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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6337


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (13:23): I rise today to speak on a matter of public interest. Earlier this week, a group of dedicated and compassionate Australians arrived here in Canberra. They had been at the end of what was a long journey for them. The group had originally left from Villawood Immigration Detention Centre almost two weeks ago and had walked all the way to Parliament House. It took them nine days to march the 300 kilometres. They walked in complete silence for the entire journey. They marched in silence to represent the thousands of refugees who are currently locked in Villawood, Darwin, Christmas Island, Manus Island, Nauru and many more places of detention around this country. They are detention prisons.

While they walked, they invited people who they met to write a letter to our Prime Minister. They collected over 100 letters. They were all written by concerned Australians who simply want to see refugees treated with care and basic decency. When they arrived at Parliament House on Monday morning, I was there to welcome them; the Prime Minister, however, was not. They spent the day in parliament, attempting to meet with members of the government. They were not given an opportunity to sit down and speak and share their stories with members of the government's frontbench. They were not able to hand over the letters from concerned Australians that had been collected and requested to be handed to the Prime Minister. I have them here with me today, because these proud, courageous and compassionate Australians deserve to be heard.

I am going to read out some of the excerpts from their letters in this chamber, because I think it is important. They were letters that were written to our Prime Minister. They are an important record that show there are many Australians who care deeply about refugees in this time of unprecedented government cruelty. I want to start with a letter from a teacher at the Mary MacKillop College, Nundah, named Mary. She writes:

I write on behalf of the students to plead to your sense of compassion and care for the most vulnerable in our world. Surely your heart is touched by the images of those who have had to flee terror and persecution; have had to flee without loved ones.

As Australians, we are ashamed that we cannot give from what we have; that we cannot open our doors with a welcome; that we are not providing the care that prevents emotional, mental and physical distress.

We pray daily that those in leadership positions in our country will have the courage to lead with compassion, a sense of justice and equality.

We try to live by the message of Mary MacKillop and Jesus. You know that message. We plead with you to bring it to life.

Another woman from Queensland wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, and she said that she expected more from her government. She writes:

The secrecy worries me, and makes me wonder why there is not openness. I have heard harrowing stories of conditions in detention centres and I request that as a matter of urgency, the conditions under which the detained people have to live, are improved to a standard that would be acceptable to the Australian community as a whole.

I was a boat person, arriving in 1954 at the age of 7 with my family from England. I am also a proud Australian citizen.

Anne Hilton, who has previously worked inside Australia's detention centres and who worked tirelessly to organise the walk, also wrote to the Prime Minister. She says in her letter:

No government has the right to inflict deliberate harm and suffering on any asylum seeker, but this is what you are doing. This is the example and the leadership that you are imposing on my children and grandchildren. You are showing them that cruelty, bullying and injustice prevail over kindness, care and generosity. You are showing them how to divide a nation and how to instil prejudice, hate and fear.

This is not the Australia that I desire for my grandchildren. They do not deserve to inherit the consequences of your wrong and immoral actions towards asylum seekers. Your policies are leaving a disturbing legacy.

My heartfelt plea, my very serious demand as an Australian citizen is simple: Just stop the cruelty. Stop the harm and suffering.

Australia will never be a great country while we continue to leave the burden of dark legacies of suffering for future generations to carry.

Ann from South Australia also wrote to the Prime Minister. She says in her letter:

You have the power, skills and knowledge to lead all Australians in changing their attitudes and beliefs about people seeking asylum in Australia.

You have the power, skills and knowledge to lead Australians in our understanding of, and our respect for, human rights.

I expect more and I expect you to end the policy of indefinite detention of people who have not been charged with, or found guilty of, committing any crime.

She completes her letter by writing:

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Some people decided to keep their letters short. Michael, from here in the ACT, simply wrote: 'Dear Mr Abbott, your despair factories on Manus and Nauru shame Australia.' Well said, Michael. I could not agree more. There is one more letter I want to share with the chamber today. It is from Jennifer. Jennifer is a young woman who met the walkers when they arrived here in Canberra. Her letter reads: 'Yesterday I stood in a crowd and was introduced to the silent walkers. I felt both pride that people could commit in this way and shame that it was necessary.'

These Australians have spoken up because they know that when it comes to cruelty towards other people, particularly those who are significantly vulnerable, such as refugees, this government has gone too far. Many Australians are saying, 'Not in my name, Mr Abbott. Not in my name.' I would like to table the letters that were collected along the walk and to urge the Prime Minister to read these letters and consider the words of concerned Australians.

As I stand here today with the pleas of open-hearted, caring Australians wanting a better way, I also reflect on the fact that there is a young man currently lying brain dead in a hospital in Brisbane. He is an asylum seeker who contracted an infection while in immigration detention on Manus Island. He was not given the medical help that he needed or the medical care that was necessary in any timely manner. He now lies brain dead in a hospital bed in the Brisbane hospital. I understand that as I stand here today his family back in Tehran are having to make an awful decision about when that machine will be switched off. That young man will never recover. He came to Australia seeking our help, our protection and our care—and our government has failed him. This will now be the second person who has died at the hands of this cruel policy after being detained in this Manus Island detention centre.

It is time that these factories of despair, as Michael from the ACT called them in his letter, were closed. It is time for a rethink of how we manage the humanitarian needs of those who are so desperate that they sell everything to board a leaky boat to get to Australia. Let's give people a safer option. Let's not put people in harm's way. Let's not do further harm to them once they have arrived. Let's increase the humanitarian intake, as I heard the other day even Senator O'Sullivan was advocating for in his own party. Let's increase the humanitarian intake so we can offer people safer places and safer ways to reach Australia. Let's let the children out of immigration detention so we can stop damaging and hurting them every single day. Every day that a child is left in an immigration prison is another day that they are hurt and damaged. Let's give hope to the people from whom we have stripped all decency. Let's give people a sense of purpose and understand that the only crime many of these people have ever committed is to desire freedom for their families and safety for themselves.

It is not illegal to arrive in Australia and ask to be assessed as a refugee. It does no matter how many times Mr Morrison, as our immigration minister, wishes to use the word 'illegal', people in immigration prisons have done nothing wrong. They are not illegals. They are not boat people. They are people who deserve proper care, proper protection and a little more decency and compassion. Thank God there are compassionate Australians out there willing not just to walk in silence but to put pen to paper and urge better of our Prime Minister. I seek leave to table the letters I referred to in my speech.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Seselja ): Is leave granted?

Senator Cormann: No.

Senator Hanson-Young: Come on! So you are going to shut down—

Senator Cormann: There is a usual courtesy in the chamber that is observed with the tabling of documents, and that is that advanced copies are circulated to all parties represented in the Senate before such a request is made. If Senator Hanson-Young, rather than just trying to do a stunt, applies the usual courtesies that are longstanding in this chamber then the government will consider the request at a later stage today.

Senator Hanson-Young: I am not going to argue the point. I will just give notice to the chamber that I will circulate the letters and seek leave to have them tabled later in the day.

Leave not granted.