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Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Page: 10139


Mr GILES (Scullin) (16:25): 'I feel like a spectator in my own life'—a young woman said this to me and to a room full of strangers in Mill Park a couple of weeks ago. She's from Iran and living in Melbourne's north as a member of a group of people who are referred to, unhelpfully and unfairly, as the legacy caseload. I've previously spoken about the circumstances of these people in this place, and I note that we are approaching a time of particular anxiety for more than 24,000 people who are waiting for the opportunity to have their claim for protection made and assessed.

At the Mill Park community centre on 23 August, this young woman was among people who were her neighbours but who I suspect she'd never met. I hope that she took heart from the warmth and concern and the support and empathy in the room—our best side in Melbourne and as Australians as well. I continue to think about what a terrible thing it would be to feel like a spectator in your own life, to feel that you have no agency, no capacity to make plans for the future and no ability to do the things all of us take for granted—to study, to think about getting married and to think about having a family or expanding your family. Also, I continue to think about what a terrible thing it is that there are thousands just like this woman in similar circumstances. We should think about them more and listen to them more.

I'm very grateful for the people who organised this forum in my electorate, the Scullin Volunteer Action Network, in particular Alex, Sally, Jenny and Trish, and the dozens of community members who attended on a wet and pretty unpleasant Melbourne night. I would like to acknowledge the fantastic people of Whittlesea Community Connections, who provide settlement services to this young women and others like her, including Alex Haynes, the CEO, who spoke movingly and effectively. I'd like to also acknowledge the work—not just on that occasion but always—of Kon Karapanagiotidis, founder and CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and his colleague Jana Favero, and for their contribution in thinking about how we think about those who have asked for our help, and also how we talk about them, because how we talk about people matters.

All the attendees at this meeting recognised that there are policy challenges facing Australia when it comes to how we treat those who ask us for help, who seek our protection when they are forced to flee their homes. But I think that what they are calling for in this place is leadership—leadership in the form of acknowledging that there are serious matters here that require debate; they require the empathy and warmth that was shown in the room in Mill Park the other day, and, ultimately, they require all of us here to recognise what a terrible thing it is and what an unacceptable thing it is to feel like a spectator in your own life.