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Monday, 7 September 2015
Page: 6101


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (16:13): I rise today to speak in favour of this motion before us on our intake of refugees from Syria. As the world gathers, mourns and uses its collective strength to respond to what is an unfolding global crisis—a humanitarian catastrophe—it is important that Australia does not isolate itself from our global community. We know there are more refugees and people seeking protection and needing safety than there have been since World War II. And that is not, of course, just from Syria—although there are millions of people who have already had to flee their homes because of the Syrian crisis—but also includes people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Eritrea and many other African nations in particular.

There are more people in the world today who need protection, safety and a helping hand than we have seen since World War II. Australia has to step up, and that means we have to take more people. The Greens, along with civil society organisations, have suggested that at the very least we could take an extra 20,000 people as an emergency intake. It is a pretty small number; it is modest but it would be a meaningful action to show that Australia does at least care about what is going on in the rest of the world. Germany are taking 800,000 asylum seekers this year—that is one per cent of their population—Austria are taking thousands and the UK are now under pressure to increase their numbers. The reason why nations take courage and use their strength to protect people when they are in need is that the way a nation treats refugees is very instructive of how they would treat everybody else if they could get away with it. The reason why we need compassion in today's world is that we are living in a global community, we are incredibly interconnected and we have to take responsibility when our fellow human beings are in desperate need of help.

I travelled to the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan last year and I also went to the settlements and the camps in Lebanon. In Lebanon, one in four people is a Syrian refugee. One of the impacts on that very small country is that schools in Lebanon are now having to run three sessions a day in order to try to ensure that Syrian children, refugees who have had to flee across the border, do not totally miss out on getting an education. That country is struggling under the weight of these people all on its own, with very little help from the international community until now. The push is on and the opening of hearts around the world is happening. People are responding in some of the most wonderful ways—we have seen homes and spare rooms being opened up in places like Norway and Sweden, where people are saying that they have a spare room or that they have space in their house to take in somebody who is in need. Those citizens are demanding action from their political leaders.

Tony Abbott is kidding himself if he thinks that that type of community desire is not happening here in Australia as well—it is and the push is on. Australians want our nation to be a country that stands up when it matters, that helps people in need and does not turn its back when a child is crying out for help. Australians want Tony Abbott to do more. The Prime Minister's glib response in the last week to the rest of the world's grieving over the death of the young Syrian boy found on the shores of Turkey has been an international disgrace. He seems to be stuck like a robot in the mantra of 'stop the boats' and he has not caught up with the fact that we are talking about people—human beings, children—and you cannot just turn your back on them.

Australians want our nation to restore what has previously been a rich history of helping and of taking in asylum seekers and people fleeing for their lives and needing protection—just like we did in the Vietnam War when we took tens of thousands of people, just like we did with Tiananmen Square when we took tens of thousands of people and just like we did when we took people who were fleeing for their lives and caught up in the Kosovo conflict. Australia has done this before and we can do it again but it must mean taking more people, giving more financial assistance and, dare I say it, not dropping bombs on those people who have so far been left behind.

There has been a myth peddled through this parliament in the last 24 hours—Tony Abbott believes that Australia does more than any other country. I tell you what, I would like the Prime Minister to go to Germany and tell Angela Merkel that we do more than her country. It is laughable and it is a sick joke for Tony Abbott to tell us here in Australia to not worry because we are doing more than anybody else—everybody knows that is not the case. Australia has been shutting the door to people in need for far too long and it is time we reopened the door and opened our hearts and acted with decency.