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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11450


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (19:50): In early November I travelled to Nauru to see firsthand the conditions for asylum seekers and refugees living in the Pacific island nation and the conditions in the Australian funded regional processing centres. The facilities on Nauru, as well those on Manus Island, were set up as temporary offshore regional processing centres. They were never intended to be places of permanent and indefinite detention. But that is exactly what's unfolded under this Liberal government. Mr Speaker, you can understand how this is a situation that is not in the best interests of vulnerable people, either physically or mentally. Five years in detention is simply too long. I want to make it clear: if Labor had won either the 2013 election or the 2016 election, these people would not have been subject to this migration limbo. They would have been resettled in third countries—something the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments have failed to do for far too long.

The Nauruans are an independent and proud people. They have welcomed close to a thousand refugees and asylum seekers into their community. The asylum seeker and refugee cohort on Nauru equates to close to 10 per cent of the country's population. The majority of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru are now living in the Nauruan community in Australian funded settlements. They're being supported by Australian government funded services as well as Nauruan services. Nauru's Department of Multicultural Affairs runs settlement services and programs, including employment assistance, community integration programs and school enrolments. Many refugees are employed and some have even started their own small businesses on Nauru, such as restaurants and hairdressing salons, or they're working in a range of other businesses, including government offices and the local hospital.

During my time in the country I met the President of Nauru as well as his cabinet and other governmental officials, including from the Department of Multicultural Affairs. I met refugees and asylum seekers at numerous locations across Nauru and visited all three regional processing centres, which are open centres where people come and go. I inspected the accommodation and health services available at the Australian funded clinic at RPC 1. There are many hardworking, committed medical professionals working to ensure asylum seekers and refugees are receiving the medical and mental health treatment they require. The same goes for the medical professionals at the Republic of Nauru Hospital.

However, when medical treatment is not available on Nauru and is recommended by appropriate medical practitioners and clinicians, Labor believes that medical transfers to alternative treatment locations should be made available. The Liberal government's haphazard approach has made the job of doctors recommending medical transfers more difficult. More must be done to improve accommodation and road infrastructure at RPCs 2 and 3, and the Australian government must work with their Nauruan counterparts to address these issues. Secrecy about conditions on Nauru—something the Liberals so often opt for—is not a solution.

I heard stories of refugees who wish to permanently settle in Nauru, and I believe Australia can work with Nauru to help make that possible. The reality, however, remains that asylum seekers and refugees, both on Nauru and in PNG, have been left in limbo for too long. They need permanent resettlement options. The failings of offshore processing fall directly on the current Liberal government, which has been in power since 2013.

It is possible to have offshore regional processing as a policy and still oppose indefinite detention. Successive Liberal governments have failed to negotiate third-country resettlement options. That includes the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments. Liberal prime ministers have all rejected New Zealand's generous offer to resettle eligible refugees, which has been on the table since 2013. This is something Prime Minister Morrison even considered before the Wentworth by-election. Labor offered bipartisan support to work out a solution, before the offer was quickly ripped away by the Prime Minister. It is time Prime Minister Morrison accepted New Zealand's generous offer to end indefinite detention on Nauru and in PNG. Labor have said that, in government, we would accept New Zealand's generous offer to resettle eligible refugees and negotiate conditions to prevent people smugglers exploiting vulnerable people.

I want to thank the Nauruan government and people, including their government officials and medical staff, for the work they do. I thank the Australian government officials and Border Force officials for the work they do in Nauru in a very difficult situation. Labor, if elected, is committed to resettling eligible refugees on Nauru and in PNG in third countries whilst ensuring that Australia's border security is maintained so that more vulnerable people aren't exploited and led to risk their lives at sea.