Parliamentary speeches

New Zealand refugee resettlement offer

November 30, 2020

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) it has been seven years since New Zealand offered hope to those refugees in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to resettle them in New Zealand; and

(b) more than 65,000 Australians have signed a petition organised by Amnesty International Australia with Craig Foster and Sonny Bill Williams urging the Government to accept the New Zealand Government's generous offer to resettle those refugees; and

(2) calls on the Government to accept the New Zealand offer to resettle refugees.

I often say when beginning my remarks that I'm pleased to be speaking to this motion, but I'm not pleased to have to speak to this motion. I'm not pleased that after seven years these issues are still before the parliament, still unresolved, when they could so easily be resolved. When it comes to our obligations to people seeking our help from places in turmoil around the world there are many issues that are difficult and challenging. We should confront them. We should debate them in this place and in the community thoughtfully and decently, guided by our values. Here we have a simple proposition that, sadly, is not being addressed.

It is being addressed in the community. That is something that this motion acknowledges: that more than 65,000 people––and I understand more since then––have signed a petition saying that enough is enough and calling on the Morrison government, after seven years, to accept the generous offer made by a former prime minister of New Zealand to resettle these people, found to have been refugees, there to enable them to begin their lives.

I move this motion now to speak to a number of audiences. Firstly, to those refugees who have been trapped in limbo for so long, to say that they are not forgotten in this place; secondly, to say to those who have come together to sign this petition to stand up for their values, Australian values, that they are being listened to, that they are a part of this democracy and their voices matter to many of us in this place. I'm very pleased that this motion is not just a Labor motion; it's a motion that was seconded by my friend the member for Warringah, and I believe it's broadly supported on the crossbench. All of us have different perspectives on this issue and many other issues, but in this case we have come together to say we can do better and that, for this group of vulnerable human beings, enough is enough. I was pleased to stand at the front of Australia's parliament during the last sittings to receive this petition, along with many parliamentary colleagues, and acknowledge the enormous amount of work that Craig Foster and Sonny Bill Williams have done, together with that fantastic group of Australians in Amnesty International Australia, to bring together so many people. I want to recognise their leadership. We hear a lot of talk in this place about Australian values and, in particular, about a fair go. Craig Foster and Sonny Bill Williams have exemplified that in a way that many of us should think about.

The core of this issue is the failure of this government to do what is right for a group of vulnerable human beings. For seven years—slightly longer than the time that I've been in this place—New Zealand has offered to resettle the refugees who are on PNG and Nauru. It has now been seven years and 134 days that people have been detained, seemingly endlessly, with all that entails and all the damage to their prospects. We have too often seen the most tragic stories result from that—unimaginable tragedies. These are things that I reflect on more than anything else as I go about my work in this place. I acknowledge that a large number have been resettled in the United States through arrangements that we supported at the time, and I hope those arrangements can be completed. It is heartwarming to hear about lives being rebuilt once people have been resettled. Why have they not been resettled in New Zealand when this is an offer that has been on the table for so long and there is no plausible argument against it being accepted? Too often in this place and too often in this debate we see the purest and basest politics attached to the issue of people seeking asylum in Australia. Too often in the administration of this portfolio we have seen cruelty for only cruelty's sake. Last week, I spoke about Farhad Rahmati, who has been moved around for what appears to be the crime of alerting the Australian community to what is happening, initially in the Kangaroo Point APOD and subsequently at other facilities of detention. Reflecting on him and the contribution he might be making, I again urge government members. I'm very pleased that the member for Berowra will participate in this debate, because we perhaps come at our roles from rather different perspectives. He is a thoughtful and decent man and I'm sure he applies himself to the challenge of this with all the qualities he brings to the aspects of this.

I've fundamentally been thinking about the seven years and what's happened in my life—the growth of my children and the significant events that have taken place and the significance that some aspects of my work have brought to me—and I ask myself: what is different for these people? I say to them, for me and for us, enough is enough.