Greens in Parliament: Acknowledging the Contribution of Asylum Seekers

Today we supported a motion in Parliament acknowledging the contribution made to New South Wales by those who have sought asylum, refugees, and other immigrants. 


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) [10.48 a.m.], by leave: I thank the member for Sydney for working collaboratively with this Chamber to enable this motion to be reordered so that we have the opportunity to speak on it today. Seeking asylum is a human right. No-one is illegal. Over many years while working at Amnesty International, I was closely connected with campaigns to protect and defend the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia and across the globe. While working for Amnesty in London, I worked closely with human rights advocates and Middle East experts on what, at that stage, was the emerging human rights crisis in Syria.

In 2011, in my role as a crisis campaigner with Amnesty's head office, I found myself with a megaphone and a group of Syrian human rights activists and campaigners on the pavement outside the United Nations building in New York calling for global action to respond to what at that stage was thousands of innocent civilians who had died or were fleeing persecution and violence. Today that number has reached the tragedy of 250,000 men, women and children who have died. I am proud to be in this Chamber representing The Greens, a party that has had a long, strong and proud tradition of standing up for the compassionate treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. When I heard the compassionate words of former Leader of The Greens Bob Brown, I was inspired to get involved in politics; and that is why I now find myself standing here in this place. It is with much pleasure that in this Chamber we are now showing a sense of compassion and leadership towards responding to the issue of the treatment of asylum seekers in this country.

The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, confirmed this morning that there are Syrians currently living on Manus Island and Nauru in detention, as well as Syrians living in the community on temporary protection visas in this country. We know that some Syrians are being held in mandatory detention at Villawood, less than an hour's train ride away from this House. We must remember that this is not a problem just happening overseas and elsewhere. The violations of human rights of people are happening in our jurisdiction, in this State and in our city of Sydney where we gather to represent its people. I acknowledge the compassionate words of the Premier, as many have done, and the recent compassionate act taken by his Government to grant travel concessions to asylum seekers.

Given the detention of Syrians and many others in our city now, I do question whether we could be doing more. Today I recognise and respect that we are moving and working in a spirit of collaboration, something that for so long has been missing from this debate. So I will not move amendments or express changes to this motion, on which we will reach consensus. I wonder if in this Chamber we would reach agreement on calling for an end to the mandatory detention of asylum seekers in this State. I wonder if we would be able to join together to show compassion and to say that we do want people living in our State to be subject to the inhumane treatment of living on temporary protection visas.

At the very least, if we are collectively recognising the humanitarian disaster in Syria, surely we can all agree that we should immediately accept the applications of those from Syria who are currently in our detention centres and those who are currently locked up on Manus Island and Nauru and move to swiftly grant asylum to those Syrians living in limbo on temporary protection visas in our community. As a Parliament, in the spirit of this motion, let us also ensure in the coming weeks that we provide financial support and the services needed to assist those being relocated in our State. I thank the member for Sydney for allowing us to consider this important matter.


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