Statement in Parliament on Refugees

Statement in Parliament encouraging Labor to adopt a more humane approach to refugees, and commending young Labor activists who passed a motion calling on Labor Left members of Parliament to respond to and reflect human rights concerns. 


Ms JENNY LEONG ( Newtown ) ( 12:47 :35 ): On behalf of my community in the electorate of Newtown I speak on an issue that extends well beyond the boundaries of Newtown. When I was elected as the member for Newtown, I made a commitment to the people who live in my electorate that I would raise issues that were of concern to locals, even if those issues did not fall within our geographic boundaries. It is now four years since the Australian Government started sending asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to detention camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. I express my concern and despair about the fact that a Liberal Minister in this place has just recited the line from our national anthem:

For those who've come across the seas

We've boundless plains to share

As we know, approximately 600 asylum seekers have been transferred to Manus Island and Nauru, where Australia set up Pacific Island offshore detention centres under former Coalition Prime Minister John Howard's Pacific Solution. If there were one issue about which I would want the Labor Party to steal The Greens' votes, it would be for Labor to take a humane approach to refugees and asylum seekers. Currently, The Greens are the only political party to take such an approach; we are the only voice.

It was Federal Labor that opened these detention centres in 2012, and it is Australia that is engaging in the inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. This treatment contravenes our obligations under the United Nations refugee convention, to which Australia was one of the first signatories, in 1954. Now there are people subjected to inhumane conditions and living in a closed centre without food, water or sanitation. Constituents who contacted me indicated that all voices need to be heard in condemning the massive human rights abuses currently happening as a result of the Australian Government's policy on asylum seekers. Some said that it is Australia's responsibility to bring them to our shores, as the majority of these people have been found to be genuine refugees, and urged me to do what I could to ensure the safe and humane treatment of these people. Another wrote:

It's important to me that we take responsibility for our actions—we've already allowed these people to live in a living hell for the past four years.

They continued, "We cannot wash our hands clean of [the responsibility we have to] other human beings." Another wrote:

And despite the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding, Turnbull and Shorten are sticking to their lines, and Dutton is shouting his into every talkback radio microphone he can find.

It is clear that there are tensions between the local Papua New Guinea population and the people who have been sent there as a result of Labor and Liberal Federal Government policies regarding the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. But one member of my electorate who has a family connection to Papua New Guinea reminds us that it is not the people of Papua New Guinea who are inflicting this trauma on the asylum seekers and that we should not blame the people of PNG for the human rights violations that are happening at the hands of the Australian Government. I send our solidarity from this Parliament not just to the people being held in the most inhumane of conditions but also to the locals of Papua New Guinea. Those in Manus are being subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, and the Federal Government sent them to Papua New Guinea with no recognition of the human rights needs of the PNG community there.

It is wonderful to see protesters taking direct action, from scaling the Opera House sails to unfurl banners to occupying press conferences and the offices of members of Parliament. I commend the young Labor activists who passed a motion calling on Labor Left members of Parliament to respond to and reflect human rights concerns. I encourage everybody to keep raising their voices against the inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. The Greens are committed to seeing all refugees brought to Australia, because that is the only solution.


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