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Thursday, 10 November 2016
Page: 3483


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (11:35): I rise to speak against the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill. When the government first announced this bill my reflection was the same as that of many in my electorate—the bill was ridiculous, ludicrous. I was very proud when the Leader of the Opposition came out and used those exact same words. This bill is ridiculous, it is ludicrous. It is about distraction and it is about division. It is not something that this place or this parliament or the Prime Minister should be proud of.

I speak as a member who represents a diverse electorate. When I say 'diverse' I mean politically diverse. After I was preselected in 2012 I held one of my first listening posts at the shopping centre in Epsom, and an older gentleman came up and berated me for Labor's policy on asylum seekers. He was ashamed; he was disgusted. He wanted Labor to be more compassionate and show respect for asylum seekers. The very next person who came up to me was a mum who had three children, and she said, 'Lisa, we should blow up the boats—don't let them come here.' That is the diversity of views in my electorate, and it has taught me a lot about how we engage with people.

To the mum with three kids I said, 'Okay, let's talk about what is happening in Syria.' At that stage we were talking about hundreds of thousands of people having lost their lives. Bendigo's population is 100,000. I said to this young mum, 'What if everyone in your town, in Bendigo, had been killed—what if every building had been bombed? What would you and your family do? You would run and you would seek asylum in a country where there were not the killings, there were not the bombings.' It was at that moment that that young mum stopped and looked at me and said, 'Maybe you've got a point, Lisa.' It is through engagement and talking to people that we can turn this debate around. When the government are tanking in the polls, when they are freaking out about their own jobs, they have yet again put forward a ludicrous and ridiculous policy of banning people who have tried to arrive in this country by boat; who were tricked, who paid lots of money, who were promised citizenship, who were promised that they would be brought to this lucky country. They have proposed the most ludicrous ban to try to save themselves.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the work of Love Makes a Way. They had a protest out the front of my office not that long ago, and I have brought in some of the notes from that. They plastered cut-outs of little human figures on my windows with messages. I have brought some of them here today to read into Hansard to acknowledge their thoughts and their views. One states:

All persons are entitled to dignity and respect. It is not illegal to seek asylum by boat.

Another says:

Lisa, our prayers are with you. Be a voice for compassion.

One more message says:

Love makes a way#It's time for the government to stand up and to show compassion.

Yet another one says:

I believe it is time for justice to flow to those who are not lucky enough to be born here but to everyone.'

These are just a few of the little figurines that were posted on my window that day.

Since the government has announced this shocking legislation, I have also been contacted by a number of people who live in my electorate. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge their words and read them into Hansard. Solway Nutting of Castlemaine said:

I know you hate that asylum seekers are incarcerated, their lives wrecked, and that indefinite detention does not "stop the boats".

The brilliant asylum seeker student I tutored in order to help her do well in Year 12 could go on to contribute greatly to whatever community she works in (provided she doesn't get sent back to unquestioned danger in her country of origin).

She also says that the minister's proposed bill to ban every person seeking asylum from ever coming to Australia is wrong. Lynette Bourke from Kennington said:

I feel so distressed about the way our government is treating people seeking asylum in our country.

I am disgusted to think that the Coalition is planning to introduce a bill which will ban every person seeking asylum who the government has imprisoned on Manus Island or Nauru from ever coming to Australia.

Please Ms Chesters will you block this bill.

Blocking this bill would open the way to push for an actual resolution that will allow people to rebuild their lives in safety.

Alan Reynolds from Castlemaine said:

The move proposed by Minister Peter Dutton to ban refugees on Manus and Nauru from ever entering Australia is vicious and cruel … This is also deeply offensive. To never allow a person into Australia is not what was proposed by the Rudd-government and we should not let Dutton twist it into this.

This bill must be blocked. It is another contravention of our support for the refugees policy of the UN.

Sue Williams from Kangaroo Flat said:

Please work hard to block the bill preventing asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru from ever coming to Australia.

These people have been through so much and taking away their hope is cruel and inhumane. I am finding it more and more difficult to feel proud of being an Australian as our government continues with its heartless policy on refugees.

This bill will add to the suffering of people already traumatised, and shows a complete lack of compassion.

I ask Labor to stand up and block the bill, representing the many Australians who believe that all human beings deserve a chance for a safe, happy and healthy life.

Merran Gibson from Newbridge said:

I wish to register my disgust at the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees by the Australian government in the name of border security.

