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Thursday, 15 October 2015
Page: 11420


Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (16:35): It is well past time to dispense with some myths and to confront some uncomfortable truths in relation to Australia's offshore detention system. It is wrong for anyone to say that our complicity in the operation of the detention centres at Manus Island and Nauru—detention centres that have been demonstrated to involve violence, rape, the abuse of children and the widespread violation of basic human rights—is somehow related to stopping dangerous boat voyages or deaths at sea. That is false. It is a myth that the institutional cruelty in our offshore detention centres is essential to saving lives at sea. When the minister, or anyone else, says that being tough or running a hard line on asylum seekers in our care is in fact a form of larger compassion, that is false.

The truth is that we, Australians, through our representatives and our taxes, have established and are funding two island prisons on which people convicted of no crime are being held indefinitely in circumstances that are not just prone to producing but are actually productive of terrible human suffering. The truth is that the offshore centres we have established to deter asylum seekers through the spectre and proof of punishment are places where physical and mental harm is being routinely inflicted on men, women and children. And the truth is not slowly emerging; it is a state of affairs that stares us in the face. We have witnessed the murder of Reza Barati and the wilful negligence surrounding the death of Hamid Kehazaei.

We have seen a number of reports from eyewitnesses and evidence given to Senate inquiries about the treatment of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island, but I will just mention the report from the Human Rights Commission's inquiry into children in immigration detention, The forgotten children. The findings of that report included the following statements. First:

The evidence shows that immigration detention is a dangerous place for children.

Second:

Australia is unique in its treatment of asylum seeker children. No other country mandates the closed and indefinite detention of children when they arrive on our shores.

And finally the report notes that the relevant minister for immigration in this government and in the former government both:

… agreed on oath before the Inquiry that holding children in detention does not deter either asylum seekers or people smugglers. No … rationale for the prolonged detention of children seeking asylum in Australia has been offered.

We have also dealt recently with incidents of the rape of refugee women on Nauru, including one that resulted in the attempted suicide of not only the woman involved but also her mother and brother, and another that necessitated a subsequent termination of pregnancy. Still another rape has been denied by the Nauruan authorities, with the refugee involved being named and shamed publicly. For the women who have been brought to Australia for treatment, the terrible truth is that it is the government's policy to return these women to Nauru, the place where they were raped, on the specious ground that, if they remain in Australia, the boats will start again.

I received an email last week from asylum seekers in Nauru. I imagine a number of representatives also received it. I would like to read a few extracts. They said:

These words are coming from hell. There are many broken hearts screaming with heartache because we have been kept for such a long time, with nothing except failing lives. Our stories might not be interesting to you ...

We have kids. We can't think about our future. We can't do anything for them, even their smallest wish. Our kids are dying slowly in front of us ... Please give us your hand to get us out of this deep dark hell ...

We are asylum seekers. Sorry but we have forgotten our names because now we are just called by our boat numbers. We have been in detention for years in this hell you call offshore processing centre. We cannot describe our suffering. We are tired of being tired ...

Wondering why our lives were saved in the ocean ... You took our joy, you took our hope, dreams and locked us up inside the fence.

There is no constructive reason why we continue to indefinitely lock up people seeking refuge; why the offshore detention centres that have caused so much mental and physical harm have never been properly administered or subject to independent oversight; why they continue to operate as a kind of Pacific gulag, out of sight, out of mind. The only motivation appears to be punishment for the so called 'offence' of exercising their legal right to claim asylum in Australia, mixed with pure politics.

What demonstrates the hollowness of this sadly bipartisan approach is the lack of any concern about what happens to people who have been turned back and the absence of any genuine effort to establish a regional framework of protection—that is, to work with countries of origin and with transit countries in the region to try to address the reasons people are fleeing and to prevent them needing to get on boats at the outset. More than $1 billion per year of Australian taxpayers' money is being spent to torture asylum seekers in a grotesque faux caring deterrence exercise. This vast amount of money would go a long way towards assisting countries in our region to improve governance and provide services such as housing, health and education, and assisting UNHCR to process claims for asylum.

What terrible shame this has brought on our nation. Many, many voices in the Australian community are saying it is time to stop the madness of Manus and Nauru. I welcome the establishment today of a cross-party, cross-faith national taskforce to help us move in a different, infinitely more hopeful direction.