EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO SEEK ASYLUM - Senate Speech on a Matter of Public Importance, Tuesday 6 February 2018

Australian society would be so much poorer without the diversity of those who have come from every part of the globe. As a good global citizen and signatory to a number of human rights conventions, Australia has a responsibility to ensure that people are safe from violence and persecution when they seek our support. Until recent years, Australia had a proud history of providing that safety—that safe haven for those asylum seekers and refugees—and accepted them into our broader Australian community. But, unfortunately, for years now, Australia, as we know, has been indefinitely incarcerating men, women and children in offshore detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru. This policy, breaching our human rights obligations, is generating deserved criticism and even revulsion in Australia and overseas.

I note Senator Molan's contribution just now, and I ask him to educate himself about international law, about human rights law and about migration law, because if he did he would know very well that everyone has the right to seek asylum. Everyone has the right to seek asylum—to use labels like 'illegals' is simply showing your ignorance about the need to provide that and ensure that we are living up to what we have signed under international law.

I also urge those government senators to meet with and get a better understanding of the international development sector. ACFID, the Australian Council For International Development, went on a fact-finding mission in November last year. They went to PNG. They went to investigate the conditions of refugees and asylum seekers who were brought to Papua New Guinea by the Australian government and who remain under the Australian government's responsibility. ACFID produced a short preliminary findings report. As their report made clear, there are three key factors that are making this a protracted crisis: the four to 4½ years that people have been held by the Commonwealth of Australia in Papua New Guinea; the deterioration of mental health and, in many cases, their physical health and wellbeing due to the deprivation of freedom of movement, poor case management and a lack of settlement options; and the plain fact that the conditions and systems are not adequate to meet the needs of people with complex mental health and medical needs, which is being exacerbated now of course by the drawdown of services.

In January this year, Human Rights Watch, in their annual report, called on the Australian government to act on the serious shortcomings in its human rights record if it wants to be a credible leader on the global stage. And although Australia was elected last year to the UN Human Rights Council for a term of some three years, pledging to prioritise freedom of expression, indigenous rights, gender equality, good governance and national human rights institutions, Human Rights Watch noted that the Turnbull government was undeterred by UN calls to end offshore processing and maintained its cruel practice of warehousing asylum seekers in abysmal conditions, where detainees faced violence and unnecessary delays in medical care. This is all occurring in the Australian government's name—in the Commonwealth's name.

Indeed, January this year also saw extremely disturbing reports of a Rohingyan refugee, suffering an acute mental health crisis and a broken ankle requiring surgery, who had been waiting for more than a year to be transferred from Australia's offshore immigration centre on Nauru for medical treatment. This is just one example. Apparently, Australian Border Force have not yet made a decision on his transfer, despite Nauru hospital's overseas medical referral panel twice approving this refugee for transfer to Australia for treatment and repeated warnings from doctors on the island that he presents a medical emergency and cannot be cared for on that island. The circumstance of this Rohingyan refugee is not unique, and reports make that clear. The governments of Nauru and Australia have ignored doctors' recommendations and blocked medical transfers for nearly 50 people, including those women who have been raped on Nauru and then denied an abortion in Australia. The human rights abuses against people are horrific—against people who simply sought our protection, that right to seek asylum, that we have denied to so many people.

The worth of families is a fundamental principle of international and Australian domestic law. Australia is party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that children have the right to know and be cared for by their parents and should grow up in a family environment where possible. But several departmental sources and sources on Nauru have confirmed to journalists that it is unofficial policy to use family separation to encourage refugees to return to Nauru after medical treatment overseas. Refugees have been told they must leave their children alone in offshore immigration detention in order to access life-saving medical treatment overseas.

There are still children inside the regional processing centre on Nauru, 18 months after the trumpeted deal with the US, which is an utter disgrace. The fact that only about 100 refugees have left the camps for the United States is not good enough and is just too slow. I support the findings in this ACFID report. I support the findings that go into the need to fast-track the processing of resettlement to the United States. Of course, even after that, it still leaves a number of people—including, at the moment, 150 children—in offshore detention with no prospects for freedom, 4½ years later.

Some of these people are, as I mentioned before, Rohingyas from Myanmar. Australians are well aware of the nightmare that has been going on since 25 August in Myanmar and Rakhine State, where the Myanmar military have killed and slaughtered thousands, resulting in some 688,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh. Despite this, the Turnbull government is offering Rohingya refugees in our offshore processing facilities money to go back to Myanmar. It is just unfathomable. Tim Costello, on his visit to Bangladesh and to Manus, said recently:

It was a surreal irony to meet Rohingya refugees who have been locked up on Manus while the Australian government simultaneously supports international humanitarian appeals to aid the Rohingya in Cox's Bazar.

I recently visited the Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. I spoke to those distressed Rohingyas, who have experienced the worst atrocities—what the UN Human Rights Commissioner called 'textbook ethnic cleansing'. When I asked them, they did not want to go back to Myanmar. Yet, here is our government wanting to offer refugees who sought our protection money to send them back to Myanmar. The hypocrisy is just bizarre. At the same time we are giving $30 million to Bangladesh to support the Rohingya to stay out of Myanmar. Go figure! This is how ludicrous this government's policy is. It's just sheer, rank hypocrisy. So, I ask Senator Molan to please read ACFID's report, Refugees on Manus— (Time expired)