicians, having a crowd demand that we come and speak to them was a new experience for us! They were delighted that we were there. We mixed with the crowd. There is a lovely photograph in our report of my colleague Mr Ken O'Dowd addressing them, because Ken was in PNG for some time and was able to speak to them in pidgin English. It was a wonderful trip to build on the relationship we have with PNG, and I congratulate all involved.
I very much appreciate your assistance and your counsel there, Mr Acting Deputy President. I wanted to make some observations about the situation on Manus Island which, of course, Senator Macdonald referred to and, in fact, he referred to me personally. I will place it again on the record in this place that I've visited Manus Island five times in the last 12 months. I want to say that the many hundreds of men who Australia has abandoned on Manus Island are still there. They are still doing it tough. They still do not have adequate supports. Most of them have no idea what is going to happen to them in the future. And many of them have been profoundly harmed by the experience of the last five years; profoundly harmed by the indefinite detention to which the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments have subjected them; profoundly harmed by the lack of basic human services and supports; and profoundly harmed by becoming—through no fault of their own; through doing nothing wrong whatsoever other than stretching out a hand to Australia for assistance—Australia's political prisoners.
The men on Manus Island and the men, women and children on Nauru are like the corpses that used to be impaled on the walls of medieval cities in an attempt to dissuade other desperate people from trying to enter. These people, our fellow human beings, have been treated disgustingly and disgracefully in order to try and send a message to other desperate people that they should not try to seek asylum in Australia and arrive by boat. The United Nations has time after time declared that Australia is in breach of international law and declared time after time that Australia is in breach of conventions that we have signed as a country. Our global reputation as a compassionate country is in tatters, and these people—the men on Manus Island, and the men, women and children on Nauru—are still suffering every day as a result of the policy lockstep within which the Labor and Liberal parties are operating in this country.
We still have no idea how many more, if any more, will be sent to the United States as part of the people-swap arrangement, where Australia agreed to accept people seeking asylum in the US in return for the US agreeing to accept some people from Manus Island and Nauru. This is a dark and bloody stain on our country's history, and it's time that people in this parliament got active, rediscovered their humanity and worked together to bring an abrupt end to this terrible chapter in our national story.
Decades ago, Australia was held up around the world as a human rights leader and, in fact, was actively involved and showed great leadership in crafting some of this planet's most important human rights conventions. And where are we now? We're lagging because we torture people in this country. The Labor and Liberal parties support torture of innocent people. We are deliberately harming these people. No matter how much members of the Labor and Liberal parties in this place and other parties that support the disgrace that is occurring on Manus Island and Nauru put their hands over their ears, there are still cries for help. As someone who's visited the Lombrum prison run by Australia on Manus Island, I can tell you the cries, the psychological harm and the physical harm will never ever leave me.
Question agreed to.