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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 311


Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (15:29): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by Senator McKim today relating to asylum seekers on Manus Island.

I acknowledge my disappointment that Senator Brandis has chosen now to leave the chamber so that presumably he does not have to hear about the inadequacy of his answers.

One thing we did get out of Senator Brandis today—and I found out today once again why they call it question time, not answer time—is that 60 people who reached out their hands in desperation to Australia and asked for asylum in our country and help from our country, people who have been indefinitely detained in Papua New Guinea as a result of reaching out that hand and asking for our help, some for many years indefinitely detained, are going to be forcibly deported from Papua New Guinea. These people, our fellow human beings, who have done no wrong and have committed no crime, have been indefinitely detained on Manus Island under conditions which amount to torture—most of them for many years. The idea that forcible deportation—people being handcuffed and frogmarched onto aeroplanes against their will and sent back to the countries that they have fled, in many cases in fear for their very lives and the lives of their families—is simply stomach-turning.

Of course, as it tragically so often does for our fellow human beings indefinitely detained on either Manus Island or on Nauru, it gets worse for those people. Papua New Guinea provides for significant appeal rights, including for administrative determinations on matters like refugee status determinations. When I asked Senator Brandis today whether the government would oppose forcible deportations prior to detainees being given the chance to exhaust all of their legal opportunities in Papua New Guinea, we got nothing from the Attorney-General of Australia. The man who is the primary law officer in our country, who is tasked above all others in upholding the rule of law in Australia, would not go in to bat for the rule of law in Papua New Guinea.

What a reasonable Attorney and a reasonable person in this place would have done is get up here today and say, 'Of course people should have access to every potential legal remedy available to them under Papua New Guinea law, and the Australian government will do everything it can to make sure that is the case.' But that is not what we got form the Attorney. What we got from the Attorney was a non-response on that issue. It is simply disgraceful.

Indefinite detention under the conditions that exist on Manus Island and Nauru has been found, in the case of Nauru, by Amnesty International to be akin to torture and to meet the internationally accepted definition of torture.

The harm that we are doing to our fellow human beings on Manus Island and Nauru is magnified many times by the uncertainty that they are facing—the lack of hope, the ebbing away of hope that has to a degree sustained them in the past. That indefinite detention coupled with, at times, horrific conditions in the camps on Manus Island and Nauru has set the preconditions for many of the tragic stories that we have heard from those camps, including self-harm and sexual assault, including sexual assault of children.

In the name of compassion and in the name of common human decency, it is time to close the camps and bring those people here to Australia so we can look after them, fulfil our moral and legal obligations to them and help them overcome— (Time expired).

Question agreed to.