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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1410


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:00): Tonight I will share with senators an inspiring and at times unsettling speech by Lili Shapiro. It brings together a young person's views on Australia's positions towards refugees and climate change. Lili worked in my office last year as part of her year 10 week of work experience. Lili is a student at Canterbury Girls High School. These are Lili's words. She has provided references for the factual material she refers to:

No-one—not refugees, not asylum seekers—should have to live in a society where they are constantly at risk. Not now. Not in the future.

However, for as long as I can remember asylum seekers and refugees in Australia have been treated in the most disgusting, inhumane manner.

Australia's mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees will not be forgotten. It will forever loom over the younger generation as something we should not have tolerated. One day Australians could become climate refugees. Then who will take us, knowing what we have done to others?

There may be no compassion, just the cold behaviour we currently exhibit to people seeking our protection. We surely cannot expect to be helped when it is our turn if we ourselves have denied it to others.

There are currently hundreds of thousands of people located on low-lying Pacific islands endangered by sea levels rises that may consume their homes. They will need Australia's assistance if global warming continues. So clearly it is in Australia's interest to act on climate change in order to preserve nearby islands and eliminate the mass numbers of climate refugees sure to seek asylum if nothing is done.

Some people seem to think investing in a sustainable future is not a priority. However, the question of whether to invest in the economy or the environment completely contradicts all logic. Without the environment, there will be no economy. There is absolutely no point building up economic gain for a population that will only suffer from the effects of global warming.

But it does not have to be that way. Australia does not have to just sit back and let politicians who will not experience the effects of extreme climate change in their lifetime determine what is supposedly in our best interest for the sake of a vote. There are only two sides—self-destruction and survival. Which side are you on?

There are currently an estimated 42.5 million refugees around the world. If emissions continue at the substantial rate they are now, there could be over a billion climate refugees by 2050.

Australia treats those coming to its borders in the most inhumane, horrific way. Deteriorating, unhygienic buildings with a lack of medical care for those detained provide a jail-like setting perfect for developing mental health issues. Why are we allowing innocent women and children to be detained just because they had no choice but to flee persecution?

Do Australians really expect to be treated differently to the mass numbers of asylum seekers it has denied entry to or placed in jail-like conditions? Australia sets the standard—it demonstrates the behaviour it believes acceptable. If treating those unable to live in their own country as criminals when they come to our country when they have done nothing wrong is seen as acceptable, then Australians cannot expect more if they ever need to escape the drastic effects of climate change that will occur if nothing is done to stop it.

Australia is a vulnerable nation. It experiences frequent drought, bushfires and heatwaves. Eighty per cent of the population lives within 50 kilometres of the coastline. Australians could find themselves becoming climate refugees, and then it would be entirely our right to claim asylum, just as it is every asylum seekers right to claim asylum here. It is not illegal. It is their right. It is also our right.

Surely, as human beings, we can find the compassion to help people in need. Not just because it would be politically wise, but because we recognise it is cruel to act otherwise.

Lili goes on to say:

You are infringing on my right to be safe by allowing global warming to rampage. You are setting an example to the world that abusing asylum seekers is sufficient humanity. You are changing what is acceptable and my generation will lose their freedoms as a result. You are taking away our rights and it must stop. We must change now.

We have barely seen what climate change can do. Let's not find out. Stopping global warming is not about simply hoping to protect aesthetically pleasing scenery. It is about protecting humanity. It is about ensuring that in fifty years, when the deluded, inhumane politicians of our time lie in the ground, the generation they leave behind does not crumble, does not have their right to safety taken away and does not have to deal with a crisis so easily avoided.

We should help the environment because it will help us.

These are timely and provocative comments from now year 11 Canterbury Girls High School student Lili Shapiro. I thank Lili for her insights and for the work she undertook in my office. I wish her all the best in her studies and her future. Lili's words hang heavy in this parliament.