Parliamentary speeches

On Hakeem, and unfinished business

February 20, 2019

Last week was a good week in this place in that we welcomed home Hakeem al-Araibi, a constituent of mine who had spent nearly 80 days in jail in Thailand when he should have been enjoying his honeymoon. I rise in this place to say how wonderful it is to have him back home in Melbourne with his wife, an amazing young woman, and to note that he has resumed training for Pascoe Vale Football Club and hopefully will be playing on Friday. My loyalties on Friday will most certainly be with Pascoe Vale and, in particular, a defender wearing No. 5.

In celebrating his return to Australia and to Melbourne and to the sport he loves and plays so well, I also want to touch in this place on three matters which constitute some unfinished business in respect of Hakeem and for all of us in this place who get to make decisions about the wellbeing of Australians and people in respect of whom we have committed to protect their circumstances.

The first point is to acknowledge statements by the foreign minister in respect of Hakeem al-Araibi's progress towards Australian citizenship. I welcome her comments that this will be expedited, but I note that my representations on his behalf and on behalf of his wife have not yet been positively responded to by Minister Coleman. I think it would be a wonderful end to this difficult journey which has brought this parliament and Australians together to see Hakeem and his wife fully welcomed into the Australian community, and for this to happen very soon.

Secondly, we need to reflect in this place on the circumstances that led to Hakeem al-Araibi's detention. I found the evidence from both the AFP and Border Force in Senate estimates this week both shocking and disturbing. We need to look deeper into exactly what happened that led to Hakeem's detention, but, more fundamentally, we need to be able to assure the Australian community that this can never happen again. There clearly are systemic faults here. They are in the process of being identified, but we need to go beyond identifying them to rectifying them. This simply cannot happen again.

Lastly, we need to harness the spirit that saw Australians come together. I note the words of Craig Foster:

Our nation has a big heart, we saw just how big in the past few months, and we need to carry this compassion forward.

Debates about refugees in this place are difficult because the challenge is difficult. The way we talk about this needs to recognise we are fundamentally talking about not rights in the abstract but human beings and, fundamentally, their lives. We should be able to have a policy debate in this place that recognises that. Where we have differences, we should be able to argue them out without rancour and without divisiveness. That is a lesson we must take on board from this experience.