…   …   …

On a recent overseas trip—12 days ago in Paris—my daughter and I were challenged … over our government's … treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. This is a worldwide issue, we are on the world stage for the wrong reasons …

As I said, this bill is about division. It is about distraction. It is about a government that is desperate and is tanking in the polls. They are trying to use an old political tactic that they have successfully used in Australian politics since 2001.

Who are the people they wish to demonise and target? My office has been working closely with about 15 asylum seekers who came by boat, arrived in this country and moved to Bendigo before this government came to power. At the moment, this government is blocking their applications to become Australian citizens. Since arriving in Bendigo and our community, they have made an amazing and wonderful contribution to our community, and it should be celebrated. I have changed their names because—I have to be honest—I do not trust this minister and this government. I would hate to think that anything that I say in this place could impact on any of these particular individuals who have sought help from my office.

John came into my office seeking advice. Heartbreakingly, John's three-year-old daughter is in Pakistan, and he has never met her. He also has an 11-year-old son. He currently works at Hazeldene's, which is a chicken manufacturing and processing company in my electorate. He talks to his family regularly via Viber—as often as he can.

Also working at Hazeldene's is Michael. I first met Michael as a workplace delegate. He is a delegate—he stands up for his workmates and makes sure that they have a safe workplace. He is a leader within his workplace and his community. In fact, quite a number of these asylum seekers, who are now permanent residents in Australia, work at Hazeldene's. All of them are hoping that this government has a heart and allows them to become Australian citizens so they can bring their families here.

I also met and am working closely with Richard. The first time I met Richard was at the New and Emerging Communities Leadership Program forum. He is a leader of his community. The Victorian government granted him a sponsorship to do this community leadership program, and yet this government says that he is not worthy to be an Australian citizen. This government will not process his claims and will not allow him to bring his wife here. Workplace leaders; community leaders; people working in food processing manufacturing; people who are part of our cricket teams and who are CFA volunteers; people who are contributing so much to our communities, who arrived by boat in 2011, 2012 and 2013, under this policy would be banned from even coming to Australia and setting foot on Australian soil. These are the people that the government wishes to demonise and target. These are the people that the government, under this policy, wants to ban from ever coming here.

The member for Denison, in his contribution, made an attack on Labor and our policy. I would suggest to the member for Denison that he actually read Labor's policy. I am very proud of large parts of it. Labor have said that we want to increase funding to the UNHCR by $450 million to help refugees in countries of transit and countries of origin have their claims processed. There is a UN refugee processing centre in Indonesia, but it does not have the funding it requires to process asylum seekers. When you have this conversation with people in the electorate, they say, 'That just makes sense—that is good policy: save some money with offshore processing, fund the UN to do it properly.'

Labor have also said that we want to see asylum seekers' applications processed in 90 days. Labor have said that we want to increase the number of refugees that we take into our country, because we do have the capacity and the capability to support more people. Labor has a policy that is about compassion. It is about maintaining respect for asylum seekers and refugees. Labor's policy is about being inclusive. It is easy politics for those on the left to belittle us and to say that we are just the same as the others, but it is simply not true. If you are on the left side of politics and, having read Labor's policy, still stand in this place and say that we are exactly the same as the Liberal Party, then you too are being dishonest.

Our policy on asylum seekers is different. We believe in regional processing. We believe in funding the UNHCR. We believe in supporting people claiming asylum. So it is wrong for those on both the left and the right to continue this divisive politics. What I know from people in my electorate that I speak to regularly about this issue is that they want the games to end. They want to go back to what happened in the 1970s and 1980s, before John Howard tried to save himself during the 'Tampa election', before the Greens used this as a way to wedge Labor. They want this country to return to its obligations under the UNHCR. They want to see the people I have mentioned processed. Perhaps if their names were John, Paul or Richard their citizenship claims would have been processed by now. Perhaps, if the names of the people on Nauru and Manus Island were John, Paul and Richard, we would not be debating this policy.

I call on the government to end this division. I call on the government to be honest, to look into their hearts and to cross the floor on this ludicrous and ridiculous policy. It is wrong to ban somebody from ever coming to this country just because they got tricked into getting onto a boat. They were promised a life here in Australia—a life that we are all so fortunate to have, whether we came here, whether our parents came here or whether we were born here. Do not punish them; embrace them and give them the chance to come and be part of our community.