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Thursday, 25 October 2018
Page: 11220


Ms BANKS (Chisholm) (16:55): On Monday this place was engulfed with high emotion, much love and sadness in the context of a national apology and the gut-wrenching stories of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. Australia's heart poured out to these people. We learnt that one victim didn't want to attend the day because, he said, 'It's just politicians trying to make themselves look good.' I suspect there were many others like him who shared these very reasonable thoughts. During the national apology speeches I thought to myself: 'In 10, 20 or 30 years time I don't want any Australian to have to watch a national apology by the Australian government of the day to the children and families currently on Nauru.' I know I'm not the only member of parliament who felt this way on Monday when we looked up towards the gallery and saw the pain and anguish of those attending.

I've said before: Labor's greatest shame was the 1,200 children who died at sea through weak border protection policies. We know Labor put them there and we know that the government stopped the boats and implemented and maintained strong border protection policies. But recounting all this, and combative politics between the two major parties, does little to help the children and families on Nauru.

The nexus between the children and families on Nauru and keeping the boats stopped has been overridden by the plight of sick children and our humanitarian obligation to get those children and their families off Nauru. What was a defensible argument in the past is weakened now with the current facts. The US arrangement is living proof that there has not been a resurgence of boats coming to Australia and nor will that happen through an arrangement with New Zealand. The integrity and strength of our border protection policies will remain. We could have made progress with the New Zealand solution this week, but the parties are too concerned with not backing down on their position to make concessions so that we can find a solution. The message will be clear. Our solution to this situation is that it is a one-off act of grace, a humanitarian decision, a decision that comes from our hearts. But our minds will ensure we have the capacity to maintain our secure borders.

Just as nothing surpasses the unconditional love a parent feels for their child, nothing should be stopping or delaying us getting these sick children and their families off Nauru. I ask members of this House to see this situation through the prism of a child's years, not in adult years, because childhood is fleeting. The time period of a month is enormous in a child's world. In the past few months, the political games and distractions of both parties have disgracefully played out in this place, and in the meantime the situation with sick children on Nauru has reached a crisis point.

There is no more noble profession than that of the healthcare professional. The Hippocratic oath contains the element of 'do no harm'. We as a parliament should be grateful that in this same time period, the past few months, albeit that the voices of these children and their families were drowned out by the game playing and the delay in the New Zealand option, thousands of doctors of the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, along with the Law Council of Australia, UNICEF and UNHCR, gave voice to these children. And for all the political games in this place, on Monday this place saw that across the political divide Australians have good hearts. On Monday our country overwhelmingly committed to keeping children safe.

Children are citizens of the world, and the children on Nauru are our ultimate responsibility. Long-term or indefinite detention is no place for any child. It is wrong to say these children and their families are not detained. Sure, they're not behind bars and they can walk about freely, but the denial of will, especially the will of a parent with a sick child wanting help, is a detention of their mind and their spirit.

I know there are many MPs on both sides of this House, across this House, who share my concern and passion, but many are constrained by the machinery that goes with belonging to a major party. The major parties should put aside political pointscoring, horsetrading, combative politics, trying to think of the next clever wedge or trying to work out how, in the words of that wise man who didn't attend the national apology, to make MPs themselves or their respective parties look good. Despite all the political games, this issue comes down to a simple truth: it is our humanitarian obligation to get these children and their families off Nauru.

I heard today from the head of the UNHCR that when he was in Nauru a little girl asked him, 'Why am I in prison?' He then tried to engage in dialogue with this little girl, and when he asked her name she immediately recited a number. That little girl has a name. That little girl has a life, and she's living in child years. Let us as a country not have to apologise to that little girl and the other children on Nauru in years to come.

Question agreed to.

House adjourned at 17:00