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Speech: Justice for all asylum seekers

I'm not going to mince my words here tonight. The treatment of Priya, Nades, Tharnicaa and Kopika has been nothing short of depraved A three-year-old child—who just turned four, actually, on the weekend—is in hospital because of a life-threatening blood infection. It should never have come to this. Her parents repeatedly asked for her to be taken to the hospital, to be told 'no', 'no', 'no'—over and over. This is the heartbreaking story of a family that is just seeking safety in this country, but this is also a story of a heartless and immoral government that locks up innocent people, including children. Because of immense community pressure, this cruel government has been forced to reunite the family in Perth, but they're still in detention, and there is no word yet on their freedom and their return to Biloela. But this is not the story of just one family; this is the story of so many families and refugees who come to our shores seeking safety but get horror and cruelty.

The meanness of this government as far as refugees are concerned knows no bounds, because their standards are based on cruelty and not compassion, and their policies are based on racism and xenophobia, not respect and acceptance. They will send people back to dangerous situations where there is a humanitarian crisis. We note that Sri Lanka is not a safe place for Tamils. This family were kicked out of their home in Biloela and thrown into offshore detention for no other reason than they were seeking asylum and, shamefully, in this country asylum seekers are not treated as humans.

Let's not forget that governments of both stripes, Liberal and Labor, have shown bipartisan cruelty to asylum seekers. They both have policies aimed at deterring, detaining and deporting vulnerable people rather than providing them with safety. This has caused unimaginable harm to thousands of people, including women and children. Asylum seekers have now seen decades of bipartisan cruelty in the form of TPVs, mandatory detention, offshore processing and being locked up in hotels during the pandemic. They have been hidden away, with no access to journalists and losing all hope. In desperation, they have harmed themselves and committed suicide. They have died because they didn't get medical treatment. Women have been sexually assaulted and raped.

The same systemic racism that has played out so viciously for First Nations people for more than 200 years has also resulted in inhumanity towards refugees. We have become an international shame; a place that puts children behind barbed wire in offshore camps; a place which incarcerates asylum seekers indefinitely, leading to depression, despair and self-harm—a place that threatens to lock up even its own citizens for wanting to come home. That is exactly what the morally bankrupt India travel ban was all about. It's all in the name of some false notion of national security.

There are politicians in this parliament who don't want asylum seekers or migrants to come here because they don't fit their description of what an Australian should look like. Disgracefully, the walls of 'Fortress Australia' are getting more and more impenetrable for those who may not fit this description of white Australia. They are painted as people who are very different to mainstream Australia: 'They're from a different culture,' we're told, 'They're not one of us.' And so continues the othering of people.

Asylum-seeker policies have become more and more cruel, restrictive, punitive and militarised. I am so ashamed of how Australia has vilified, dehumanised and demonised refugees. But I know that more and more people feel the same way. They are horrified at how this family has been treated. They want them to go home to Bilo. They want an end to mandatory detention of refugees, they want to close down detention camps and they want a safe home for refugees in Australia. We can't change history but we can make things right, now and for the future. We want justice for all refugees.


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