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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2157


Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (16:27): I rise to speak on the issue of the brutal detention of refugees on Nauru and Manus and the government's cynical amendments to try to prevent permanent settlement of boat people seeking asylum on our shores. This whole proposal to ban people seeking asylum for their entire lives from visiting Australia makes me think of a quote from Martin Luther King, in that it would be 'adding a deeper darkness into a night already devoid of stars'. He went on to say:

Darkness cannot drive out of darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

This government wants Australians to be hateful, heartless and cruel. It wants us to be afraid. It wants us to be scared of the 'other'. It wants us to somehow turn a blind eye to the very expensive torture that is happening in our name just off our shores, funded by our taxpayer dollars—$3 billion a year out of our budget. That is what this government spends on locking up women, men and children who have fled circumstances that many of us will never have to face simply because they want their families safe and they want to be able to live their lives and contribute to society in a way where they are not threatened with death, torture or persecution. They simply want to be able to have a safe life and contribute. This government wants us to be afraid of those people. It tells us that we need to lock them up, make sure that nobody whistle blows and tells us what is happening in those detention centres and allow them to be subject to abuse, even sexual abuse, including even children, and that somehow that will make us safer.

I do not think anybody buys that. The reason I say that is that there have been some very heartening examples recently in Queensland which I want to share with the chamber where people have stood up to that cruel rhetoric that is sheer nonsense and have said: 'No. That is not who we are. We are welcoming. We are strong. We are stronger in our diversity, and we are safer when we are kind to people than when we demonise them.' The example I am thinking of and have spoken on in this chamber before is the staff and workers at the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital. When Baby Asha came into their care from Nauru, they nursed her and her mother back to health. They then refused to release Baby Asha back into the arms of the government that would have deported her back to Nauru. They kept her in the care of the hospital until such time as the government agreed not to deport that child. They stared down the fear and the demonising that this government wants us all to accept. They stared that down and they won. On that day—as on other days, but on that day in particular—I was so proud to be a Queenslander and I was so proud of those people for taking a stand for all of us and letting the government know that we can be stronger and kinder and safer if we simply do not demonise other human beings who are coming to our shores seeking refuge.

We had a great win that day, and perhaps there was some cause for hope. Sadly, that cause for hope has been dashed because this government has found a new low. I did not think it was possible that we could sink to further lows in this debate and this country's treatment of people seeking asylum, but this government has managed it. Whether or not they are pandering to the racism and bigotry of the new One Nation party in this place or whether they have always been as cruel and heartless as this, they have now found a new low in that they want to deprive people, some of whom have already been settled here in Australia, of ever staying here permanently, or even of ever visiting.

The sheer nonsense in that approach is just ridiculous. What is particularly important now is that we do not see bipartisan support for this new low. Sadly, we have seen bipartisan support for offshore detention. We have seen the boats turned back—the deaths are still happening, just not in our waters. We have seen $3 billion every year spent on holding people in prisonlike conditions where they are tortured and abused. We cannot see bipartisan support for this new low.

I would urge the Labor Party not just to allow people to come as tourists in the future—yes, of course, it is the very least they should support—but to block this proposal by the government for a ban on permanent resettlement of refugees and asylum seekers who have spent time on Manus or Nauru. If we do not see that commitment from the Labor Party then it will truly be a black day in this country's history, and it will be a day that does not reflect the warm hearts of so many Australians, and Queenslanders in particular, who want a different approach that actually welcomes and strengthens our community.