Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP calls for the government to accept NZ deal to resettle remaining offshore refugees

30 November, 2020


 I can only say that the member for Berowra has done the same old thing: trotted out the political games, blamed the other side but ignored the very real issue—seven years in detention. All members who condone that should be ashamed of themselves. I thank the member for Scullin for bringing forward this motion.

Like many others in this place, I received the petition referenced in the motion, signed by over 65,000 people, calling on the Prime Minister to accept the New Zealand offer and resettle the remaining refugees. Currently, there are 290 people remaining in Papua New Guinea and on Manus Island. There is an offer from New Zealand to take up to 150 asylum seekers from PNG and Manus and that offer has been on foot for seven years. This could have all been dealt with by now. There would be no refugees left in PNG or Manus, had we taken up the offer back in 2013 when it was first made.

With all due respect to the member for Berowra, what he just said to this House is just an insult to proper management of people who are in distress and being held without proper process. We're keeping refugees in indefinite detention without hope of release or knowledge of where they will ever call home. They've suffered immensely. They're separated from their families and loved ones. They've been left without hope for seven years and are destitute—physically and emotionally. I was proud to have represented Australia on numerous occasions on the world scene, but I'm definitely not proud of this.

Craig Foster is not proud of this, nor is Sonny Bill Williams and many others. There are stories and videos on the website, and I'd urge you all to go and watch them. Listen to Adam's story, Samad's story and Moz's story, and then tell me again why you think these people should be kept in indefinite detention. Mohammed is a former farmer from Sudan. He hasn't seen his two young daughters for seven years. One he has never met. She was born after he left. He worries about them every minute of every day. While locked up on Manus, his wife was murdered. He found that out during a short weekly call he was allowed to make, and he will have to live with that reality for years. He has been stranded on Port Moresby, and he is tired and sick beyond his endurance. He just wants his freedom so that he can rebuild his life. His is just one of many stories collected by the Game Over campaign, being championed by Craig Foster, Sonny Bill Williams, Amnesty International and many others. We all need to call time on the seven years of detention that these refugees have suffered and demand that the government finally accept the offer on the table from New Zealand. It is absolute rubbish to stand in this place and justify this ongoing cruel policy.

Offshore detention and the management of facilities are costing Australian taxpayers over a billion dollars a year. I would urge the Morrison government to consider how that money could be better spent in standing up for humanitarian conduct and taking proper care of what needs to be done at home. Last month I spoke on this issue with a Nangami peace and justice group that I met with, and I reiterated their calls for more funding for the Status Resolution Support Services program. Another group I recently met with was an on-arrival detainee support group. They're highlighting the plight of refugees in alternative places of detention who were brought to Australia under medevac legislation—and we know how well that's working out for them. They've raised their concerns around an inability for people to be referred for specialist health treatment. One of those is Moz, a Kurdish refugee who escaped his home after a siege. He is a talented musician who has inspired many others through his songwriting. He dreams of a life filled with music. He spent seven years in Papua New Guinea, with severe asthma, until he was medevac'd at the end of 2019. But instead of getting the treatment he requires Moz remains trapped in a hotel, unable to leave, with no knowledge of what's next.

With due respect to government members—and I would say this to both sides of this chamber, as both parties have condoned policies that have been incredibly inhumane on legitimate refugees—whilst we take a completely perverse approach to these people seeking asylum, we have an influx of people coming in through the airlines and coming by other means. It's time we called time on this policy. These people deserve to be resettled. Accept the New Zealand offer and get on with it: call game over.