Zali Steggall speaks on her concerns about the extension of offshore detention and processing

7 February 2023

I reject, I should say outright, the words the minister spoke at the despatch box today to find the extension of this miserable program. I also reject the words of the opposition. There is simply no willingness to address this issue properly. It is to continue something that is inhumane. The words that have been said before me by the crossbench truly represent the feelings and views of so many in our community. You are wrong when you say and believe that this is mandated and has support from the Australian community. Like with so many other issues, communities are incredibly dissatisfied with major parties and their lack of courage when it comes to addressing these big issues.

Let's be clear: we have had less than 24 hours notice from the government to address this issue. We have had no information as to what alternate proposals or solutions have been considered. Has there been any consideration of an inquiry into offshore processing and the effectiveness of Nauru? We only have words in this place to say that we stopped the boats. I was disgusted, I've got to say, to hear an echo of the opposition's talking of leaky boats and deaths at sea. That is the language that has got us to 20 years of appalling policy. It is time to be brave and generous. That is not what we've got here. We make a mockery of our national anthem every time we extend offshore detention processing and refugee policies. We sing, 'For those who come across the seas, we've boundless plains to share,' and yet, your policy is that, if you come across the sea, you will be turned back and sent somewhere else. So we make a mockery of our Australian anthem.

We know that this system is inhumane, and it must stop. The Australian public will judge the major parties, the Labor Party, the Liberals and the Nationals, for this inhumane treatment of those seeking our assistance. We know this problem is going to get worse. We know we are going to have a global problem of displaced populations due to climate impacts, and yet this head-in-the-sand view of let's continue with an inhumane policy.

Finally, the Labor Party went to the election with a promise to process those seeking asylum within 90 days. It's been months since the election, and there are still people lingering in Nauru and PNG. There is nothing in this commitment from the government today to say, 'We will extend Nauru.' I ask the minister, who is in the chamber today: will you commit to a limit on how long any kind of detention and processing will take? Your platform said—when you went to the election—within 90 days. Do you commit to the Australian parliament that those seeking refuge and asylum in Australia will be processed within those 90 days and be freed as an international obligation? 

I thank the Leader of the House because I think this is an issue that we should never have had a curtailed debate on. I think that is definitely something many in this place would agree on. It's an issue that is incredibly important and that so many in our communities feel strongly about. It is so disappointing that, with no facts or figures or real information, we are presented in this place this decision to extend something so inhumane for another 10 years with no proper justification to do so. So, like many on the crossbench, I urge and I ask the government to call for a royal commission into offshore detention and processing of refugees. It's time we shone a light on what is really happening and the private and disgusting deals of the business model. The government talks a lot about the business model of people smugglers, which I abhor, but there is also a business model of offshore processing companies, and that needs to stop.